As part of WARC’s CMO Conversations podcast series, Doug Martin, Chief Marketing and Disruptive Growth Officer at General Mills, spoke to WARC’s Anna Hamill about keeping iconic brands relevant, why innovation matters and the importance of staying the course on brand building investment.
Investing on long-term objectives has been essential to navigating the challenges of recent years, according to General Mills’ Chief Marketing and Disruptive Growth Officer, Doug Martin.
“We really need to continue to invest in building the brands, because it is decades of consistent contributions to the brand equity bucket that made our brands what they are today,” said Martin in an exclusive interview on The WARC Podcast recently.
“As budgets come under pressure, consumers are going to be thinking about trading down… In that environment, we absolutely need to make sure that we are consistently delivering remarkable products and experiences,” he said.
The company, which produces some of the world’s biggest cereal and snack brands, has navigated the impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviors as well as supply chain issues. A surge in global wheat and sunflower oil prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – which is a major global food supplier – has impacted the category. Unexpected weather events have also played havoc with food producers in the last year.
“The power of the entire organisation to continue to be able to actually put a product on the shelf in an incredibly tumultuous time was very important,” Martin said.
“The biggest thing that we learned – which is the most obvious thing possible – was that now and into the future, agility is going to be the most important trait and the most important thing that we can build into our organisation.”
Innovation makes a difference, even in tough times
Despite a challenging supply chain and wider economic environment, Martin underlined the importance of innovation in keeping CPG brands relevant.
“Innovation and, in particular, product innovation, can lead a consumer to say something to themselves like ‘this brand always has something for me’. Finding new ways to surprise and delight them, or new ways to solve a problem, continues to elevate the total brand in their mind,” he said.
“Sometimes you really think about an innovation, sometimes you overthink about it, and sometimes it’s super simple,” Martin said, referring to the “hugely successful” launch of the company’s Minis cereal range, which offers miniature versions of favorites such as Trix, Reese’s Puffs and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
“That’s on track to be a $100m dollar business in year one. We always thought it was going to be good… I think consumers found it as another reason to retry a brand that they loved, but maybe weren’t consistently buying today. It’s a new way to capture attention and a new way to remind people that they always loved this product.”
Evolving media strategy
For mass-market brands like the ones in the General Mills portfolio, reach is essential. Martin is balancing this with the exciting opportunities emerging in the digital media space, which are changing how the company’s brands connect with consumers.
“We tend to have quite widely-penetrated brands. We’re in a lot of households, which means we need big audiences and so we need to be on platforms that have a lot of people there. We want to be where you’re spending your time,” Martin said.
“What we try to do at General Mills is have an audience connection strategy, and not a channel strategy. What I mean by that is it’s not up to us to determine where people want to spend their time with what media or with what device, etc.” Martin explained.
“But it is up to us to be extremely aware of how they are spending that time and then get the right message in front of them at the right time. The classic example is that we’re on a very long trajectory of people moving away from linear TV and towards streaming video services, and so it’s got to be a constant evolution of making sure that our media plans match that.”
TikTok, for example, is playing an increasingly important role, Martin said.
“It was not that long ago that we thought of TikTok as a place for teens to go to do dances… but it has very quickly become extremely relevant for food. I’m glad that we experimented early because now it’s an increasingly important part of our plan.”