Birds Eye has overhauled its marketing to put a greater focus on creativity as it looks to prove the impact great creative can have on business performance.
The change was facilitated by a shift from a master brand to a pillar brand strategy, which marketing director Steve Challouma tells Marketing Week allowed it to “unshackle” its brands. That shift coincided with a change in the organisation after it was bought by Nomad Foods, where it moved from a very centralised structure to a “more balanced” model that valued both central expertise and local knowledge
“This allowed us to unshackle the brands from what was a very fixed comms construct to a position where we could exercise thinking and creativity within category sub partitions like fish fingers or chicken dippers,” he explains.
Alongside this reframed marketing strategy, Birds Eye shifted how it measured creativity. Where before it used “very traditional” methodologies for pre-testing, such as focus groups, it is now testing neuroscience.
And while Challouma admits measuring creativity has proved “very hard” because it is so subjective, the brand is attempting to get around that by using a marketer for creativity – emotional connection, which gives it an action intent score.
“We are looking for, ‘does a communication stimulate the right responses in the brain that we know will mean the consumer has an emotional resonance with our brands and will lay down memories for our brands?’,” says Challouma.
The changes have helped Birds Eye make “some quite dramatic decisions” on its brands, according to Challouma. For example, testing showed that it was right to bring back Captain Birds Eye because the data showed he was highly recognisable but also scored well for emotional connection.
Conversely, it showed that on the Aunt Bessie brand it should get rid of the brand characters Mabel and Margaret because while they got a “fantastic” score on recognition they were in the bottom 20% in terms of emotional connection. Aunt Bessie’s duly went in a new creative direction with a campaign that featured a father desperately trying to get home on time so he can cook dinner for his family.
“It has had quite a big impact on quite fundamental brand decisions,” states Challouma.
Those creative decisions have been vindicated by business results. Birds Eye uses econometrics to measure the impact of specific campaigns in specific channels and then the relative return on investment. Challouma claims it has found a “very strong relationship” between the action intent score and ROI, which means it can quite accurately predict the impact of campaigns.
Making creativity part of the business strategy
Challouma is clear that thinking creatively is not just about a creative idea but also about product innovation, the media mix, packaging and product claims. He has introduced an 80/20 culture, where 80% of a role is focused on delivering the basics as laid out in a business plan, while the remaining 20% is focused on “moon shots”.
“We want to take risks within our plan to really stretch the brand in a different direction or present it in a new light,” he adds.
That has led to in media, for example, a partnership with Proper Tasty to develop more modern recipes for its products such as fish finger burritos and pea buddha bowls. While in innovation someone on the team came up with the idea for rainbow waffles – its usual potato waffles blended with different vegetables such as beetroot to turn them purple and peas to turn them green.
Everyone is aligned in our business in getting back to investing in brand, creativity in the broadest sense, and quality. It has been the foundation of our recovery.
Steve Challouma, Birds Eye
“This kind of approach combined with a focus on creativity is helping us get a new tone of voice on the brand that is a bit more modern, that consumers can have more fun with and be more engaged. But it all starts with giving permission for creativity not just in comms but in the whole mix,” says Challouma.
The impact of these changes is being felt across the business. Challouma claims that having taken learnings from 2017 and implemented them last year, it has seen a 24% increase in average ROI. That increase has helped it move from below the FMCG average for ROI to above it in 2018.
It has also been “one of the core foundations of our recovery as a brand” says Challouma. While Birds Eye was declining at a rate of between 5% and 6% a year, in 2018 it grew by 4%. The brand is also more robust, with the proportion of products it sells on promotion falling from 70% to 50%.
“You create a bit of a virtuous circle there because you’ve got a more robust resilient business that actually creates more fuel for you to invest in the brand and new growth initiatives,” he says.
“Everyone is aligned in our business in getting back to investing in brand, creativity in the broadest sense, and quality. It has been the foundation of our recovery.”
Measuring the impact of creativity
Birds Eye is now looking to find more ways to measure the impact of creativity and it has two metrics that are in “more of an evolutionary stage”.
The first is what it calls a ‘brand connection’ tool that it is co-creating with the agency Happen. It will allows Birds Eye to measure emotion analytics, what Challouma calls the “unprovoked chatter and emotion” around its brand activity, products and communication in the digital space. It will then aggregate those emotions into ones that “pull” consumers towards the brand, such as excitement, delight and desire, and those that “repel” them, like frustration and anger. Each brand will then get a brand connection score and insights around what is working and what needs fixing.
“It’s interesting because it’s all unprovoked, actual noise around the brand versus incentivised opinions, which is traditional,” he explains.
The second metric is “a bit more conceptual” but works under the premise that companies should treat creative investment “with the same respect” as any other investment. Birds Eye is calling it ROCI – return on creative investment – and it aims to go beyond ROI to measure creativity’s impact “in the broadest sense”.
It will do that by calculating the cost of the investment in terms of people, productions, process, media and ideas. It will then calculate the incremental effect of that investment in terms of cut-through, recall, PR and talkability, brand affiliation, action intent and impact in culture.
Challouma admits it is just a “discussion framework” at the moment but that he believes it will be possible to “put some metrics on it” or create a scoring system so it can make investment in creativity “more credible”.
“It’s possible,” he says. “But there’s an underlying principle there about giving creative the respect it deserves. Sometimes you do have to invest more to get better results for the brand.”