As Director of Data, Content, and Media for Kraft Foods, Julie Fleischer has been tasked with driving creative campaigns for the company’s portfolio of brands. Her efforts have been rewarded not only through the impact she’s had on Kraft’s business, but also with recognition from the larger content marketing community. We caught up with Julie to hear her thoughts on the power of content and what the future holds for her team.
Congratulations on delivering a keynote at Content Marketing World 2014 and being named the Content Marketer of the Year for 2013! How do you put those achievements into the proper context on a personal level?
Thank you. It’s hard for me to put it into context because I feel that I have been really, really fortunate to have an opportunity to work with an extraordinary team of people on a content marketing-driven effort that’s been almost two decades in the making. I just feel lucky to be in this position at a time when we are, as an industry, recognizing that content marketing is an important and effective way to connect with consumers and build our businesses. I feel like it’s really not at all about me, it’s about the achievement of the people that I work with and the extraordinary work that we do.
One of the things that I picked up from your keynote is that Kraft’s return on content is greater than traditional advertising. Which metrics did you use to come to that conclusion?
Absolutely. It all starts with measurement.
From the beginning, one of the challenging things we’ve learned about content marketing is it can be hard to measure, so it’s been easy to devalue. We’ve done a number of things in the past several years to A) make it more measurable and B) make it more leverageable for our brand, and that’s what has made content marketing grow in importance at Kraft. Our content marketing can be held to the same standards as the rest of our marketing efforts because that’s how we allocate budget and that’s how we measure success.
Through our data tools, we’ve seen firsthand how content drives both engagement and, most importantly, purchase behavior. First, we’re able to anonymously match our user base with shopping data and look at the sales that are driven by interaction with our content. Second, we look at leading indicators of sales and see that high levels of content engagement correlate with a purchase. What we’ve seen at Kraft is the degree of engagement with content tends to dramatically outperform the degree of engagement with other forms of advertising. The whole idea of content is to give consumers something of value, something of utility or community or entertainment. And our content tends to be far more engaging than our advertising.
What we’ve learned at Kraft is the degree of engagement with content tends to dramatically outperform the degree of engagement with other forms of advertising. The whole idea of content is to give consumers something of value, something of utility or community or entertainment. And as a result, our content tends to be far more engaging than our advertising. Great content helps us build a strong connection with our consumers.
Finally, in the past year we’ve worked very hard to bring our content efforts together with our media so that we could understand and measure both the performance of the media on our own properties and platforms. What we’ve found time after time is that our own platforms are the best-performing publishing platforms in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.
How did your colleagues at Kraft initially respond to efforts to grow brand identity through content before you had the ROI case studies to show that it made sense?
It started with the idea that we are in 98 percent of consumer households with Kraft products, but very few people start the day by saying, “what am I going to eat today?” So the idea that our products are used in recipes and as food solutions showed us that there was a role to be played in terms of helping people put meals on the table, helping them feed their family, helping them answer that question, “what am I going to make for dinner tonight?” and our products were part of that answer.
But until we got to real measurements, there was constantly a debate in terms of how much of our budget should we allocated to that, how much we should spend on a non-branded basis from a Kraft Food corporate perspective.
It’s clear that continuous innovation is important to Kraft’s content marketing strategy. Maxwell House, for example, has been around for a long time, but you’ve now introduced a sponsored video series, along with a content hub hosted by AOL. Is it fair to call this a brand makeover or is it just evolution of the brand?
Maxwell House has had a place in American homes for decades and it’s done that by standing for the same thing. The coffee category has evolved over the past 20 years, so the challenge – and opportunity – is to highlight what the brand stands for in a relevant and contemporary way. For example, people aren’t drinking their coffee only at home anymore; they are getting it on their way to work in the morning and running out in the afternoon and there are tons of different flavors and forms. So Maxwell House didn’t really need a makeover. What Maxwell House wanted to do is stay true to what it is —a champion of hardworking people.
The brand wanted to tell that story, and they recognized that the story was best told not by shouting against all of the other coffee brands out there, but with stories of passionate, dedicated people who get up every morning to do good. Content is a great way to really reinforce their brand story and everything that Maxwell House is about, but do it in a more engaging and rich and compelling way with really intelligent voices. What content can do for a brand is really bring its story to life in an engaging and exciting way by providing the kinds of stories, utility, materials that people chose to engage with, not just the stuff we wedge in between television shows.
What was the most common question you were asked by content marketers after your keynote at Content Marketing World? What was your response?
The thing I get asked most often is how big our team is, because we’ve got a scale publishing operation here. We are one of the top 15 recipe websites on the web—not advertiser websites, but food websites. We have a paid subscription magazine bigger than Food & Wine, an email program bigger than most email programs. We feel this is a real competitive advantage for Kraft, with over a hundred million uniques a year.
It’s a massive publishing operation and we do it super leanly by leveraging our partner resources. I can count the number of people on my team on two hands and one foot. We are very smart in terms of how we partner, how we use agencies, how we work with our brands and their teams and their agencies. In terms of how we are structured, we have one-and-a-half content operations now—the one we’ve had for the past 20 years that’s been getting all of the recognition, that we published at kraftrecipes.com, in the magazine and on email and mobile and social. And we are just now building what we’re calling a “Center of Influence,” non-recipe-oriented content—things like the Maxwell House program, Lunchables Uploaded or or Oscar Mayer’s brilliant “Say it With Bacon.” or what we did with Top Chef for recipe makers.
In addition to the organization that I lead that runs the platform we own, we are also developing tool sets, trainings, playbooks and relationships to help develop content marketing capabilities directly through the organization within the brand—not on our platform.
One thing that really stands out about your strategy is the use of user-generated content. Can you talk about the inspiration behind incorporating your fans into what you create?
There are sort of two sides to this story. If you are a content marketer, you are only as good as the content that you have to offer and only as visible and findable as the content that Google displays.
We love sharing user-generated content because it helps extend our value proposition and serve our consumers, and it’s a way to connect with and reward your consumers because it really acknowledges and values them as contributors. We love that we’ve got twice as many recipes on our website that are consumer-created than recipes we’ve created because speaks to the relationship our consumers have with our products. It’s also important because it offers unique voices and unique points of view and a lot of consumers.
The other piece of it is now you’ve got all of this technology. It’s even easier for our consumers to participate than its ever been. We love that they do that because of the connections that creates with other consumers.
You also have the Kraft First Taste community, which allows people to sign up to be the first to experience new products. What can other content marketers learn about this level of engagement with consumers?
This is one of the things that content marketing does best because we’ve been able to create direct connections with consumers who are super passionate about Kraft and our products. We are able to reach out to them directly when we have anything exciting to share. Its been a way not just to cost-effectively sample new products, but also to get new products in the hands of people who are most excited about them and will then create content around them. They talk to friends on social media and say, “I just tried this.” They write blog posts and take pictures of things.
My group here is called the CRM organization (“Consumer Relationship Marketing”).
Kraft has managed social media very well. Do you have a different strategy for each social media platform or is it an all-encompassing strategy?
We do have a different strategy for each platform, and I think it’s important to recognize they each have different strengths. Consumers use them for different reasons and have different relationships with them. We try to always make sure that we are delivering content with utility. YouTube for us is really good at educating with how-to videos since we find these days that fewer and fewer people actually have cooking skills. Pinterest has turned into a visual search and recipe box so it’s where people go to be inspired by different kinds of recipes and find something to make or pin something when they want to make at a later time. We’ve been experimenting on tumblr because tumblr helps us reach a younger audience. We look at the role each channel plays in our consumers’ lives and then we optimize the content for each channel and we look to see what’s most effective on each of them.
Is “share-worthiness” part of the thought process behind the content you are creating or does it just come from good quality?
We think more about worthiness than share-worthiness. Is it worth someone’s time and attention and does it help them? Does it entertain them? If we make it worthy and worth their time, it’s more likely to be engaging or share-worthy. I feel like social media can help us build a very personal connection and I don’t want to jeapordize that relationship we’ve built by sticking stuff there because I needed to post something today. We always talk about wanting to lick the screen, and so I think that helps worthiness too, but it’s really about putting our best effort into anything we put out.
Some brands have clearly been cautious in their approach to mobile, but Kraft seems to have really embraced it. What motivated that mentality and what should other brands take away from that?
Mobile is eating desktop. Today, our marketers still think about serving that desktop experience, but so much more engagement is happening on mobile than desktop these days and that pendulum is only going to continue to shift, particularly as smartphones get a little bigger and have more capability. It’s just much easier to do things on your tablet than to bring up a laptop, and we are finding that you have be proficient in mobile if you want to connect with your consumer at all.