Here is a transcript generated by of The Content Mix podcast interview with VeraContent’s Carlota Pico and Luca Bertolino, marketing and innovation director:

Carlota Pico 0:13
Hi everyone and welcome back to The Content Mix. I’m Carlota Pico, your host for today’s show, and I’m excited to introduce Luca Bertolino, who has worked in marketing roles for Adidas, FILA and most recently at Mustad Hoofcare Group. Welcome, Luca, and thank you so much for joining us today on The Contact Mix.

Luca Bertolino 0:36
Thank you very much Carlota and thanks for having me here.

Carlota Pico 0:39
The pleasures is ours, Luca. Okay, so I’m actually going to break the ice with a joke. Are you ready?

Luca Bertolino 0:45
Very ready.

Carlota Pico 0:46
Okay. What kinds of marketing do pirates like the most?

Luca Bertolino 0:53
Oh, that’s not a joke. That’s a terrible question.

Carlota Pico 1:00
Well, I have an answer for you actually. So it’s B2C marketing. Get it? Like S-E-A.

Luca Bertolino 1:09
Right. Good. Good joke. I must admit.

Carlota Pico 1:13
I didn’t actually come up with it myself, but I appreciate the feedback. Okay, Luca, tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get to where you are today?

Luca Bertolino 1:26
Hard work. I have now over 20 years experience in marketing, I just turned 50 so I am sort of a dinosaur considering the younger marketing professionals that were born into digital. My very first experience in marketing was within the Adidas group. I started in the late 90s, at the time Adidas was still kind of struggling. The group just a few years earlier was close to bankruptcy. And it was, if you look at the brand right now, you could not even believe it, but around ’93, financially, the group was extremely weak. It was completely revolving around a very old product and on the marketing side was left with histories from the past that were not relevant for the consumers anymore. And that’s how Nike took over global leadership. I was fortunate enough to step into a marketing role at the right time, in the history of the of the group, because the CEO at the time was rebuilding Adidas around the marketing functions, both product marketing and marketing communications. And I saw a completely revamped brand eight years later when I left the group. For me, it was a fantastic school. And, I mean, my educational background is not in marketing formally. I have a degree, a university degree, in sociology, which definitely helped me, let’s say, understand more human nature from an academic background, from an academic perspective. But the marketing stuff I literally learned all of it at Adidas by making. I left Adidas back in 2006 after working for many years at the Italian subsidiary. We brought—as a team—the company from around one million euro turnover to beyond 300 in a matter of three, four years span, which was an amazing ride. And, we built the brand, most importantly. It was not just sales, sales, sales and and product pumped into the market. But it was really a sound growth built around a strong brand that we were strengthening day by day. When I left I joined FILA, which was going through a lot of changes. I had always loved the brand since I was a kid. I have always been in love with tennis an FILA at the time—and still today—stands for tennis. In the 70s, compared to Adidas, the brand was not in the same shape and no…we didn’t have the same financial means, but I had a sort of a blank book to write, and that was the challenge that motivated me to move. I spent four years at FILA and we redesigned completely product ranges, route to market strategy, we had, we came up with a new retail strategy at the time with over 120 stores, owned and franchising stores. The latest project been probably the most motivating one for me, a temporary flagship store in Corso Como Milano, which helped revamping the brand and I’m proud to say that a few years later things that we had started back then helped FILA find a new spot on the sporting goods and street format. And then over the last almost 10 years I joined, I worked for Mustad Hoofcare Group, which is an industrial group—basically the global leader in the hoofcare industry. And you may ask yourself what hoofcare is. The end user is the blacksmith or farrier, so the guy that works with horses and provides or shoes and all that is necessary for the hooves and feet health of our horse. So I jumped from sports shoes for human beings into sport shoes for horses. And here again, the challenge that was motivating for me was basically the opportunity to have a plain blank sheet in front of me because as an industrial group with over 180 years history, the marketing function was left aside with the results that there were no…there was a strong fragmentation of the marketing message. There were no processes. Taking new products to market was a process that was completely left to personal interpretation. And the challenge for me was to unify values, cultures, subjective views on the brand, coming from many different entities around the world. It was a fantastic opportunity because within across 10 years in the group I covered the global marketing function, I added responsibility over innovation. So product creation down to the launch. And then I stepped for the last almost five years into the sales and marketing role for the Europe, Middle East and Africa markets, which, for me was kind of new in my CV, even though I always thought and experienced myself that within the value chain marketing is the first sales function. So this is my career journey so far. I have started in the last couple of months consulting to startups. And this is probably what I’m gonna do when I grow older.

Carlota Pico 8:56
Okay, excellent. So tell me a little bit. How do you become a sales director and also marketing director at the same time? Like, how does that work?

Luca Bertolino 9:09
That’s a very good question, Carlota. Because when I joined this industrial group, I asked myself exactly the same question coming from a background where the two functions were separated. And I thought that I mean, it was just not possible to merge the two into one function. Because the fundamental difference between the two functions is the perspective that you look at the business from, sales being probably more focused on the today and immediate tomorrow, and marketing on longer term projects without really for getting immediate results, but with an eye always on creating sustainable values. The good thing in integrating the two functions is that what I have experienced at Adidas and FILA is that not always have the two functions got KPIs that overlap each other meaning one goes into a direction and the other function goes into slightly different direction. At Mustad, we didn’t have that luxury because we had a smaller team. And because it was in the end, a conscious decision to integrate the two work streams and in the end also KPIs. And what I found extremely valuable in having sales and marketing together is that you have to take it all into account both the short term and the longer term. And this is for small to mid size businesses a choice that I would recommend.

Carlota Pico 11:19
Okay, so what does that look like? Like content wise? How do you create content that’s both relevant now and also relevant in the future?

Luca Bertolino 11:30
I think one thing that I managed to do in regards to content creation is or was at the time with Mustad, to have content always validated by industry insiders, you cannot leave especially when you talk to professionals that are, on average highly skilled at what they do, you cannot leave content creation to an agency. In our case, most of the content has a certain relevance in and let’s say a long lifespan, because the way you treat a horse today is not going to change in the next three to five years probably. But at the same time, you have to be very careful on every single bit of content that you produce because your credibility is highly at risk if you say something wrong. You can produce opinionated content, because there is a lot of scientific background in how farriers work but also a lot of opinions. And as long as it stays within, I believe, and I think my opinion is, that’s all fine. And it’s good to have this sort of engagement and it’s it creates trust also in the brand from a user standpoint. If you instead create content that is not relevant, and this applies to any business that is not relevant or that people perceive it’s wrong, then, yeah, you lose it all. And people I mean, human nature, unfortunately, we tend to focus on the mistakes and we forget about all the good things that that other people do.

Carlota Pico 13:30
Okay, that leads me to my next question Luca, after 20 years in the industry, what have been some of the experiences that have shaped you as a marketing professional?

Luca Bertolino 13:44
I think dealing with people—definitely when you are given the opportunity to manage a team—is by far the most challenging part of the job but also the most rewarding, at least I found it that way. It is extremely enriching and it’s—as far as I’m concerned—over I mean, I started managing a team when I was quite young and I was kind of like thrown into the water and “Okay, now you swim,” sort of approach, and you don’t know if you can swim, and I…unless you change from one company to another, if you grow within your company, chances are that you find yourself from being a colleague here to being a boss next day. And it’s not necessarily a comfortable situation. But I mean, the most rewarding part is definitely managing a team and giving them the opportunity to grow. It’s extremely rewarding. Other experiences that made me grow: at FILA we went through an acquisition and that was in terms of rounding up my profile not necessarily only as a marketing professional but more as an executive in a in a company. A tough experience. But I learned really a lot. I I believe there is…I always compare those four years at FILA with the let’s say 10 years in another company, because we we went through many changes. We went through many changes in the management, many new strategic challenges. And if you…I mean what doesn’t kill you makes it makes you stronger, they say, no? And that was really the case for me at FILA. And then, well I could mention especially within Adidas or across the three brands, I would say, plenty of small successes and also less successful cases that shaped me as as a marketing professional. I think the most relevant one, more recently, for me has been, I mean, I come from a background where when I started, Facebook was not existing. Google probably had just launched. Marketing was a completely different function. I don’t think the key silos, the key components of marketing have really changed. You have to serve a consumer or a customer. You have to fulfill the needs and desires of someone and you have to, as the competition evolves and becomes and get stronger, you have to come up with a unique selling proposition that makes your product or service stand out. This has not changed in the last 20 years, and it will probably never change. The way to reach your potential client or end user consumer has changed dramatically. And this is shaping me every day and going through this change has made me grow a lot. Definitely.

Carlota Pico 17:32
Okay, I want to zoom in a bit on the comment that you made about managing teams. What were the key takeaways that you learned about that experience in terms of how do you manage a team. What would be your advice to other managers or future managers?

Luca Bertolino 17:54
First advice I would give is, you cannot have just one leadership style. You need to. I mean, you cannot assume that everybody else in the team thinks and looks at things just like you. And that’s why you hire them, probably. You don’t have to be afraid of hiring people that know the subject more than you do. And that was, in most of the cases, the case for me, but once again, that’s why you hire them. And helping them to do the thinking is probably the most important task that a manager should, I would say force herself or himself to do. I mean, if you think about in marketing roles, there’s no…some exceptions….if you’ve been into events, there is a little portion only of manual work. And in that case, you can help, but you cannot force your thoughts into other people. Otherwise you don’t need a team. Help them do the thinking is the best thing you can do for your teammates. And I have been surprised by letting people bring all their knowledge, expertise in specific fields about how shy they were in the beginning, and how bright they were after a while when they realized that I was delegating and I was actually expecting from them to come to me. I didn’t…I mean, that’s my style, it can be very peculiar. It worked for me and I cannot say It works for it works for everyone. But this is definitely one lesson that I’ve learned—you have to let people go. I don’t think these days, dictatorial leadership works any longer.And being…one of the interesting books that I’ve been reading in the last few years is called “Quiet Leadership” and that that is a super powerful message, especially when it comes to what it means to be a quiet leader. So you have to be supportive, but a little bit in the background because you want your team to deliver and show what they can do. And, yeah, again, I have been very surprised by how people developed and how much stronger professionals they became in short amount of time.

Carlota Pico 21:03
Okay, so basically: be open to new ideas, because new ideas or new ways of working don’t necessarily mean that they’re wrong. They could actually add a lot of value and also give your team wings to grow and to fly on their own. Right?

Luca Bertolino 21:21
Right. I am 100% in favor of a style where participation in the decisions is is the rule. It’s not a democracy because in the end, you have to take responsibility for your decision or decisions as a manager. But even people as part of the creation process when it comes to, I will say any subject—and this is how the team has worked with me at Mustad for the last few years—makes makes people feel much more empowered, much more responsible, they are fully on board and they deliver more. That’s and then like I said in the beginning flexibility because not everybody is created equal and someone needs probably more push to perform. Someone needs more follow up. Others may be bored or irritated by continuous follow up. So, yeah, these are my recommendations.

Carlota Pico 22:33
Okay, excellent. Now looking back on your career, Luca, if you could do anything in the world, would it still be marketing?

Luca Bertolino 22:44
I think so. I think so. I have asked myself this question many times. I think… I guess when you’re in charge of a team at any function, you think that the entire organization revolves around that function, right? But I believe that creating value for the company, creating commercial opportunities, bonding the different functions across an organization, this is all that that marketing does. And the perspective on the entire business that you get from a marketing position is not matched in any other function. Then it’s probably a partial perspective. Probably as an alternative, my father used to be a shoemaker. So if it wasn’t marketing, it could be a manual job. But still, I mean, sporting goods…sneakers, yeah. Street stuff, shoes for horses and again, I mean there is something in my DNA that goes towards that area.

Carlota Pico 24:07
Yeah, no, definitely, definitely. What about… what have you had to unlearn about marketing over the years?

Luca Bertolino 24:20
Look, I’d rather see my journey as an evolution where and I continue to learn. Like I mentioned before, I don’t think I mean if you look at the five P’s of marketing or seven P’s, which is more the traditional Kotler marketing School, where my generation and previous generations shaped up as marketing professionals. I don’t think they have necessarily changed. They say, the neuroscientists say, that you cannot really delete habits. You can build new habits in your brain. You cannot rewire your brain. But you can build new habits over old ones. Right? And I think it’s kind of the same for marketing lessons. I don’t think I have to unlearn anything. I’m building on my experience and I’ve seen a few things now. Probably younger marketing professionals are missing the offline, the way, I have I have seen it myself in the beginning of my career. And I would rather say that—let’s take an example. Omni channel strategies these days…what is different from the place P within traditional marketing. In the end, we have to meet consumer demands. And we have to always have that in mind when we craft our proposition, whether it is online or offline, whether it is online across different channels. I don’t think “thinking wise,” there is there are many differences. So now back to your question, I mean, I’m building upon all learnings and I acknowledge that. I mean, the whole scenario has changed, but in the end, if you just trim it down to what the marketing function is all about, it’s creating a demand for a product or a service. How you do it is different but the thinking and the rational, the logic behind it, is more or less the same as it was, as it’s always been.

Carlota Pico 27:07
Okay, so basically the theory is the same, but the tools have changed.

Luca Bertolino 27:11

Carlota Pico 27:12
Okay, now speaking about COVID-19. We all hate COVID-19. It’s shaken our lives and the well being of companies worldwide. What type of questions have you asked yourself during these times about marketing and the future of marketing?

Luca Bertolino 27:36
A lot of questions, Carlota

Carlota Pico 27:38
Me too!

Luca Bertolino 27:42
Businesses are repurposing. I personally think there isn’t no such thing as a like “new normal.” This is a completely new world. Normal—what was normal? It’s difficult to say. I see clear trends. Questions I’ve asked myself during the lockdown, which gave everybody probably more opportunities than ever to reflect about the future are I mean, they range from: What are the values that would be relevant going forward? How businesses can repurpose themselves in terms of both products and services that are still consistent and relevant for core end users. And I see a shift, a strong shift, in terms of the consumers mindset when it comes to topics like convenience. It was it was already there. But I mean, I have spent the two and a half three months locked down in Italy in order to be close to the to my kids, and over eight weeks, 2 million new users of ecommerce platforms created accounts at various ecommerce platforms. I think the service level that they have experienced—apart from the initial disruptive couple of weeks—because also I mean, giants like Amazon were suffering in when when the lockdown started. But the type of service, the attention to detail, and the experience overall they they had by using for the first times ecommerce platforms, which is way above the average in-store retail experience. I think it really raises the bar for traditional retail in terms of attention to customer needs. And yeah, one of the questions that I asked myself was, how do you as a traditional business, how do you take this leap to match the experience that people else had on online if you don’t have an online presence, you’re building it. And then this this is now an avenue that we are discussing with the startup companies I’m consulting with when it comes to you want to have your own online presents, you want to be part of a marketplace, you want to be working within the rules of someone else that gives you probably a bigger stage. Or do you want to fully control online channels? These are clearly all changes that we’ve seen—I’m not saying anything new—but digital acceleration is before everybody’s eyes. I think one additional aspect that has changed dramatically in the consumers minds is how they look at brands and how they look at companies behaviors overall. Social responsibility of companies is also thanks to the transparency that online gives and creates for everybody’s perspective has increased dramatically. So, in the end, companies have to behave differently if they want to go through this. And I mean, let’s cross our fingers that there is no second wave the way we’ve seen it back in March, because I don’t even want to go there.

Carlota Pico 32:33
Yeah, my fingers are crossed as well. I’m from Spain, from Madrid. And unfortunately, COVID-19 has hit us extremely hard and our economy. Let’s see how long it takes us to recover. Let’s see, but fingers crossed that there won’t be a future lockdown. Okay, I want to ask you then, what has been your response to that question? I mean, it’s an extremely interesting question how stores are able to create an experience similar to what ecommerce stores are doing. What would be your answer to that?

Luca Bertolino 33:10
I think they have to rethink about the customer journey. And if they look at the end consumer probably say and this is a very generic conversation now, is there are differentiating factors across the retail types, the brand positioning segment, luxury is not is not GTO or supermarkets. But in general rethinking about the customer journey and looking at your end consumer as a whole including both online and offline experiences is probably the giant leap mindset wise that companies have to take. I don’t think…for consumers, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate from online to offline experiences. And now, like I said before, what they expect is the same. I mean, they are treated in a certain way online—Amazon being the probably the brightest case, claiming they are the customers service company. But and they create, they clearly raised the bar for every other business to offer the same customer service level. But for consumers, the…it is, like I said, increasingly difficult to have an experience that is completely different online versus offline. I very often shop also for grocery online and I receive a certain level of attention as a customer that I don’t feel when I visit the physical store. So this is for me the main challenge left with with companies going forward—tune the user experience that there was a seamless connection between online and offline from a user standpoint.

Carlota Pico 35:49
I think there are challenges and opportunities in both case. Like, in-person experience offers retail professionals to create a very delicate and personal relationship with our customers. And it also allows customers to touch and feel the product. Whereas the online experience is quick. It’s fast, it’s easy. You get exactly what you want. And perhaps you might even get it on the same day. And more than anything for me, it’s about time. So it takes me less time to buy something online versus buying it offline versus buying an image person. But at the same time, there is something beautiful about that human to human interaction, that human to human experience that I feel when I’m going into a shop in person.

Luca Bertolino 36:44
Absolutely, I mean for brands, it is a must to have a physical prescence. Let’s see how that develops because I mean any prediction at this stage is probably out of place and not so meaningful. But just to mention an example when it comes to physical prescence, that I read about recently, Gucci and when it comes to your example I mean touching and feeling certain products or leaving the the brand experience at a physical store for luxury brands is obviously extremely important. They announced that they would cut third party stores prescence, which is still about 15% of their sales to focus only on their own channels online or offline. So their own boutiques or their website. They will be at third party stores, only if are in extremely strategic locations that they don’t cover themselves. So probably, I mean, this also already creates a limitation or if the store provides a very specific and unique customer experience. And I think this shows that brands realize that they have to own their channel. This is nothing new. I have…when I was at Adidas, we had started this argument with our own customers retailers selling Adidas products at the time. We didn’t have any prescence, there was no online business at all. And we wanted to start it and and they were feeling this as a challenge to their own business, like as if we were stealing the from them. In a matter of a couple of years, they realized that the brand experience that the website was creating for consumers was actually helping them. It was about building the brand. It was about, obviously, not going into a price war against them, it was making the brand better, and they were seeing the benefit because consumers were also shopping at their stores and asking for others products, also thanks to our online presence, and now that helped building the brand. So back to the Gucci example. Brands realized that they have to sacrifice something if it’s not functional to the brand, building vision they have and if it’s not providing consumers with the right experience in line with it with their strategic vision. 15% turnover for a brand like that it’s a lot of money at risk. And then of course then being part of a much bigger group probably gives Gucci some financial safety. But it’s not something that you do with a light heart or not taking risks into account. It means that they see that as a relevant part for the future growth.

Carlota Pico 40:36
Okay, well we are at the end of our interview, but before we wrap up, I do want to ask you about the resources that you use to get information from, to learn from, resources that inspire you. So for example, professional influencer or a book or publication, a group of community. Basically your go-to resource where you go to for information or to build your network.

Luca Bertolino 41:08
Okay, well, lately I’ve read a lot. I could mention a couple of books. I mentioned before this “Quite Leadership” book by professor David Rock, which is into neuroscience. And the guy is a neuroscientist and I find this different approach to leadership based on neuroscientific principles quite interesting. Another interesting read is “Outliers,” by Malcolm Gladwell, I don’t know if you read the book. It’s an interesting approach, and it explains a lot about I mean, it’s… the subtitle is Tthe history of success.” Interesting perspective on that. And I mean, we started by saying that hard work is behind the success. Another interesting reading is a book called “Talent is Overrated.” I think the author is Geoff Colvin. Other sources of inspiration…It doesn’t really relate to my marketing experience but I’ve always look at Madonna is a fantastic example of how you build a brand and how you recreate your brand across time even through radical changes. If you want to stay into the music business, also the U2 provide a good example of how you have your own signature touch and you manage to stay relevant for I would say now for the U2 is about about 40 years. And then lately I mean you cannot ignore what Elon Musk is doing—and probably not really an original choice here—but the guy is just surprising. The ambition that he shows and the span of his thinking is just not not matched the way I see it.

Carlota Pico 43:17
Yeah, I recently read an article that his net worth is now more valuable than Mark Zuckerberg’s from Facebook. I think he’s got 150 billion US dollars, something like that. Okay, well, Luca, thank you so much for joining us today on The Content Mix. It was a pleasure to meet you and pick your brain on so many subjects marketed marketing related.

Luca Bertolino 43:42
Thank you so much Carlota. And thanks for the viewers today. It was a real pleasure.

Carlota Pico 43:47
The pleasure has been ours. And to everybody listening in today, thank you for joining us on The Content Mix. For more perspectives on the content marketing industry in Europe, check out The Content Mix. We’ll be really interviews just like this one every day, so keep on tuning in. Thanks again, have a fabulous day and see you next time! Bye!

Transcribed by