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Asia Top 1000 Brands

Experimenting Is The Key To Engagement

Peter Everett, CMO of General Mills, sat down with Product iClick’s VP Yan Lee at the Asia’s Top 1000 Brands event to talk engagement, emerging markets, and the growing role of digital in China.

Reaching people digitally

Compared to the rest of the world, digital plays a much bigger part of consumers’ lives, says Everett, and that is reflected in General Mills’ advertising spend. While, in the US, 90% of ad spend goes to TV and traditional media and only 10 to digital, in China the split is much closer to 60/40. Even if a consumer is watching TV, says Everett, the likelihood is that they are also holding a device.

While TV ads account for a large portion of their spend in EMEA, when it comes to China, General Mills have had to ensure that social and CRM is an integral part of the journey. This can include leveraging platforms like WeChat to build a connection between the consumer and the brand, generating important feedback in the process. By doing this, they have found, for example, that consumers really care about the quality and provenance of milk. And while it would take a very long TV ad to explain such details, Everett praises digital as “a great way to drive engagement with consumers on topics that they care deeply about.”

Shifting mindsets to mobile

According to Everett, when it comes to gift-giving, brands need to lose their institutional perspective and move towards a consumer-to-consumer model. General Mills achieved this during the traditional mooncake season in China by launching a WeChat campaign wherein users could opt to send Häagen-Dazs-filled mooncakes to their friends. “The product needs to continually innovate,” says Everett, “and continue to drive constant engagement.”


General Mills have found that consumers in Shanghai are deeply engaged in video, and while mobile plays a consistent role there, in tier two cities it is guaranteed to be the first device people use to connect. “In Shanghai it’s just one of the devices,” says Everett. “In a tier two city it might be the device.” Which means a holistic solution is needed, in order to ensure a connection can be made with that mobile consumer.

Thinking ‘video’ rather than ‘TV’

“We need to get outside of the TV mentality,” says Everett, who constantly challenges his his teams to create video strategies rather than TV ads. If the future of mobile is video, then brands needs to get to a point where they are creating content from video, be it five seconds or sixty.

“In China, everyone is struggling to find a more suitable medium for their mobile brand,” says Lee, pointing out that the average user attention span on video is only eight seconds. “The big question is ‘what’s in it for me?’” says Everett. “If it has some kind of utility or it’s something you can pass on to a friend, it can be 2 minutes long.” He believes that you can sometimes afford for the brand message to be soft if the entertainment value is high; “It’s a trade-off.” Although he is the first to acknowledge that it depends hugely on the category, reluctantly admitting that nobody cared about the recipe content General Mills produced for its snack business on Twitter, because they had yet to find the utility in a meaningful and on-going way.

Learning the ins and outs of data


When asked how General Mills is using Big Data in China and globally, Everett echoes other brand and experts: “We have started to scratch the surface, but there’s a long way for us to go to really figure out how to do this well.” He mentions rudimentary cases, such as a loyalty programme which utilizes birthday data to create offers. And then there are benefits to supply chain and forecasting; the company is able to predict with a high degree of accuracy how many coupons are going to be redeemed at a specific production site based on data relating to time of day, weather etc. What’s trickier, Everett says, is applying that to hyper-markets, and “turning online-to-offline into a feedback loop.”

Advice for brands

Everett ended the session with three pearls of wisdom for marketers:

  1. “Know your consumer very, very well… That’s going to guide everything else you do.” Usually if a mistake is made at General Mills, Everett says, it is because they didn’t spend enough time with their consumers.
  2. “Have a simple strategy, and a very simple message.” Everett acknowledges that for a brand, a product is a very complex topic, but that consumers must be instantly able to understand what you’re talking about: “I need to have a very simple message that I can repeat over and over again, and bring to life.”
  3. “Always be curious.” Learning about new media and constant experimentation can yield amazing results in terms of consumer engagement. Everett encourages all brands to find out what is possible.

Yan Lee contributed his own twofold takeaway: “Don’t be afraid to embrace change… and don’t be afraid to try.” He recalls being initially astounded by the speed at which China adopts innovations, but states that brands shouldn’t fear this rapid pace, but embrace it. “Today we are empowered with data,” he says. “The goal of this data is to capture opportunity itself. Fortune favours the bold; if you’re willing to try, to experiment, that’s the opportunity right there.”

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