When you are one of the most successful consumer brands of all time, you need to stay ahead of the game when it comes to leveraging digital technologies. That’s what the leadership team of Kellogg, the $15B consumer packaged food company, recognized some three years ago. “As a leadership team, we knew we had to move quickly to find new ways to develop relationships with our consumers,” says Brian Rice, Kellogg’s CIO. “As a consumer company where brands are everything, we needed to build the right digital marketing strategy, and to execute quickly.”
So, Rice and Kellogg’s CMO, built a small digital strategy leadership team. “I hired a VP in IT, who had strong experience working with marketing teams, and our CMO hired a marketing VP with a solid understanding of IT,” says Rice. “With this small group, and some external resources, we looked at where the industry was going and assessed our current environment. We developed a digital marketing strategy, sold it to our leadership team, and then took it the Board.”
Build a consumer database: “Our overarching objective was to engage consumers in new and different ways,” says Rice. “We wanted to have relevant one-on-one interactions with our consumers so that they could relate even better to our brands.” In order to build that relationship, the digital marketing strategy team knew that Kellogg needed to know more about its consumers. “One key element of the strategy was to collect information in a consumer database, segment our consumers, and talk to them in ways that are more effective than the traditional mass communications approach,” says Rice.
Globalize and standardize a web presence: One of the most effective ways to build that database is to ask consumers to register, and reward that behavior with coupons and loyalty programs. “We had dozens of different Kellogg.com websites around the world,” says Rice. “They were all at different levels of quality and represented our brand in different ways,” Rice says. The digital strategy team needed to standardize web platforms if they were going to collect consumer data and build the database.
Build the team: Rice partnered with the CMO, and his VP partnered with a VP in marketing. “Those were the real people who made the digital transformation happen,” says Rice. “They put together the strategy and built a team beneath them.” The group also had smaller regional teams in Asia Pac, Europe and Latin America.
One major challenge that the digital strategy team faced was hiring qualified resources. “Digital marketing resources were in high-demand,” says Rice. “And they still are.” Rice found that the best way to recruit this rare digital marketing talent was to create a compelling vision for the transformation underway at Kellogg. Being able to describe our vision was the hook,” he says. “These people could come in and be a part of something really big. That was a differentiator for us in hiring the right resources.”
Inventory the legacy environment: Rice and this cross functional team set out to standardize the company’s global digital presence. “In the past, every time we went to market with a new website, we reinvented the wheel,” says Rice. “The digital agencies we partnered with were responsible not only for the design of the site, but for all of the back-end technology, as well.” That meant a quagmire of platforms and a lack of consistency in user experience.
The team’s first challenge in standardizing across all of these sites was figuring out what was out there. “When we started, we didn’t have an inventory of what existed across the world,” says Rice. “Every brand and every country was responsible for their own web presence. We had to cast the net wide to understand what all of our businesses were running and what our global consumers were seeing.”
So the team reached out to leaders in every region, across every brand and started to collect information on web technologies. “We relied heavily on our regional marketing organizations to lead the effort in each brand and country,” says Rice.
Develop reusable modules: One key to simplifying Kellogg’s web environment was developing reusable modules. Those modules, for consumer online registration, for example, allowed for standardization of that critical functionality and a much faster go-to-market time for new websites.
“We went from almost nothing to having a robust program across the world in two and a half years,” says Rice. “That’s incredible speed.”
Kellogg has now been able to capitalize on its single consumer database and its standardized, global digital platforms in a number of significant ways. “We’ve expanded our marketing program to include Kellogg family rewards, a program that allows loyal consumers to redeem points electronically,” says Rice. “With the points they’ve earned, consumers can earn gift cards, books, and educational resources across all of brands. Our new digital capabilities have allowed us to take our family rewards program to a new level.”
While the goal of the digital marketing program was to establish a better relationship with consumers, Rice has identified a number of additional benefits.
Digital is integrated into marketing: Before IT and Marketing launched the digital marketing program, the company considered digital as something separate and different from marketing. “We used to talk about the traditional marketing plan over here, and the digital plan over there,” Rice says. “Now, we have evolved to the point where digital is one mechanism in an overall integrated marketing strategy. It’s become a part of our day to day marketing operations; digital has become mainstream for us.”
Blended executives: During the course of the digital marketing transformation, Rice’s IT leaders would participate in marketing meetings. Now that the project is complete, that behavior has not changed. With his IT executives integrated so seamlessly into marketing, Rice now has a model for integrating IT with other business functions. “With marketing, we proved that the integrated model could work,” says Rice. “We have replicated that model in other functions, so that the IT organization as a whole is much more closely integrated with the business.”
Success depends upon the relationship between marketing and IT
“I’ve read that there a lot of friction between marketing and IT,” says Rice. “Our CMO and I never had that; we’ve always had a shared vision and passion for our digital marketing strategy. We would not have gotten this done without that relationship.”
As a combined force, IT and Marketing presented a compelling vision to the Board. “It was one of those rare times when we didn’t feel resource constrained; we got the funding and the focus that we needed.” Likewise, the IT and marketing teams must be as integrated as their senior leaders. “You couldn’t tell a marketing person and an IT person from each other,” says Rice. “Our resources had a shared understanding and respect for each other’s expertise and were stronger working together”.
If as CIO, you cannot imagine your CMO and you getting on stage at some event and talking about how your relationships has allowed you to bring digital innovation to your company, you are probably not ready to embark on a major digital program. But, if the relationship is strong – as it is at Kellogg – that CIO/CMO relationship can be the foundation for great things.
About Brian Rice
Brian Rice has been the Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President of Kellogg Company since 2009. Rice held leadership positions with Kellogg Company in information technology and enterprise business practices, both in the U.S. and Asia Pacific from 1993 to 2000. Prior to rejoining Kellogg, he was employed by General Motors Corp. from 2005 to 2009, where he served as global services information officer and was responsible for all aspects of global computing. From 2000 to 2005, he was employed by Mars Inc. and served as Vice President and Chief Information Officer for their Asia Pacific business, based in Singapore. Rice received a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Services from Ferris State University.