How Kraft Put Data Integration on the Menu

A Q&A with Kraft's Bob Rupczynski, VP-Media and Consumer Engagement

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When Bob Rupczynski joined Kraft two years ago, the company was undergoing a major transition as it split from Mondelez to go independent. Yet, behind the scenes, the VP-media and consumer engagement and others at the firm were planning sweeping changes to Kraft's data operation that could have an equal, if not greater, impact on the storied maker of brands including Planters, Kool-Aid and Cheez Whiz.

"I sat down with our leadership team and we spent a great deal of time looking at our marketing and media strategies. We white-boarded how we wanted the world of marketing communications to work," said Mr. Rupczynski, who will share the tale of Kraft's data transformation at the Ad Age Data Conference, to be held in New York City Oct. 28 and 29.

Kraft had access to lots of consumer data, but like many other large companies struggling to implement ways to use their proprietary consumer information, the firm had not taken full advantage of it. Ad Age talked with Mr. Rupczynski about how Kraft evolved from marketing to mass consumer segments to more refined, individualized content and ad targeting.

Why did Kraft decide a thorough data overhaul was necessary and what were the primary goals of that initiative?

Rather than starting with the world as is, we imagined the world as we wished it would be. From there, it was rather easy to identify the key operating principles for the way we wanted Kraft's marketing organization to evolve. We wanted to develop and use a proprietary view of the consumer built on our own understanding of their lives, and for this view to get smarter over time and create a learning engine.

We also aimed to market to individual consumers versus to mass segments, and operate in a world of addressability, not indexes and skews. Finally, we wanted to be able to read consumer data with precision to enable real-time allocation decisions across all media.

What we realized is that we already had an engine within Kraft that matched this vision, but we were just using it in a siloed and simple way. For nearly 20 years we have been running an industry-leading content-marketing platform, Kraftrecipes.com, which touches 100 million unique visitors per year and tracks more than 22,000 consumer attributes. We'd been using the platform for content and distribution, but realized it could also act as a scaled learning engine, operating at the individual level and powering our media planning and activation.

As a result, we merged our content platform with our data management platform to enable addressable media. This content-generated platform accomplishes many of the goals we laid out in our wish list by enabling our immense set of first-party consumer data to be used to build proprietary audiences to target with our ads and content in an addressable fashion.

It also powers real-time allocation and optimization so we have the ability to provide the right content, in the right context, at the right time, to consumers.

The idea that Kraft had enormous amounts of data -- for instance about how people interact on Kraftrecipes.com -- but did little with it before embarking on the data system overhaul may surprise people. Why do you think the company was not analyzing and using this information before?

Our content platform would not have been possible a few years ago because the tools and ad stack weren't invented yet to support it. Simply put, the technology wasn't there. We absolutely used the data but, really, it was to collect consumer insights versus as a tool to inform our content and allocation strategies.

The shift in how we approached data was also enabled by the leadership team that was put in place following our spinoff from Mondelez. Deanie Elsner, our CMO, approached her role with a startup mentality. Her vision was to reinvent marketing at Kraft to evolve our iconic brands to meet today's consumer tastes and lifestyles. That vision was a significant stepping stone for us in terms of re-envisioning our marketing around data.

What were the steps in the process toward putting Kraft's data to better use? How much of this is about adjusting mindsets among execs to ensure people take advantage of data resources and how much involves implementing new software or systems?

The first step was to develop a vision and paint a picture for the Kraft leadership team to get them on board with our goal of reinventing marketing at Kraft. We knew this could not be an effort that lived just within Kraft's leadership. It needed to be embraced and owned throughout the company, at all levels. We also knew the vision needed to be big enough to transform the way we go to market, lead the industry, and drive us for the next 10 years, not just the next two. Data-driven marketing is talked about as if it is just about first-party data and media, but it's much bigger than that.

How is it bigger?

Our vision is really about leveraging data to drive effectiveness throughout the entire business system, end-to-end. It has three parts: data, infrastructure, and content.

Data is the "who." We want to understand all of our consumers (and don't forget we have 98% household penetration in the U.S.), with an in-depth knowledge of their behaviors, preferences, needs and challenges. Infrastructure is the "what." We developed a single source of truth with our content platform that is capable of advanced analytics in which we house and harness consumer insights to drive action. Lastly, content is the "how." We are creating messaging for consumers in a customized way that drives engagement and ultimately purchase.

How has rethinking the way Kraft uses data changed the types of performance measures the company uses to evaluate success?

We think about our content platform as a performance engine driving agile marketing, and an engine that allows us to enable experiences and drive effectiveness. Whereas most of our peers are using programmatic media to drive efficiency, we view efficiency as a benefit but not the goal. By bringing our content platform together with our media platform, we drive effectiveness in terms of understanding our audience, thus allowing us to better segment, target, and serve relevant content to them.

Our ultimate KPI is ROI and return on investment is what we are measuring our marketing spend against. We are also focused on effectiveness, which drives the topline part of the equation, the return. Certainly we are also achieving efficiencies, so we are shrinking the investment denominator as well while supercharging our overall results.

Can you discuss how this new approach affected the way Kraft markets a specific brand?

Planters is a beloved brand, with over a century of making great products, and we have a true icon in Mr. Peanut. Planters has historically been associated with snacking and social occasions but often left out of the health conversation -- even though peanuts have great health benefits comparable to other nuts. As we launched a new campaign, we leveraged first- and third-party data to reach consumers who buy peanut products but were not frequent Planters consumers.

The Planters team found that a large segment of these consumers were women looking online for healthy snack options between 10 to 10:30 at night and that heart-health messaging resonated strongly with them. This was breakthrough insight because many people were not aware of the heart-health benefits of peanuts. As a result, our team responded by applying the heart-health messaging to all campaign content. By using these real-time insights, we were able to distribute content at scale, resulting in Planters driving twice the ROI of all other brand sites in terms of media plans.