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Inside Fragrance: Evolution of an Air Care Giant

P&F's January issue takes a look at the evolution of Procter & Gamble's Febreze brand (page 18). Helping Febreze become the brand leader that it is today, is Martin Hettich, who has been in marketing for Febreze since 2000. Here, GCI magazine explores how Hettich has made the brand a huge success and what is in store next. (original story—"Parry and Advance"—published in the December 2007 issue of GCI magazine).

Science fiction writer Mitchell Graham—author of The Fifth Ring and The Emerald Cavern, among others—has trained and worked as an attorney and as a neuropsychologist, and is also an accomplished fencer. He told a reporter in 2003 that “fencing is like a physical game of chess played at lightning speed. Not only do you have to be able to put a point on your opponent’s chest at 150 mph, you’ve got to outthink them first.” Drawing a comparison between fencing and his first career he said, “Law is actually a little bit like fencing. Being a successful trial lawyer involves planning, strategy and execution.”

Procter & Gamble’s Martin Hettich knows a thing or two about fencing, too, in business settings and out. “I like the balance of elegance and the explosion of energy—you control yourself for a long time then have almost laser-like intensity for the attack,” Hettich said about the sport that took hold of his imagination at five or six years of age and has held him in its thrall ever since. While he no longer wields the foil or sabre competitively, he does still fence, and he makes a connection between his sport and his current work. “Air care needs to strike a balance. The power aspect is important: the gadget has to work but must balance with elegance—it has to look nice. Febreze Air Effects have actually been seen out in homes. Design is equally important to technology.”

Hettich joined P&G right out of college, working in brand management, comfortable in the knowledge that the company sought only the best people and excited by the promise that he would be his own boss very quickly. Surprisingly, he was not trained or educated in marketing. In fact, much of his education was in economics and business administration.

Birth of a Brand

Febreze Fabric Refresher was introduced to the world in 1998, a household product employing odor removal technology to clean away odors from fabrics, creating an entirely new category in fabric care. While history was being made in fabric care, Hettich was in Brussels, Belgium, working as marketing manager for automatic dishwashing products for P&G in Western Europe. Overseeing the turnaround of the struggling Auto Dish brand through the innovation of “Tab-in-Tab” dispensing packaging was among his achievements there. Between March and July 2000, he led a crossfunctional North American and European team out of Brussels charged with designing and implementing a new P&G Home Care organization.

By August of that year, he was in Cincinnati as the newly named marketing director, global strategic planning, Febreze & Cascade—a title that included marketing director Febreze North America and worldwide strategic and communications planning responsibility for both brands. It is important to note that when he joined the Febreze business, the vision for the brand was as a fabric refresher unit, focused on eliminating odors on fabric and clearly informed by the vision of cleaning. There was no hint of “freshener” language or air care in the vision. But with Hettich on board, change was soon in the air.

“I took all of my cues from the consumers,” he says. “When I joined, it was not a foregone conclusion that Febreze was going to be a success. We went back to the consumers to see what the future of the brand was; we were blown away by how much consumers loved the product.”

For Hettich, the passion consumers displayed for the product coupled with what they said about how they were using the product were cues that there was something much bigger going on. In his words, “We just had to unlock it. The only thing that took guts was to articulate it and say this is where we want to go.”

He led the brand into the $2.4 billion air care market in June 2004, with the launch of Febreze Scentstories and Febreze Air Effects. Like Febreze Fabric Refresher before it, Febreze Scentstories represented a new segment within its category—the air care category. Scentstories’ themed discs contain complementary scents and a specially designed disc player. While in the player, each disc spins its way through five scents, with a new scent “playing” every 30 minutes.

Febreze Air Effects entered the market as an aerosol spray designed to neutralize odors while adding a fresh, light scent to the air. “The air care market is a large, dynamic category where consumers expect and demand new experiences,” said Hettich in a press release announcing the launch. “Consumers already trust Febreze to freshen many kinds of fabrics in their homes, and we believe it is the brand consumers will also trust to fulfill unmet air care needs by bringing innovation to the category.”

Global Perfume Leader

Febreze’s expansion into the air care market was seen as a logical step for the brand. P&G research showed that nearly 70% of shoppers who bought Febreze were also frequent purchasers of air care products. And, as Hettich reminded attendees at Fragrance Business 2007 in September, P&G is a global leader in perfuming and the largest user of perfumes in the world, a position that carries distinct advantages. Chief among them is fragrance cross-pollination across categories. “Scent trends don’t just happen—they migrate,” he says. They start early in fragrance and beauty and then move to air care. “Being active in all those categories makes those transfers faster.”

Scale and the expertise that comes from having 35 people in the perfume group are additional advantages. This group goes through a rigorous three-year training and meets to bounce ideas off each other at regular group sessions.

Hettich himself has no perfumery training and makes no claims of being a particularly good nose. But as he says, he does not select Febreze scents with his nose. He puts his trust in his in-house fragrance experts and those fragrance folks are in on the project with designers of other kinds right from the start, and he then selects with his intellect.

He also listens to his customers. Eight years ago, consumers accepted only odor cover up. Today, he says, consumers realize you can eliminate odor before you layer on a light scent, and odor elimination has risen to the top. In addition, those consumers have become more knowledgeable about fragrance and odor elimination.

“In addition to Febreze’s freshening credentials, P&G has drawn upon its core competencies, such as consumer understanding and perfume expertise, to bring these products to the air care market,” said Hettich. “We’re confident we’ll see a very strong consumer reception to both.”

Moving Forward

Hettich’s early confidence in consumer reception of P&G’s air care products has been supported by solid numbers. Today, he is marketing director of air care, North America, with profit/loss responsibility for the Febreze portfolio: Fabric Refreshers, Air Effects and Noticeables. Responsible for P&G’s successful launch into the $6 billion air care market, Hettich’s role is to continually create and nurture the vision of where the company wants to go. “Where to go over next few years [is what] I am working on now. I’ve also got the resources—people, money and the early work—that enables the vision to go forward.”

Innovation Master Plan

For answers to the question about where to go next, Hettich applies his Innovation Master Plan, which starts with equity landscape assessment: What are the attributes the brand controls today and what can they become? What can consumers trust a brand to do? “We asked consumers and they said Febreze meets its promises, but they also said ‘When I use this brand, it is uplifting and freshening in my life.’ The transformation has been more in learning to stretch a brand and to know about true brand creation. Febreze had a much more narrow stretch when I started.”

Much of the rest of the decision making process is based on consumer research. Hettich and his team look at the top attributes of consumer needs, and plot them on a chart. They decide they want to “play in that quadrant of ‘most important and not met’” then turn to technology that solves the problem. These are building blocks. From there, says Hettich, the decision can be made to do an entry into air care; in his case, based on the fabric refresher with parameters such as the instant fragrance delivery of a spray and long-term delivery of a plug-in. 

Air Effects was the first product born of this decision making process. Hettich said it was an easy stop for consumers because they were already spraying fabrics. “It’s that strategic thinking that lets us say if I look 30 months or five years out, how do I sequence that?”

His fencing skills also come in handy here. “Anticipating the next move is what we do constantly. We walk in consumers shoes. Will they like it and what is the next demand? What about the competition? If I put out this candle, what will be their next move?”

“His ability to do that is something that he definitely applies to every aspect of the work,” said Ross Holthouse, external relations manager, P&G. “It is fascinating to see the depth and breadth he brings to the work.”

You can tell from the tone of Hettich’s voice that he likes nothing better than getting the best people around the table to push the envelope of creativity. He likes to bring a variety of favorite creativity techniques to bear on these sessions, among them taking a team to a very different environment, working with all five senses and mixing the right people by handpicking the group. “I make a conscious choice to put the right group into the room and tease out the tensions that exist.” That’s how the Febreze candle was brought to life. “We brought in outsiders, and within three months, had created a new concept and a new vision for the future.”

New-to-the-world Thinking

On June 8, 2007, P&G released news that it was looking back to its earliest days with the launch of the Febreze Candle. Candles developed by William Procter in 1835 were the first items the company sold, but thanks to advances in gas and electric lighting, candle sales ended in 1920. With the launch of the Febreze Candle, the consumer goods giant was going back to its roots while broadly moving forward with a product that fulfilltoday’s consumer demand for odor elimination with scent. “The Febreze brand is a pioneer in odor elimination technology, going back to when we launched Febreze as the first fabric refresher in 1997,” said Jorge S. Mesquita, president, global home care and P&G professional, in announcing the launch. “We felt that it was only natural that an odor-eliminating candle be developed for Febreze, given the brand’s heritage. The Febreze Candle goes a step beyond a traditional scented candle because it does more than just scent a room; it removes unpleasant odors, helping to create a pleasing, relaxing environment.”

When the candle launched, a blogger wrote that the line extension is “about ‘lifestyle’ branding rather than being tied specifically to the product.” He also blogged that this was an important and needed move that will give P&G more branding opportunities. Hettich suggests the candle was less a necessity than a foregone conclusion. “Is it a necessary move? Consumers were literally telling us ‘Are you coming out with a Febreze candle?’ and ‘A candle would be a good idea,’” says Hettich. “We came with a mystery box, and buyers were guessing that it was a candle. You could say the candle was by popular demand.”

Of course, this was no ordinary candle. It is a great example of what Hettich does so well. It reflects a relatively short time from idea to market. For the home care category, he organized a team that focuses only on new-to-the-world products—a very lean team of a few individuals who made the connection that odor elimination from a candle was a concept that should be put to the test. From this idea, the Febreze Candle was born. “It offered the right ‘size of prize,’” says Hettich. The team relied on individuals who could find suppliers quickly, a design manager was put in place and the team ran with the concept.

Celebrate Learning

The other thing about Hettich, says Holthouse, is that he is a great leader and champion for the team. “He has created a very unique and positive culture as it relates to Febreze.” It is the culture of a learning organization.“We stress not just what we don’t know but what we need to know,” says Hettich, proudly stating that “in all functions, the learning culture is very strong.” He also believes in the company within a company approach. “At the Febreze ‘company,’ we share successes, celebrate learning and have fun together, shedding the disadvantages of being in a very big company and acting like a small, nimble company.”

Next Moves

“In this business, what keeps me excited is working with customers and designers to really make an impact,” says Hettich, claiming that he still has the same energy level he had when he started with the company 17 years earlier.

He also holds a broader career perspective: “At P&G, I realize one day I will be doing something beyond air care and Febreze.” With a broad education and impressive language skills (he’s fluent in German, English and Spanish, is conversational in French, and has a basic knowledge of Swedish), he knows that there will be a career change one day to new geographies or new units.

From his very first job with P&G, Hettich has had a sense of the company’s huge trust in his abilities. Today, he spends a lot of time with the company’s young hires, telling them that P&G gives its employees challenges and keeps everyone on a steep learning curve. He also tells them that stretching their sense of curiosity is more important than the number of windows in their office.

The Febreze product family grew again in August 2007, with the launch of Febreze to Go, a small bottle of spray Febreze with a special closure to prevent leaks in travel conditions, designed to meet specific air travel security requirements. Hettich reports that while there is no sales data at the time of this writing, response has been good.

What’s next on Hettich’s Innovation Master Plan? He reports that every week a delegation is out with consumers asking what they want next. He knows for sure that whatever comes next, it will have to be a deliverable technology that works with the Febreze promise.

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