Charisse Hughes, SVP/Global Chief Marketing Officer of The Kellogg Company, talks to US Commissioning Editor Cathy Taylor for WARC Marketer’s Toolkit about purpose, first-party data, and how its vast brand portfolio allows for marketing experimentation.

Toolkit 2022

This interview is part of WARC's Marketer's Toolkit 2022. Read more.

Key insights:

  • During the pandemic, The Kellogg Company has seen a flattening of traditional meal occasions, alongside an evolution to more grazing and snacking behavior.
  • It also saw a need to respond to concerns about hygiene by creating single-serve, and smaller versions of its products, which helped drive a 7.5% increase in sales.
  • One way The Kellogg Company has addressed DEI is by equipping its brands globally with an inclusive marketing program, taking into account that inclusion can mean different things in different cultures, but it maintains a focus on empathy and understanding what’s at the heart of consumers.
What has The Kellogg Company’s experience been throughout the pandemic?

We, as an organization, had been focused on investments in key areas: obviously, e-commerce, data-driven marketing, as well as our first-party data loyalty program through Kellogg's Family Rewards. That's been around for over 10 years so, leading up to the pandemic, we were maybe in a better place than some other brands because we were poised for the acceleration.

But [there are] some insights we gained during that time period. We saw that consumers were shopping [by] their values now, more than ever. They were searching for those brands they trusted, which I think is really related to nostalgia for a better time. At-home consumption was up like crazy. And then people had to do something with their time, so they were accelerating in the gaming space and digital engagement, and so we used those insights.

One of the fun things we did, as we were seeing so many consumers playing around on TikTok, [was to get] into the fun with “Play with Pringles,” which challenged users to be super creative with our Pringles can. We actually had phenomenal results; TikTok hailed it as one of the best and most creative campaigns of the year.

One of the other things we tapped into in terms of insight – as people were really focused on hygiene, and on not sharing, and individuality – was to create single-serve, and personalized versions of our products. We did that pretty much across the board and saw some really impressive results: 7.5% better than the prior year, driven by those single-serve and smaller sizes.

Charisse Hughes, SVP/Global Chief Marketing Officer, The Kellogg Company

Do you see the concern about health and wellness continuing?

One-thousand percent. One of the things we noticed also is – you may recall that Kellogg’s is the original plant-based company, that's our heritage --  a huge acceleration in plant-based eating, as consumers are thinking about immunity, and how they can start to eat foods that are much healthier.

We introduced a new division called the Naturals and Insurgents Group, that is focused on unlocking all of the potential around these on-trend, health-forward, better-for-you categories. Within that are our Kashi cereals, we have RXBAR, a brand of bars that is transparent in terms of ingredients, so [we’re] really trying to respond to consumers’ expectations for health, wellness, nutrition and sustainability.

We're also seeing an acceleration in snacking, because people are grazing. They want a little bit of relief. They want a moment of satisfaction, an evolution to grazing and snacking behavior. It could be that they're in Zoom meetings all day and they just don't get a second, so they're like, “Okay, I'll have some nuts or have some Pringles or Cheez-Its in the middle of my day.”

How has your messaging changed? Some of your brands are flat-out fun, and then you have health and wellness-oriented brands, and both have become important during COVID.

There are folks thinking about super indulgence, in the sense that it’s premium, [like] having real chocolate in your cereal. Then there's folks thinking on the other side of the spectrum that's much more about health, wellness and holistic health. Our portfolio is quite vast and it allows us to speak to consumers where they are.

Part of being a company like ours is [also] thinking about being inclusive and making sure that we ‘have a place at the table for everyone,’ which is our new purpose. We don't see foods as being good or bad, we see these as being moments of fulfillment and a way for us to feed the masses. That's how we approach it from an innovation standpoint as well as from a messaging standpoint. We're really trying to be creative and think differently about how folks are consuming food and then message around that.

Can you walk me through how you got to that purpose?

What happened last year, obviously, with the convergence of so many different issues – whether it be everything happening with COVID, and the racial reckoning that we were encountering – we felt it was an important moment to reassert what our values are, so we could tell the world and also our employees, our community, and consumers, what we believe. We defined our vision as [helping create] a good and just world where people are not only fed, but really thinking a step further into our purpose, it was about creating better days and a place at the table for everyone. “Better Days” is anchored in our global purpose platform, which is all about addressing these issues of hunger and health, and climate. It includes feeding. It also includes our sustainability goals. In those areas, we wanted to make sure we are committed to the food ecosystem and how it impacts climate.

But then the last piece is all about how we include folks, and how we welcome, because inclusion is not just about everyone being together, it's also a feeling of belonging. By expressing that, you have a place at the table for everyone.

It's also how we market, so we invested and prioritized an inclusive marketing program that is all about equipping our marketers with an understanding of how to speak to diverse audiences, and how to understand them more fully. We rolled that program out in North America, and then in the rest of the world. The thing about inclusion is that [it can mean different things in different parts of the world], so what we tried to do with this program is to reinforce the importance of empathy, and seeking to understand what's at the heart of our consumers and what motivates them, reminding ourselves that we play across borders, and that we are a company that's all about accessible and affordable foods.  We want to reinforce that in a way that is welcoming and encouraging belonging.

We have made external commitments too, [such as our] partnership with the NAACP [the US’ National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], what it comes down to is the way we're focused and committed to a diverse set of suppliers. We've put programs in place to not have them be encumbered, to enable them access to our company. 

How has the last year made you better at scenario planning?

I think we feel we could probably handle anything. Probably the best way is that we've been much more advanced is in our data and analytics, and because we have such rich data and analytics – we’re on this journey with our first-party data – I think we're able to test learn, adapt, and adjust our messaging much faster than we ever thought we could.

[We’re] still not as fast as we'd like it to be, but we certainly are faster, and more responsive than we've ever been.

Brands are constantly experimenting when it comes to new platforms. With initiatives like the Pringles campaign on TikTok, how do you measure success?

When you first dabble in a channel, you're not completely sure on how you measure success, right? So, it's about engagements. We also had a record number of shares, and people actually doing the challenge, which to me says there's a deeper level of engagement. But the ultimate measure for us, [is] to show that it's repeatable, is what we can also predict, and that comes through data and analytics.

Fortunately for us, [our] vast portfolio of brands allows us to play around and test and learn, on levels of engagement, whether it be Special K, or Pop Tarts, or Cheez-Its, or Morningstar Farms, or RXBAR.

Another example I love to talk about is Pringles and gaming. Pringles has this unique connection to gaming, because you can pop [them in your mouth] without actually [messing with] your controllers. We did something really fun – we brought this video game Zombie to life in Twitch in Europe. It was one of the most talked about campaigns. It was 640,000 impressions, and we saw a significant increase in our business, at 25%, so there are the business metrics, and then there's also the engagement message metrics, which are key as we think about being predictive and modeling and using AI to define how we go to market in the future.

What's been your aim when you’ve used connected TV?

One, we know that connected TV has grown exponentially. That's where the eyeballs are, so we wanted to play around and experiment there. Secondarily is the measurement piece, which has always eluded our linear TV and so programmatically, we can evaluate what's working. We can drive conversions, whether it be through social or other means to really understand who those audiences are.

We've seen some pretty solid results, and definitely expect that will be a key media that we'll continue to leverage. We've done quite a bit of work with a partner called Pixability – I’m on the advisory board – that has helped us evaluate and measure, whether it be video completions, or other KPIs. One thing that we've found is our video completions have a strong correlation with conversion.

How are you balancing the growing collision between branding and e-commerce?

I don't perceive there being these two factions of brand-building and performance marketing. At the end of the day, our objective is to get your attention, to attract you, drive desire, and then ultimately, get you to convert. The good news is we are getting closer and closer to understanding that consumer behavior and how those interplay.

Most recently, Cheez-Its had its 100th birthday, [which included] the first direct-to-consumer site for the brand, which is all about engaging the audience. It's about surprising merch but also it's about getting a better understanding of our consumer [by] leveraging and acquiring first-party data, which ultimately is going to get us closer to their behavior across that purchase funnel. If we can use our awareness tactics, and ultimately drive conversion, then we've created win-win strategies that help us do both.

How is your first-party strategy setting you up for the post-cookie world?

Kellogg’s has had first-party data for almost 10 years, so they were way ahead of the curve. We have about 33 million households included in our first-party data loyalty program, and that has enabled us to get a leg up to what's about to happen in terms of the cookieless world.

It also will ultimately allow us to have more collaborations with second- and third-party providers, so that we can understand and personalize it even better. There’s a wealth of value to be gained through first-party data, but we have to do so in a responsible way, because at the end of the day, it's a gift from the consumer.