CMO Q&A: Mark Addicks, General Mills

Mark Addicks of General Mills speaks to Aarti Shah about making word of mouth happen and adapting to new FTC guidelines for bloggers

General Mills' Mark Addicks talks to Aarti Shah about making word of mouth happen and the new FTC guidelines.

How is General Mills' marketing function adapting to the new FTC guidelines for bloggers?

Addicks: This is a pretty big deal, but I think the guidelines play to a strength that we have. We have a network of bloggers that we have been connected to for quite some time. It's a large network and we have followed these rules with them even ahead of these guidelines. We are not only making sure that everyone agrees to be completely transparent and fully disclose when we have given them a sample or asked them to review something, but we've taken the extra step and are monitoring the space. We are working with our marketers to make sure they only use the bloggers that we know are in compliance.

How do you allocate marketing resources with so many brands?

Addicks: We look at changes and growth opportunities by category and brand, but mostly we allocate by ideas. There have been several examples in the past year, where we have funded ideas that we just thought were so good that we wanted it in the marketplace, even though we weren't sure how it would be received. An example, is our recent Fruit By the Foot campaign targeting tweens. It's a very engaging repertoire between two boys and it's funny and engaging and on YouTube. There's also the “Know Your Girls” campaign on Facebook that Yoplait is doing that targets 20-something women to get involved in breast cancer research and self-testing. So we first and foremost look at the idea.

The power of peer-to-peer recommendation is very strong in the consumer sector. How do you foster this?

Addicks: We are always looking for the way in which we can first engage our consumer, or what we call our brand champion. Word-of-mouth has always been among the top three ways to begin engagement. At first, we did this through recipes that people literally passed manually. But in this world of social media, you can actually enable ways for people to rapidly engage with your brand and pass along content. We're living in an economy where people are very selective about their money and time resources, so a recommendation from someone who has tried something and had a positive experience is very powerful.

Do you have an example of how you are making it easy for people to pass along General Mills' content?

Addicks: We are doing it a number of ways. We're encouraging people to contribute – whether through a Web site or Facebook. We are enabling people with digital coupons and digital videos that they can send along, with their own recommendations on how they made [our recipes] better, faster, healthier. We are formatting most of our marketing messages so they can be sharable and viral. You'll see coming up, increasing many of our messages with include opportunities to share them on Twitter or Facebook. It's really all about fast transmission.

You have organic products as well as products with artificial ingredients, is it difficult to have a core message that addresses all types of food?

Addicks: Not really. The company's mission is to nourish life and it might sound hackneyed or insincere, but it is absolutely authentic with our company and the community of the people here. More than 80% of our employees volunteer and we're a very socially-active community, as individuals and as business teams. Our motto and mission is to nourish life to make it easier, healthier, and richer. I think under that frame, organic brands fall, natural brands fall, very pro-health brands fall, but also convenience brands work. We are known for this concept of brand champions, where we urge all our brands to focus on their narrow group of consumers and give them a name, a face, and understand them. These are people who can't live without your brand, who will advocate for your brand, and co-create and help guide the brand. And when you take that approach it's more about each brand than how they all fit together.

General Mills recently announced it would discontinue some of its product lines. Does this have an impact on marketing?

Addicks: No, given that we're so brand-focused, any decision about the brand – the investment, timing, and innovation – is made on a brand-to-brand basis. And absolutely, perhaps if there is one brand that is going to be discontinued – obviously it frees some resources up. But we're not doing it to free resources.

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