Fortune 500 series: How Newell Rubbermaid uses social media

How can Newell Rubbermaid, the parent of many wide-ranging brands, benefit from social media? Bert DuMars, the company's VP of e-business and interactive marketing, explains.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

A couple weeks ago I began a series focusing on how Fortune 500 companies are leveraging social media and the thought leaders behind the companies' programs. The questions from company to company are often similar, but the answers are vastly different. The first Q&A centered around Bob Thacker, senior vice president of marketing and advertising for OfficeMax, who has had great branding success for his company thanks to some social programs.

Now the focus is on another Fortune 500 company, Newell Rubbermaid, the parent of many wide-ranging brands, such as Sharpie, PaperMate, Rolodex, Shur-Line, Calphalon, Graco, Levolor, and of course the classic Rubbermaid product line. With such a huge brand inventory, how could social media potentially span that broad to help the company overall? I asked Bert DuMars, vice president of e-business and interactive marketing for Newell Rubbermaid, to explain the company's approach, as well as why, over time, each of his brands will need a dedicated social media expert -- and why those experts need a solid background in traditional marketing.

Q. [Jennifer] At a high level, please tell me about Newell Rubbermaid's social media strategies.

How Newell Rubbermaid uses social media
A. [Bert]Our strategy is to listen to our consumers first, understand how they would like to engage with us and/or how they would like us to engage with them. We are using strategic methodologies developed by Converseon (specifically for our Graco brand) and Forrester Research Groundswell (POST methodology -- specifically for our Rubbermaid brand). This has led us to start small, experiment and see what works. We then expand the particular tactic based on consumer feedback that they are receptive and that we have developed a level of trust with them in the conversation. Graco has been a first mover for us in blogging and outreach to "Mommybloggers." Rubbermaid, Dymo and CardScan have been first movers in consumer generated reviews and ratings. These leadership positions allow our other brands to learn what works and then determine how they might like to proceed with social media marketing strategies with their consumer segments.

Q. When considering new social media strategies, what is your first move…To hire? To invest? To seek out market data?

A. We definitely seek out market data first. This is a new area for us and heavy investing (whether dollars, personnel or both) without understanding how, when and why our consumers would like to engage with us is risky and dangerous for our brands. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to listen before you leap. We use ForeSee Results consumer satisfaction service to help us listen to our consumers specifically in the interactive marketing area. We also need to determine if we have something positive and influential to add to the conversation. Our Sharpie brand has done limited to very little social media marketing to date, but there are many positive Twitter posts, YouTube videos and blog posts on the brand and products. So, the real strategy that needs to be considered for this brand is what can we add to the conversation that is not already, organically happening. I think there are some social media tactics that will work, but if there is already a large amount of activity and it is positive, you need to be very careful not to disrupt and/or interrupt it.

Next: The importance of a social marketing team -->

Q. Do you have specific team members dedicated to social media or is this integrated into your existing marketing structure?

A. We typically lean on a combination of in-house marketing communications and interactive marketing team members as well as agencies like Converseon and LBi. Graco in particular developed their strategy and plans in partnership with Converseon. Rubbermaid on the other hand relied on a very small internal team with limited resources. Two very different approaches that both worked. My guess is that our other brands will also come up with unique ways to reach out to our consumers using social network marketing tactics.

Q. Do you have any full-time social media staffers? Either way, do you feel you need them?

A. At this point, we do not have team members that are 100-percent dedicated to social media marketing. Typically they also are either marketing communications, public relations or interactive marketing team members with at least 50 percent or more of their job responsibilities tied to these more traditional functions. So far, we have been successful, with the programs we have started to date, without that dedicated role. However, as this area expands, each brand is going to have to determine if a dedicated role within the brand or within our shared services groups is required. My guess is that for at least the rest of 2008 and 2009 we are going to have to wear multiple hats. We also will be leveraging our agency partners like Converseon and LBi to help us in this area.

Start small, be flexible and be willing to pull back and change if something does not work.

Q. What is more important for your marketing team -- traditional marketing background or Web 2.0 knowledge?

A. I think it is important to have a strong marketing background. We are a company moving from a portfolio of product focused brands to one that is focused on brand building, innovation and consumer focused brands. This is an important transition for our company. As part of that, we are providing education to our marketing team members on Web 2.0 opportunities. We want our marketing team members to look at their campaigns from an integrated perspective and utilize Web 2.0 tactics as another tool they can take advantage of just like TV, radio and print. Again the amount of resource dedicated to any particular tactic or strategy needs to be based on consumer insights and market research relevant to the target consumer segment.

Q. How do you measure the ROI of your social media programs?

A. At this point, ROI is still pretty difficult to measure. We are in process of putting in services that will help us measure ROI, but they are not in place yet. Services that will help us determine ROI include BazaarVoice, Channel Intelligence, Omniture and ForeSee Results. The combination of these services – Ratings & Reviews, Advanced Where To Buy, Web Analytics, Online Customer Satisfaction – will help us determine the value of our social media marketing and interactive marketing efforts. As an example our goals for the Graco brand included increasing positive brand perception in the blogosphere and humanizing the brand. For Rubbermaid it is to increase awareness of our products and how to use them. Rubbermaid has very high brand awareness but some of our exciting new products like FastTrack, Rubbermaid Premier and Produce Saver are still relatively low.

Next: Social media adoption and success -->

Q. What has driven your adoption of social media -- sales, customers, marketing trends?

A. We started our social media marketing efforts by listening to our customers first. Understanding where, when and how they would be like to be engaged is a critical first step. Once we determined our customers would be interested in interacting with us on a corporate blog or through Reviews and Ratings, we created these services. The more we engage with our consumers, they more we learn and the more we can expand our social media efforts. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to start small, be flexible and be willing to pull back and change if something does not work.

Q. How long would you say you've had a social media program in place?

A. Our Graco team began listening to consumers and strategizing in 2007 and launched their blog in early 2008. The Rubbermaid team started later in 2008.

Q. What is one example of a social media project gone right for Newell Rubbermaid?

A. I feel that we have a couple of initial successes. The Graco team has achieved increased positive brand awareness in the blogosphere and especially with "Mommybloggers," the primary customer target. Rubbermaid has also achieved significant success with their Reviews and Ratings program using the BazaarVoice service. They have received over 1,800 reviews in the first three months of operation with an average score of 4.7 out of 5. One of the most significant achievements of this program is that the reviews cover 70 percent of the Web site product catalog. We initially thought the reviews would be focused on the most popular products; instead they are spread out much more than anticipated. This is good news as it shows consumer engagement and interest across the breadth of our product line.

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