Claire Low, Marketing Director - Confectionery at Cadbury, Halls and Trebor, spoke to WARC’s Anna Hamill for Marketer’s Toolkit 2022 about portfolio management during COVID, seamless brand experiences, and why e-commerce strategies need to start with the basics.

Toolkit 2022

This interview is part of WARC's Marketer's Toolkit 2022, launching soon. Click here to register your interest.

Key insights:

  • Making sure that the brand is adapting its product portfolio to be relevant for the channel is important: shoppers tend to buy different items online than they would in a physical retail store.
  • Consumers are being bombarded about sustainability every day. Brand messaging needs to be simple, authentic and backed up with facts.
  • Embrace an agile mindset within the marketing team, especially when everything is changing so quickly. Give employees the confidence to not always ‘look up’ to their leaders for direction.
How has your experience been navigating the COVID rollercoaster over the last 18 months?

We saw during COVID that treats became even more important to people. We were stuck at home, we didn't know what was going on, all we did know was that everything that we were seeing and experiencing was quite scary. Treats were a moment just to take a little bit of time out to have reassurance. What we also saw was that big, famous, heritage brands became more important. Consumers went back to the brands that they trusted and grew up with, and brands like Cadbury have always had a big part of people's lives.

All the things that were taken away we realised meant so much to us, and what we're seeing is that the role of treating and family occasions remain really important.

From a marketing perspective, what has been the biggest challenge?

During the middle of COVID, it was how to manage our portfolio. There were some parts of our business where the consumers simply weren’t there. If you think about the High Street – our singles business and away-from-home business – that was pretty much shut down. Overnight, demand went up for bigger pack formats and people were stocking up. [The challenge] was how we adjusted as a company to be able to meet those changes and to do it quickly.

We learned a lot about ourselves as a team and how we reacted quickly and communicated. We set our teams up by pack formats and put energy where the need was. That was a great demonstration of how we have to be more agile as marketers to be able to meet demand, and we’ll see that going forward as well.

Claire Low, Director – Marketing Activation, Cadbury

Are there any parts of that that you anticipate will be permanent or temporary?

The speed at which we managed to do things is something we want to hold onto. We threw out any time plans because the necessity was to do things quicker, but the results were still fantastic. COVID hit just as we were about to hit Easter. Our TV commercial wasn't appropriate – it showed a grandfather hugging his grandchild – and we just couldn’t do that. So we changed from a TVC into a virtual world with a ‘worldwide egg hide’. Why would we go back to the old ways when we know that we can do things just as efficiently, we can use different media choices, and the creative output is still fantastic?

There are certain small things that we let go that we wouldn't have done in an ideal world. But the chocolate industry, in particular, was relatively buoyant – the shape of it was just different. That meant we had to do things differently.

How have you gone about creating a consistent customer experience across both retail and e-commerce channels?

It was a challenge for us, and we had to learn quickly. Our ambition is to create a great consumer experience at every touch point... The challenge for us in the creative industry is making sure that everything that we do is seamless. How do we make sure of a beautiful, seamless experience with fantastic and appropriate creative at every part of the journey?

It’s also about some very practical things. We saw a massive increase in online shopping. When we're looking at behaviour now, we're seeing 60-70% of those consumers that went into online shopping are saying they're not going to switch back. So, again, it’s about how we are making sure that we're set up for that through our own channels.

It's also about making sure that the right product is available – larger items, hampers, gifts, etc – online. Our ‘impulse buy’ products, however, are less relevant for the online experience. Making sure that we're adapting the portfolio to be relevant for our consumer mission is super important.

How is your media investment approach evolving for e-commerce channels?

Ultimately, we need to be where our consumers are and with a shift in shoppers online, naturally our investment needs to follow. As a business we’re looking at how we can better integrate our brand communications with our existing online presence, be that creating fully integrated solutions with platforms like Amazon, or via seasonally-led through-the-line solutions like Cadbury WorldWide Hide, centred around our DTC platform.

Increasing investment is a priority. While it is not, historically, a true ‘performance marketing’ business, this is an area we’re looking to learn fast. We’re not just looking at this from a paid media perspective – we’ve also seen great success with leveraging owned social platforms alongside paid media to create buzz and excitement around the innovation that we put out to market. The love for our brands means consumers genuinely want to engage, helping us to grow our consumer database and grow future conversions. Our Cadbury Inventor campaign has been a great example of this.

How do you ensure that your brand stands out in a crowded e-commerce environment as opposed to in-store retail?

Some of the principles remain consistent... we don't want to confuse the consumer when they're there. They are short on time, so their experience with our brands and products needs to be seamless. This starts with the basics: optimising findability of our products, imagery and thumbnails, emphasising strong reviews etc. How do we make it faster, more pleasant, and more enjoyable?

It's super important that we maintain our equity and that we show up in a consistent way – it's one of the things that we hold really tightly. The customer journey is all part of the original briefing for any campaign or execution and that applies to every touchpoint.

What are your strategic priorities with regards to sustainability?

We want to produce the right snack in the most sustainable way that we can. From early 2022, Cadbury Dairy Milk tablets made in Bournville [Cadbury’s flagship factory in the UK] will be packaged with 30% recycled plastic. Our ‘Cocoa Life’ programme is about ensuring that we've got 100% sustainable cocoa. We have also made significant reductions in packaging to our share bags and also our seasonal business. Where we can take packaging out, then we absolutely do.

One of the challenges for us, as marketers, is how we communicate that sustainability message in a really compelling way. There's quite a lot of confusion in terms of communication. Consumers are being bombarded about sustainability every day. How can we simplify that message, whether it's food packaging, ingredients or other things that we can do in terms of our advertising? COVID was a very good check on whether we always have to do things in certain ways.

We’ve learned how efficient things can be in terms of sustainability in advertising production. Our creative agency works with a sustainability expert to ensure when we go on set that we're as sustainable as we possibly can be. For example: reducing the amount of wardrobe, the amount of plastic water bottles used, the amount of food produced, etc. I think that's a big thing around sustainability: education and awareness and not putting a stigma behind it.

How are you measuring the real life impact of those sustainability initiatives?

We have global metrics we've signed up to, which are important, and then we look at how we might [implement those] in a way that is the most sustainable for our products. What's right for our products may well vary by different packs and by different products. I think the important thing is staying focused on achieving our end-game, ie. that our pack portfolio is the most sustainable that it can be.

The way that we do that is cutting out unnecessary packaging or coming up with alternatives where they're viable and where they produce a better outcome for the environment. Then when we look at our ingredients and how we're sourcing those in the most sustainable way – that’s why our cocoa is now 100% sustainable.

Are you making any structural changes to pursue some of these new trends that you're seeing?

We’re very aware of the consistency of change, and that also comes down to how we manage our teams and our leadership. Historically, it's always been that the person on top knows everything, but that's not the case anymore. What we're trying to do is embrace an agile mindset within our marketing teams because everything changes so quickly. We need to give them the confidence to not always ‘look up’ [to their leaders] for direction.