As a part of the WARC x Spotify report, Susan Irving, CMO of Kruger Products, speaks on humanizing brands, the importance of emotive advertising, and the role audio plays in the modern media mix.

Read the whitepaper 'Sonic boom: How digital audio can help Retail and CPG brands win the path to purchase' here.

Headshot of Susan Irving

Susan Irving, CMO, Kruger Products

Let’s start with an introduction. Tell us a little bit about you and your work at Kruger.

I am the CMO for all divisions of Kruger Products and a member of our Executive Team. My primary responsibility is to lead our consumer and brand agenda. We are Canada’s leading manufacturer of tissue products. Our family of brands includes Cashmere, Purex, Sponge Towels, Scotties and Bonterra in Canada and White Cloud in the USA. In collaboration with our cross functional partners and agencies, my team is responsible for creating new products, programs, and communications to deliver on our objective of Making Everyday life More Comfortable with our Consumers, Colleagues, Customers and Communities in which we operate.

Over the past few years the industry is evolving rapidly. Which changes would you say have had the biggest impact on your work at Kruger and the CPG sector in general?

There’s definitely never a dull moment in the CPG marketing space. In fact, it’s this sense of opportunity that has kept me in the industry for over 20 years working at some of the best global organizations. Whether it was the 2008-2009 recession, the pandemic, or even our current landscape of supply chain constraints, high inflation and recessionary times, it is an industry that keeps you on your toes. Change is the constant but the one thing that has not changed is our role as marketers to evolve with our consumer and keep them as our compass, really understanding the key trends and delivering on their needs.

I started my role with Kruger Products eight weeks prior to the pandemic. Given the high demand for tissue products, I would say that was the biggest impact and shift on our work at Kruger Products. Never in my career was I removing advertising and asking consumers ONLY to buy what they needed. It also was the start of a shift in our approach. Instead of sharing the functional benefits of our products in advertising we started to connect with consumers on a higher, emotional and purposeful level starting with our globally recognized and award-winning campaign “Unapologetically Human”. For us it was about humanizing our brands and showing consumers how we fit into their daily lives. A true consumer-led versus brand-led approach. For many marketers, the pandemic forced them to rethink their connection with their consumers, and after years of programmatic and search obsessions many marketers are returning to brand development and consumer emotional connections.

Other marketers we’ve spoken to have talked about the ‘challenge of balance’. That balance can show up across a number of factors, for example, long term versus short term or reach versus relevance. How do you go about finding the right balance, and is there anything that tips the scale?

At the end of the day, we are responsible for delivering business results for both the long term and the short term. If you are consistently taking the safe route, you will never evolve with the trends or become a fast adapter and reap the rewards with your consumers. In my career, I’ve always taken the approach of 80% tried and true and 20% test and learn. That way you’ll deliver on your short-term business goals, while still reserving some of your budget to take educated risks. To do this, you need to embrace failure as part of your culture and be okay with it. You will always win because you learn more from your failures, and in many cases, the test works.

We have discussed at length the balance of “reach vs. relevance”, or better yet “reach vs. impact”. Reach is critical to define the social relevancy of the brand, but in a pull-based digital world it is more critical than ever to create communications work that breaks through the clutter, and drives consumer interest to seek out our communications and opportunities to engage with our brands. Over the years marketers have been caught up in the importance of reach however if you don’t have the creative impact, no reach is the right reach. There is a real balance in making sure you have the right message and then figuring out the medium. We all know the importance of hard-hitting short content in the :06 and :15 second form but sometimes the 3 minute or 1 minute purpose-based story will have greater impact. When you think about the greatest advertising, the ones that really stuck an emotive chord, it was not the :06 second functional ad. Don’t get me wrong, we need all of it, but there has to be a balance.

There are so many ways to reach and target now, which channels fragmenting and muddling the customer journey. Do you think the concept of the marketing funnel is as relevant as it used to be, especially since retail media and social commerce platforms are designing themselves to help shoppers discover, explore and buy more simultaneously?

The funnel is merely a framework and has never been how consumers have purchased. It has never been linear. The funnel works to ensure a healthy analysis of efforts. Context mapping, which ensures proper consumer interaction placements, assists in the successful marketing to consumers who are in an increasingly complicated retail landscape. Our media agencies approach it as a cycle consumers come in and out of. They consider the impact of touchpoint and communications during the different stages of a consumer’s journey.

In the ever-fragmented media space: what goes into your media planning process? What are the most important KPI’s for your brand(s) that you plan for? How do you measure the contribution of individual media channels?

Great question! It always starts with the campaign objectives. Our planning process is annual and then divided up by the media buying deadlines. Procurement, savings, ROI, reach and frequency, as well as impressions, are always at the top of the list. Market Mix Modelling is a very important tool as well. The most important KPI’s are awareness, reach, frequency, purchase intent, as well as brands I trust and brands I love. When measuring media channels, it is all about the mix of the channels to maximize reach, as well as understanding more detailed metrics by channel such as engagement/time spent (becoming more relevant with influencers / social media), CTRs (for measuring conversion / traffic), and VTRs (to understand watching).

What role does digital audio (podcasts, music streaming, etc) play in your media plan? What role does audio play for CPG brands?

Audio continues to be an important vehicle in any media plan especially as consumers continue to change their media/consumption habits. Music will continue to be a key trigger for consumers and with the rise of in store media, podcasts, music streaming etc. it will be critical for CPG brands to evolve.

Last year we launched a new sub-brand called Cashmere Ultraluxe which is our softest and most luxurious bathroom tissue. The campaign was called “Sounds of Softness”. We actually leveraged sound to communicate softness by leveraging old classic love songs. Our product was like a record on a record player and just turned as we listened to soft songs. Using the power of music, we create a territory that's ownable and memorable. Instead of describing softness using puppies and kittens, we build an emotional connection.

We also worked with Spotify on Cashmere Soft Song curated playlists. People connect their Spotify playlist on a standalone, branded landing page. Based on the Spotify algorithm using genre and BPM, a personalized playlist is curated. This page can also include links to e-commerce or the brand pages.

To reach out to very specific audiences we also worked with Universal Music and leveraged their musicians to create content for us in their own voice and song driving connection to Cashmere/Purex UltraLuxe softness.

In general, do you think CPG sector is leveraging audio's strengths? When planning audio campaigns, what should CPG brands take into consideration in their creative approach?

Audio is responsible for increasing the likelihood of audience immersion into a story. Well-crafted stories that leverage the right audio enhance the likelihood of oxytocin release in the audience. Oxytocin is the neurochemical responsible for encoding of new memories – so, music, outside of simple enjoyability, has a profound impact on the likely short-term and long-term effect of an ad. It is critical. It can also serve to trigger existing memories and facilitate a Pavlovian recall of an ad without visual support.

At Kruger Products, we spend a lot of time discussing the role of music in our advertising. Over the years, I have seen the same spot perform above norm or completely below norm by changing the music. Music is powerfully emotional and critical to stir the right consumer emotive connection with your brand.