Interviews/ General Management

The Interview: Campbell CMO Michael Senackerib

by Dina Gerdeman
Contributing Writer

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Article Highlights:

  • "We’re taking advantage of new technologies and new ways to engage with our brands. That’s the single biggest opportunity."
  • "We’re working with a couple of new marketing-mix model techniques to really understand the ROI we’re getting from our earned media and owned media."
  • "Consumers are not necessarily looking for a brand marketing message. . .they’re looking for a return on attention."

With soup sales simmering in recent years, Campbell Soup Company is looking to reheat business by broadening its consumer base—in part by marketing to a younger generation of consumers.

After inviting 20-somethings into company test kitchens to tap into the tastes of young people, Campbell has taken some key steps in the Millennial direction: First, the company has rolled out new products with exotic ingredients, including the “Go” line of portable soups packaged in funky-looking microwaveable pouches—with “bold and unexpected flavors” like creamy red pepper with smoked gouda.

Campbell has also boosted its digital marketing and social media presence, where the young and technically connected spend much of their time. The company’s “Go” page on Facebook features whimsical, quick-witted posts and has so far garnered more than 229,000 “likes,” for instance.

And in October 2012, the 144-year-old company hired its first chief marketing officer, Michael Senackerib, to steer global marketing not only for Campbell’s iconic red-and-white packaged soups, but to support brand-building for its Prego sauces, V8 juices, Swanson broths, and Pepperidge Farm snacks.

Senackerib, 47, held marketing roles at Campbell from 1992 to 1996 and also worked for Kraft Foods before joining Hertz Corp. During his leadership as CMO at Hertz, the company managed to widen its Facebook audience and accelerate revenue growth among young car renters. Now Senackerib is tasked with helping Campbell reach out to new consumers while maintaining loyal Baby Boomers and other core customers who have stuck with the brand for decades.

In this exclusive interview with contributing writer Dina Gerdeman, Senackerib talks about the challenges marketers face today, his working relationship with CEO Denise Morrison, as well as the company’s goal of keeping the consumer’s needs front and center during every step of the marketing process. You are the first CMO Campbell has ever had. Why did the company create the role last year?
Senackerib: Denise Morrison and the leadership team have charted a clear path for growth that is refocusing the organization on the consumer. And it’s clear that strong marketing is crucial to top-line growth, as is strengthening our brand and our product equity, especially as we expand globally. It’s the right time for someone to come in to help that growth effort. What do you consider your biggest achievement during your brief time as CMO?
Well, it is pretty early to start talking about accomplishments and taking credit for stuff. But what I’m really excited about and focused on here is the pivotal role that the marketing organization is taking in our growth as we go forward in stewarding our iconic brands. We’re focused on building the total consumer experience in marketing. Can you explain what you mean by that?
[We are looking to create] a deep consumer understanding, a two-way dialogue in the marketplace, very much thinking about the consumer experience as all facets of everything the consumer touches and engages in, rather than as a traditional, one-way [marketing] campaign. What are some of the biggest challenges marketers face today?
All marketers share many of the same challenges. The consumer landscape is changing rapidly today. Consumers are in control of the content they receive and the information that they’re taking in, so it’s really important that we are reinventing our products and our company against this new consumer dynamic. We are engaging dynamically with them, and we’re taking advantage of new technologies and new ways to engage with our brands. That’s the single biggest opportunity, and that’s how we are focused. Campbell has made digital media and consumer insights a top priority in hopes of appealing to Millennial consumers. How has this mandate shaped your marketing strategies?
Digital is much broader than just Millennials. They are a part of it. All of our consumers today are consuming digital and mobile media and engaging in social. But we’re focused on how this is shaping us. We’re trying to make sure we’re making food and beverages for that next generation of consumers, so that involves innovation in new products that understand the younger consumers.

We use immersion research and try to understand the differences in different consumer groups, including Millennials. That’s changing some of the ways we go to market with some of our products, as well as the amount of digital, mobile, and social media that we’re involved in in the marketplace. Can you talk a little bit about what was involved with this immersion research?
This was really going deep with consumers. There was obviously some quantitative research, but it was also going deep in hipster hubs and having dialogues with consumers, getting inside their heads and lives to understand what they think and what they value. This will shape how we think about marketing to them and engaging with them. Did your research lead to specific marketing concepts, such as the “Go” soup campaign?
I would say that the marketing effort around “Go” soup was largely informed by that research in terms of the flavor varieties and how we’re looking to engage with those consumers. You don’t see TV [commercials] for “Go” soup; you see it very much focused on digital, social, and in-store in terms of the right way to reach that consumer.

We’re also broadening our digital efforts beyond “Go” soup. We recently engaged with the developer community in our Hack the Kitchen effort. We crowdsourced to ask the community to help us answer the question, “What’s for dinner?” so we could strengthen our Web site. We got back 150 submissions of ideas for us to build a better Web site. It’s really the Millennials who are helping us in terms of engagement; those are the ones helping us to build a better app, not just for themselves, but for all generations of consumers. They’re the ones driving that change.

We then had some finalists, we gave them an API, and we let them go deeper in building applications. Then we selected a winner [Pollinate Inc.], and we’re going forward with some of those ideas. We’ll look to go to market with them in the next six months to make changes in functionality and the overall look [of the Web site], as well as how we engage consumers at

[pagebreak] What is the company's social media strategy, and how do you measure the effectiveness of your social media campaigns? 
Social media is part of a much bigger strategy. To me, it is part of the overall consumer experience we’re creating, which is how we engage the consumer in every piece of the mix. Social is one component of that. We’re looking at that across all of our brands to try to drive engagement with the consumer. In terms of measurement, we have some of the standard measurements.

But we’re also working with a couple of new marketing-mix model techniques to understand the return on investment we’re getting from our earned media and owned media. This is giving us much richer information on how much earned media is contributing, including social media. We’re able to now measure that in a much richer way than we were able to measure that in the past.

[Measuring] the number of likes and fans—that’s a good place to start. We can quantify how many people are engaged based on likes, fans, and number of conversations going on. We can track all of that, and that’s helpful to say, are we reaching people? The bigger and more powerful way—and this is where you’ll see research heading over time—is to include all of that in our marketing-mix models, which historically have been able to measure things like banner ads and TV spots. But now we’re able to work with partners to determine how much revenue that is driving, how many people are going to the store and buying based on that. Social media engagement takes a lot of time, and some question whether it provides enough of a payoff for brands. What do you think: Is social worth the time it requires?
We have to go where consumers are, and we have to engage them where they want to engage. If the people who are interested in our food and beverage products are on Facebook and Twitter and engaging in social media sites, and that’s where they’re looking for content and information, we want to be there and make sure we’re personally relevant.

We’re really happy with what we’re seeing as we’re starting to get modeling results on the impact of our social efforts. The short answer is, yes, it’s worth it. We’re reaching consumers, and we’re looking to continue to do that and drive more business. Can you describe your working relationship with CEO Denise Morrison? And what influence does marketing have on the business as a whole?
First, Denise Morrison and I have a great working relationship, and it’s because there’s a clear strategy around the business. We’re in lockstep on our goal of what we want to do to grow the business in terms of ensuring we have a strong, core loyal business and are expanding into higher growth spaces, higher growth consumer segments, and higher growth geographies.

Consumers are at the center of everything we do. We are first and foremost a company of brands and food and beverage products, so it’s important that we keep the consumers front and center, not only in marketing, but in terms of the entire business. Morrison has talked about just that—“putting the consumer at the center of everything we do." How do you and your marketing department make that happen?
First, it’s about ensuring that we’re consistently doing that in everything we do from a marketing standpoint and understanding that we’ve got the best capabilities in our marketing organization. We’ve got a culture that’s all about the consumer first. And then we actually take that capability building and bridge that out to the entire organization, so we’re all speaking one language. We all have a deep understanding of the consumer. Whether you’re a marketer or you’re in IT or R&D or sales, we’re trying to ensure everyone has that same depth of knowledge or at least the ability to think in terms of consumer-first in every decision they make.

We look at everything we do as creating a total consumer experience—whether that’s the product, the label that goes on the product, the location of where it’s placed in the store, or the channels that we sell in. We’re trying to make sure that we’re creating a consumer experience that is personally relevant no matter where the consumer finds the product.

We absolutely want to stay front and center in the consumer’s mind. If you think of the dual mandate of maintaining strength in our core business and having a strong loyal consumer base and then expanding to higher growth consumer areas, higher growth geographies, and international expansion, it’s really important that the consumer is first in all of those things. Do you think people still think of Campbell as the brand that was included in Andy Warhol’s work?
Andy Warhol still has a great association with the brand. The Andy Warhol exhibit was in China recently, and Campbell was a part of that. My daughter was at the Museum of Modern Art and was sending me pictures of Andy Warhol soup cans she saw there. And last fall we did a limited-edition run of Warhol-inspired cans. So, yes, Andy Warhol is still very much associated with the Campbell brand. As CMO, what keeps you up at night?
I can tell you what I’m excited about: taking these fabulous iconic brands we have and making them more personally relevant in this rapidly changing consumer world. The consumer dynamic is changing. What’s really important is making [the products] relevant. We’ve got strong, purposeful positioning on our brands. These are things that have meaning in the consumer’s life. We are creating integrated consumer experiences so that as you, the consumer, are on your personal journey, we’re engaging with you at the right time in the right place. We’re making sure our information and the content we’re giving you is custom and is personally relevant to you.

Consumers are not necessarily looking for a brand marketing message. We’re looking for a return on investment, and they’re looking for a return on attention. So we want to capture their attention in a really engaging way.