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Story | Riemann
“You can conquer the whole world. As long as you remain true to who you are”
Millions of people in more than forty markets are already familiar with P20 and Perspirex. But in 2017, when Orkla bought out Danish manufacturer Riemann, the international marketing of the two brands was given extra muscle. Mette Koch tells us about her own journey from intern to CEO at Riemann in just 9 years and about a marketing transformation in which it is crucial to maintain brand authenticity while achieving your growth ambitions at the same time.
I’ve been with Riemann for nine years. I came from an American pharmaceutical company and began as a temp and just grew my own career alongside the company. When I arrived, it was a family-owned company founded by Claus Riemann, whose daughter, Anne Cathrine Riemann, was the then director.
The company had grown on the basis of just two brands, which are both unique. They really have a competitive edge. These two brands are what created the entire business and they have taken good care of their position and ability to stand out from the market over time. I really liked that. They have real USPs. It’s not just the usual “blah blah blah” you get everywhere else.
We were sold to Orkla in 2016. At that time, I was head of marketing with four employees who reported to me. Then, all of a sudden, we increased muscle and gained some very exciting opportunities. This was good news for me, good news for Riemann and good news for our brands. In December 2017, I was then offered the position of director and I thought “what the heck?”
We have increased from being a team of fifty colleagues to being part of a thousand-strong family and there are now six of us in marketing. We are currently working on a new strategy process. The facilitators we have been given for the task told us that the questions they normally ask when looking at a company are: How can I help this patient away from their illness? But that’s just not the case for our company. We are more like marathon runners who are going to finish an Iron Man. The question for us was more about which nuggets we should pick up first. There is so much potential here, even though we only have two brands at our disposal.
Now we are talking about South America and the Middle East. We will also be looking at Asia and Orkla is giving us the muscle power to help us. So, we have plenty to keep us busy and we need to make sure, that we stay focused.
“Seriously reliable” is what it says by the main entrance. And it is not only our products that work, so does the way we treat each other and the way we recruit people. These are the building blocks for our situation. We check whether things are “seriously reliable”.
It’s our compass. And this is how we need to continue after becoming part of the Orkla family. We need to stay very true to our brands. They represent so much intrinsic value. For example, we won’t just add scent to our product. There has to be a real reason for everything we do.
When I was appointed as head of marketing, this came as a natural development. It meant being both a bit more strategy-minded and a bit more self-elevating. It was no longer just about performing tasks to order, but felt very natural, as I had so much experience.
I would never have aimed for the position of director. This has been a development that has been slow but sure. We have a robust culture here at the company.
Both our brands are in a grey zone between pharma and cosmetics. And this is where they need to stay. Our challenge is actually that customers are used to seeing new products all the time. The whole world of trade is used to this, so this is very much about staying true to our brands and true to ourselves.
Sunrise is helping us with a process that that will prevent us from becoming too mainstream. For example, if we make or communication all about people and glossy pictures, will be then be distancing ourselves too much from our core product and what really represents value? It’s a tough one. This is what we deal with every day and this is how it has been for the last five years, so it really is overdue that something has to happen. But that is not what the consumers want. They just want a solution to their problem. It is always about staying true to our brand. Why are we here? We have to believe in our competitive edge, that we must, under no circumstances, ruin even though we, of course, want to supplement our two strong brands with a third “foot” on the market.
When you are part of Orkla, you get a lot of offers. So suddenly, a lot of people are asking “what can Riemann do?” A lot of clever people out there in the big wide world are innovating and coming up with new things, so we need to look at the megatrends that we are seeing out there. It may well be that we should stay in our own category while trying to follow the developments that consumers are seeing.
After all, our vision is that we want to be sun experts and sweat experts. But we do also need to follow developments. What happens if, in 15 years, you can just swallow a pill that will last all summer? We don’t know! Becoming specialists in the problem solver category we are in could be one way to do it. But we have had to become more “loose” than we used to be.
But we’ll never start adding gold and glitter to our products, even though that is what the Italians want. We won’t do it because we are functional. This is our place in the world. This is where we can see that we can make a difference, even just by looking (at the product) on a shelf. In the UK, there are 80 other sun creams which all look the same, so we HAVE to stand out. Some people think that our design is atrocious, but I don’t really care. It has to stand out, signalling credibility and medical characteristics.
Our products are problem solvers, functional and “seriously reliable”. These are the three boxes we need to be able to tick when we have an idea. So we have certainly made some progress, but it’s really not “just that simple”. It really isn’t.
Our job is to be contradictory and say “We don’t do that. Nivea does that. L’Oreal does that. But we just don’t, that’s all!”. Every time we develop a new product, there is a reason why. Why does this consumer need this exact product? It’s not just a question of choosing a lotion one day and a spray on the next. There must be an underlying purpose. We use a lot of resources on product development, which goes on in-house, and this investment has to give a return.
Essentially, and in order to be seriously reliable, we must be able to document EVERY statement we put out. We involve consumers in our studies, rather than just some German test institute that measured some characteristic or other. The consumer must also be able to feel that this product actually does work.
Being small and niche is a challenge when you also have to operate in 40 markets. We must be true to our brand and we need continuity. A P20 has to look the same in Northern Italy as it does in Finland and in Brazil.
There must be a common theme throughout, and we need to be aware of the different local barriers.
So you always have to sit there balancing what is central in:
– Visual aspects
– The product
Where can we fiddle with some settings? Where can we make modifications that will also tap into the specific regional market? In South Africa, they wonder why we never feature black people in our advertising, when 80% of the population is black. We understand this.
This is about being flexible while staying faithful to the essence of the product, as a whole, and with regard to the visual identity, we are looking for. This is a major challenge that we need to solve, without being Big Brother and looking over the shoulder of people out in the regions, telling them “you can’t do that” and “you have to use these pictures instead”. But we have become better at listening to regional requirements and wishes.
We hold network meetings twice a year, where we present some ideas; “what do you think of this?” This allows us to say “no, we can’t do that” or “that might be a good idea”. They are very dedicated and loyal to our brands, so we value this a lot. Any criticism we receive is both raw and honest – and that’s a great gift. We seize it with open arms, even though we are still the owner of the brands. Sometimes, regional markets like the proposed changes. And that is just the way things are. We are a “glocal” company. We are neither global nor local. We are both; glocal.
This is all about understanding of cultures and perceptions. We’re all different, right? We are still just 50 people here at Reimann; a small outfit trying to conquer the world. Our distributor set-up is really our extended sales division. They have an excellent understanding of their own markets, so it makes good sense to listen to them. They are our advisors and our voice. It’s also about building up knowledge. So you could say that the biggest task is keeping a grip on the essence of the product. We have to have a strong understanding of what P20 stands for and what Perspirex stands for. Once we have this, we can start shuffling things around. “This is fine… this is not the way to go”. We aren’t Coca-Cola, after all.
International understanding is important when we chose an agency. A small agency that is accustomed to putting together online campaigns for the Danish domestic market won’t do, however. The agency needs to have an understanding of concepts that work across all markets. Sunrise fully understands that this is the journey we have embarked upon. We use a lot of resources on building a foundation that needs to be scalable. One of our targets is to make Perspirex the leader in its category, but how do we get there? We have to start right at the heart of the brand. What’s our USPs? Only a few people know about Perspirex and even these people don’t know how to pronounce its name. How should we go about this? What about market shares? Is it even measurable? We are a niche and can define our own market? It is very important that our agency understand that the world is bigger than just Denmark and that they are experienced in this regard, as well as having experience with premium products and an ability to communicate in a way that is credible. This is why we chose Sunrise.
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