CMO interview: How Mars Wrigley's marketing chief is navigating unchartered consumer waters

Firm brand positioning, serious data-driven decision making and a commitment to strategic marketing are all part of this marketing leader's arsenal for coping with the COVID-19 crisis

Brand saliency

It’s this belief that has seen Mars Wrigley doubling down on core brand activities and advertising during the COVID-19 crisis. As Hill points out, it’s well known companies that invest in their brands during times of recession and crisis generally do best.

“We know memories are fragile, and that we have to create mental availability of our brands. That’s pretty commonly known,” Hill comment. “For me, all this crisis has done is reinforced the need to be consistent and true to your brand. We made sure core brands remained visible to consumers and we continued to invest in them both in our comms and innovation.

“And we have been pretty consistent with our messaging. We had some copy for new products which wasn’t appropriate to the environment we were in, so we chose the right copy for the moment. It wasn’t specific to COVID-19, but more about the world we live in.

“So it [the COVID-19 crisis] hasn’t really changed the way I think about marketing, it’s really reinforced the need for consistency and to remain relevant and available to consumers.”

What’s more, Hill stresses marketing’s role has always been to really understand the consumer landscape and navigate that on behalf of the organisations they work for.

“Marketing has always been about identifying consumer needs and translating that into how the business will deliver to them. That role hasn’t changed,” he says.  

Longer-term trends

As for the longer-term implications of the COVID-19 crisis on consumer and societal trends, Hill highlights a crystallisation of the holistic health and wellness trend.

“Mental health will take a huge leap forward with this. That will lead to a proliferation of products seeking to deliver to that opportunity,” he says. Another trend he notes is rapid acceptance of digital delivery systems, which he sees unlocking interesting new brand formats.

“A lot of FMCG products are not well aligned to this direct-to-consumer model as they’re low-cost items and fulfillment is different. But as people are expecting more products to be delivered to them, as a marketing community we have to reimagine our brands and products to deliver to that,” Hill says. “With even more digitally fluid lives, we are going to need to continue to evolve. It has been in play for a while, but we’re going to have to fast-track that now.”   

The third big trend for Hill is localisation. “As we move into a world of cocooning, people are looking not just for brands they can trust, but ones they know where they come from,” he says.

“We’ll see a lot more of that – just look at consumers demanding made in Australian aisles in Woolworths. We recognise that as a company, which is why we’re so heavily invested in our Australian production.”  

And it’s a story with long duration. Hill notes Mars has invested $100 million in its Ballarat plant since 2012. The plant has been making M&Ms since 1986 and was the site where the FMCG’s PODs were invented.

“That puts us in a good position moving forward. People will want to know products are being made locally and that cocooning is here to stay for some time,” he says. “FMCG is the only industry that’s increased investment in local manufacturing in the last 10 years. It’s really important for us to be part of that story.”

Yet with chunks of Victoria now entering another lockdown as COVID-19 community transmission spreads, Hill agrees marketers are need to continue to be able to pivot quickly.  

“We need to make sure we have marketing plans that make sense for different parts of Australia now,” he says. “The reality is Victoria is looking very different to the rest of the country and we have to be mindful that one state now has a very different feel to the rest. We’re looking at our plans for next one to two quarters to understand if we need to adapt for Victoria, and will continue to make further adjustments to suit.

“Our strategic focus is to continue to get great products and innovations out the door, and we have plenty more in the pipeline for the business.”   

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