We talked to Erik Larsson, Marketing Director of IQOS, about the new tobacco heating device for adult smokers
They say that ‘marketing’ is creating consumer needs where there were none before. Do you think this is so?
For me, ‘marketing’ has several facets. On the one hand, convincing a consumer that a certain product or service better responds to an existing need and, on the other, responding to latent needs. If the need does not exist, it is difficult for a product or service to be successful. What ‘marketing’ does is respond better or differently to clear or latent needs. Technology helps a lot in that regard.
Have you recently seen any ‘marketing’ strategy that you thought was brilliant? Can you share it with us?
I really like what Red Bull has done, a brand capable of “bringing to life” the concept of “Red Bull gives you wings”, taking it to the extreme and taking over that territory, to the point of making a leap in parachute from the atmosphere. Another example that I like is that of Johnnie Walker with its “Keep Walking” campaign, capable of positioning itself as a brand that is constantly progressing and always on the move, very consistent with the brand’s icon, the mythical walker. In essence, I love those brands that have stepped forward in terms of purpose, something that is tangible and concrete in everything they do, including their ‘marketing’ campaigns. A great example is Nike, which, with its “Just Do It”, has been a pioneer in materializing a purpose by inspiring a mentality to face any challenge in sport and in life.
Do you have a ‘marketing’ guru that inspires you? Can you recommend a book for those who want to learn more about ‘marketing’ techniques?
Without a doubt, I have learned from great traditional experts such as Philip Kotler and Michael Porter and from more current leaders of the company such as Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. But it has also been essential to learn from the hands of some of the best marketing professionals in companies where I have worked throughout my life, such as Coca-Cola, Heineken or Diageo. I usually read the main ‘marketing’ and advertising publications to keep up to date, but if I have to recommend reading a book, I’ll stick with a classic: “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing”, by Al Ries and Jack Trout.
Did you always know you wanted to work in this field? How did you train for it?
Honestly, it was not so clear to me at the end of the race. I liked both the ‘marketing’ subjects and the finance subjects. It was in my first job at Coca-Cola, a leading company in the sector, where I ended up convincing myself to continue my professional career in this discipline.
If you didn’t work in a tobacco company, where would you like to be?
To tell you the truth, it’s not something I thought about. I have been immersed in an exciting challenge for just over a year: that of replacing cigarettes as soon as possible with better alternatives such as IQOS, tobacco heating devices backed by science. In fact, I joined this great project with the idea of being part of a company that is transforming into a technology company, working with a start-up mentality and a 100% consumer-oriented approach.
How has the pandemic changed consumption habits and how has it affected your sector?
The pandemic has affected us to a similar extent as other sectors due to mobility limitations. Covid has generated lessons for us that we continue to apply today (such as the implementation of the hybrid work system) and has made us focus on what is truly essential: staying closely connected with all our audiences.
With the crisis that they say is coming, do you think that white brands are a threat to your product?
It is not a sector where there are white brands to use. Our job continues to be to build strong brands to ensure that we continue to have the preference of the adult consumer. Our main bet continues to be IQOS, our innovative tobacco heating device that has more than 20 million users around the world.
Do you think that the pandemic has helped to impose remote work in companies? And do you think this format works for you?
Without a doubt, the pandemic has shown us that we are capable of working remotely and doing so in a very efficient way. In our company, we are committed to giving employees flexibility through a Smart-Work model, of hybrid work, with 60% telecommuting and 40% face-to-face work from the office. I have to admit that at first I was reluctant to these changes and it was a bit difficult for me, but I have adapted 100% and I am delighted with this new work model. Face-to-face work is essential to build relationships with your colleagues and teams, but at the same time, remote work gives you flexibility that helps you better reconcile work with your personal life.
What qualities do you need to work in your team?
Well, I believe that these are qualities that are shared in all those projects that look beyond, that have a clear purpose and face challenges on a daily basis. It is necessary to be restless, proactive and creative, of course, in addition to knowing how to function and work in a team, be decisive and have a good balance between thought and action, without forgetting honesty, orientation to results and, of course, the ability to enjoy from work.
What is the best way to motivate a team?
From my point of view, it is important to demonstrate by example, care and interest in all team members and dedicate time to them. But you also have to challenge them so that they can grow and expand their skills, it is a way to help them in their development as people and professionals. I attach great importance to creating a professional and demanding work environment, as well as relaxed, in which we are able to have a good time working and feel like taking on new challenges every day, strengthening the commitment between the team and the development of the project.