​CMO interview: Making marketing more relevant at Kellogg

The global food giant’s marketing director reveals how revamping key campaign and brand messages have bolstered its iconic cereal products

Today’s customers expect brands to deliver more authentic marketing messages that connect and resonate with them, says Kellogg’s Australia marketing director, Tamara Howe.

In order to adapt to today’s changing consumer needs, while continuing its mission to surprise and delight, Howe said the masterbrand has been working hard to revamp marketing campaigns around several of its iconic cereal lines this year.

“I’ve been at Kellogg now for over 13 years and the thing that really excites me is the brand and the company’s belief in solving problems for consumers and shoppers,” she told CMO. “I know it’s probably an old and overused expression, but breakfast is the most important meal of the day and we cater to the nutrition and tastes of everyone. I really feel proud to be a part of that.”

Starting her new position in October following a role as director of innovation and masterbrand, Howe now leads Kellogg’s core marketing function, which is accountable for the end-to-end shopper experience and the path to purchase from desire to delight.

“We’d like to think our boss is the consumer or the shopper,” she said. “And we’re also custodians of our greatest asset, which is our brand.”

Special K: From ‘diet’ to positive body image

One of the transformative marketing projects Howe is most proud of is the Special K campaign launched in January, which shifted the product’s traditional ‘diet’ message to a more empowered ‘body positive’ one to appeal to the changing expectations of its female target market.

“Special K has seen a really big transformation from the brand history, moving away from the perception of diet food to the idea of real food, with real ingredients,” Howe claimed. “It’s no longer about 99 per cent fat free, or showing the woman in a red bikini walking down the beach. It’s now about celebrating real, authentic and healthy women. Because it’s so concerning that even today, so many women are still having the ‘I hate my body’ moments.

“We wanted to shine a light on that, but we also thought: How can we be her ally and focus on positives and be advocates of health, wellness and strength? We’ve also been partnering with Body Positive Australia, which has just been fantastic in adding credibility to the message while also being very inspiring to work with.”

While you’re always going to have the haters, Howe said the brand has had really positive feedback from the vast majority.

Nutri-Grain: From iron man to inspirational unstoppable individuals

Another major marketing shift is Nutri-Grain’s repositioning last year away from being its ‘iron man food’ tag and image to having a more belief-based message, celebrating individuals who lived ‘unstoppable lives’, Howe said.

“The unstoppable campaign for Nutri-Grain is all about celebrating unstoppable young Australians and again we’re very proud of that work," she said. “While we have another Iron Man series coming out this year, we’ll continue to refresh great stories of people living unstoppable lives.”

Created by JWT Sydney in conjunction with partners Finch, Mindshare, Liquid Ideas and VML, the campaign includes both digital and TVC content and featured inspirational individuals such as Brazilian blind surfer, Derek Rabelo, who refused to be held back by his disability, and realised his dream of surfing the dangerous Pipeline break in Hawaii, and later even took up downhill skateboarding.

“Content marketing is really important to Kellogg’s marketing mix and if you look at teen boys, they don’t watch TV, they’re watching YouTube - that’s how they consume content,” Howe continued. “We’re putting some great stories on there about unstoppable lives, like Derek Rabelo, along with other stories like rugby players who have overcome MS, all talking about how Nutri-Grain has helped fuel them.”

Kellogg’s has also worked to improve the product itself, highlighting the Nutri-Grain 4 promise in a food campaign launched last year.

“It’s been a very long process for a hugely iconic brand, and through a lot of persistence and courage, our product development team were available to develop a formulation that increased the fibre and reduced the sugar, but still had the same amazing taste – it was just the perfect trifecta,” Howe said.

Breakfast time: Real customer stories and insights

To further open dialogue with customers and create a more transparent marketing strategy, Kellogg’s rolled out its ‘Open for Breakfast’ initiative earlier this year. This saw the brand responding via a dedicated digital channel to consumer queries about anything and everything relating to its cereal brands, a list that includes Special K, Corn Flakes, Rice Bubbles and Nutri-Grain.

Questions and responses are then shared social channels, and not only include static content but also videos, infographics, images and vox pops.

“It’s a great platform that enables people to come in and have direct dialogue with us,” Howe said. “It’s also a great way to look at all the questions consumers and customers have and put those stories forward. It’s part of our mission to be a lot more authentic, open and dialogue-driven in the way we go to market.”

Collaboration is also gaining emphasis internally. Howe is passionate about driving a closer working relationship with the company’s sales and customer team, getting close to customers and ensuring the marketing function continues to evolve and be more commercially oriented. It is this collaborative approach from the inside out has been critical to driving key marketing outcomes for Kellogg, she said.

“Marketing as a function I think is definitely evolving; we’re becoming more commercially and financially savvy, and we have the opportunity to be a catalyst for growth for the business,” she explained. “As soon as I came into the role, it was something I focused on. We had a new head of sales coming into her role too at the time, and there was a piece of work we really wanted to role model together, and lead from the front on. We didn’t want to be siloed, but have a more integrated approach.

Making digital part of your DNA

In today’s marketing function, Howe stressed you can no longer call yourself a digital specialist, because everybody is living in a digital world and it’s now part of every marketers’ DNA.

“At Kellogg, we spend almost 40 per cent of our brand building dollars on digital and therefore it’s just a requirement for the job now. We don’t really have digital specialists anymore, it is just an expectation within all of the teams,” she said.

Howe also revealed her team is testing and learning and working its way through dynamic creative, using a lot of data analytics to understand how to leverage dynamic creative.

“Again, that will give us more agility, more nimbleness, a better ability to customise and really help leverage digital assets,” she said. “I’m hugely excited about dynamic creative.”

Howe said her time working at the Kellogg’s headquarters in Michigan has helped give her wider business skills she can leverage in her current role.

“I worked in both the business unit and the essential global team, which gave me the opportunity to build a great network, which I continue to leverage,” she said. “It also gave me the opportunity to work in a very large business unit, as well as influencing many stakeholders – and I think that networking has continued to help me in my current role.”

Of course things can always be better, and one of the things Howe continues to work on is being open and transparent.

“But at the same time, we need to make dozens of decisions every day in today’s fast, ever-changing landscape,” she said. “The pace of change is just phenomenal, so we need to make those decisions every day and move with that agility, we need think about a forward momentum, focus on progression not perfection which is a key mantra and look at iteration and calculated risk.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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