The foundation of remarkable brands

September 27, 2013

Allen Adamson
Managing Director,
based in Landor New York
General Mills CMO Mark Addicks on how to make your brand memorable

General Mills

Have you seen or heard something lately that was really—I mean really—remarkable? Something that you couldn’t wait to pass along to a friend and that got catalogued in your brain as something to be remembered? That, at its core, is what marketers (purveyors of brands) are searching for today. It’s not a momentary flashy event, but a product, an experience, an act of social responsibility. Perhaps just a simple change in package design that is so excellent, so obviously better, so not average that it is worth remarking and acting on. 

This notion was at the heart of a presentation I saw recently by Mark Addicks, who is senior vice president, chief marketing officer of General Mills. And, while this concept—that marketers want consumers to perceive their brand experiences as incredibly worthy of remembering and passing along—is a simple one, it is extremely hard to do. Mark had a very interesting take on the topic, and General Mills, a very large and traditional company, has found effective ways to successfully navigate the sea changes in a digitally oriented marketplace. I thought a few of these ideas would be worth, well, remarking on.

First of all, to be remarkable to a consumer, the product experience has to make sense. Or as Mark said, it has to answer the question, “What can it do for me?” In other words, any brand can be different, but this difference has to be relevant. To illustrate this point, Mark gives the example of Pillsbury and the pivot it made in turning the brand from a “baking” product to a “making” product. It was, as he told the audience, “a reinvention insight.”

The change of a single letter relative to the brand’s meaning, relative to a consumer’s life, opened up an entirely new way of going to market. Baking was functional and limited, but making things for and with your family using Pillsbury products creates endless possibilities. It’s what people were looking for: an experience that incorporated delicious and innovative ways to feed their families. By changing the frame of reference to a bigger arena in the category, it opened the funnel to include more than dinner rolls.

A look at the Pillsbury website clearly illustrates Mark’s point. Pillsbury Grands!, for instance, aren’t just biscuits for Thanksgiving, they’re also strawberry shortcake, chicken-bacon quesadillas, cinnamon pull-apart bread, sloppy joe casseroles, and sausage calzones. To be remarkable, Mark explained, “You have to be careful about the restrictions you put on your brand. By narrowly defining it, you too narrowly define your audience. 

This brings me to another of his insights on becoming remarkable: the audience.

Who, actually, is your audience? While it used to be enough to target a general demographic— say, women aged 18 to 34 who live in the suburbs and drive minivans—it’s critical to remember that today’s market is as fragmented as its marketing channels. “You need to think about how brands live and thrive in this incredibly networked, fragmented world with content exploding everywhere,” Mark said. “You’ve got to make a personal connection, talk to an individual. We encourage our teams to think about consumer intimacy.” 

This means that instead of thinking in terms of macro-TV audiences, focus your efforts on the one person you feel would delight in the story you’re telling about your brand. Try to make that one person so delighted he’ll pass it along. If you try to appeal to everyone, you’ll likely appeal to no one. Everyone looks at the big demographic, but this isn’t clear enough. Think about being remarkable to one person.

To make this point, Mark showed the new work being done for the Procter & Gamble Pampers brand of diapers. (He was appropriately nonpartisan in the examples he used!) To bring to life Pampers’ philosophy that what all babies need to be happy and healthy is love, sleep, and play, the campaign evoked a personal conversation between one parent and another, sharing pictures and videos of the little loves in their lives. That the initiative is a hit on Facebook is no surprise.

Go back to the future. “Most of the oldest brands,” Mark reminded us, “started with a purpose. They stood for something beyond the product. The purpose drove their actions. These brands built communities. To be remarkable today you have to have a purpose and you have to be able to articulate and illuminate your purpose.”

Betty Crocker, he stated, is a perfect example of a brand that started out with purpose—to help make a house a home with comforting and familiar rituals and routines. But Betty Crocker had fallen slightly offtrack. 

Reinvigorating this purpose—ensuring everyone associated with the brand understood this driving purpose—has helped the brand get back to where it started. It has built stronger, loyal communities and reignited its success.

The power of being remarkable cannot be underestimated in today’s market. Mark made this clear. Whether it’s the packaging, the product, the experience, or the social marketing, the solution must be remarkable in order for the brand to gain an edge. If there are two boxes in this world, your brand must be in the top box. The personal recommendation someone might give a brand is the most important factor in the marketplace. To get that, your products, your delivery, and your intent must be remarkable. As we all know, people don’t recommend things that are average. And, as for flashes in the pan, they are quickly extinguished.

 

Blog post originally published on Forbes.com

Image of General Mills logo courtesy of General Mills and Flickr. 

Category: Brand strategy & positioning
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