General Mills focuses on building digital IQ as it looks to take more strategic approach

The FMCG company behind brands such as Häagen-Dazs, Nature Valley and Yoplait is exploring how it can upskill its marketers in digital as it looks to better reach consumers online and drive up sales.

General Mills brands

General Mills, the company behind brands from Häagen-Dazs to Jus-Rol, is looking to build up its digital IQ and ensure marketers clearly know the role each medium or channel plays for each of its brand as it looks to build more of a relationship with customers and drive its ecommerce business.

Speaking to Marketing Week in his first interview since taking on the Northern Europe marketing director role in June, Mark Brown said upskilling marketers in digital is an area of “global focus” for the company, led by new CMO Ivan Pollard. It is setting up programmes to boost that digital IQ across the business to ensure marketers in all countries and brands are equipped for the future of marketing.

“We are looking to build our digital IQ as an organisation and ensure we’ve got very clearly articulated roles for each medium or channel within each brand,” he explains. “That involves articulating very clearly the journey we want consumers to go on. Across media and especially in digital, there are a few questions that have contextually got to be right, we have to hit the right numbers whether that is on reach, viewability and that differs by brand.”

[Media spend] depends on the needs of the brand and what message or consumer objective we have and making sure we have the right mediums to do that to get the right ROI.

Mark Brown, General Mills

While General Mills is shifting more spend to digital, there is no requisite for brands to spend a specific proportion of their budgets online and Brown is keen to make clear that is not the point of digital upskilling. Instead, it wants to ensure its brands have a “balanced” media plan and strategy.

“[Media spend] depends on the needs of the brand and what message or consumer objective we have and making sure we have the right mediums to do that to get the right ROI. We don’t have a set target, it depends on each individual challenge we have,” he says.

Building its ecommerce business

One area within digital that General Mills is focusing more on is ecommerce, connecting up the digital shopper journey and understanding the role of digital within the context of a traditional FMCG model. He admits that up to now ecommerce has been more tactical than strategic, but it now needs to ask questions like ‘what is the role of Amazon for our brand and how is that different to Tesco’.

“We have got great ambitions to grow our ecommerce business within the UK and Germany especially and we are really starting to make more definitive moves in that area,” he explains.

There are areas of the business it can learn from. For example, it sells through Deliveroo from its Häagen-Dazs stores and in China has a click-and-collect model on ice cream gifting. In the US, meanwhile, the Betty Crocker website is run like BBC Good Food as an aggregator of recipes, with the content driving engagement and sales.

“We have to filter best practice from around the world,” he says.

Beyond ecommerce, General Mills is focusing on experimentation. It has an internal team made up of marketers from different brands tasked with finding new ways to market brands.

One example of that is a recent trial at Wimbledon, dubbed Häagen-Dazs Now, that allowed people to scan a code, order ice cream online and have it delivered to where they were sitting.  “We are always looking for experiments we can make in areas that are untested and where we can drive differentiation. This is typically stuff that wouldn’t make the final media plan because we would find a way for it not to.”

General Mills is also looking at how it can make better use of data. Brown thinks there are very few FMCG brands that use data well – citing Marmite and Guinness as two exceptions. But he believes that just because the data is available doesn’t mean every brand should be focused on it, particularly because it requires such a culture shift.

“A brand has to have a very strong reason because once you start talking to consumer in that way, using data, you are forming a relationship model and it becomes a real commitment and investment,” he says.

“It is easier to go to DunnHumby and buy the data because then you can dip in and out and it’s less expensive that setting up your own relationship marketing model.”

FMCG gives the chance for end-to-end ownership that can only broaden and increase your ability to be a more effective marketer.

Mark Brown, General Mills

Given the shift in shift in marketing and the new demands around data, digital and innovation, does Brown think FMCG is still the best learning ground for young marketers? Despite spending his whole career in the sector, Brown admits it “doesn’t have the pull it used to” but says that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great place to learn the discipline of marketing.

“The reason it’s a great breeding ground is that as a marketer you get full ownership. At any point you can be on the factory floor seeing the launch of a new product, helping R&D create new concepts, all the way through to being on a comms shoot. It gives the chance for end-to-end ownership that can only broaden and increase your ability to be a more effective marketer,” he says.

“[But to attract the next generation] it’s got to be fun and cool. As an organisation we’ve got to make sure we can offer people experiences when they come into work. I spend a lot of time in the offices of Google and Amazon and you want to be there, whereas some offices I’ve worked in…. The brands that are cool are not food brands, they are Google, Apple, Amazon.”



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