Intersections in Marketing – Q&A with Mark Addicks

After the November 2011 Intersections in Marketing event, speaker Mark Addicks graciously agreed to answer additional questions posed by the audience.

Mark Addicks

Some people say that technology has killed 3 of the 4 "Ps" in marketing and that the only thing that matters is the product.  What are your thoughts?
I would say the weighting of the four Ps is different in a digital world. Having a remarkable product is absolutely essential, as it always has been. However, in a digital world the competitive set is global and includes a lot of regional and local players that may not be sitting on the shelf next to you. The standard for product value and quality has gone up in a digital world and reviews and comments will be more widely posted and shared. The digital public will be more rigorous in how and what they conclude is superior in your product category.  I also would say that there are not just 4 "P"s anymore... perhaps there are five, with the most recent one standing for Participation and what your brand strategy will be for participating in a open, digital and social world.

How do you balance long-term strategy with real-time response to digital and social media?
This is a great question because I find myself often being in the flow of digital e-mails and sometimes missing the larger question. In today’s world, we should assume that our brands are ‘always on’ since digital technology is 24/7. However, the marketer must resist letting the digital marketplace define and position the brand. Instead, the marketer must, as always, stay true to brand marketing fundamentals and define what she or he wants the brand to be, clearly enunciate what the brand will stand for (purpose) and why the brand will be different.

When you have a successful brand based on a single product line, what are some of the tests you put a new product through in order to determine if it belongs with that brand or a new brand?
I love this question because the approach to creating a new product is completely different today. In the old days we used to have lots of focus on perfecting the product and the campaign before the public ever saw either. We strove for perfection, grasped for evidence using artificial market research situations as proxies for the real market, and then spent all of our money as we launched the product and the campaign. Then we would stand back, holding our breath, and read the results months later. Today, we co-create. As marketers we still make the strategic choice, based on our understanding of the market, to select an opportunity we want to pursue with a new product. Once we do that, we co-create in-market, starting with a prototype or prototypes and then iterate using real market feedback. We don’t follow that feedback blindly but we use it to continue development. Then when we have confidence in the product, positioning and campaign idea, we scale and launch. And even then, we will continue to iterate and adjust as we read market results on a daily and weekly basis. In a digital world, marketers will need to be much more agile, with processes and support systems that are equally agile to bring the best idea to market.

I was able to hear Steve Farenholz from General Mills talk at a product development management meeting and spoke about iSquad, which sounds incredible.  How valuable is iSquad in your opinion?
The iSquad at General Mills is a very, very unique unit that provides inspiration and consulting as well as strategic direction for products, consumer segments and for larger product platform areas that we as brand marketers haven’t figured out.  The iSquad is a multi-disciplined team that helps shine a light on where the specific marketing opportunities are in areas such as weight management and they have a great track record of uncovering areas with real growth potential. They have been essential to our innovation.

Given the fragmentation of consumer shopping choices for food products, how is General Mills partnering with retailers?  What is the role of shopper marketing in strategy?
Shopper Marketing is fascinating as we try to understand the mind of the shopper as they approach the store experience. We work hard to understand in detail how, when, where and why individuals plan their shopping trips and we have a detailed model called the ‘Path to Purchase’ which covers before, during and after the shopping trip, and identifies ways to make the shopping experience more serviceable and rewarding for the shopper. This is an emerging area of marketing but one that will be more and more important, and will have to include knowledge of the physical shopping trip as well as the e-commerce shopping trip, as well as the relationship between the two (i.e. educating yourself on line before the physical purchase).

How do you fulfill social responsibility and not promote unhealthy products to kids and adults alike?
Thank you for this question.  There is nothing more important than being socially responsible in nourishing the lives of our consumers and communities. We take this very seriously and have detailed marketing guidelines for our brands and products, and ask that our marketing community review and adhere to our marketing guidelines on an annual basis. 

We also work very hard to be transparent about these guidelines (they are published on our company website) as well as the rationale for how we develop and market our brands and products. Take a look at our detailed breakfast study (also on our website) which outlines our breakfast offerings using external standards and research by organizations like the Institute of Medicine as guideposts.  We also listen actively and engage in conversations with our consumers, the communities we serve, our customers and consumer organizations, some of which don’t always agree with us. This is important as we want to hear all sides and weigh opinions carefully as we seek to provide foods that nourish lives by making people healthier, making food preparation more convenient, and by making some food occasions richer and more memorable.