Marketing All Star: Umang Shah

Campbell Soup Co. is in the midst of  reinventing itself as a global food company. It’s acquiring new-wave companies like Bolthouse Farms, Plum Organics and Garden Fresh Gourmet, launching scores of new products, and updating the soup category by removing artificial ingredients and launching new varieties.

New marketing strategies that integrate and optimize digital and social media are, of course, crucial as the company focuses on serving what CEO Denise Morrison calls “a new  mosaic” of demographics and nontraditional households in the U.S. and beyond, and meeting consumers’ growing demand for fresh and “free from” foods and beverages. In fact, Campbell — which spent $320 million on advertising in 2014 — has upped digital’s share of its 2016 media budget to 40%, from 20% in 2015. 

Enter Umang Shah, tapped in April 2014 to lead Campbell’s global social and digital marketing. Shah’s mandate: Work with brand marketing teams and other functions across the $8.3-billion CPG giant to create engaging content for mobile and emerging media across owned, paid and earned media channels. 

Even in today’s youth-oriented marketing environment, some might think that a tall order for someone who turned 35 this year. But Shah has amassed a wealth of experience in a decade, spanning organizational design, team dynamics, qualitative and quantitative consumer insights and market trend analysis, as well as digital and social marketing.

Shah joined Campbell from Walmart, where as director of social media strategy, he was charged with managing and improving the world’s largest retailer’s reputation. Before that, he served as social media strategist at Microsoft, manager of digital marketing at Xerox, and senior sales reference program manager with BEA Systems. He also founded his own consulting firm, Cubed Consulting.

Being a self-described mashup of “certified geek” and storyteller, who believes in the primacy of “demonstrating value to your audience” by using behavioral data to understand brand-specific audience motivations and preferences, Shah also seems a tight fit for Campbell’s new marketing mission. Morrison has described that mission as “moving away from brand marketing to brand experience, where we earn consumers’ trust instead of buying it,” and vowed that even traditional advertising will be supported by data-driven, dynamic, real-time, customized messaging. 

And while Campbell has rarely faced the kind of direct criticism and controversy that Shah worked to counter at Walmart, consumers’ growing mistrust of Big Food companies has put greater transparency and conveying meaningful brand stories to younger consumers, in particular, on the front burner at Campbell.  

Shah believes that “digital is uniquely positioned to help brands reinvent themselves and change hearts and minds along the way.” He often stresses the importance of using Campbell’s unique brand stories and “Campbell moments,” in conjunction with “cool, compelling” and innovative experiences, to connect in relevant ways with the next generation. 

To achieve this vision, he’s been developing a “world class” digital marketing team covering the full range of functional expertise (social, CRM, mobile, Web sites, retailer relationships and more), as well building out Campbell’s Innovation Lab. 

At the same time, in under two years with the company, Shah has driven or overseen several high-visibility initiatives and campaigns. 

Social media-only campaigns for SpaghettiOs, dubbed #DeclareRecess and #BIGFiveO, yielded record social engagement levels for the 50-year-old brand—and helped position it as a snack—by employing videos, games and “social influencer” posts to drive nostalgic posts and content from adults.  

Other initiatives have leveraged new partnerships. For instance, Swanson worked with noted chefs to video them preparing their favorite chicken soup recipes.

Most visible of all: Campbell became one of the first consumer brands to  launch on Amazon Echo, the voice-recognition home technology that lets users get weather reports, sports scores, music and other information and entertainment through verbal interaction with the device’s “Alexa” service. 

Campbell developed an app or “skill” for Echo that, on request, generates five recipes from its Campbell’s Kitchen recipe database/site that are based on the user’s profile data and take into account the local weather, as well as trends on the recipe site. Once selected, the recipe is sent to the user on whatever channel or device he or she specifies.

During SXSW 2015, Shah confirmed that, in order to reduce paying to for targeted ad distribution through Facebook and other social platforms and to be able to capture more consumer information, redirecting consumers to Campbell’s owned recipe sites and social and mobile platforms is a priority. One way Shah is doing that is using People Pattern, the technology that creates individual profiles based on users’ posts on Facebook, Twitter and 20 other social media platforms. 

Contextualized search — which lets brands employ users’ recent social activity to determine their intent and respond accordingly — is another technology that Shah is eager to harness. Once Campbell knows “an individual’s dietary needs and what he or she looks for, we can present [customized] content to them in a channel they’re comfortable with,” he said at 2015’s Internet Week New York.

In short, Shah seems determined to catapult Campbell to the frontiers of digital marketing innovation.

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