How Mars Takes a Bite Out of Content Marketing

CMO Spotlight: Rob Rakowitz, Mars

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Rob Rakowitz, global director of media at Mars.
Rob Rakowitz, global director of media at Mars.
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Gone are the days of "just throw it out there" and "let's see what happens" when it comes to marketing campaigns. The hard truth is that in 2017, we have too much information at our disposal to lean on our instincts and creative prowess to connect with consumers. Today's leading marketers know this better than anyone.

Take Rob Rakowitz, global director of media at Mars, who was recognized by The CMO Club for his cut-through content marketing performance with brands like Uncle Ben's, Snickers, Pedigree and Whiskas. Rakowitz understands that to drive growth, marketing teams must use a targeted, well-researched approach backed by fail-safe insights -- and the simpler the goal, the better. Read on for his story.

Driven by data

It could be said that a good marketing theory works well outside of marketing, so a good marketing leader practices his theories outside of work. For his part, Rakowitz enjoys mining data as a member of a cycling team. Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), even riding a bicycle generates a mind-boggling amount of data. Armed with insights before a race, for example, his team can determine distinct roles and peak performance points, as he says, "much in the way that you would for launching a really great campaign." The implication for brands here is that data offers not only meaningful positioning but can also inform when to act on topical content.

In Rakowitz's opinion, it's the CMO's duty to show his or her teams how to make these same discoveries. "The only thing that you can do in this role," says Rakowitz, "is equip teams with the right navigation tools so that they can wade into this unknown and increasingly complex territory and actually drive growth from it."

And to drive growth, he says, these teams must make simplicity a goal, as the team with the discipline to focus in an ever-distracting environment will eventually outpace its competitors. "I find that the more you can simplify down what it is that we're trying to do from a vision perspective," he says, "the better an idea travels."

Content that cuts to the point

At Mars, Rakowitz says he was able to influence and coach teams in the execution of "fantastic content programs" for the labels that sought to understand how to best bring the brand, consumer and customer together. "It's what I like to call the idea of 4C conversion -- bringing consumer, customer, communications and commerce closer together," says Rakowitz. To make this work, he adds, you need to center around a simple purpose.

With Uncle Ben's, the Mars food team discovered that the brand's purpose is helping consumers make great food choices, leading to healthier eating habits. "We find out that consumers who start meals with rice are more likely to choose a lean protein or a vegetable to go along with it," he says.

But when Mars released Uncle Ben's ready-to-heat pouches in the U.K., the Uncle Ben's U.K. team discovered that consumers either weren't aware of the product or saw it as irrelevant. Working with BBDO and MediaCom, the team started to look to content to address the reach and relevance shortfall. IT developed a series of short online videos that featured a celebrity chef demonstrating the product in a public park, which engaged healthy consumers. The best-performing clip was trimmed and disseminated to TV and social media. "It was a very content-driven idea backed up by behavioral data," says Rakowitz. "We were able to use social media to make sure the content was as personal as possible. And it actually yielded some really nice business results for us."

Another data-supported campaign Rakowitz championed was "Kitten Kollege" for Whiskas, following an insight that new cat owners often lack the knowledge to properly care for their pets at first. Mars' Petcare marketing team and agency partners (BBDO and Mediacom) created tongue-in-cheek videos about a kitten's life stages, using insights from Mars' Pet Institute research center in the U.K. Partnering with Google and YouTube also helped raise the brand's profile, "simultaneously educating and entertaining and then closing the gap with commerce," Rakowitz says.

While Mars marketing measures success with methods as sophisticated as biometric tracking, many are available to any CMO. "What we did for Uncle Ben's was 100 percent behavioral, digital metrics that are available to a lot of marketers," Rakowitz says. In fact, he recommends taking advantage of as many sources of data as possible, to see the best results from a campaign and glean the best insights for the future. "That's very much an agenda I had, with a lot of my colleagues out there," Rakowitz says. "Taking more and more advantage of things to drive better planning, strategy and activation."