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Adapt or Die; the brutality of digital transformation

“Make an effort to understand the customer and put yourself in the customer's shoes so that the offering, the services, the messages are adapted to the customer. That is the key for any marketing person.”

Adapting to the digitalisation of business and communicating tailored messages across cultures and countries has never been more vital. Marie Bergfelt, Head of Marketing Portfolio and Communications at BOBST shares with us her wealth of experience and advice in these areas.

Transcript:

Speaker 1:
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Speaker 3:
Okay now, From the beginning.
Nathan Anibaba:
Marie Bergfelt is a skilled marketing communications expert passionate about communication and it’s important, with a long experience from working strategically and operationally in multicultural and cross-functional environments. The background spans both B2B and B2C marketing communications, leading teams with energy, results orientation, loyalty, and a policy of attitude to deliver high quality on time and on budget. She is skilled in campaign planning and coordination, rebranding and brand guardianship and product launches. Marie Bergfelt, welcome to ClientSide.
Marie Bergfelt:
Thank you, Nathan. Thanks for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Nathan Anibaba:
Thank you so much. You get your degree in marketing from the IHM Business School in 1999 and you spent most of your professional life in marketing communications roles in large complex B2B organizations. Was that always the plan that you had for your career since you left university?
Marie Bergfelt:
Yes, it was. I’m passionate about communication, as you said, and the effect it has on people, not only in business relationships, but in any part of your life where communication is really an important part.
Nathan Anibaba:
You’ve held senior marketing positions for companies like Global Refund Group and Global Blue before joining Bobst, which we’ll talk about in a moment. What did you take away from those other experiences that now shape the way that you think about marketing and communications today?
Marie Bergfelt:
I’ve worked in global international organizations all my life. And what I’ve learned is that there are more similarities than differences between different nationalities, different cultures. Many people often say, “Well, it’s so special here in my country, we need to do it differently,” but that is actually not correct. There are very, very many similarities between different people.
Nathan Anibaba:
More similarities than they are different, which is super fascinating. Human nature, I guess which we can talk about a little bit later.
Marie Bergfelt:
Absolutely.
Nathan Anibaba:
Let’s talk a little bit about Bobst. You joined Bobst in 2016 as global product communication lead. What first attracted you to the company?
Marie Bergfelt:
The packaging industry, to be honest, I didn’t know that much about it before, but when Bobst came on the radar, I started investigating what it actually was. And packaging is amazing. Go to the supermarket and look on the shelves. There is packaging, packaging, packaging. Whether there are boxes or there are bags or anything, everything has some kind of package.
Marie Bergfelt:
And it’s amazing to see how this is produced, how it’s manufactured, how our direct customers, meaning the converters, those who are making the packages, they are usually very unknown to people. The brand owners, the one who are producing the goods to put in the boxes or in the packages, they are well-known to anyone, but the package itself, it’s really an amazing business.
Nathan Anibaba:
It really is, and a huge one. Bobst is one of the largest organizations in the world of your kind, the world’s actually leading supplier of equipment and services to packaging and label manufacturers. Tell us a little bit more about the company. What problems do you solve for your customers?
Marie Bergfelt:
I myself work for the aftermarket, the service organization. And for our customers, there are four things that are key to them. It’s productivity, it means getting as many packages out of the machine as possible. It’s availability of the machine. It cannot be down. It has to run, very often 24/7. There is quality. Of course, the packages has to come out with a quality that the brand owner accepts and expects to receive. And which is on top of everyone’s mind for the moment, sustainability. We have to be smarter in what we do.
Marie Bergfelt:
And then being in the after sales or the aftermarket service organization, these are exactly the things that we can help our customers to overcome and support them in being as productive with as high quality as possible. So this is our everyday subjects to talk about, how we can support our customers here.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really fascinating. You become head of marketing portfolio and communications in 2018. What things were top of your agenda when you first started in the role?
Marie Bergfelt:
To align the service and product offering worldwide across the world. It was a bit scattered. It worked in one way in one country and in another way in another country, but many of our customers are multinational just as we are and they expect to receive the same service in all countries. They expect to receive the same products in all countries, of course, but also to enhance the communication that we were giving to our customers, to ensure that they received the same message everywhere.
Marie Bergfelt:
And I think for anyone who’s working in a technical company, it’s very, very easy to focus on features. “This thing can do this. It says this long. It has this color,” whatever it is, but what is really-
Nathan Anibaba:
Fall in love with the product.
Marie Bergfelt:
Exactly, but what is really the benefit for the customer? So that has been one of my key things to always, always question what is the benefit? What is the benefit for the customer by choosing this a little bit longer or a little bit shorter thing or whatever it is. So this has been my focus since I joined.
Nathan Anibaba:
It is amazing how founders and entrepreneurs and product people kind of miss that really crucial part of the communications element. It’s what is the value to the customer? It’s all well and good falling in love with the product and the features, but ultimately, somebody else has to buy it, use it, implement it, and what is the value to their money? It so often gets missed.
Marie Bergfelt:
Exactly. And that’s actually what people pay for, what customers pay for.
Nathan Anibaba:
Sure.
Marie Bergfelt:
It’s the benefits. It’s not the color or the shape or whatever it is.
Nathan Anibaba:
Yeah. And that job, your job is made even more complicated by the fact that you have 9,000 customers, they’re all over the world. They’re often in remote locations, and there are nuances and variations in how people want to be communicated with in North America versus Japan versus somewhere else in the Middle East, let’s say. How do you talk and communicate to everyone on a regular basis to make sure that everyone’s getting the same high quality customer experience?
Marie Bergfelt:
Well, I mean, there is always a basic main message, the benefits are the same to all customers I would say, worldwide, then how you express it can then be different of course. I mean, the Americans, we know, have a much more direct, a little bit more harsh language we might say.
Nathan Anibaba:
Sure. It’s very diplomatic.
Marie Bergfelt:
While the Japanese are super polite and diplomatic and where you can’t even say no. You always say yes, even if you mean no. And on that part, we do get local input to finalize the messages for the market. It has, of course, I mean, from a resource perspective, can’t be a two smaller market if I say so. I mean, it’s difficult to tailor a message to Luxembourg, which is a very small market, or to Iceland for that sake. But for the bigger markets, we definitely do try to adapt the messages to fit their language.
Nathan Anibaba:
And then a crucial part of this is this sales effort, right? Because at some point, sales have to get in contacts with the customer and have a relationship with them to communicate new product features or whatever sort of messaging that the company wants to communicate. In this environment of COVID-19 where it’s even more difficult to see clients face-to-face, I would imagine that your customers were also use to field sales teams physically meeting them. That’s not possible now. How has the dynamic of field sales and communicating through a distributed sales team changed in this environment of COVID-19?
Marie Bergfelt:
Someone said that COVID-19 was the biggest accelerator of digital transformation, and I think that is kind of true. Both for ourselves and for our customers, digital has not been that common, but we have all adapted. I can see our sales force is much more comfortable with doing Skype calls, webinars, and the customers are equally willing to participate in that. Maybe also because you have more time, you spend more time in the office than what we have done before, or if that’s a home office even, but any type of digital communication has really been the way of communicating and it has worked fine.
Marie Bergfelt:
We have sold several both machines and other equipment without the customer even seeing it in real life, just by presentations online, maybe a virtual demo remotely, but it has worked, and it has worked a lot better than I think anyone expected when we went into this situation in March.
Nathan Anibaba:
Fascinating. So do you expect that to continue as we have increasingly more vaccines being distributed to us from manufacturers around the world? As we come out of the pandemic and things start to go back to normal, do you expect the way that B2B sales has been done now to continue, or do you expect us to go back to the way that things were?
Marie Bergfelt:
I think there will be a mix. I mean, one of the things that we are really discussing in the packaging industry are the big trade shows. The absolutely biggest trade show was supposed to happen in June this year, in 2020. It happens every four years. So it’s a big one, but it was cancelled this year, moved to next year, but a lot companies have already cancelled their participation.
Marie Bergfelt:
And this is one of the, I think the touch points where sales have always said, “It’s so important we get to me.” I think that all these trade shows will change character in the future. There won’t be the big ones. We have seen what it makes, what happens when people are not traveling. Saving cost is one of them, of course, but also the environmental aspect of it. And I don’t think we will be completely lacking the physical interaction in the future, but it will definitely be in another way.
Nathan Anibaba:
So you mentioned touch points there. Let’s expand on that a little bit because we talked about trade shows a moment ago, you mentioned webinars, the field sales team, the direct field sales team. What other touch points apart from those that we’ve mentioned are you implementing in the way that you’re communicating and building that sort of world-class client services communication proposition?
Marie Bergfelt:
We are, as everyone else I guess, heavily investing in webinars. We are also developing our demo centers, we call them competence centers, for the future to be able to provide both the physical experience if customers decide to come and visit, but also to make it into a virtual experience so that the same location, the same site can be used for a virtual experience with customers, which is then customized to an individual customer, or it can be done for a group of customers or many customers for that sake.
Marie Bergfelt:
That is where we put most efforts into now. But also of course website is important, social media is important, where we are strengthening our capabilities of communicating and staying in touch with customers.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really fascinating. So you mentioned webinars. There are increasingly more and more webinars available to everyone these days online and a lot of people are getting over-burdened with them. How are you approaching the way that you create webinars that enable people to be engaged, differentiate from whatever else is out there, and also attract the caliber and the number of participants that you’d like to have as well?
Marie Bergfelt:
I think that the most important part with webinars is to make them in a way that customers learn something. Making them into a pure product promotion thing I think will be obsolete very soon. It will be difficult to attract customers to join. But if customers can learn something which is not directly related to whatever we want to sell, I am sure that we can maintain the attractiveness of customers. And I think this is something that many companies make as a mistake. I’ve myself joined several webinars and then when I realized it’s just a product promotion, I quit.
Nathan Anibaba:
I see. I see. Yeah, I’ll stop doing those now then. Thanks for telling me. So you talk about the sustainability angle because that is something that’s on top of many business leaders’ agenda. Talk a little bit about Bobst’s approach to creating packaging that is sustainable and that helps us out of this environmental quagmire that we all find ourselves in.
Marie Bergfelt:
A big part of the packaging that our machine is making is boxes, and very often, and that’s recyclable I would say. Paper is recyclable or a carton is recyclable, which is already quite good in terms of sustainability, but we also have certain product lines that are doing plastics I would say. It’s not plastics because that’s the wrong word. But if you consider a crisp bag, for example, that is a material which is less easy to recycle because it can consist of many different layers. And there could be like a very thin layer of aluminum in there, and that is of course difficult to separate them and recycle in a good way.
Marie Bergfelt:
But there is lots of research ongoing to have these, it’s called substrates, made in a more sustainable way and a more environmentally friendly. And we are, as a company, working closely with these substrate manufacturers to have our machines adapted to the new substrates that are coming. And we’re also working closely with where the customers and brand owners to develop these new materials that is needed.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really fascinating. Just coming back to the COVID-19 question, as you reflect the last nine months of the pandemic, what are the main things that you’ve learned from a marketing and communications perspective that you think will be relevant to our listeners?
Marie Bergfelt:
Digitalization I think is the key. There is digitalization of course as we talked about in terms of communication, but there is also a digitalization of the machines that we are producing, where actually, customers can contact us. We can connect to a machine remotely and help customers by phone or by resetting whatever in a system, but where we don’t need to send a technician. This is something that customers have previously always want. They want to see a guy coming with whatever tools he has got-
Nathan Anibaba:
Right.
Marie Bergfelt:
Right? To see that he’s doing something-
Nathan Anibaba:
Makes them feel comfortable. Right.
Marie Bergfelt:
Yeah. But when travel is not possible, we need to solve things in another way. And this has definitely been something that we have learned and customers have learned that it works. So I think this is learning we have made and this is something that we will definitely continue developing. We have had remote services for more than 10 years, but a little bit of a difficulty to get customers to accept it because they still want the guy, the guy I know, the John and the James to come and look at my machine.
Nathan Anibaba:
Sure.
Marie Bergfelt:
And that’s-
Nathan Anibaba:
And that’s not possible now.
Marie Bergfelt:
No, it’s not.
Nathan Anibaba:
I was surprised to hear you say in the pre-interview that we had a few weeks ago, that some customers still prefer communication via fax. And that led me to sort of think, well, digital is a continuum. There are those that are early adopters and sort of on top of the new trends and the new apps that are coming out and technology, and there are those that are slightly more traditional. For those ones that are a little bit more stuck in their ways and do prefer a John or Jane to come into them, how have they adapted to this change? Has it been as easy as those early adopters, those more tech-enabled customers, or have they struggled a little bit more? And how have you helped them?
Marie Bergfelt:
Yes, of course they have struggled more, but in the end, if there is no choice, it has to happen. And sometimes I get… I’m Swedish, right? And I can remember in the, I think it must have been in the early ’90s where Volvo, I come from the same city as Volvo has the factory, they stopped making the customer magazine in print and they only had a digital version. That was in the beginning of the ’90s, right? It’s a long time ago. And everyone said, “No, it will never work, and people want to have their magazines,” but they insisted, and they were consistent in saying, “No, we just do this.” Today, no one would even think of making a printed customer magazine.”
Marie Bergfelt:
So I think it’s a little bit the same thing here that if there is no choice, eventually customers and people will accept it and will learn that it’s not bad. It works, and I think that’s the best way of convincing anyone.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really interesting. What’s been the hardest part for you during this whole time of COVID-19 personally?
Marie Bergfelt:
Personally, is has been the lack of energy that I get from other people. Working from home, it’s very special. It’s okay-
Nathan Anibaba:
It’s different.
Marie Bergfelt:
To work for single days, but when it comes into weeks and weeks, it’s difficult to keep that-
Nathan Anibaba:
And months and months.
Marie Bergfelt:
Yes, exactly, to keep that energy level. I think that’s the biggest challenge.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really fascinating. Final couple of questions, Marie, before we get into our speed round that we ask everyone that comes onto the show, our favorite questions. Let’s talk a little bit about agency hiring. I know that you’ve worked with a number of agencies over the years in a variety of different roles. Selecting an agency partner is probably one of the most important decisions that any client can make. It’s easy to pick up the phone and on the spot hire a new agency. It’s far more difficult to find that ideal partner to really reshape the way that you approach marketing communications to really propel the business forward. What’s the best way that you’ve found to choose and hire a new agency that can help you do that?
Marie Bergfelt:
Finding an agency is hard work. It’s really hard work. For me, it’s important to, I mean, first of all, you have to have a shortlist. You have to investigate to get a shortlist, and then try to get opinions from your contacts, your peers in other companies if they have experiences so you can even make that shortlist shorter. And then have a proper request for proposal with realistic cases that you ask the pitch makers to answer to. And then in the end of the day, it’s a lot about personal chemistry. It has to feel right to be with these people. Otherwise, I don’t think it will work.
Nathan Anibaba:
And then when it’s close, when you have made that shortlist shorter and you’re down to the final two or three, and they’re all relatively close, the pitch is on brief, culturally, they’re aligned, you like them all relatively equally, if that’s possible, what tends to make the difference when it’s close?
Marie Bergfelt:
The chemistry. It doesn’t work as well with the all people, because we are all individuals and the chemistry is the last tipping point.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really interesting. Although brands and clients like to, they appreciate that there are unique skills required to manage an agency, they don’t often think about agency management as a distinct discipline that they need to sort of build into their organization. Their thinking is almost, “Well, how hard could it be? Agencies should manage themselves. It’s their own business anyway. We already paid them. Shouldn’t they be self-reliant and self-motivated?” How do you think about agency management? Once you’ve hired the agency and they’re part of the team, how do you think about that discipline of managing and getting the best out of your agency essentially?
Marie Bergfelt:
You have to keep them in the loop all the time. Informing also are things that, I mean, we as customers to an agency, we know our company’s best, we know what is happening. There are new development coming up. There are new things and changes coming up. We have to inform and keep the agency in the loop here so that they are part of the daily business, more or less, not to every detail of course, and a very, very regular just feedbacks, touch points, you know, what is happening, what is working, what is not? What do we do next? What’s the situation? What’s the status? I think to keep a close, close relationship is important.
Marie Bergfelt:
And I also think that there needs to be, depending on organization of course, but direct contact, the same person doing it, or persons of course if it’s bigger. But yes, I think that’s the way I have seen that working with agencies work the best.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really interesting. Marie, I could speak to you all day, but we’re fast running out of time. Let’s get into our speed round. These are the questions that I;ll fire some questions at you. If you can fire some responses back to me, that would be great. What’s the single biggest thing that you love about working with agencies?
Marie Bergfelt:
The creativity, the energy, the look from the outside on what I’m doing.
Nathan Anibaba:
What frustrates you or do you dislike about working with agencies?
Marie Bergfelt:
It frustrates me when I ask an agency to come up with a suggestion for an activity and they come back with the moon, a huge project. It’s so costly. It’s like everyone knows that this is not realistic, why even bother? That’s what I can feel.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really interesting. Really interesting. Why do you think they include that then? Why do they do that? Is it to anchor you? Because there’s that whole behavioral psychology thing now about anchoring at a high cost, but the price that you really want to present is the one much lower. But because you’ve anchored really high, the lower price actually feels more attainable.
Marie Bergfelt:
No, I don’t think that actually, I think it is to show their creative ability.
Nathan Anibaba:
Interesting.
Marie Bergfelt:
And it’s sometimes [crosstalk 00:27:53].
Nathan Anibaba:
To show off, essentially?
Marie Bergfelt:
Exactly. Exactly.
Nathan Anibaba:
Yeah, “Look at us. Look how amazing we are.” Really interesting. Which CMO has the most difficult job in marketing right now?
Marie Bergfelt:
Probably the oil industry. Considering the climate discussions, the sustainability, that’s probably a tough job today.
Nathan Anibaba:
Interesting. I thought you were going to say the Pfizer CMO or whatever drug company is developing this vaccine because a lot of people are saying that they don’t want to take it. So that’s quite a challenging job.
Marie Bergfelt:
Yeah.
Nathan Anibaba:
Definitely.
Marie Bergfelt:
Yeah.
Nathan Anibaba:
We all hit a low point from time to time. How do you motivate yourself?
Marie Bergfelt:
Very good question. I try to do something where I actually deliver. Because to me, the most important thing is to get something out of my hands and I get motivated by that. So when I have a low point, I try to find something that I can quickly deliver [inaudible 00:29:05] that done. That is my motivation.
Nathan Anibaba:
If you could live and work anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Marie Bergfelt:
Probably live and work in the best country in the world, no, not the best country, but in the beautiful country. The best country in the world is Sweden.
Nathan Anibaba:
Wow. I’ve been. I agree. Sweden is beautiful. I really love Sweden.
Marie Bergfelt:
Roots are deep, but Switzerland is a fantastic country to live in. Absolutely.
Nathan Anibaba:
A close second. Not the UK, no? Nowhere on that list?
Marie Bergfelt:
Somewhere, but not number one.
Nathan Anibaba:
Sure. And my final question, Marie, what advice would you give to aspiring marketing communications leaders on how best to navigate their own careers?
Marie Bergfelt:
To make an effort to understand their customers and put yourself in the customer’s shoes so that the offering, the services, the messages are adapted to the customer. That is the key for any marketing person.
Nathan Anibaba:
Really interesting. Marie, thank you so much for doing this.
Marie Bergfelt:
Thank you.
Nathan Anibaba:
If you’d like to share any comments on this episode or any episode of ClientSide, then find us online at fox.agency. If you’d like to appear as a guest on the show, please email Chloe@fox.agency. The people that make the show possible are Chloe Murry, our Booker slash researcher. David Claire is our head of content. Ben Fox is our executive producer. I’m Nathan Anibaba. You’ve been listening to ClientSide from Fox Agency.
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