University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Ep. 16 | Collaboration Between Brands & Retail w/ Simon Miles & James Beck

Simon Miles and James Beck
May 25, 2021

Share this via:

What has the evolution of shopper marketing looked like? How do brands like Coca-Cola enhance the customer journey? What will browsing behavior look like with online shopping?

Two Coca-Cola executives, Simon Miles and James Beck take on these questions and more in this episode of It’s a Customer’s World podcast. Simon is the Vice President of Global OmniChannel Commercial Strategy, he leads the ecommerce relationship between Coca-Cola and Walmart International. James is a Global Marketing Director supporting Walmart’s International division where he creates and advances global strategic initiatives such as FIFA World Cup, Olympics, Gaming and eSports.

Both James and Simon have tremendous experience and passion with customer centric leadership and they discussed at length the importance of the customer experience, for both retailers, brands and what it means internally for employees as well. 


Episode Transcript:


0:00:07.6 Andy Murray: Hi, I'm Andy Murray. Welcome to It's a Customer's World Podcast. Now, more than ever, retailers and brands are accelerating their quest to be more customer-centric, but to be truly customer-centric, it requires both a shift in mindset and ways of working, not just in marketing, but in all parts of the organization. In this podcast series, I'll be talking with practitioners, thought leaders and scholars to hear their thoughts on what it takes to be a leader in today's customer-centric world.


0:00:50.0 Andy Murray: Today, I have with me two global leaders, Simon Miles and James Beck, both from the Coca-Cola Company. Simon is the Vice President of Global Omnichannel Commercial Strategy, and he leads the e-commerce relationship between Coke and Walmart International. James is a Global Marketing Director supporting Walmart's international division, where he creates and advances global strategic initiatives such as FIFA World Cup, Olympics, gaming and e-Sports. Both James and Simon have tremendous experience and passion with customer-centric leadership. We talked at length about the importance of customer experience for both retailers, brands, and what it means internally for employees as well. Let's take a listen.

0:01:30.6 Andy Murray: Welcome to the podcast, guys, I really appreciate you taking time to join me today. I'm so excited about this conversation. I've been looking forward to it for some time because I've known both of you for some time and James a little longer, I suppose, but you both are in great roles that connect to the customer in so many important ways, and so I'm looking forward to what we can talk about today. And we'll have to be careful 'cause this could go in a million different directions of interest because we share so many different interests, but welcome to the show both of you, Simon, James.

0:02:04.3 Simon Miles: Thanks. Great to be here. Thanks for inviting us Andy. This should be a really good discussion session.

0:02:08.4 James Beck: Always good to spend time with you guys.

0:02:09.2 Andy Murray: Excellent. Well, so guys, as we get started today, I'd like to just first hear from both of you on just a thumbnail sketch of your background and specifically how it might tie to the experiences related to customer-centricity and being connected back to the customer. But if you could just give me a bit of a background on what you're doing now and how you got to that role. So James, do you wanna start?

0:02:37.3 James Beck: You bet. So my background is a bit unique because I've worked in brand marketing in the CPG space, I've worked at retail for a small little company, most people may have heard about that's based in Bentonville, Arkansas, and then I've worked for the Coca-Cola company working with Walmart, both domestically and most recently globally. So really my role now as a Global Marketing Director is to lead marketing collaboration between Walmart and the Coca-Cola company outside the US and also build capabilities, not just for our Coke teams, but also for the teams we work with at Walmart.

0:03:15.1 Andy Murray: Well, that's great, and you know James you're one of the few guys that I share some similar background with of being at a big CPG company and then also working inside of a big retailer like Walmart. Take me to some of the epiphanies that you had when you... 'Cause your work started at CPG, then went into that experience, and how did that... What were some epiphanies that might have came that you didn't realize about the life and times and how things get done in big retail as compared to CPG land?

0:03:47.6 James Beck: A couple of differences. One, at least in the old days, in CPG, you spend a lot of time planning and getting things right and focusing on the consumer and solving problems, but really, maybe, at least historically, weren't as consumer-centric as we might have thought. And I did learn one thing back in brand, this was back at the Pillsbury Company, and maybe somebody you knew from P&G, John Lilly, but the execs were up on the 30th floor and he had a famous expression that is, "The answer is not here in Pillsbury Tower, the answer is somewhere out there go find it." And the thing about retail and working at Walmart is, the answer is right in front of you every day when you get out and talk to customers, get in stores, and a famous expression that I learned at Walmart is, "Get out into the stores so that you can figure out what it's like to eat what you cook." So I've tried to learn that when you create stuff at a headquarters level, as a brand level, you should be thinking about how do you make it easy for those people who deal with customers, shoppers, people putting money in your wallets every day, and that was a big epiphany.

0:04:55.9 James Beck: Not to mention the fact that when they talk about the speed of retail, it really is the speed of retail. It is a fire hose, and from a career perspective, you will get so much experience so quickly, it's absolutely mind-blowing. And I think you maybe think that going into retail, but it's certainly comes to life. So it's very, very, exciting.

0:05:12.5 Andy Murray: I would second that. The velocity is a shock to your system in terms of velocity of feedback from the customer directly, velocity of activity, especially if you, as you did, worked in the marketing side, where you were moving at the speed light all the time. So it's a great... We'll come back to more on that conversation because it's a great one to mine into. Simon, you have had a pretty interesting career from digital to retail specific and now into a global role for e-commerce. I'm really excited to hear about your background.

0:05:46.5 Simon Miles: Yeah, so mine's a bit more... Probably a bit more varied than James. So I haven't done retail as such, but I've done virtually everything else. Whether that's small companies, large companies or working for myself. So as you say, I'm now in an omnichannel role leading our work there from a global perspective, but I've worked in the Coke system for 14 years, I've run customer teams, run shopper marketing teams, insight teams, pretty much all of the roles that we have going. But prior to that I was working in consultancy, I was working... I worked as a marketing director for the World Rally Championship, in the sports arena, so yeah, lots of variety in my background. Probably not a career path you would write at the beginning, but one I have really enjoyed looking back on it, and it's definitely added to the ability that I have today, I think.

0:06:35.1 Andy Murray: Well, and you mentioned you worked for yourself some, so you did experience life as an entrepreneur as well.

0:06:42.0 Simon Miles: Yeah, absolutely. So, when I left the sports area actually I picked up a whole sort of range of different contacts, which are really interesting, in the sort of sponsorship world, and just worked as a one-manned entrepreneur, essentially. So advising companies on their kind of marketing and sponsorship strategy, out of sports particularly but how the branding world and the sports world can kinda come together. Which is interesting given what I now do, 'cause there's a lot of parallels in many ways, it's about reaching people in the right way that's relevant to their lives. And when you listen to James talking about his experience from a retailer perspective, it's exactly the same thing really. We're just tryna figure out human behavior and how we show up at the right time, in the right way.

0:07:22.9 Andy Murray: Yeah well, one of the things I'm really passionate about is I spent exactly half of my career as an entrepreneur and the other half in big corporations, and I think one of the myths about people in corporate is that there's a romantic idea about being an entrepreneur and going and do that, mainly sometimes because it is tough to do innovative things in big companies, but if you crack the code on it, it can be done. And that's a space I'm really passionate about, is how can you take some of the things an entrepreneur knows how to do really well and bring them into the bigger Fortune 500 type companies and continue that journey of innovation because it is the life blood of the future. And a lot of times, if you've grown up only in corporate and have never done the entrepreneur side, it's sometimes taken on new innovative things, it don't have those muscles built yet to do that, but that's something though an entrepreneur does for breakfast everyday that you get used to. So, have you found any kind of secret thought, secret ideas that you could share around how do you be an entrepreneur in a corporate Fortune 500 type company?

0:08:31.8 Simon Miles: It's a great question, and it's one that challenges a lot of big organizations, frankly, because often the way they're structured just doesn't allow you to be agile or innovative in a way that we just need to be in this day and age. So it's something definitely we think about a lot at Coca-Cola and we're moving into a place where we have a much more of a networked approach to our organization. So less hierarchical, actually just get the people you need into the room and make the decision quick. And certain sort of things we try to live by around, and things in the public domain, like, "If it's 80% right, it's good enough. Let's move, let's do it, iterate, move on." That kind of attitude, which is just the way you have to do business when you're an entrepreneur, 'cause you ain't got time to do anything else, you've just gotta get in there and make it work. There's no point in us slowing it down and trying to make it perfect because the world outside is moving so quickly, we have to be moving at the same pace.

0:09:26.8 Simon Miles: So, there's certainly some of that kind of mindset piece is so important, and a lot of that gets set at the top and James and I are very fortunate, our CEO James Quincey is absolutely kind of pushing that as a way of working, and so I think... But yes, it gets set from the top, but all of us have the responsibility as leaders, whether we're in technically in leadership positions or not, we're the ones that can lead and showcase how that can work in a big organization and that itself has a ripple effect through the rest of the company. So I'm thinking that...

0:10:00.1 Andy Murray: Well you know, I'm glad you said that because mindset I do think is probably a bigger issue, I'd say, than necessarily methodology, because the agile methods are there and they can tend to work. I ran, was co-chair of an innovation fund at ASDA, and we had money set aside to... All you needed was a one-page brief, basically, and what kept... You would think that that would free up a ton of ideas and that entrepreneurial spirit to innovate and come up with things but the mindset of people to go take that chance and in an environment where the leader wasn't gonna say, "Here's the idea I want you to go do it," and commission those, but the briefs were all around you, and the mindset of, "Well, I have to be given permission to do this or that" can really get in the way. So we had... Sometimes we didn't spend all the money we had on innovation because the ideas weren't there, because individuals just had a hard time getting past the belief system that I didn't have to be commissioned something. If I have a good idea, I've got... There's some funds there to get started, try it, test and learn and fail fast. And so it is a... The mindset was the bigger barrier, and it does start at the top, so you guys were lucky to have that mindset at the top.

0:11:17.5 Andy Murray: So both of you have been working in shopper marketing in some form or other for many, many years. A space very close to my heart. And I think, if you look at shopper marketing back then and you look at it now, there was a period there, and James you could relate to this as well, where shopper marketing is not relevant anymore. Shopper marketing's dead. All those kind of things that are said about things like that. But if you really look back to what we were doing 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and both of you guys were in that space. In my mind it is the same thing, it is the path to purchase, call it now, customer journey, customer experience, which is all about how you connect with a shopper on all the different levels. So what are your guys' thoughts on this area we call shopper marketing and how it's moved from the past and what it might be today, in today's vernacular? Either one.

0:12:21.5 James Beck: I'm gonna start. So I think at the end of the day really, it's solving problems for shoppers and really, as made abundantly clear by you, Andy, we used to talk about interrupting the shopper. And one thing I learned, it's like, make it easy for them to transact. We've got so much going on in our lives, just make our lives easier. I won't reference the restaurant, but there's a certain restaurant you go to that I kid you not, must have 16 pages of ideas. Our brains are swimming with so much information that a lot of times we just want things to be easy, and so the more that we can make lives easier for shoppers, whether it's an age-old question at 4 o'clock that most people have, at least prior to being stuck at home and probably still being stuck at home, is what's for dinner tonight? And if you can make that easy, it's like, "Oh, there's a brilliant recipe, but I don't necessarily wanna go hunt out the 50 ingredients or the seven ingredients either. Can I just click a button and it's right there in my cart and pick it up later today?"

0:13:24.1 James Beck: Those types of things. Adjacencies or connecting via emotions, a lot of times, what's on people's minds. They want those brands. They want those customers, or not customers, but retailers to understand it and understand them and make sure that there's some empathy. That they get it. That they're making a difference. So the more that you can connect... Making lives easier, relating to them, I don't think that'll ever go away. And I think Simon will probably touch on just some of the, I'd call it blocking and tackling. I think Simon will call it brilliant basics, but there's just lots of things we can do just to make shopping easier, which makes life easier.

0:14:02.0 Andy Murray: Yeah, 100%.

0:14:03.1 Simon Miles: I think it's exactly right, James. Just to build on that, I think there's a couple of other things which are very noticeable if you take your sales back 10 or 15 years. I think today's world is much more rooted in data and analytics than it was then, so the ability to measure things. So you know whether you're getting your basics right. You know whether you're showing up at the right point and whether it's leading to transactions or not. It's just a different dimensions to what it was in those days. I think the other observation I would have is, if I think back to how we used to build out shopper marketing plans, if I'm being slightly rude about it, I would say that the brand guys were sort of putting an advert on TV and then we were building shopper marketing led displays in store, and we were hoping that the shopper was gonna connect the dots between that ad they saw a few days ago and the display we put there.

0:14:46.9 Simon Miles: But of course in today's world, you can bring that... You can absolutely close that gap. So you can show up in their shopping journey, whether that's online, on a mobile or whatever, at exactly the right moment with exactly the right proposition and put your beautiful branded message there, right at the moment they are gonna make that transaction. And that has, in my mind has sort of revolutionised in many ways, our ability to be effective as shopper marketeers. And I think that what other people don't realise is that everyone's a shopper marketeer now, whether they realise it or not. So, that's great for us old shopper marketeers, have been in that space for a while. But I think it's really key that we kind of keep that in mind, and as James says build that out as part of how we make people's lives easier, better, faster or cheaper.

0:15:32.1 Andy Murray: Well, that is so true, and it just brings back some memories there, both Simon and James, that I have from how that space has evolved, because the debate at one time was matching luggage or not. Which that whole... I never hear the words matching luggage, which it just shows how the space has evolved. But that was all on should the POS match the TV? That's what matching luggage meant. Not, should the TV ad match this in-store piece, to be clear. Which way the matching was gonna happen. But we don't have the matching luggage. And the other thing that was a big discussion point in how we've evolved is, it was much more shopper marketing-centered on really getting a brand to cut through in a category, and so much so that... And this is something that came to life for me when I transitioned into the retail space of just how crazy that was.

0:16:24.4 Andy Murray: But the frameworks that I saw back in the day were like, stop, hold and close. Well, what shopper wants to be stopped? And it sounds like they're going to jail. And in that idea of you wanted to disrupt the shopper and hold them and enclose them is the antithesis of what today's expectations are, 'cause you wanna actually invite, you wanna invite and engage, not stop, hold and close. So I think thankfully we've moved past that. And if you're from a retail side, you don't want every single brand in an aisle trying to stop, hold and close 'cause they'll never get out of that aisle if everybody was doing that. And so, I'm glad to see these evolutions happen especially in language and how we look at the customer from that.

0:17:11.8 Andy Murray: I do have one big question for you guys, customer-centricity is a big topic right now, competing on customer experience is certainly in vogue, fueled by COVID I suppose, but perhaps it's not going back. It's really a big discussion point for most retailers and brands. How do you see the role of a company like Coke, who is selling to the retailer, then the consumer in the stores, that shopper? Is there a role to play in that total horizontal chain of how a customer might connect and enhance that customer experience, 'cause it feels at times the bulk of the heavy lifting is gonna be whatever the retailer's doing? But is there a role for the brands to play in enhancing that customer journey?

0:18:04.6 Simon Miles: Yeah, I was on a bit of a roll there with the human insights. So I think the second thing is making sure that we utilise those insights to genuinely add value that matters to shoppers. So just as we were talking about, Andy, people don't wanna be interrupted or disrupted really when they're doing their shop. They wanna be helped. And so, using that insight to understand how we can add value that they're really interested in. So, that might be price but it might be different solutions, making meals better. Those kind of things that we can offer up. Or it might be competitions, it might be some of the assets we have access to. There's all sorts of ways in which we can play a part there which just enhance the great value that the retailers are already supplying to those customers. So, I think there's still real relevance for us from a category-specific point of view. James, what do you think?

0:18:55.1 James Beck: Yeah, and I would say, going back to if I'm a brand team, what are those things that I can do to simplify shopping? Making it real simple on the front of pack, "This is how many calories I contain" or perhaps the ingredients, because you have folks that may be participating in certain categories and not participating in others. Making it really clear, "What am I". I can't tell you how many times I see whether it's an advertisement or even a product where you really have to invest your time as a shopper, as a consumer, to really understand what they are. So I think part of those brands living in the real world and really stress testing ideas, whether it's packaging, whether it's the product itself, are keenly important. And not to mention connecting emotionally on matters that brands care about, but knowing that shoppers care about those things too.

0:19:52.5 James Beck: We know from data, and there's a lot of data points here, where when price and quality for a product are equal, a lot of time consumers will spend their money with those brands, with those companies that are actually making a difference. So, whether it's making the planet more livable, whether it's doing good locally, whether it's advancing more inclusion, more diversity of ideas into the workforce, those are all things that come into a brand proposition that can come to life in retail or in the case of Coca-Cola and Walmart, we are highly aligned in those areas. So, make sure that we work together to amplify that and also learn from one another, because Lord knows, we all need to get better in those areas. So, your idea earlier that you mentioned, Andy, in terms of tests, learn and iterate, the more that we can become horizontal and test more frequently around... We operate in 207 countries. There's no room for not invented here anymore. Single fundamental human insights travel. Let's find those good ideas through testing and scale them really quickly, especially when it's in the best interest of the consumer, the shop, or in our case, maybe a franchise bottler or a customer like Walmart or McDonald's.

0:21:03.1 Andy Murray: That's great to hear. I'd love to hear your perspective on this question. I run a clubhouse room on Tuesdays for big brands doing business, big retailers and clubhouse is an interesting phenomenon on its own on how that's evolving, but one of the discussion points came up is too often, brands wanna approach retailers with everything buttoned up and perfect. And my experience has been from both sides of that aisle has been, "That's not a good idea." Because if you can let that buyer co-create and leave space for them to add value, people don't kill what they co-create. And even if you have 100% of it, 'cause you wanna have the big ta-dah and show them everything, but I've always found that getting a buyer, to your point, of say get it to 80%, co-create the rest of the way, the value add there, because there's some other pieces of the pie, but for many brand teams, that's a really hard ask because you've got a very precious view. And you wanna present your best, right? So, what's your guys advice on that?

0:22:13.5 Simon Miles: Yeah. I think that's exactly right, Andy. And I think there's a bit of a shift happening, and has happened probably in the last three or four years, where you're right, the old world was brand managers being very precious about their brand programs and often for good reasons. But actually, the most successful programs we've been running in the last few years have absolutely been those where we have taken a different approach, where we've sat down side by side with the retail customer and said, "Help us understand what you're trying to solve for. We'll talk about what we're trying to solve for. How do we... Is it looking for." So, it's really important, I think, that we sort of take that approach looking forwards.

0:22:51.5 Simon Miles: Yeah, so we definitely see that as a better way to plan joint activities going forwards. And frankly, it takes a little bit of... Perhaps a bit more humility to say, "I don't have all the answers. But together, we probably can produce a better solution." The other side of that, which I would say is that the way of working between retailers and suppliers is changing significantly, which is helping those kind of discussions. The example is in the old days, it was the supply would send an account manager and the category buyer would be there, and that's where the negotiation takes place. That's not the way these things are working at their best. To be much better, we're actually having marketing teams, the media teams, the supply chain teams, the category teams, all at the table together with their counterparts. And actually when you get all of those brains in a room, you get a much better answer and a much better program launched together with better support on both sides, frankly. So, there's definitely a different way of working as well which helps support that.

0:23:51.6 Andy Murray: Well, yeah, and it does make it a bit more challenging in some ways if you've got a JBP program, mods are gonna reset twice a year, and that whole world has been built around that particular workflow between suppliers and retailers, and that starts to change. There's a domino effect. But I think there's a huge upside about being more agile and test and learn now because that... And I know Walmart and many retailers are really trying to embrace agile, mainly because the omnichannel collapse connection, where the dot-com guys, that's the way they lived and breathed and did their work. And you put those two organizations closer together, something's gonna give because those are two different ways of operating, and so I think agile is gonna win, which what hasn't yet been worked out is how does that then work through the whole supply system with big suppliers in terms of what's the new collaboration model and how do you get involved in those collaborations. But it does sound like Coke, and it's not untypical for the big top brands like you guys to be on the front edge of those things to sort that out. But I think that's really encouraging to hear. James, any thoughts?

0:25:03.4 James Beck: Yeah. The only thing I'll add from an experience standpoint, and I know we've mentioned supply chain, but I used to joke about it at Walmart, too, is nobody's found a way to monetize air yet. So, until we do, it's really important, especially as the e-commerce world and the physical world merge that, and especially as they change so quickly that supply chain and logistics have a major seat at the table, because they're the ones that are gonna have to figure out how to get all those brilliant innovations and brilliant ideas actually available for sale. Not later, but whenever, wherever, however they want to A, buy them and B, have them in their possession.

0:25:43.2 Andy Murray: That's great. I wanna test a hypothesis on you guys and feel free to say, Andy, I think you've got that completely wrong. But it's about the future and where we need to see retail go in some ways, but with COVID, a lot of the essential categories, customers have gotten accustomed to buying those online, and that's been an okay process. And a lot more of essential categories fall under that space, which... What it creates is a challenge down the road in terms of how do you discover new items. I've noticed that e-commerce isn't always the best for browsing. And that browsing behavior is what you really need to get new items into distribution that you're trying to get new.

0:26:28.8 Andy Murray: When you look at an aisle that typically in the in-store space, if that category traffic is going more online, then I think we're gonna have to rethink those categories to be... Deliver better browsing experiences, because that's where browsing can be at its best. And a lot of categories are not set up, I'm talking generic essential categories, where browsing is... You might see SKUs have no differentiation, it's hard to work out value browsing and really communicating choice, 'cause a lot of the categories I'm used to, they are over-ranged and under choiced. And when you say that the store has to think about browsing differently, there's two challenges. An e-commerce challenge of how do you make browsing better online, and then the second challenge is how do you make browsing a higher priority in the sets that are put out there in the planograms for the stores? And so...

0:27:28.6 James Beck: [0:27:28.6] ____.

0:27:28.8 Andy Murray: James, do you wanna take that one first on the browsing?

0:27:32.3 James Beck: No, you were absolutely spot on, and I am not blowing sunshine your way. Simon and I were literally just having this conversation last week via IM and conversation. I think it's a couple of things. Simon mentioned early, the power of data. I think for one thing, from an online perspective, we'll need to get better leveraging that data to make better suggestions for people, so that the types of suggestions we're making are helpful, of interest, based on how they've behaved. But hopefully, if we get to the point to where we think that it might be helpful in the future. And secondarily, the other thing I'll say is the creative is really going to have to evolve and the media and the experience to make that of interest. And I agree, it's a massive challenge, but I also think the challenge that puts on brands, back to your comment earlier about being over-ranged, if you will, and maybe few real innovations, it may help a lot of manufacturers and branding companies get much, much better at what they do introduce to market. So, I think you're spot on. I wish I had the answer because Simon and I would probably be retired and made a lot of money on this already, but great point.

0:28:48.5 Simon Miles: Well, can I just add...

0:28:49.2 James Beck: I don't know. Simon, what do you have to add?

0:28:51.0 Andy Murray: Yeah. Well, no, before Simon shares his point of view on it, this is one of the reasons I think we're gonna be entering a new era, an age of creativity and innovation, because it just won't be good enough to do a slight variation of an item to get the trial and choice there. And so, it puts a big burden on the product development process to really reach a little bit higher than what they may have reached from an incrementality perspective, because it's not gonna be an easy sell to get that new item in front of customers or an easy path, by the way. Because if they're not in the aisle as much. But Simon, how are you thinking about e-commerce and the browsing element for discovering new items?

0:29:34.0 Simon Miles: Yeah. No. I think you've got it all wrong, Andy, to be honest. [laughter] I'm just kidding. No. We are definitely wrestling with the same issue. And I think there's a couple of things I would say. I think I've seen for a while that in my view, there's a kind of fork in the road coming, which is some of it's technology-enabled. So, you're absolutely right about the in-store experience and the way people have got used to buying certain categories online in particular. And I think we're moving towards a world in which a lot of that if it's data-driven, we can be anticipatory about when people will want to re-order. And I think we'll see many more subscription-based models coming through.

0:30:10.5 Simon Miles: So, many of the categories that, frankly, if you've got a new baby in the house, you do not wanna run out of diapers. That is an absolute disaster, so you want that regular delivery coming in so that you're never running out of stock at home. So, I think I can see some part of the traditional kind of shop ending up in a tech-enabled automatic subscription model. Alright. What that means then is the rest of the shop and actually some of the physical store will need to be re-engineered around much more experiential and impulse-driven. And I think that's where some of this... Some of the things you're talking about, some of the challenges will need to be solved for in that kind of area. I think that's where we need to work really hard at bringing to life new and innovation, and it needs to work really, really hard. And so, I think there's definitely a piece of work around what that can look like.

0:31:00.2 Simon Miles: And then I think, with this sort of specific eye on online, I think we need to all think about it in a much broader context than we have up to now. So, it's not just about the experience you're gonna get when you log on to a or a Kroger or whoever, but actually it's thinking about their entire ecosystem and how can we utilize that to bring new and exciting innovation to market? So, think about the social media channels, think about off-site targeting, think about all the other capabilities we have from a digital perspective that actually are enabling us to tell stories. 'Cause that's what we need to do better is tell the stories that lie behind these innovations. And I can see a world in which that is really the way that we will adopt a method like that and utilize some of these newer channels to a greater degree.

0:31:46.9 Andy Murray: I couldn't agree more. And if you think about simple things like QR codes on packaging, especially for new, to just get that quick... And the consumer adoption of QR code scanning has gone through the roof because now restaurants with menus, it's all... Consumer is very comfortable with QR codes, but it hasn't yet worked its way through at an in-store packaging level, which it could. You might see that, I suppose, being able to tell that story as people are very comfortable with that technology to go through that.

0:32:15.5 Andy Murray: The other thing I would probably just add is for the longest time, there hasn't been a lot of macro space adjustments in retail stores because the capital involved is so much. And when you did a macro space move, it's usually in a remodel, which that's gonna cycle through in a store-by-store basis over a seven-year type of cycle. But I think the shopping habits have changed so dramatically that many categories are either under-spaced or over-spaced in a way that's not gonna get fixed in a category level space adjustment. And so, if you've got massively baggy space, say in diaper aisle, because that's now moved a bit. To get to... What to do with that space is not... It's a huge capital cost for retailers to do that and store planning and the pieces that go with that. And in general, in the industry, that has slowed down over the last three years of any kind of macro space because of the capital investment required to do that. I think that's gonna heat up. I really do. I think we're gonna see that macro store space, new store prototypes that deal to the whole store environment because you're gonna have too many categories that's been disrupted in terms of how that traffic has gone.

0:33:27.3 Andy Murray: So to me, that just creates an enormous amount of opportunity to think about how browsing for choice. I've been in many aisles. I would walk in with suppliers and look at it just from a customer insight perspective. That was one of the spaces I had in a remit, and as you look through that, the one question I would ask in... Not in a beverage aisle, 'cause I think the buying dynamics are different. But in several categories, it would be, if you're the customer, can you work out value in terms of which choice here is the best value when you've got multiple pack sizes, multiple pricing offers going on at the same time across that, and then different languages between uses or dosages or whatever? You would be stuck in that aisle... We couldn't work it out. I've been in several... These guys are like you guys, all fancy MBA-ed, smart guys that couldn't work out how much... What's the best value of an item in the shelf and neither can the customer. And so, I think there's so many rich customer problems to be solved that it's just... Those are just still unsolved problems, if you can save time, save money. I think we talked in the day, James, about time budget and money budget and the frustration budget, and those are real for our customers and now is the time to solve them.

0:34:45.2 James Beck: Yeah, and just one thing to add. But you're spot on. And I think it opens up a real opportunity for experiential and new ways to experience whether, as Simon mentioned, via social media. I don't think people are gonna stop going to stores, but there's a lot of opportunity, a long runway as it relates to optimizing and getting much better at experiential, which I think can be a lot of fun and very exciting and most importantly for the shopper and consumer, helpful.

0:35:19.4 Andy Murray: Yeah, and I think the e-commerce side and how that space is working out too. Simon, I just... I'm still puzzled by so many brands, when you really start to even look through search in general and that customer's interest, what they land on, might be a great brand story, but it doesn't really connect to the problems that customers are trying to solve. And that is... So I still think there's lots of room for brands to create more consumer interests that lead through the e-commerce space in a more fluid way. Many of the item pages I've seen and it's getting better for sure, but many item pages look like they came from tech packaging, in terms of the features and benefits and technical things that are on there that a consumer has to look at. And do you see a world where the customer story-telling becomes a bigger impact point in what's put into these e-commerce buckets of brands, where today it feels more like a brand team or tech product operations team might be driving a bit more of that content?

0:36:28.1 Simon Miles: Yeah, I do agree with that. I think, actually, on average, we as an industry should be pretty embarrassed about the state of most of the sites, 'cause I agree with you. I think a lot of product item pages are really poor. They don't really tell the story in any sort of compelling way that is in tune with the shopper in any way really. Quite often, it is text lifted off the back of the pack and put on to a web page, and it just used to drive me crazy. When we first started doing it years ago, if I go back, my favorite example was always one on Diet Coke and I looked at a page one day on a retail site and the description was low calorie soft drink, made from vegetable fats. And you're like, "Wow, is that really... Is that how we want to be describing our products?" That was just somebody that just kinda made something up and put it on the site. And so, you just sit and it kind of fills you with horror. Now, clearly, we've fixed all that now, but it shows you how bad it can get if you don't take care of it. So you're absolutely right, you've got to be much better.

0:37:27.3 Simon Miles: And I do see... And let's be honest. It's difficult, right? I feel for the retailers because just as you were citing the example of the capital cost of re-laying the store, it's also something re-laying the structure of the website is not a simple task. So you've got to basically, where we started as an industry is we put the catalog online. And so, we're living with a bit of that legacy, but I think what I'm seeing is much more thought going into, "What's the occasion that we're going to here? Or what's the experience that lies behind it? Is there a theme to it?" And some of those things bring the pages to life. Allowing it to tell an interesting story in an engaging way and enable the shop, perhaps, to be a more pleasant experience. To get through it quicker or to think about tangential products, which makes sense to go with the thing you're looking at. So yeah, it's definitely improving, but there's a long way to go for sure.

0:38:17.7 Andy Murray: Well, that's great. I agree. And one more last... Well, not last question. Another thing I wanna talk about is I do think I've experienced a world... And these things go in cycles where brand, top brands and top retailers would create these amazing programs, and then times when that was a bit more transactional in terms of how those relationships, what they were focused on. And I think, James, you and I go back to where we did a Coke Walmart Christmas ad that Coke partnered on that did really, really well. And thinking about joint purpose and joint equity and things that are more meaningful to the customer, I still think there's lots of room for that in the industry that is tying up purpose-driven things because customers and consumers do care about purpose. And I hope that that's something we see the pendulum swing even more to than what it has been, and probably I think the retailers are gonna compete and win, are gonna be those that understand that, and it doesn't have to be a transactional type relationship. I think on the Coke Walmart ad no money changed hands to do that, it was just two teams trying to do what's right for the customer and engage the customer. So I'm still hopeful for that because I think that is that collaboration taken to even bigger levels.

0:39:46.1 Simon Miles: Yeah, and I think...

0:39:47.1 James Beck: Yeah, and one thing, just we as a company...

0:39:51.1 Simon Miles: Go ahead, James.

0:39:52.1 James Beck: Anyway, we strive to be our customer's... Okay, sorry. Yeah, we strive to be our customer's best business partner. And whether they wanna pick up the phone and call James Quincey and say, "Look, I'm entering a new market, you guys have experience there, what would you do? Is it HR-related? Is it accounting practice-related?" In your particular instance, I know we had a conversation about your brand and I think my question to you was which part of your brand would you like assistance with, is it save money or is it live better? And you say, "I need a little bit of help with live better."

0:40:23.0 Andy Murray: That's right.

0:40:23.7 James Beck: And we'd married the fact that we can really make that happen. And there was magic there. There was magic when we worked together to distribute un-pop-able soccer balls to teenagers across five different continents to afford them the gift of play because for both of our companies, guess what? Play is where people learn to be creative...

0:40:45.3 Andy Murray: That's right.

0:40:45.3 James Beck: To solve problems, to work in teams, all those things that we care about. So, I love the fact that both of our companies or your former company, my former company, and the current one that I work for now are aligned from a purpose, because that can be a lot of fun and help us both solve problems that matter to us and for our societies, because both of us are given a ton of responsibility and so it's really important that we keep our eye on making a difference in all those communities where we operate.

0:41:14.7 Andy Murray: It's a lot more fun to work on big ideas. And so, I think life's too short to be all transactional anyway and so, I'm just really excited about that. Hey, Simon, you were gonna say something.

0:41:24.6 Simon Miles: Yeah, I was just... James said it very well. I was just gonna add a little bit. If you think about our company mission is refresh the world and make a difference. And it's the making a difference part of it that's really, really crucial. And it's... I've seen it evolve over the last few years where it was one of those things that you tried to get to do after all the transactional stuff is done. Frankly, it's front and center now. People just expect it. They need to see that companies are genuinely doing things, which make a difference in the communities in which they live. And we have a responsibility as large organizations to make that real and genuinely make a difference to people's lives. Not just tokenism, not just playing at it, but to invest heavily and to do the right things. And that's why we're into significant programs around plastics and water usage and those kind of areas. And of course, where we can intersect then with other customers like Walmart, who have Project Gigaton and other things that they're doing. And there's such a great synergy, as James was saying, that it's an absolute no-brainer and an absolute must that we get those programs right and we do the right thing.

0:42:24.5 Andy Murray: Excellent, excellent. Well, one last question for you both. The world that we work in now is so much more connected from a customer-centricity, the customer is driving that. Just as you said, the customer is driving collaboration between companies, the customer is driving a simplification that requires working across silos. And yet, if you go to most universities, there is no customer organization training or customer department, it comes from multiple different lenses. If you were to advise, if you were just starting your careers out at the beginning coming out of Uni and going into, what advice would you have to students that are coming into the workforce around the types of experiences that will prepare you to be a leader in the future in an organization like Coke? Any kind of different pass than what you might have told them 10 years ago, if... You both have had traditional brand experiences, but what might you tell them today?

0:43:26.2 Simon Miles: I think, for me, there's probably some things which stayed the same, and that's sort of timeless, and others that are probably evolving. I still think having passion and curiosity and those kind of things are values that stand you in good stead as you build your career. And I think the attitudes of the people that we're hiring. That's what we're hiring for is their kind of outlook and the way they approach problems and stuff. Because you can't really hire on skills very easily these days because of the skills we've got now are not gonna be the relevant ones in three or five year's time. So, how do you know that person's gonna be the right person? Well, because of the attitude they have and the way they approach problems and their curiosity to solve, and the way they work with other people. So those are the things that I think is really important.

0:44:09.5 Simon Miles: But I also think and I give this advice to a few people that I mentor is, I think it's really important in the early stages of your career to think about building a very solid broad base to your skill set. So, if you're fortunate, like James and I and you work for a company like Coca-Cola, it offers you a wealth of different types of roles. And my advice is don't think narrowly, so think about how do you build out the strength of your base. So, whether that is to getting exposure into finance or human resources or supply chain or marketing or sales, all of those elements are gonna pay you back in future years because it will build your broader understanding of how organizations work and how they get things done. Because the challenge in today's world is it moves so quickly, the people who are succeeding are the people who can get stuff done and they're able to navigate around it. And if they've walked in the other people's shoes, so much the better.

0:45:02.7 Andy Murray: That's great advice, that's great advice. And one of the things that I learned at Proctor in my time there, where I was there almost nine years, I kept taking assignments that were on the fringe. When I'm told them I was going to [0:45:14.5] ____, Arkansas, this was back in '91 when P&G was bigger than Walmart and now, that's all changed, of course. But they said, "Why would you go there?" And "Where is that?" And those kind of questions, which probably still people do talk about today, somewhat. It has changed a little bit, James, in terms of the reputation and value of coming to the fringe. But my suggestion would be take those fringe assignments because that's where innovation happens. Innovation happens on the fringe. And the traditional wisdom of taking a certain type of role cookie cutter to get to the top, Simon, your background is very circuitous in terms of how you've landed to where you are, and those experiences add up. And so, if you do join a Coke or a big company, I'd say, don't listen to the rhetoric that says, "You've gotta go a certain path in order to get promoted," because I think it's not true anymore, and I would definitely go to the fringe opportunities where you can do some innovation and cool stuff. James, you're on the fringe?

0:46:14.7 James Beck: Yeah. I would echo the things both of you guys have discussed. And having a daughter in undergrad right now, some of the advice, if they have an opportunity while they're still in school, take the best professors, regardless of function. There's a wealth to be learned in cost accounting because guess what, you are working cross-functionally and hearing how the world works. Become comfortable with analysis, and I'll just joke, do not take multiple choice exams for five years like I did in undergrad. I love those liberal arts majors and those accounting majors and engineering folks that are adept at solving problems. So I think that's really important. And the other piece is just the ability to influence. Regardless of where you are, the ability to craft a story with data, so become comfortable again, back to the problem-solving and utilising data, but to craft a simple story that will get people on your side and also sort of the maturity to be willing to iterate, because there's a lot of great ideas, if you'll just spread the wealth in form of your questions to your supply chain counterparts and your accountants and your frontline workers. Anyway, I think that the key is nice in the sandbox, influence and don't be afraid, to your point, to hit the fringes because there's a lot of good to be done, a lot of commerce to be had, and certainly at the end of the day, a lot of fun to be had.

0:47:46.8 Andy Murray: I love it. I like this idea of the crafting your story, and even your own story about what are you about, what are you passionate about, work that story out so you could tell it and tell it to leaders and others you talk to, and if you could simplify a problem and tell a story, 'cause there's so much complexity, and if you could do that, that's really well. You guys will appreciate this. There's a technique... I grew up in the computer science space first, and there's a technique called rubber ducking, and basically what you do, and I keep this on my desk, is if you're running into a code problem or something really difficult, you sit and you describe that problem to a rubber duck, so that it can understand it, it's called The Feynman Technique, and it's actually really helpful because in that process of simplifying, you end up finding answers that you didn't think through and you help others to work with that. And so if you can tell your personal story to a rubber duck, you'll be in a good spot, so anyway, I thought you might find that kind of humorous and please don't make fun of me for that.

0:48:50.3 Simon Miles: No, I love that. James and I talked about a similar thing, which is, if you get in trouble, can you explain it to a five-year-old? That's what we often keep in our minds is if you can explain it to a five-year-old, all good, then you can explain it to anyone.

0:49:03.1 Andy Murray: And you're on the journey to solving it, I couldn't agree more. Well, I obviously haven't been talking to five-year-olds today, I've been talking to these very senior guys that I've known for a long time, and just so appreciate you guys' history, experience and careers are phenomenal, and I love that you keep the same passion and energy from when I met you years ago, and that is driving you in what you do. So any final thoughts?

0:49:32.3 Simon Miles: Determination, that's the other thing I would say is... Determination and being able to keep on it is really important in today's world, because there's a lot of reasons... You will find a lot of people who will say, No, but you've just gotta keep doing it. The people who succeed just are the ones who are absolutely determined to make things happen. So just follow your passion and make it happen. But I really appreciate the opportunity to chat again Andy, I really enjoyed it.

0:49:57.4 Andy Murray: Same here.

0:50:03.5 James Beck: And my last parting thoughts, look, you spend entirely too much time working not to love the people that you work with, to feel like you walk out of wherever you are smarter than when you got there in the morning and be a student of the game, read and listen and learn, because the learning and the ideas come from anywhere, and it also makes working a lot more fun.

0:50:25.1 Andy Murray: Yeah. Well done. Well, thank you both. This has been phenomenal, I really appreciate it. I think our listeners are gonna learn a lot and off to the races and back to creating the future.

0:50:36.6 Simon Miles: Thanks Andy.


Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

Customer Centric Leadership Initiative

The Customer Centric Leadership Initiative promotes thought leadership and ongoing inquiry among scholars, students, business leaders and regulators to address the evolving marketing and customer engagement challenges inherent in an omnichannel, transparent and hyperconnected marketplace through education, research and outreach. Learn more...

Stay Informed

Engage with our initiative on social media, and get updates from our email newsletter.