How a century-old company keeps innovating with its marketing

Kristen Shipley
/ December 2019 / Video, Global

For more than a century, the Kellogg company has been a household name for classic breakfast foods and snacks. But even carrying the weight and legacy of such a well-known brand, Kellogg continues to innovate in its marketing, taking creative gambles and coming up with cutting-edge ways to measure the effectiveness of its campaigns.

To find out how it does so, and what other brands — even newcomers — can learn from the industry veteran, I spoke with Kellogg North America Chief Marketing Officer Gail Horwood.

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You’ve recently won a slew of marketing accolades, like an Effie and a SABRE Award for your Rice Krispies write-on wrappers and a Digiday Content Marketing Award for Frosted Flakes. As a 116-year-old company, how do you keep innovating with your marketing?

Gail Horwood: The challenge is not coming up with innovative marketing ideas, it’s executing on them while still using tried and tested tactics that drive impact at scale. One thing we have done is create a role that sits at the intersection of creative and innovation. The person in that role is tasked with implementing new ideas within current programs. So instead of setting aside a specific percentage of our budget for marketing innovation and having that work operate almost in a silo, we’ve been able to integrate it into all our existing programs. That way we do more with the same or less expense.

The challenge is not coming up with innovative marketing ideas, it’s executing on them.

We’re already seeing this approach pay off. Since getting a separate team together takes time, the bridge person connects the dots a lot faster and makes it easy to point out these opportunities.

Innovating involves taking risks. Sometimes the gamble will pay off; other times it won’t. How do you think about that balance at Kellogg?

It’s important to understand what exactly is at risk: If something doesn’t pay off, will it affect customers, our corporate reputation, sales, ROI? We recently made what some people might have considered a risky creative decision when we made the world’s first breakfast cereal record. It was literally a vinyl record made out of the product we were marketing: Chocolate Frosted Flakes. And it was risky because it was something that had never been done before. But when we looked at what exactly was at risk, we knew that the potential downside — that it wouldn’t create as much buzz as we’d hoped — wasn’t enough to stop us from attempting it.

With all these innovations and experiments you’ve been carrying out, you must have learned a lot along the way. What have you found that works really well in your marketing?

It’s been a priority for us to lean into best practices of each of the platforms we use. It’s simple: When we follow those, we see improved performance. From a creative perspective, that also has to be balanced with reach, frequency, and smart targeting. To make sure we’re finding that balance, we’ve put in place an internal creative effectiveness scorecard, which helps us standardize the media and creative best practices we measure against on each platform. That’s important, because, according to Nielsen, creative effectiveness makes up 47% of our ROI.

In the past, you came up with a creative idea and passed it onto the agencies to deliver. Today the process is much more collaborative.

We’ve also found that blurring the lines between creative, media, strategy, and optimization, so that it feels like one team, has really worked for us. We’ve set up interagency team meetings every week to discuss activations, implementation strategies, and executional details that affect everyone. In the past, you came up with a creative idea and passed it onto the agencies to deliver. Today the process is much more collaborative.

It’s great to win industry awards, but as marketers, our goal is also to drive bottom-line impact. How do you use video to do that?

Our brand-building campaigns have historically been about exactly that: building our brands. But we’ve started to create more of what we call “shoppable” media — content that encourages or enables people to make a purchase. This doesn’t mean we’re adding “buy now” links to everything. But it means we’re thinking more about the cues, designs, and creative nods that encourage people to visit a retailer, and how we can incorporate those into all of our campaigns. Shoppers have blurred the lines between creative, media, and retail. We’re adapting our creative so that it reflects this changing consumer behavior.

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