ConAgra Cross-Pollinates Promotions, Digital Teams

With technology, demographics and economic trends driving a revolution in shopping behavior, it's never been more important to maximize learning and skills across marketing disciplines and minimize nonproductive silo cultures.

Case in point: At ConAgra Foods, a restructuring that's enabled close, ongoing collaboration between the consumer promotions and digital teams is paying off in increased ROI per dollar spent, reports Brett Groom, SVP, content integration and activation.

Under the restructuring implemented a year ago, Jon Shen, senior director of interactive (digital) marketing (who reports to Groom), also took on oversight of consumer promotions. Also, some consumer promotions team members were shifted to the digital team. 



In addition to the rapid growth of digital coupons and sweepstakes,  ConAgra's digital promotional channels have expanded to include partnerships with national online digital coupon networks, retailer loyalty program coupons, online rebate programs like Ibotta, and rewards-based engagement programs like Kiip. 

Mobile is another factor adding complexity. Increasingly, newer partnership programs and channels are designed for use on smartphones and other mobile devices, and ConAgra is also experimenting with employing mobile in-store beacon technology, e-commerce and other platforms, points out Shen. 

Newspaper FSIs and other traditional or long-established promotional media such as at-shelf and at-checkout coupon programs "are still powerful, but more and more promotions are going to have a digital or mobile component," says Groom, noting that use of social media is also accelerating. (ConAgra's senior director of social media, public relations and experiential marketing, Stephanie Moritz, also reports to Groom.)

In short, providing the promotions experts with access to the interactive team's technical expertise, and vice-versa, seemed eminently logical. 

"They're still technically separate teams, but now they're in constant communication," Groom says. "So there's a lot of cross-pollination," both in terms of sharing information and capabilities, and in sharing ideas to hone programs and promotion plans on a continuous basis, he stresses.

"The consumer promotions mix now includes a variety of digital options as well as paper, and in-store and out-of-store," sums ups Shen. Plus, ConAgra has some 20 different brands with significant consumer promotion budgets that are using multiple channels and platforms, and another 10 or so that mostly use just one or two channels. 

"There are a lot of moving pieces for us, but from a consumer's standpoint, they're all just different touchpoints" that should work seamlessly across their devices, locations and activities over the course of a day, Shen says. The new teams reporting structure is designed to enable a "more holistic and agile" strategic approach to engagement and incentives.  

Specifically, the cross-team collaboration and increasingly sophisticated, faster analytics are enabling consumer promotions to hone upfront channel/program mix investment decisions for the various brands so as to optimize impact, says Groom. In addition, virtually real-time results and insights from digital can be used to modify the mixes and allocations during the course of a year, and to adjust elements of specific promotions programs while they're in progress.

"Once a program is executed, the digital side lets us read and respond on the fly, by adjusting coupon value or a variety of other elements," Groom says. Unlike digital results, FSI results take time to receive (due to manual tallying processes on the supplier side), but once they're available, loading them into smarter analytics programs also enables improved predictions and planning, he adds. 

While consumer preferences and responses to various channels and incentive types do vary somewhat by brand across ConAgra's diverse portfolio, with the support of the interactive team, consumer promotions is "constantly testing and learning," and using a base of historic knowledge about the degree of overlap among brands to appropriately apply relevant learning from tests for one brand to others, reports Shen. 

For instance, learning from Ibotta tests conducted by the interactive team about two years ago is now being applied in consumer promotion efforts for other brands. "We've been rolling out learning on a brand-by-brand basis, basically using a portfolio approach," he says.   

The digital/interactive team now has access to consumer promotions' financials, and nimbler, data-based honing of budget allocations has resulted in shifting more of the available promotion funds from FSIs to digital channels, according to Groom. 

While such a shift was likely inevitable over time, the cross-team collaborations have accelerated it — and, as noted, the overall result has been more bang per consumer promotions buck, he says.

In fact, adds Shen, "Our mix of incentives and digital versus traditional [programs] is now slightly ahead of where consumer trends are going."

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