Melanie Huet of Newell Brands on Leveraging AI | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

Melanie Huet of Newell Brands on Leveraging AI


Melanie Huet, president of brand management and innovation at Newell Brands, will be a speaker at the ANA Brand Masters Conference, from April 15 to17 in Carlsbad, California. ANA senior director of brand and media John Paquin recently sat down with Melanie for a pre-conference interview where they discussed the game-changing nature of artificial intelligence (AI) and the limitless possibilities AI presents for innovation-focused businesses.

Check out the interview with Huet below.

Let's get right to it with Newell Brands; the company has been around for well over a century now, and with such a diverse portfolio of iconic brands! Going through the list, I could not believe how many are in my own home: Calphalon, Crock-Pot, Rubbermaid, Yankee Candle, Coleman, Elmers, Sharpie, X-Acto, and more. And of course, it's not just the diversity of brands, but categories; this is a break from many other companies that focus on fewer to drive synergy and efficiency. Can you tell us what's behind Newell's "portfolio strategy?"

With new leadership in place, we embarked on a new corporate strategy last year built on a series of Where to Play and How to Win choices that are dedicated to strengthening our front-end commercial capabilities and building a high-performance organization to drive growth and long-term value.

As a result, Newell is focused on its top 25 brands in the most attractive markets. This allows us to disproportionately invest resources against these key brands to support each brand holistically, grow market share and revenue and keep consumers at the heart of all we do.

As caretaker of such strong and established equities, what's your point of view on preserving, protecting and leveraging those assets? How do you decide how far you can "stretch" an equity and still respect it?

I'm a brand purist and believe that discipline and consistency pay huge dividends for brands. Last year, we locked our core brand assets for the top 25 brands to ensure we show up consistently in all channels and markets. There is still work to be done, but it's energizing to take a global view. This year, we rolled out a global brand management operating model at Newell designed to drive global brand market share. There are many white space opportunities for our brands.

We utilize a variety of insights techniques to determine if we can stretch our brand into new spaces. I like bold moves and encourage the brands to take smart risks. Our Sharpie brand is designed to deliver bold expression. This year, Sharpie is launching Creative Markers. It's a huge innovation whose creation was driven by strong consumer insights and is expected to drive significant category and brand growth.

What about the "Newell" brand? What role does that play in your marketing? In the marketing industry we see a range of philosophies here, from say, SCJ who typically closes with "an SC Johnson Brand," all the way to a P&G, where the corporate identity is nearly invisible.

Consumers aren't aware of the corporate Newell brand. We do invest in promoting the Newell brand on LinkedIn to help with talent attraction and attention and the overall corporate reputation of the parent company, but our primary focus is on building awareness of our consumer-facing brands.

Looking toward the future now, you're speaking at the ANA Brand Masters Conference about how AI has become a game-changer in deciphering consumer behavior and preferences. Mining consumer insights has long been more art than science, with subtlety and nuance often making all the difference. Do you think AI is capable of those subtleties, or will that all change? Is AI capable of teasing out motivations, or just behaviors? Is that enough?

Yes, AI is going to help us get to deeper insights much quicker. In fact, I expect AI will provide us with more subtleties and nuances because it has access to more data and can mine it faster than our current solutions. Also AI doesn't tire out like a consumer does. We are limited right now with the amount of time a human will want to answer questions and engage with us in a high quality. AI will remove some of these barriers for us allowing us to learn more in greater detail and at a rapid pace.

I doubt we will get to motivation or intentions, but we don't have to have that to be successful. A good marketer knows the consumer behavior she is trying to change or drive. If we can see and measure those behaviors then we are already in an advantaged place versus today.

Beyond leveraging for consumer insights, where do you think the greatest promise lies in AI for Marketers? Content creation is the most obvious place, but what else are you thinking about?

AI can be extremely helpful with process. It can reduce timelines and increase speed to market. We've encouraged the marketers to think about how they can innovate their daily to improve the quality of their output and productivity. Additionally we are finding hundreds of ways to use AI in our manufacturing and operational processes to drive continuous improvement.

AI is either going to create a brave new world, or end it, depending on who you ask. Given your bullishness, what are your thoughts on this burning question?

AI is going to be disruptive, amazing and highly positive. We are about to see a quantum shift in how we live and work. I don't for a minute believe the machines will overtake humans. Rather, I look forward to the advances we will make in all areas of life, science, and work.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

A shorter version of this piece was originally published at MediaVillage.

John Paquin is senior director of brand and media at ANA.