NEW YORK: Ann Simonds, the new CMO at General Mills, the packaged foods group, admits that she was "on the cusp of being irrelevant" when she realised that a very different kind of American consumer was presenting a very different kind of challenge.

And, she told an audience at an Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) Industry Leadership Forum, the new marketing direction of General Mills will focus on that new audience – a mix of millennial and multicultural consumers that has shaped the way Fortune 500 companies market their brands and services. (For more, including the firm's three-point recipe for success, read Warc's report: General Mills targets the millennial/multicultural mix.)

Simonds was recently anointed top marketer of the Minneapolis-based packaged-food giant, succeeding Mark Addicks, who had served as CMO in the last ten of his 26 years at the company. Prior to her appointment, Simonds had been a General Mills svp and president of the company's baking-products division.

In her new post, relevance has become a powerful driver for General Mills. Simonds observed of her new audience: "How they engage, how they communicate, how they lead is a different language than the one I grew up in. And it's absolutely vital that we step back and understand them."

It's not always an easy sell to senior management, she conceded, but argued that the smart marketer would stand up for the future.

"You just make a choice as a leader to say, 'I can't rationally, analytically validate this work, but it's the right thing to do. It's obvious that this is where we have to go or we will be irrelevant ourselves'."

She added that General Mills had long understood the power of generational change and now needed to understand the impact of the multicultural consumer too. And she didn't necessarily have to go far to discover more about them.

"All of these audiences we're discussing need to be represented in your organisation," she declared. "If they're not in your organisation, go and find them."

Tapping into the "convergence" between the millennial and multicultural audiences, Simonds said, could become a powerful sweet spot for brands: "Make no mistake: it's a point of competitive advantage for us to consciously choose to invest and nurture those communities."

Data sourced from Warc