Conversation with Mathieu Lacombe, Head of Digital and Media France at Danone
#Digital Marketing

Conversation with Mathieu Lacombe, Head of Digital and Media France at Danone

In 2019, Danone turned 100! The French giant is now a €25 billion business present in 120 markets worldwide.i Mathieu Lacombe, Head of Digital and Media France at Danone, shares with iProspect his views on digital transformation, making data more human, and breaking away from traditional segmentation models.


Could you tell us more about how Danone has evolved its marketing approach over the last five years?


When marketing professionals think of Danone and our go-to-market strategy, they may see us as a Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) leader carpet bombing its message through tons of gross rating points (GRPs). I can’t really blame them for that, as we used the mass-communications model for many years with campaigns that were all about sales. However, in 2017, we started our internal revolution facing a simple hard fact: by systematically averaging our messages, our target audiences, and our products, we weren’t where people were anymore, and we weren’t offering them what they wanted. In short, if as a consumer you were younger than 45 years old, you didn’t see our campaigns. We were spending two thirds of our media investment in environments where people are leaning back and only a third in interactive environments where people are leaning forward, like mobile screens. It was imperative to recognise and embrace the new paradigm we’re all living in; impacted by technology, the increasing mobility and the need for personalisation.  


You mentioned the place of technology in consumers’ lives. How do you use technology as a marketer?


Over the years, we have developed what we call the Humanise Data approach. Through technology and the data we can collect from it we are now able to understand our audiences not as consumers, but as people. We are not limited to what they tell us when they interact with our brands. Humanising data is about looking up from the spreadsheet, no longer observing people behind a two-way mirror, and instead seeing the world around the consumer. In that respect, data enables us to support our three marketing fundamentals: creating value, driving growth and building brands. For instance, we leverage data to identify new sources for growth, to define the social role for each brand in our portfolio, and to communicate in environments where people really are. 


To really unlock the potential of our Humanise Data approach, it was essential to change the mindset and behaviours across the entire organisation, not just the marketing department. We had to break the marketing folklore to move from mass-marketing to precision-marketing. I like to say that business is about industrialising arts and crafts: it is about broadcasting at scale relevant pieces of content adapted to very diverse audiences.


Focusing on how Danone communicates where people really are, could you tell us how this actually works through the example of one of your brands?


Danone Diagram 1


Todd Yellin, Netflix’s Vice President of Product Innovation, reportedly said at South by Southwest that demographic information is almost useless, as there are young guys watching Dance Moms, and women in their 70's watching Avengers. I tend to agree with him. This is why at Danone we have developed what we call Tribes.


Danone Diagram 2


Tribes are groups of individuals we can identify by meaningful differences that define them as groups of like-minded people. To build tribes, we use Danone’s first-party data from our website and our Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which we combine with second- and third-party data from relevant partners to define unique reasons to buy (for instance, for Actimel: calorie control, alternative to milk, temporary cure, etc.). These reasons to buy determine how we adjust our brand to make it more relevant for our audiences.Unlikerigid segments built on demographics, tribes can evolve over time and we don’t hesitate to delete some of them if they are no longer pertinent. Using this approach, we have reduced our TV investment by 33 points in the last two years, not for its own sake, but because it made more sense for our tribes. 


When we launched new Actimel formulas in France in 2019, we wanted the relevant Actimel tribes to hear it loud and clear, and we wanted to recruit new customers as well. Starting with the marketing target and the product features, we analysed data signals to define the right tribes to address, some new potential segments (e.g., gamers) and the additional data sources needed to reach them accurately, and iProspect defined the best data providers to support our effort. Only after the data foundations were properly layered did we move into selecting the right media and building the right creatives. This personalised approach - data-led but people-centric - resulted in excellent outcomes. Our campaigns were more engaging (+200% in click-through-rate), more efficient (-220% in cost per view) and, above all, drove more business for Actimel (+25% in sales).



This article is excerpted from the report Future Focus 2020: The Next Ten YearsDownload it nowfor key insights on the macro trends that shape the new digital economy.



[i] Danone website, About Danone, as displayed on November 2019 - link