Monday, March 26, 2012

ConAgra integrates Digital into shopper marketing

Shopper marketing is an evolving process at ConAgra Foods. While there are many ways to create brand equity, the maker of such world-class brands as Healthy Choice, Pam, and Hunt’s, is focusing on digital nowadays. 

For ConAgra, the issue is not how to create a digital strategy, but rather how to integrate it into its overall shopper marketing approach, says Jon Shen, Director of Interactive Marketing at ConAgra. 

“We take an almost unbiased look to make sure it delivers on the creative or communication platform and make it feel like one consumer campaign,” said Shen, adding that ConAgra has a team dedicated to making sure the shopper marketing plan feels cohesive. He made these comments in a presentation recently in Chicago at the Shopper Marketing Expo produced and hosted by the Path to Purchase Institute.   

Another speaker at the workshop, Rachael Norton, Vice President - Shopper Marketing at ConAgra, explained how ConAgra has “structured for success.” Customer development is at the center of its matrix surrounded by customer teams with consistent dialogue and one internal voice. Contributing to the end result are: category plan commercialization and revenue growth management; shopper marketing and in-store experience; and category leadership/shopper insights/customer analytics. .  

"Understand who you are as a company and what your core strengths are," Norton said. "The key is having the commitment of your organization to make your solution work and to be open to learning with your customer base."

She stressed the importance of getting into conversations with retailers early in the process and developing a joint business plan. “Our customers {the retailers} are less interested in brands than in full shopper solutions,” Norton said.

ConAgra wants to grow its business while also growing the retailer’s category, said another speaker, Tom Brown, Executive Vice President, RPM Connect.

Often the retailer is focused on a concept, like trying to provide a solution for weeknight meals. ConAgra’s structure “helps us sell the way they want to buy it vs. how we want to sell it,” Shen noted. “We don't think of it as the traditional path to purchase any more. Technology has changed how people move through the traditional purchase cycle, and how they advocate or denigrate a product.” 

For example, he noted that someone can be on Facebook with a complaint about what a manufacturer is doing and then that message gets copied and pasted to 150 “close friends.”

The influence of reviews and people’s opinions is really critical, Brown added.
The dialogue for marketing efforts needs to include a wide variety of functions at the manufacturer level, the manufacturer’s agency and the retailer, These conversations should be held early in the process so that new learnings can be applied to the program before it launches.

“Early on we get reaction from senior leadership. Are we missing anything? Is there a way to make it bigger?" Brown said.

The business development staff, instead of spending most of their time managing the trade budget, can also serve as a strategic link for brand management, and the field salespeople and marketing teams can help establish priorities as the retailers’ annual programs are planned.

ConAgra aims to balance digital and traditional shopper marketing levers. Digital shopper marketing tools are used to help move a consumer to a shopper. Out of store, this starts with building awareness and then shifts to driving purchase intent, getting on the shopping list.

The shopper marketing process begins with discovery. “As we go through the discovery phase, we look at unmet shopper needs,” Brown explained.

Shopper insights and opportunities identified for a specific retailer are key factors during the development stage. Programs are developed and measured to drive business for both ConAgra and its retail partner, according to Brown. 

“We need to synthesize down to what is really important,” Brown asserted. “If we have five things, we may need to get it down to one or two things to focus on. Then we develop concepts and tactics we can bring to the retailer.” 

Different digital and traditional media are considered that will increase awareness of the brand and drive purchase intent. 

“We look for ways to get on the shopping list,” Brown said. “Retailers are doing a good job with digital lists. They learn what consumers are searching for on their site and then offer coupons and recipes.”

Social media enables manufacturers and retailers to test and learn so they don't make the same mistake twice, according to the speakers. 

"We work across digital, and bring the marketing and merchandising agenda together for execution," Norton said. "Our dialogue with retailers has changed. We can talk about what marketing is best for them."

She said ROI used to be the sole focus, but now the objective is driving brand equity and creating a long-term relationship with the customer. “It may be a solution, not so much a brand focus.”

Understanding the long-term impact of the market in total remains a challenge, she summed up “We need to have a dialogue — conversations, not just e-mails.” 

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