KIMBERLY-CLARK’S ZENA ARNOLD ON GOOGLE, CPG AND MARKETING IN A COOKIELESS WORLD

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Google alum returned to CPG to help transform the Huggies marketer—and got a song written about her on Spotify

Zena Arnold came to Kimberly-Clark Corp. as chief digital and marketing officer last year with an unusual background as a former packaged goods executive (Procter & Gamble Co. and Kellogg Co.) who’d gone to Google for more than six years, then came back to CPG.

Perhaps naturally, her remit at Kimberly-Clark, marketer of Huggies, Kleenex and Cottonelle, involves digital transformation, a subject she’ll be talking about at the Ad Age Next: CMO conference on Dec. 2 alongside Oliver Joyce, global chief transformation officer of her media agency, Mindshare Worldwide. Arnold is well suited for the role given that her last stop at Google was as global head of growth for the Chrome operating system, whose impending end of support for third-party cookies has led to so much industry concern.

In this interview with Ad Age, Arnold discusses where K-C is on digital transformation, how the company’s move of North American marketers from Neenah, Wisconsin, to Chicago is going, what she learned at Google that she’s applying—and what it’s like to have a song written about you. “Zena with a Z!” on Spotify is one of several ballads about chief marketing officers the audio media platform featured in a recent playlist.

First, that song. What’s it like to have a song written about you on Spotify?

I’m a huge fan of ‘80s synth-pop. When they reached out, I said it sounds fun. Let’s do it. Really, really cool and I can’t say I’ve quite had anything like that.

What made you decide to leave Google to return to CPG?

I have a history and background in CPG. That’s kind of where I grew up, so I spent formative years of my career at P&G and then a few years at Kellogg before moving to Google. I absolutely loved my time at Google. It was a fantastic company, and I learned so much had so many amazing opportunities. But I kind of missed in my heart being at a place where marketing is really critical to driving the business, and in CPG it absolutely is. So when this opportunity came along, I thought this is a really good way of bringing some of the things I’ve learned in the tech world to a CPG company and helping kind of evolve it.

What have you learned at Google that you can apply at Kimberly-Clark?

A lot of things to varying degrees. Some of the things that I really loved about the tech industry were that there’s a lot of focus on growth, there’s a lot of energy for experimentation of pushing the envelope and trying new things. It’s not about little iterative changes. It’s about, “Hey, we’ve got to think much bigger.” There’s just such a comfort for change there, and even failure, something that a lot of traditional companies can learn a lot from.

How does the impending loss of cookies from Chrome and loss of tracking information generally affect Kimberly-Clark marketing?

There’s definitely impact. We don’t all know or understand the full implications of all of them just yet, so we’re working really closely with our platform partners with our agencies to chart a course. And at this point, really, it’s exploring a lot of options, seeing what is in the woodwork so we can evolve as the ecosystem does. More broadly, our strategy and where we’re evolving to is less about mass marketing and more about building relationships with consumers. That, in the longer term I think, is something that’s going to help us regardless of the landscape—getting these, these deeper relationships with the right permissions, the right engagement and the right value exchange.

You have dual jobs as chief digital and marketing officer, and that first part involves digital transformation. Where do you see Kimberly-Clark on that road?

I think we are well along the road, I wouldn’t say we’re at the end. I’d say you know we’ve done a lot of the outside fundamentals, getting our digital presence in a good place, doing personalized media. We’ve seen a lot of really good results from that. We’re starting now to use the data that we have, first-party data again to build more of those deeper relationships and a lot of our own properties. So whether it’s a website, whether it’s a CRM program, whether it’s the loyalty program, we’re really investing in and getting to that great value exchange. As tools and technology get even better and you know we adopt them and have our marketers learn them, we anticipate we’ll do even more.

Kimberly-Clark is in a different transition with marketers moving to Chicago. How is that transition going?

We’re excited about the change. It’s a really great opportunity for us to be in a city that’s got a lot of energy, be really close to a lot of our partners, whether that’s agency partners or platform partners. Plus, I and most of my global team have been here in Chicago for many years now. The fact that all of the North America marketers are moving here, it’s just going to be a great opportunity for us to be co-located.

Do you expect change in the marketing organization just because not everybody can move?

We will. Not everyone is able to make the move. But, you know, it’s a battle for talent, regardless of where you are these days, and we feel like K-C, we’ve got a lot of great opportunity, because we have the scale and the opportunity to work on iconic brands and reach millions of consumers. So we are looking forward to bringing some new and fresh thinking on board as well.

This article first appeared in adage.com

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About Author

Jack Neff

Jack Neff, editor at large, covers household and personal-care marketers, Walmart and market research. He's based near Cincinnati and has previously written for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Bloomberg, and trade publications covering the food, woodworking and graphic design industries and worked in corporate communications for the E.W. Scripps Co.

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