The Product(s) Of The (Next) Year(s)

interview by Marian Costache

On 23 May I had the occasion to meet Mr. Philippe Gelder, at The Product Of The Year – Gala, at JW Marriott in Bucharest. Mr. Gelder is the President & CEO of the company that owns the brand “Voted Product of the Year Worldwide”. Therefore, I was very interested to ask him a couple questions.

What made you decide for the acquisition of the “Product Of The Year”?

We bought the company two years ago, in 2016. The reason for doing so is that, first of all, it was a very solid concept, existing for more than thirty years in France, and we believed that because of the evolution of the advertising and the marketing industry, due to the internet, there was a lot of things to be added to the concept, like database of consumers, like using the internet to have these recommendations from other consumers. So, word-of-mouth, which is actually the recommendation in front of other consumers, is getting more importance these days. I think that there is a lot of things still to be done.

So you can take the concept from a point that is already successful to something even more successful, and also of course expand it to other countries. So there was room to grow.

In Romania we consider very important a recommendation coming from a friend of us or from a member of our family. Word-Of-Mouth is very efficient here. I think that in the entire Balkans region happens the same.

In how many countries are you present these days, and how is your business in numbers?

We are present in 45 countries now, which is quite a lot. There are some other coming in the future. It represents 4.5 billion consumers around the world, because we have China now, and I think that in 2020, when China will have the first year, the total revenue will be around 20.000.000 dollars. So it’s quite important.

In Central Europe we have “The Product Of The Year” subsidiaries in Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia. We are also a little bit further, in Russia.

From your position do you see similarities between Romania and other countries in this region?

I was a licensee in 2013 in Belgium and Holland and I took over in 2016, so basically it’s my fifth year with the concept. Things look very similar in general terms, the strength of the concept and the way the concept works is a proven success everywhere, the products that are awarded are generally the same. Sometimes there is a time difference but is the same evolution, from leading brands which have less invested in innovation during last years, to increasing participation of local products or small to medium players. This is an interesting trend.

The other very interesting thing is that our logo is becoming again very valuable. After the Internet expansion and with all those people believing in it, nowadays there is a doubt about Internet and about fake news, after what happened with Facebook and so on. That’s why our logo sustained by a research company becomes more important, it brings credibility.

Two years ago we said that research companies were dead. Now we are coming back saying that it’s important to have an independent point of view and a research that is made in a professional way. So you see, it’s never finished, you need to innovate and listen to the consumer and that’s true for all the countries.

Did you ever consider to choose a single research company, an international one of course, to make all the researches for your competition?

We actually started some talks with different research companies and we have now an agreement with Nielsen, which is actually taking care of about 25 countries of the total. We made this choice because they are very good in spotting and working on innovative products and innovation in general. They provide us a lot of insights about innovation and they also work with us very closely, in developing an enhanced methodology which ailms to stick to the reality of the market.

So yes, Nielsen is now a preferred partner. Sometimes we work in other countries with other ones, but Nielsen is a company that we work very well and we have an international agreement with them.

What do you think about GDPR? How this new regulation affects your business?

We work with companies like Nielsen and database providers for studies, which are GDPR compliant. It is something you have to do. I think that protecting the personal data of people is a good thing, but producing laws and rules that are most of the time not applicable or difficult to be controlled is another discussion. It is probably not realistic in the implementation…

I want to give you the best example. Many European states are not ready yet for GDPR, Romania, Belgium, France, everybody. It’s been a few years that the thing is hanging there and nobody took care of that. I think that the way it’s done now it’s very complicated and only creates business for consultants. It’s not protecting the consumer that much. It’s good if you have a philosophy in your country about that, but the way you do it is another story.

Personally I think that would much more work to be done for the moment, in trying to control what’s on the Internet, whether it’s pornography available to any kids, whether it’s all the fake information and so on. Of course it is good to protect the individual but an individual can easily protect himself, if he’s a little bit conscious of the system, while weaker user should be protected, and additionally Europe has atotally different approach than the USA for instance and internet has no borders. So new rules should be applied to protect in a very pragmatic way like avoiding servers to be hidden in exotic and free zones for instance.

There’s no point in doing laws nobody understands, nobody is aware of, and doesn’t mean anything for people. We need to come with simple things, to be efficient. So yes, we need to protect personal data, we need to protect consumer, but I’m not 100% sure that the way is done now it’s the right thing.

What plans do you have for the future?

We have three strategic focuses.

The first one is, of course, to develop further each country, to have more categories, better categories, and an increasing turnover for our clients, and also in each country a stronger contest, completely transparent, completely open, because people need to see that we are very serious. We are competition, we’re not alone  but we want to be “the Rolls Royce” of the sector, defending brand’s interests.

The second point, talking about GDPR, we want to work on data mining, data base analysis of the consumer, about innovation, and trying to deliver to our clients some additional means, to connect to consumers.

The third angle of the strategy is actually developing a sort of a worldwide “get together”, that we probably have in France. That’s the founding country. With all the innovators of the world we’ll try to do something really original. It’s not going to be another thing for marketing. It shouldl be something different, where people can gather and actually look at an innovation, but not in a tech way, not in a usual way. We want to further dig into consumer’s insights and trends, how can we push the innovation further for this consumer, like Steve Jobs did for electronics.

So we’ll have three angles, get innovators, get brand managers together, consumers data developments, data mining and also develop our concept further and our worldwide presence.