By nickjohnson - April 29th, 2014

Mac Tillman is the Vice-President at Marketing at Big Heart Pet Brands. Previously a part of Del Monte Corporation, Big Heart Pet Brands came into being when other Del Monte food brands were sold to Del Monte Pacific in February by the company’s Private Equity owners.

Mac Tillman, Vice-President of Marketing at Big Heart Pet Brands Mac Tillman, Vice-President of Marketing at Big Heart Pet Brands

The remaining business became Big Heart Pet Brands. The company is now the largest independent, solely-focused, pet food company in the country, with sales roughly $2 - $2.5bn. They have a portfolio of brands that include Milk Bone, Pupperoni, Nine Lives, Kibbles and Bits, Meow Mix, Natural Balance, and Nature’s Recipe.

Mac will be contributing to the panel on granular customer understanding at the Incite Summit:West in May. We took some time to talk to Mac about his role, his priorities for the year ahead, and the forward-looking and comprehensive marketing infrastructure at Big Heart.

Can you describe your role at Big Heart, and let us know how that has changed since the transition from Del Monte?

In the previous role, my job was to develop organisational capabilities in a few categories:

  • People: Building out digital marketing as a capability with the right people; building out integrated marketing; building out our capability to better develop advertising and brand positioning. We had a number of different centers of excellence - where the focus was on building out capabilities by building teams.

  • Processes: Second was building out capabilities by building out processes and the ways in which we did that work. And then planning and how we flow things through the system.

  • Knowledge: Increasing capabilities both by bringing outside information into the company, and by being an advocate for these different capabilities that we needed within the organisation. That meant championing the increasing role of digital marketing, the increasing need for capabilities around Real-Time Marketing, marketing integration, and visual identity.

In this new position at Big Heart, it’s back to a wider role. I’m responsible for developing the brands that are under my purview - using a lot of more modern and effective marketing, better connecting with the consumers, and leveraging a lot of the insight work we’ve done through consumer knowledge scapes,and demand landscapes. I help to drive the business, by making sure that we’re in line with competition, with marketing structure, with our product development teams - with all those aspects of fundamental business management that drive the P&L, and drive our ability to be competitive and a winner in the marketplace.

Let’s look at your previous role and  the development of organisational capabilities. In  capabilities. In your view, what are the key capabilities a marketing function must build?

For us, we break things down into three areas:

  1. Agility

  2. Connectiveness

  3. The Ability to Continually Evolve

We talked about agile connected evolution as the core of how we want to go to market from an infrastructure and capabilities perspective.

‘Agility’ is the ability to have the right infrastructure, talent, and capabilities so we’re in a position to adjust to a dynamic marketplace. As our competition changes, as consumer preferences change, as technology changes, the ability to adjust to those changing conditions and that increasingly demanding set of consumers is critical.

The connection idea is really important for us - and focuses internally. Marketing is becoming more fragmented, more complicated, and changing at a rapid pace. So being connected is increasingly important - as I’ll discuss in more detail later. Fundamentally though, if you want to be agile, you’ve got to communicate well.

Also, as marketing becomes more complex, we had so many different experts in the room that it became challenging to connect people and leverage the best skills and talent. So connecting is also there to solve that problem.

Constant Evolution
This is about building a constant focus on the marketplace and the consumer, and on new technology. We want the ability to say ‘here’s where things are going - now how are we going to evolve what we do to match that?’

Agility is focused on the short term need to change, whereas evolution is a long-term ability to both recognise the need to change, and then execute that deeper level of change.

You mention an increasing need to communicate better internally. That’s something I’ve heard echoed often. I’ve actually just asked about 100 senior marketers on the East Coast about this. And the preliminary results show 97 - 98% are saying “Yes, it’s critical we work better with other departments this year.”

How do you decide who should be connected, and how do you ensure these groups actually do communicate?

In the past, when marketing was simpler, you created an ad campaign, and you pushed it out via a website, a print campaign, an FSI. Therefore, marketers could run everything - and essentially be the connective tissue between everything.

As everything becomes more complicated, it’s almost impossible to expect marketers to strategically lead their business, own their P&L, and be able to be visionary on where their business should go strategically and tactically.

So, we’ve created a series of Centers of Excellence, designed to better integrate our efforts and respond to this increasing complexity. They operate in a series of key focus areas:

  1. Digital/social

  2. Media - both traditional and new

  3. Visual identity (from marketing collateral and packaging through to the assets and the knowledge bases around them)

  4. National promotions, loyalty and other consumer activation

  5. Advertising and positioning (which also manages the planning process)

These groups connect to each other.  The aim is to reduce the number of touchpoints for the brand people to connect in to. How we use them, and how many we use, depends on the campaign or marketing goal. So a big brand with heavy spend in multiple areas will have more resources and more of these centers of excellence will work with them. If it’s a the small brand, something more digitally driven, then they’ll focus on working with the digital center and our digital lead agency.

in the end you can’t run the traditional command and control infrastructure - it just doesn’t work any more

As well as that network of connections, we’re also connected in to the Market Development organisation - our integration into sales. So we have another center of excellence there, an internal team helping us develop category strategies and brand strategies for both channels and customers. That connection is really important.

Finally, we have a center of excellence in innovation where we connect in to the corporate innovation group, and a center of excellence in consumer insights and information.

It’s a massive matrix of different connections. The aim is to create an organisation that isn’t hub and spoke, but is very much a narrow net, ensuring that no one person is critical to every conversation and every context. Because in the end you can’t run the traditional command and control infrastructure - it just doesn’t work any more.

One other thing - we don’t have all this solved. It goes back to the ‘evolution’ point I made earlier,  about how we think about things like this.

We know that there is no destination for this. There is no infrastructure that we’re building towards. We know that as soon as we figure out how to solve this set of challenges, the market is going to shift again. So we’re going to be perpetually on a moving ship. And that means it’s about the journey. There is no destination - we’re just going to continue to try to be as good as we can, and evolve as quickly as we can to meet the needs of the market and the consumers.

Let’s come back to the ‘leveraging insight’ point you made earlier. Could you give us a little more detail on what you’ve done there, and what insights you’ve been able to pull out?

Three years ago, when we were purchased by private equity, we were given the opportunity to build some fundamental capabilities that we didn’t have as an organisation previously

We put a great deal of investment in to insights that other company would take for granted. Doing the work to create basic consumer segmentation models across all our categories, so we could create target consumer segments, identified through habits, practices and psychographics across all of our businesses.

For each of our brands, we now know who the target consumer is, how they shop, why they buy, how they interact with their pets, and how they interact with their pet foods and snacks.

From that basic segmentation, we were able to also do market structure work - so we understand by segment  how those consumers purchase, the choices they make, when they make them, and where they make them. We understand the hierarchy of both their needs and their purchase habits.  We also did some Path to Purchase work, to understand how our consumers went to market, how important pre-shop vs instore activation and efforts were.

We’ve done a ton of foundational work that now is getting pushed out into everything we do. We’ve worked with our media agency to ensure that for every brand we buy for, we buy that target consumer. We’re able to type-classify, via the agency’s targeted database system, and by connecting their data with our own, we now can buy very accurately to our target segments.

All of our marketing mix activation is done to specific targets - so that we’re able to be much more focused and much more specific.

All this allows us to do a better job. We went back and repositioned every one of our brands, and now we have the ability to talk to the right consumers. We understood what that segment thought of our brand, and ways that we could make our brands better.

Now we’re at that level of granularity, we’re beginning to use social listening too. That will hopefully mean we can begin to move towards real-time analysis - what’s happening in the marketplace at a given moment - so we can continue to hone that and make it more actionable and more dynamic. But we’re only in the very early stages there.

What do you see in the future? Over the course of 2014, where do you see your biggest opportunity/time spend?

I have a lot of brands that have a real opportunity to start to create an always on, individual connection with their consumers. With Nine Lives, we have strong equity with Morris the Cat - an equity that we haven’t really leveraged much in the past. So there’s an opportunity to really connect Morris to our consumer base, so that he can become a way that we dispense advice and help with our consumers. And the best way to do that is going to be through the social and digital channels.

Overall, we’re looking to transition a lot of our businesses from very promotional tactic-driven businesses (where it was about price and promotion, and then we try to layer on national marketing that was untargeted and very blunt) to something with a greater emphasis on finding the right consumers, and really having that dialogue and that communication.

That concludes our interview with Mac. If you're interested in this issue - or hearing more from Mac, you should check out the Incite Summit:West. Mac is presenting, alongside Xerox and Wells Fargo in a session entitled "Build a High Def Picture of Your Customer: Granular Customer Understanding to Ensure Every Message is Relevant".

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