Kellogg’s chief growth officer on data-driven marketing that works

Monica McGurk joins the ‘Marketer’s Brief’ podcast to discuss online shopping habits, contextual, hyper-targeted video ads and pandemic dining habits.

Kellogg’s chief growth officer on data-driven marketing that works

Kellogg Co. saw a sharp uptick in demand for products from cereals to snacks at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. And it is using what it has learned about dining habits, online shopping and even people’s pastimes to inform marketing practices and innovation. 

The efforts are being overseen by Monica McGurk, Kellogg’s chief growth officer, whose teams include research and development, innovation, marketing, licensing, digital, customer experience, sales, and other areas across the global company. It’s a role that encompasses “all of my favorite things,” says McGurk, who worked as a partner at McKinsey, Coca-Cola and Tyson before joining Kellogg in 2018.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic we had two aces up our sleeves, I would say,” McGurk says on the latest episode of the “Marketer’s Brief” podcast.

First, Kellogg had insights from where COVID-19 was first hitting that could help it prepare elsewhere, such as seeing the surge in online shopping in Asia which helped it prepare for a sharp uptick in markets such as the U.S. and Europe. Second, Kellogg was already doing occasion research, which it calls Landmark, “to really understand the intersection of dayparts, who’s eating at what part of the day, in what context and what’s driving their motivation for consumption.”

Early on during the pandemic, she says, people started eating more often and eating more items per occasion, and Kellogg could track who was eating together, and how its brands fit into various moments.

This month, Kellogg Co. reported solid first-quarter sales growth and raised its expectations for the year. It now expects sales to be roughly in line with 2020, when pandemic-driven shopping boosted many of brands such as Pringles, Cheez-It and Frosted Flakes. Its e-commerce sales doubled in 2020, and now account for about 7% of sales. 

As for online shopping for groceries, “it’s one of those behaviors that we think is here to stay,” says McGurk. “How it continues to evolve remains to be seen but we do think that there’s a permanent acceleration of what was already happening pre-pandemic.”

On the podcast, McGurk discusses Kellogg’s use of multiple data sets, including its Kellogg Family Rewards program.

“The way you can use data to inform your product development, your targeting and media buying, your outlet execution, but even how you generate creative, it can be just really fun these days,” she says. 

In the U.S., Kellogg’s Special K brand used 10 billion data points to help identify households and behaviors, down to the zip-code level. A hyper-targeted YouTube video campaign had high audible and visible completion rates, exceeding benchmarks by 50%, according to the company.  

And in Australia, Nutri-Grain tied into the surge in outdoor activity during the pandemic and released digital ads tailored to which pursuit someone was interacting with on social platforms. 

“You might be a horseback rider, I might be a cyclist, someone else might be a surfer,” says McGurk. 

The contextual ads “were almost personal, without violating anyone’s privacy,” she says.

The Nutri-Grain campaign, executed with a nearly 25% reduction in digital production costs, led to a 120% improvement in content effectiveness, according to Kellogg.

McGurk is excited by the potential of such contextual personalization, but says “we have to resist the temptation to just inundate people with one-way messages, because then people are going to tune out.”