News/ Strategic Planning

General Mills CMO: The Key To Good Marketing Is Having A Purpose

by Giselle Abramovich
Senior & Strategic Editor

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Outlining a brand’s purpose and then shaping brand engagement around that purpose is the key to effective marketing. So said Mark Addicks, CMO of General Mills, who kicked off this morning's Adage Digital Conference 2014, in New York City.

And that’s exactly what General Mills has been doing as it explores new platforms, processes, and a new consumer-first mind-set.

“We are on a journey to build our brands in digital,” Addicks told attendees. “We’re not in a perfect place, but well on our way. As we move into digital, it is clear that brand fundamentals matter more now than ever before. You’ve got to know your purpose and what job you’re setting out to do, then back that up with a product or a service.”

A year ago, General Mills sat its brand teams down and pushed this concept of identifying a purpose. What does the brand stand for? Who does it wish to serve? For some teams, a great brand purpose can change and improve marketing, Addicks said. It’s a great “anchoring tool.”

General Mills brand Betty Crocker, for example, identified its brand purpose has always been to help make a home by being part of families’ food traditions. While the purpose hasn’t changed, society’s definition of home and, better yet, family has changed. By thinking through those changes, Betty Crocker was able to make more strategic marketing moves.

For example, Betty Crocker released this video to show its support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, and to highlight the brand’s commitment to celebrating the diversity of families. The video is a part of Betty Crocker's new Families Project program that pushes the idea that although not all families are the same in structure, they all have love in common.

Meanwhile, Multi Grain Cheerios in Canada identified its brand purpose as pushing consumers to have a healthy, nutritious diet rather than food deprivation. The cereal brand teamed with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada for a nationwide campaign in support of the Go Girls Mentoring Program, which teaches  “healthy bodies, healthy minds.” 

“And all the digital executions [for this effort] just flowed from the notion of purpose,” Addicks told Adage Digital attendees. “This world of purpose is really being hyperconsumer-focused.”

Wheaties, an old-school General Mills brand that was starting to lose some of its vigor, always aimed to be the “breakfast of champions,” focusing on the sports hero featured on the box, Addicks said. It decided last year that its purpose would shift to fuel the champion on the outside of the box—the consumer. Wheaties re-engineered everything about the brand based on this new purpose, and the brand is doing better, Addick said.

“Seek to serve the consumer, and anchor with purpose,” he said. “You need to be great at content with capabilities and the platforms you build to the way you collaborate and build partnerships. Content is the fuel behind the growth we’re seeing. We are becoming better at delivering the content [consumers] want and are actually building platforms for our brands to live in.”

For example, Addicks explained, there’s a whole business inside of Betty Crocker. From recipes on the site to helping parents build a birthday party for their children, the company is finding all sorts of occasions for celebrating and being part of the conversation. In the past the company has partnered with Dreamworks Studios to build new audiences, and most recently began a partnership with Mayo Clinic to build, an online resource/community for consumers dealing with the disease.

Once you have a clear purpose, Addicks reiterated, it really makes a brand think differently about content and how to distribute it.

Kix, which desperately needed a marketing makeover, recently mulled over how the brand could better build relationships with consumers. Its primary customers fall into two groups: suburban upper-middle-class American moms and Hispanic moms. However, they have in common a concern about their kids and creativity. So Kix adopted this purpose: “We believe kids are creative and all they need is a place to start,” Addicks said. “This purpose has really fueled a lot of stuff.”

Purpose-driven marketing, according to Addicks, requires leaving the old culture of perfection—where everything had to be air-tight before launching. Digital is about hits and misses, testing, learning, and scaling, he said.

“Test, learn, and play with ideas,” Addicks said. “Then make them into products. Collect data and mine it to be smarter and in a better starting point to serve consumers.”

About Giselle Abramovich

Giselle Abramovich is senior & strategic editor at Previously she wrote for outlets including Direct Marketing News, Mobile Marketer, Mobile Commerce Daily, Luxury Daily, and Digiday. Reach her at, or follow her on Twitter @GAbramovich.