Interview: Tim Murphy, Associate Brand Manager, General Mills

4 Aug 2010 by Randall Helms, No Comments »

Note: This is the full transcript of the interview I conducted on July 4th via telephone with Tim Murphy, an Associate Brand Manager at Minneapolis-based General Mills. I’ve been conducting a number of different interviews like this for my dissertation on how consumer goods brands can best use social media to engage with consumers. This interview touches on a bunch of the different themes of my research – how you use social media for marketing, what else you can use it for, how it can be used for consumer interaction, and so on. I will hopefully be posting some more full-length interviews soon, but for now I hope that you enjoy this.

Randall: The first question I have is how do you see social media fitting in to your overall marketing media mix? Do you see it as just another channel or as something very distinct from traditional channels like television and print?

Tim: You know, I would say just as background, of all consumer packaged goods companies, the food companies, and especially General Mills – I wouldn’t want to say we’re way behind the curve, but I would say that we’re definitely not cutting edge when it comes to some of these new types of media, digital media included.

We’re doing our best to improve our digital technologies and capabilities. The company is making some pretty serious investments in those areas because we know that we’re behind the curve on it, but you have an old old Midwestern company that’s been doing tv advertising and couponing for years and years and years and that’s what the senior folks know, because that’s what they grew up doing. So as the media landscape changes, that’s something that we need to adapt to, and that’s somewhere that we’ve not been as nimble as we have to be.

So I would say that right now, we use social media as just another channel. So you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your website, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got your social media, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a tv campaign, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your couponing plan.

You sort of go and check all the boxes, but I know from spending time at business school and from my life in general, that this is going to be something different, something bigger, and we’re going to need to get out ahead of it. So we’re sort of early on in that process at this point.

Randall: Great, you’ve actually answered a question I was going to ask later, which is how do you think consumer goods companies are different in their approach to this than other types of companies. With your social media campaigns, since you’ve said that they’re just an arm of your traditional campaigns, is the social media element targeted at specific people, like core customers, the people who are the most passionate users of your products, or is it just another element aimed at the general public, like tv or print would be?

Tim: No, I think the beauty of social media is that you can get really targeted, so most of our brands that are using social media, are using it to target what we call their ‘brand champion’. In other words, the people who are just die-hard fans of that brand. So we target those people knowing that it haloes to sort of a broader group.

I would say that we use social media in a very targeted way, not in a general way.

The other thing we’ve been really successful doing with targeting is micro-targeting using social media. For example, we were one of the first to come out with gluten-free cookie mixes and cake mixes, and we’ve been able to tap into the gluten-free community, which is fairly small …

Randall: My sister’s got a gluten allergy, actually.

Tim: Oh yeah?

So, as you probably know, it’s a relatively small community, growing unfortunately, but they care deeply about it, obviously, because they can’t eat a lot of these different things. So, we’ve been able to use social media and digital media in a way that’s super-targeted.

I would say that we use tv to reach the general population, and we use social media to go super-targeted and reach our brand champions.

Randall: Do you find that social media helps you identify your brand champions better?

Tim: It’s funny that you say that, because we’ve done some experimentation on that.

At this point, I would say no. I would say that we use different vehicles to truly understand who are brand champion is; once we know who they are we can go and target them with social media.

I think in the future we might be able to identify a brand champion using social media, but I don’t think we are there yet.

We’ve got some pretty sophisticated resources, and in marketing we rely on our consumer insight team to really understand who’s buying the brand, what they’re like. They’re a huge team at General Mills, and they’ve got a ton of resources, and they use a number of different methods to do that.

I think at this point most people know who their brand champion is and they use social media to go and target them, but I think you raise a good point, which is that in the future we’ll be able to use social media to find them.

Randall: So, the social media operation that you have, does it feed into other areas of the business besides marketing? Do you use it for other purposes as well?

Tim: You know, not yet.

I think of social media at this point of the lifecycle, in the company, as just one more touchpoint in a larger campaign. A campaign may have a tv component, it may have a digital advertising component, it might have a couponing component – all of these different touchpoints, and I would see social media as one of these touchpoints.

Randall: Do you use it for, I don’t know, customer service or market research purposes, or not really yet?

Tim: Nope, not yet.

Randall: OK! One of the things that I noticed when I looked at the stuff that you do with the different brands – Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Haagen-Dazs, and so on – was that there’s a lot of participation involved in the social media, on Facebook and Twitter and so on, such as competitions, uploading your own photos, etc. In your experience, has that helped to deepen your engagement with consumers?

Tim: You know, I think it has. I can’t speak directly, only because I haven’t worked on a business that has had a lot of social media yet. In fruit snacks it’s tough because you’re marketing to kids, and they don’t really have social networking sites, and now I’m doing my new products rotation, so I’m not so involved in marketing an established brand so much.

But I have definitely heard stories internally about engaging the consumer through social media and the importance of getting them to act now. So, in other words, it’s one thing to advertise and put your name to a Facebook page, but it’s only good in so far as you’re able to get the customer to engage with your brand and actually go out there and buy it.

We call it making sure that there’s a ‘call to action’, or that there’s a reason to act now, so I think that’s what they’re trying to do with the photos and the engagement.

Randall: With this engagement, how easily can you measure the results of this? You mentioned that there’s always a call to action, how easy have you found it to measure the actual impact of these campaigns?

Tim: I think it’s easy to measure the engagement of the consumer, given all of the metrics and the data that are available in this space. I think that what is a little bit harder, and that we are still learning to do, is measuring the impact on the business.

Does this move more cases of cereal?

If so, how many?

I think that’s what’s harder to measure. What’s easier to measure is, did they click on this? How many photos did they upload? Did we get them to submit a story about their mom, or heart disease, in the case of Cheerios? I think that’s easy to measure at this point, but what’s harder is to measure the impact on the business.

Randall: Have you found that you’ve been able to monitor how much your campaigns ripple out from your engagement with the brand champions?

Tim: I don’t know, that’s a good question.

I work on a really small brand in addition to the new products that I work on, and we are going to do some social monitoring this year, just to sort of understand the landscape that is out there, who are brand champions are, and what they are doing online, so I will probably know more down the road, but I would venture to guess that it’s gotta be pretty hard to measure that at this point.

Randall: It’s kind of difficult, because most people have their Facebook walls private, so you can put in a brand name into the search engine, but you’ll only see a fraction of what people post. Unless they were to allow companies to see what people were posting, but I doubt that would be feasible for privacy reasons, and so on.

Tim: Sure.

Randall: What would you say would be the main advantages and limitations of using social media for consumer marketing?

Tim: If I had to boil it all down, I think say that the main advantage is that it is super-targeted. We can get at our brand champions really cheaply and easily.

I would say that the main limitation at this point is that it’s just really hard to measure the impact on the business, especially in consumer packaged goods. At this point people have been using tv for years, and there’s good statistical models available to measure the lift on your business as a result of a certain tv campaign.

What’s harder, and younger, and sort of earlier in its life, is the measurement of some of these new technologies and medias.

So, I think that the ability to get super-targeted is great, but we do need to figure out how to measure the impact on the business.

Randall: Great. I’ve got two more questions, and one of them, which I probably should have asked before, is do you do any monitoring of social media (blogs, social networks, web forums, and so on) for any discussions of the brands, particularly negative commentary, and do you then try to do anything about it?
Tim: You know, that’s a good question.

I know that we do a lot of monitoring. I know that it’s always kind of a risk, that people, as they are developing campaigns, are aware that they are giving up an element of control, and as marketers we’ve always had that control in sort of a push model, where we push content out to consumers. Where we lose control is when consumers start pushing content to each other, so I think that of the successes that I’ve seen at General Mills, everyone has said that you’ve gotta be willing to give up that control to really make it work.

I know we do some monitoring, but we really try to hold back from manipulating it too much.

I think at this day and age, that people can see through that, and the corporate BS that goes into some campaigns, I think that limits them.

Randall: Last question! How confident do you feel in your ability to use social media as a marketing tool? Do you feel very confident, or do you feel like you are still experimenting to see what works?

Tim: No, I feel very confident. I would say that it’s still experimental at this point, but as I was saying earlier, we’ve made some pretty serious investments in this area, and I think the leadership team knows that this is something that is important. There’s a few megatrends we are following at the moment – one is multicultural marketing, and the other is digital marketing, and I think that this is a big focus area for the company, and I am confident that we’ll figure it out.

I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’ve gotta figure it out!

It’s a new dynamic, just like the internet, just like all these other things, that really shapes the way we work, live, and buy.


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