The year is well underway and for many organisations, particularly in the world of FMCG, business is not getting easier. For many, inflationary cost pressures and raw material scarcity has led to leaner marketing budgets or innovation resources being redeployed to focus on reducing complexity and providing supply chain continuity. With these challenges, marketers must not sit and wait until their budgets come back, but instead need to step up to embrace the opportunity at hand.
First, and most importantly, you need to ensure the consumer is at the heart of every business decision. At Mars Petcare, we’re reminded of this every day as we’re guided by our ‘five principles’. The first, quality, focuses on delivering the best for our consumers in service of our purpose, creating a ‘Better World for Pets’. Every month, there are roughly 50 million searches from pet parents across Europe looking to find information on how to look after their dog or cat. Our marketing team is uniquely placed to listen to them and ensure much loved brands such as Pedigree, Sheba and Whiskas meet their needs.
Yet it is not enough to simply listen to consumers, we need to act. Every business function, from supply to commercial to sales, should be making decisions which are in service of better meeting consumer needs. Now more than ever, marketers need to widen their sphere of influence acting with a ‘total enterprise mindset’ to impact every department. Here are a few examples of how.
1. Leading beyond content and innovation
With higher business costs, organisations are exploring where they can simplify their businesses, mitigate costs or increase productivity. Marketers need to ensure they are not just seen as the function for content and innovation, by intentionally leaning into wider business questions.
For example, if a business is exploring portfolio simplification, knowing what consumers value and what they don’t through robust consumer research is fundamental. This can support answering questions such as which products offer the maximum penetration opportunity or which product attributes and claims consumers really care about.
If there is supply chain capital investment to be made, perhaps to increase capacity or to drive factory efficiencies, it’s important these investments also take into account future capabilities that can meet emerging consumer trends; for example, specific capabilities to support packs for digital commerce or sustainability-focused innovation. In doing so, these supply investments will drive a much higher return on investment and be fit for the future. At Mars, supply and marketing now work hand in hand on brand and portfolio strategies, to ensure they are holistic business plans and are joined up together.
2. Make the case for advertising as revenue, not cost
Marketers need to be influencing the business to continue to prioritise advertising, to ensure consumers have our brands top of mind in purchase decisions. There is credibility and influence to be gained with the CFO from relentlessly drumming home proven return-on-investment analysis in any advertising budget discussion, to reinforce its value as a revenue driver for the organisation.
At Mars, we’re constantly assessing the relative ROI of our brands and media channel choices to help us optimise. Furthermore, marketing and finance teams are now sitting down together to make quarterly investment decisions to help manage the in-year P&L delivery, approving in-year media spend and media channel choices per brand.
3. Be choiceful
If investment or innovation resources are increasingly scarce, it’s critical to be more strategic and choiceful. Which brands offer the best return on investment? Which innovation will make the biggest difference? Prioritising helps to drive organisational focus and demonstrates leadership from marketing.
In Mars Petcare it has resulted in more choiceful innovation. One example we’re proud of is the recent launch from the UK’s biggest dog brand, Pedigree. Pedigree Multivitamin Supplements has just hit the shelves and has the potential to truly grow the category. There is a powerful insight that pet parents are increasingly looking to protect their pet’s health and want solutions beyond everyday food. Pedigree Multivitamins is an everyday accompaniment that can solve this and has the potential to be a big bet. In contrast, we have stopped multiple innovation projects that don’t meet financial scale thresholds.
4. Be the owners of value for money
The balance between benefits and affordability is an important driver for consumers. Marketers need a strong real-time point of view on this and must help the organisation adapt. In recent months, we know searches for bulk pet food and pet subscriptions are up significantly as consumers are increasingly looking for enhanced value for money. It is important marketers are collaborating with sales teams to be aware of these latest insights, to adapt and maximise visibility against these consumer needs.
5. Continue to protect new pioneering efforts that can enhance future value
For natural pet food brand James Wellbeloved, we’ve continued to pioneer added-value pilots, such as Whistle Health, a smart device that helps to track and translate pet behaviours to better personalise a pet’s diet. To do this, we’ve needed to carve out and protect budget and resources for pilot experimentation initiatives such as this.
6. Make bolder shifts
The current tough conditions provide a real opportunity to push faster into the transformations we need to make as a marketing function. It can be a catalyst for marketers to recommend the changes needed. In Mars Petcare, we’re transforming our approach to how we connect with consumers – from traditional reach-based TV advertising to digital mass personalisation at scale – using data signals to ensure we reach the right pet parent, at the right time, in the right place, with the right content.
Pushing into this space has not only driven cost efficiencies through biddable media, but also improved our sales uplift metrics and ROI through increased usage of addressable content served to the right audiences. We’re still on this journey and our intent is to continue to boldly push into this space in the next 12 months and beyond.
None of this is easy for any marketer, but ensuring the organisation puts the consumer first has never been more important and the opportunity to influence every function is there if you can take it.
Chris Rodi is