Mondelez Australia MD: What partnering with startups has taught me as a brand leader

Snacking company's local managing director shares how the Mobile Futures program bringing brands together with startups has opened the door to new ways of working

Mondelez International managing director for A/NZ, Amanda Banfield, with head of marketing services, Anthony Ho
Mondelez International managing director for A/NZ, Amanda Banfield, with head of marketing services, Anthony Ho

In December, snacking brand, Mondelez International, revealed the results of its inaugural Mobile Futures program in Australia, partnering five key brands with local technology startups.

The program, which had launched six months previously, had dual motives: One, to ramp up the brand’s mobile marketing capabilities by exploring new technologies in the mobile space; and two, to drive more entrepreneurial and innovation thinking within the Mondelez business.

During the Melbourne event to report the success of the brand-startup partnerships, CMO had the chance to catch up with Mondelez International managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Amanda Banfield, to hear her views as a leader on how the program has impacted the rest of the business, and the key learnings she’s picked up along the way.

Why was it so important to you as a leader to run a program like Mobile Futures?

Amanda Banfield: The star points for Mobile Futures are people and capability. Our marketing capability and the stewardship of our brands is, in the end, what our whole business is about. Alongside that, we have been clear about the need to move our marketing efforts up the curve in the digital space quickly. Globally, we’re fast-tracking to get to mobile as that is where things are at now with consumers, and where we have some catching up to do.

But while all of these things are very important, for me as a leader it’s actually been as much, if not more, about the change in thinking this program allows us to bring into our teams. We’re getting our staff to work with a totally different set of people who think in a different way, work in a different way, and have that experience of learning to collaborate in order to problem solve. A program like Mobile Futures has the potential to change our young marketers, in particular, to think about and approach problems differently, and then better choose options from the raft of connectivity tools at their fingertips today. It’s a culture and behavioural shift.

The program has also been a way for us to signal to the wider market that we’re a company that is wanting to learn, wants new ideas brought to us, and that will back those and give them a go. There has been a huge benefit both to our position in the marketing world in Australia, and also in us being able to attract new ideas and talent. So there has been a Mondelez employer brand aspect to this as well.

As we think about what the next chapter of our brand story is, it’s clear we are going to have to connect with consumers in new ways. That means we need to learn from different people. We have some great relationships right now, but what we need to do is open the door to new partnerships.

As well as Mobile Futures, we’ve done a lot of other work too, such as building our food innovation centre in our Ringwood factory, which also signals that we want to work with SMEs on the future of food innovation in Australia.

Outside of marketing, how did you get the rest of the business to buy into something like Mobile Futures?

The whole organisation has been really excited, curious and intrigued about what this was all about and what would happen. We have been able to get this off the ground because there is that natural curiosity about the whole [startup] space. The idea of working with startups in its own right is fascinating to people in a big corporation. That has peaked and prompted interest internally.

The team has also done a brilliant job of storytelling through this process. We had a lot of fanfare at the start and we’ve kept coming back to it. We’ve had people who work day-to-day in the business going out and having these immersive experiences and then coming back to us. So the sense of something going on and the storytelling that’s come from it all helped build the excitement around the program.

Have there been any learnings from the teams working with startups that you’ve been able to instil or communicate to the rest of the business and other teams?

There is a natural tendency in FMCG businesses to think very carefully before you act. We are stewarding 150-year old brands, and they’re household names that people care about passionately. We care about them passionately too as they’re the cornerstone of our business.

Where Mobile Futures has helped us is through these guys learning – live – that you can take a risk. You can create a new magazine and do it from scratch in 23 days [which was what the Philadelphia brand did with startup partner, Issue], put it out there, have 75,000 consumers pick it up and interact with your brand, and only good comes from that. And next up, it’ll be better. What you don’t have to do is spend six months polishing it to be perfect before you put your first toe in the water. That is a powerful cultural and behavioural learning for us.

Seeing these activities come to life with people from your team who dared to do them, and seeing how well things have gone, is more powerful than me standing up [as a CEO] and saying ‘we are a company that wants to experiment and we promote and support innovation, and let you fail’. People see that we’re doing this and we really mean it. These are live experiments people are running, we’re learning and we’re talking open about those and what we do differently next time. That’s probably the greatest immediate and transferable learning we’ve had.

Then there is a load of insight into how to work with very different people from different backgrounds. Another piece is around this subset of our total marketing becoming more fluent in understanding some of the choices out there, and being able to speak with greater confidence to the agencies that might support us in this space. These marketers can now engage in a different conversation while feeling more authoritative about it. It only grows from there.

Were there any big challenges or lessons during the experience for you as a business leader specifically?

The challenge always with these programs is we ask people to do it on top of their day jobs. Otherwise they never happen, and the urgent things take you away from it. But you also want people to experience these things so it infuses their thinking day-to-day. The challenge is that there’s been a very big load for our teams to carry at times. One of the things we’ve been talking about is how we address that going forward – whether it’s doing activities in a different time in the year, for example.

Also, while we did a 90-day immersion process, the whole program was running for six months. Perhaps we need to concertina it, just focusing on the 90 days, and try and give people more space in that shorter timeframe. That’s a practical implementation question for me.

The other thing as a leader is how you make sure you really nurture this. What I think we’ve done really well across the teams is the visibility and storytelling. Where we’ve been most successful in getting the story out to the wider organisation is where we’ve taken that storytelling and given it to the wider leadership team. I had the whole A/NZ leadership team together [before the launch of the Mobile Futures program results on 9 December] to go through a lot of the findings and stories. You then see that going back into the functions across geographies. We can dial that up in future – I’d love to see more of the senior leaders engaged more often throughout the program.

In the end, this has to live with a set of marketers who passionately want to be involved and make this part of their marketing lives. As a business, the opportunity is to now get a larger slice of the organisation involved.

Has this program generated more collaboration across the business, or helped to break down any internal silos?

For us, any way that we can get our brand stories and a focus on our consumers and what we need to do for them into the whole organisation, is really valuable. This program has allowed us to do this in a way that has engaged and interested people. Curiosity is a great hook and a great starting point for us to be able to tell stories about what we’ve learnt.

There’s a lot more digging to do into insights on what people are doing around the interactions they are having with our brands. This is another area we’re looking to learn more about, and we are working with Quantium [data analytics and strategy consultancy] around the shopper space.

How did your IT team respond to Mobile Futures? Were they enthusiastic?

Yes. They do see a lot of opportunity in terms of the value-adds they can then start bringing into this space. It’s a much more interesting space than a lot of what they work on day-to-day.

Will we see another instalment of the Mobile Futures program in Australia?

First of all, we’re working with each of these startups on what comes next as the work is not all done. We’re looking at what potential we see together from here, and if the passion’s there to engage in more work and development, or if there is applicability to put these activities in our brand plans for the next couple of years. It’s about seeing if we’ve built something we feel we can start to branch out with into other brands, and scale.

The second question for me is where we go to from these kinds of learning initiatives. As I mentioned, we also have work going on in the shopper behaviour space, as well as our food innovation at Ringwood. These are again examples of different initiatives that are focused on us learning more. What we haven’t decided yet is whether we’d run another program exactly like Mobile Futures, or if there’s a different kind of partnership that helps us to open our minds, fast-track our learning, and gain practical learnings as well.

But the big thing is that these initiatives all allow us to signal that we’re an organisation that is interested in having ideas brought to us, and that we’re open to partnering in a different way. It’s interesting the conversations we’re now having even with some of our core agencies.

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