From 'desired' to 'required': Managing the product leap from CPGs to software
If you’ve spent time in consumer packaged goods, you know it’s a world unto itself. There’s a sense of marketing mastery passed from product manager to product manager, an indigenous rigor that comes from having control of all the levers (4Ps anyone?). But what happens when you take a CPG veteran out of her comfort zone and drop her into the “fail fast” world of software and technology?
Let's hear from Mary Ann Somers, SVP-chief growth officer of Intuit Consumer Group. Somers joined Intuit in 2018 after spending more than two decades at CPG giants including Unilever, Colgate, Coca Cola and Hershey. Somers discusses the differences in consumer mindset, speed and testing approaches while emphasizing the common need for a tight strategy and making an emotional connection with the customer.
Can you talk about the leap from packaged goods to software?
Sure. We have a lot of "Brad-isms"—from Brad Smith, our chairman—that really resonate with people. One is, that in the switch, you’re going from “desired to required” in terms of product. For me, it was going from chocolate, soda and tea, which are desired—although some people could argue that chocolate is actually a must-have—to something that is functionally necessary, like tax filing. That meant an adjustment in mindset, but also, I was able to bring in elements of CPG to this ostensibly drier, more "required" area.
What are some of those elements?
In the past, with CPG, it would be something that you're providing emotionally through that brand. So, Hershey's chocolate bar, we say it's like a hug. It's just a big, arms-around-you hug. A can of Coke? You open that Coke, and it's a little spark of happiness and optimism. All those kinds of things. As we think about taxes—we have to ask: What is the emotional component? Let's go beyond the functional piece of it. As many people know, taxes can be very emotional. There's a lot of trepidation when people approach them. How do we think about what we're providing, our emotional role, for the consumer: how we're helping them, how we're empowering them, how we're showing them they can do things that they may not have thought they could do before. That sense of empowerment flows over to the rest of their life. So that to me is what I brought—my past training and my past experience—to this category. It was really exciting. As we think about taxes, as we think about finances, there's a lot of new room to put that kind of learning to.
How did you approach your first hundred days?
I was lucky to join Intuit. It's a company that really believes in understanding the business. It's about leading with inquiry, not advocacy, and that was really important. I approached this with a GM mindset, that first I have to understand the business. There’s nothing more important than understanding the business: getting deep with the customer and the consumer, understanding what their needs are, understanding the business, looking at the full funnel of our business on how we drive awareness and how that translates over time to actually filing with us. That was really critical for me. I see a vision for where we can go in the future and how we can transform, but I wanted to take my time to define that.
Was that a different approach for you?
I have been in situations before where I was hired to immediately bring in change. When I went to Hershey's, we were a company that spent hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing and we had effectively zero in digital. So, when I came in—and this was not that long ago—when I came in, in six months I moved the marketing to about 35 percent digital. Massive change. I was helping teach the teams how to build a new skill. Here, we had an incredible, world-class marketing department. It's a group that doesn't toot their own horns, so I'm going to toot it for them. Just an incredible group of people. We spent hundreds of millions in a short time to generate billions in a matter of months.
Is there a CPG lesson that you bring to the table now?
I do believe that my experience in brand management trained me very well. I think the holistic view of the business, setting a strategy, looking at it from all the different pieces of it, helped train my brain to look at it in a certain way. Really looking at a business holistically. That was very important for me. Also, as a marketer, I think that that's invaluable, and that's something that everybody should do, is look at the business as a whole.
Is there a difference in strategic approaches between CPG and tech?
In my old CPG world, strategy was very important. In the tech world, strategy is important, but it’s strategy developed from experimentation and real-world learning. When you have a d-to-c business like we have, we have so much data that we can follow. It's just so different from past jobs where you're creating something and putting it on a shelf. First of all, you're selling it into a bunch of customers and then you're waiting to see syndicated data. Just having the granularity to follow customers longitudinally has been extremely powerful for me as I think about how to take strategic orientation and apply it in an experimentation mindset.
So, making the change was a good thing?
I've learned so much. I mean, you had asked me earlier: “Why this business?” For me, this has been an incredible opportunity to learn a whole new business, a whole new skill set. As I said, looking at full funnel view from the time you're making somebody aware, all the way down to the time that they file. And then what happens after they file? Do they come back? That type of granularity on the funnel has helped me. Also, from a management practice and theories and how we run a company, a tech company is so different. It is so agile. It is the leaps of faith, the hypotheses, the recipes, all that. Learning how you manage a business that has been expanding, while simultaneously considering my old school training, has been amazing.