Mark Smucker is doing what it takes to keep The J.M. Smucker Co. competitive

 

Consumers now have a voice, he said, and they expect brands to not just listen, but also respond. That’s accompanied by what he called “the anywhere dynamic,” referring to consumers’ expectation that they can order what they want from wherever they are and expect it to be delivered to them in a couple of days.

To stay competitive, Mark said the company has to be relentlessly consumer-centric. This means understanding what consumers want and using consumer insights to create “the next thing before they know they want it,” as he put it.

That, in part, means diversifying its portfolio so that it consists of not only Main Street brands, but also smaller, emerging craft brands.

Data scientists wanted

Facing declines in some of its major brands, Folgers and Jif, for example, the company determined it couldn’t just do incremental innovation and stay competitive.

“It has to be bigger and it has to be faster because these little startups can churn out a new product in 60 days and it takes us two years,” Mark said.

That means finding ways to be more flexible, shorten its speed to market and generate bolder ideas. One answer was to focus on line extensions — the next flavor of jelly, the next roast of Folgers — and bigger platform innovations that will move the needle significantly.

Innovating more rapidly starts with insights and agility, which means coupling the right consumer research to quickly test prototypes, get consumer feedback and iterate that product until it ultimately gets to something that speaks to consumers.

The qualifier “right” that preceded “consumer research” is important to note. Mark said the company is making investments in connected commerce, innovative consumer engagement and consumer insights, which are all based on a foundation of advanced analytics and data.

“We are looking for data scientists,” he said. “We’re hiring data scientists. They are hard to come by, but all of this capability is about getting more robust use of data. We’ve got great data; how do we use it better?”

Connecting with the people

Beyond selling to consumers, just reaching them has become a challenge as media has fragmented.

During his presentation, Mark played a few commercials the company ran on network television during this year’s Winter Olympics; ads that, according to a Broadcasting & Cable report, could have cost as much as $650,000 for a 30-second spot in prime-time; ads that Mark acknowledged many people would never see.

“It isn’t any longer just about playing commercials in mass media,” he said. “We have to have a 360-degree approach to our consumers. So basically, that content can be one piece of it, but making sure that we are engaging with influencers, that we are using other paid media partners, that we are using the social media platform to generate more awareness and trial of these products.

“TV, of course, is important, but that’s mass media. If you think about earned, those are areas where consumers can get engaged on the individual level. We’ve all talked forever about social media. We know what the promise is of it and the data and the ability for us to actually interact and know you as a consumer. And you hear all these things recently about Facebook — what are they doing with my data? You have to be responsible about it. But to the extent that consumers are willing to give it up, we can use that to provide them with services or access to products.”

For Mark, conquering his family company’s current market challenges comes down to being true to its core values and principles. It means getting the culture right when executing acquisitions and preserving its values — the values his great, great grandfather, Jerome Monroe Smucker, instilled in the company, based on the Golden Rule — even as lots of new people are integrated.

But continued success means more than adhering to core values. It also means having a willingness to change.

“There has to be a willingness to adapt to our current market environment and do things in new ways,” he said. “To change even our strategy, if we have to, in order to grow and to prosper as a company. The secret is be true to the foundation that you’ve built on the core values, but be willing to change everything else.”

Takeaways

» Data is valuable. Correctly interpreting data is more valuable.
» Consumers are boss. Listen to what they want and respond.
» Be willing to change everything but your core values to adapt to the market.