After a decade at General Mills, Jeff Peterson is one of the top consumer packaged goods promotion marketers in America.
Since 1999 he has been Director of Promotion Planning & Development in General Mills Snacks Unlimited Division where he oversees promotions Pop Secret, Nature Valley Granola, Bugles, and Fruit Rollups brands. Before that he handled similar jobs for the Big G cereal (including Lucky Charms and Cocoa Pops) and Yoplait divisions. In 1998 he helped launch the Company's NASCAR co-promotion initiative.
QUESTION: What have you found is the most challenging aspect of product promotion and how did you face it/over come it?
PETERSON: The identity of what promotion is. The reputation of the promotions industry has never been attractive.
In the past we were seen as a staff position to do things like get toys in boxes, with no real strategy. Even the name of the industry when I started was sales promotion. It was seen as very short term, very gimmicky, a necessary evil, whatever you can do to get things off the shelf.
Now, I believe that perception has changed.
Now, it is about trying to show our clients, internal and external, just how strategic promotions can be. A lot of what we do is just physical interactions with consumers. You can remove yourself from advertising. As long as you buy something you are hit with promotions. It is truly the front line between the brand and the consumer.
Overall the name has changed to promotion marketing. It still may be a coupon that we deliver, but I believe the thinking behind it is a lot more strategic and it is being positioned as strategic.
We are not just an order-taking staff role. Now our challenge is to ask ‘why do you need a coupon?’ We are finally starting to see a lot of clients shifting dollars away from ads and into promotions, packaged goods in particular.
QUESTION: Can you describe some of the details involved with your groundbreaking NASCAR initiative, how long it lasted and what was accomplished?
PETERSON: It began in 1998 and it is still going on. We realized the power of that brand. It is a geographic phenomenon.
The Southeast is one of the most challenging places to market, it could be the demographic makeup of consumers, but we don’t really understand all reasons. All we know is that there are a few [CPG] brands down there and the loyalty to those brands is as strong. Kelloggs, for one, has been there so long is has been very hard for us to crack in.
We had sponsored some races where we used the Wheaties paint scheme on a car for one race in 1995. The response was huge in terms of consumer inquiries and pick up. We realized it should maybe be a longer-term initiative.
It’s a sponsorship of a [racing] team, but you can be an associate sponsor of an existing car. We used Cheerios for the first couple of years, now it is Betty Crocker [the spoon]. There is brand representation all over the car, team uniforms, etc. But of all things you get, that part is low on list.
Most important are programs you can put together like a Food Lion grocery chain [major southeast grocery chain] being an official NASCAR grocer. For us, until we got into NASCAR we could not participate in those kinds of sales. We have also used the NASCAR theme for FSIs [free standing inserts], direct marketing, point of sale, etc.
QUESTION: Considering so many brands are partnering with NASCAR, how do you make the NASCAR initiative work for your brands?
PETERSON: This fact is what drove us to get in and get in early. If competitors try to get in hopefully we appealed to a sense of loyalty soon enough. Until we see a lot of direct competition I’d say the more the better.
The people who market NASCAR will always talk about brand Loyalty. With the exception of cereal, when we got into NASCAR we were one of first consumer packaged goods companies involved. At the time, it was fairly provocative to have a cake mix on a car. Overall we have been very pleased with what NASCAR has done for us.
QUESTION: What is the best way to measure the success of such major partnership programs?
PETERSON: There is short-term measurement and long term. Short term is very dependent on how you package the sponsorship or event. Is it end aisle displays? Is it an ad where we have 10 of our products prominently featured? Those things all will hopefully yield immediate results.
You also need to ask if you are able to transform that sponsorship fee, which is very expensive, into a behavior-changing event. If a partnership is not relevant enough to influence someone’s shopping behavior it is a waste, the short term anyway.
Long term, we will look to measure loyalty because of our association. You need years. Budgets are tight, everyone is being held more accountable these days. I think the long haul is a better plan. There used to be a lot of one-offs, but not so much any more.
QUESTION: When you're running promotional offers on your packaging, how much do you need to change your basic package art to make the consumer notice it? How is that measured? And do you worry about damaging your brand?
PETERSON: There is no science to it, really. This has lead to the stigma that promotions have had.
You see FREE or NEW or bad colors, but the point is to break through and stand out. We have erred on the side of bigger is better. The proper balance with promotions works. There is a need to violate a package at times to add value. With things like color or size or look, it is hard to measure the kind of impact they have, aside from the short-term impact of sales.
Long term you have to consider trust and awareness. How much are you damaging what something means to people when you change what it looks like? What if we change that yellow Cheerios box to red? Promotions people say that is cool, but there would have to be a consideration to the equity of that brand.
Promotions people can have ways to add value to a brand to change behavior, but we need to be more considerate of value. Be sensitive to various definitions of ‘value.’ If not, it will just be about what is the flavor of the month. The last thing that consumers need is more things to figure out.
QUESTION: What are you doing with sampling programs? What's working best?
PETERSON: I think we've found our best success with sampling when we've been able to either deliver the sample at the point of purchase [in-store] or, for some products, in a relevant lifestyle context.
The in-store impact is obvious -- the proximity of the sample to the product sitting on the shelf increases the immediacy and hopefully conversion.
But the real power, longer-term, could be in delivering a sample when a consumer needs it most in the context he/she needs it most, i.e. the mother of an 8-month old receiving a sample of Cheerios as a first finger food. The kinds of trials that produce memories versus fleeting taste experiences are most powerful.
QUESTION: Have you worked with online coupons?
PETERSON: We have done less with actual print out coupons, mainly due to security issues. We are still experimenting in this area though and may do more with online coupons in the future.
We have worked on price incentives with Catalina Marketing, our couponing partner. They have different programs online. ValuPage (http://www.valupage.com) is their biggest online product. We sign up and buy flights of price incentives. The consumer gets a barcode scanned through at register. This is what they print out. It is actually a shopping list with barcodes that they compile from the site.
QUESTION: What games, contests or sweeps, if any, are working best for General Mills?
PETERSON: The games, contests and sweeps that do a good job of adding value to our brands while reinforcing core brand elements are best.
There's a temptation sometimes to latch onto whatever the 'hot' property or event is, with little regard to how the property fits with the host brand. However, when you can combine a hot property with a core brand message, you can win big.
For example, Yoplait yogurt ran a 'flip and win' sweepstakes in conjunction with the 1996 Olympic games, which connected the 'flip' of Olympic contests [i.e. gymnastics, swimming] with the 'flip' of opening the lid of our yogurt containers. It's not incredibly deep, but even that subtle connection is one that means more and reinforces more to the current or new Yoplait consumer than a random contest or game would have.
QUESTION: How does the Internet tie into promotions you have done for GMs brands. What has tied in best?
PETERSON: The biggest thing you can do on the Internet is to extend the promotional message. A lot of times it is efficient and timely in communication. You can jump on something quickly and shut it off quickly.
As it relates to loyalty, the Internet represents an efficient way to tackle that as well. The only other options we had before [the Internet] was direct mail and at 40 cents per shot it didn’t work as well.
One of first things we did online was in snacks. In the online sweeps we ran around NASCAR, we asked Pop Secret customers to go online and vote for a paint scheme for a car that we were going to sponsor. This was very similar to the M&M color plan going on now. This was done with on-the-box promotions that featured a special Pop Secret website address to visit and vote.
We collected email addresses and more importantly we really got to know who was into Pop Secret. The Internet allowed us to take the operational component of promotional marketing and speed up the process. We supported it about 3 months in advance. If it was not online it would have easily taken 8 to 10 months.
QUESTION: Have you used your free standing inserts (FSIs) in Sunday papers to drive people to the Web?
PETERSON: No, but there is no big reason we haven’t. We tend to use the Internet as a compliment to a base program. We have just not used the Internet as the only way to experience a promotion.
Our most active site is more around Betty Crocker recipes. But with kid brands you get into legal things with marketing to kids and the like. There has not been a huge push for us to create branded experiences yet, but we are figuring it out so stay tuned.
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