Brands can learn a lot from startups, and that’s just one of the reasons that Mondelez Internationl (formerly Kraft Foods) has a whole program (called "Mobile Futures") dedicated to vetting technology companies to partner with.
According to Ed Kaczmarek, director of innovation and emerging technology at Mondelez, which owns brands such as Chips Ahoy, Ritz, Oreo, and Nabisco, the company wants its marketers to work more like startups in terms of being nimble, and testing and learning. It’s OK to go to market with something that isn’t 100 percent perfect, Kaczmarek said, and to let consumers point out the flaws. That’s actually just another form of engagement.
In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Kaczmarek talks about Mondelez’s Mobile Futures startup incubator program and what it has taught the company. He also gives advice to service providers on how to pitch a brand. The gist: Do your homework.
CMO.com: What’s your mandate as the director of innovation and emerging technology at Mondelez?
Kaczmarek: My responsibility as the director of innovation and emerging technology is to leverage technology above and beyond just our products to help Mondelez to create delicious moments of joy, and drive greater lifetime customer value (LCV). We are hoping to use technology to better engage the consumer in new and more relevant ways than we have before. There’s so much noise out there that we are constantly striving to be doing as much as possible to drive relevant connections.
CMO.com: Mondelez launched the Mobile Futures program last year to better pair with startups. Why is mobile important to Mondelez?
Kaczmarek: Really, what we see is that mobile is so front and center in the consumer’s life that we feel it is a wonderful touch point to get close to consumers leading up to the point of purchase. We want to engage with consumers, but we want to be relevant at the same time. We want to make sure that any interactions we are having are either serving as a utility, a delicious moment of joy, or as entertainment. It’s really about having a more creative dialogue.
CMO.com: There’s a trend today of brands cozying up to startups. The Mondelez Futures program is an example of this. Why is it important for brands to get closer to startups?
Kaczmarek: What I really think is happening with startups is they are creating new ways to connect with people, and they’re obviously doing it where, for the consumer, it is relevant to what they are trying to do with their lives. Working with these startups helps us to connect with people, in a more relevant manner, by leveraging technology that people find to be of value. People rely on technology to connect with friends, for utility, entertainment, etc. We are just looking to find ways to intercept into their lives. We want to talk to them and make them think about our products, and obviously buy our products. By working with startups, we feel we get a competitive advantage. Not all companies are working with startups, either, because they can’t or they don’t know how. It takes a lot of nurturing and collaboration from both parties. It is different than working with an agency. Not all brands are set up to do that. We have been doing it a number of years, and we have finessed how we find startups and talk to them. We’ve got the internal processes in place to get in the market fast with what we are doing.
CMO.com: What are some of the risks of working with a startup?
Kaczmarek: Essentially, you’re never guaranteed they will succeed. As a result of our Mobile Futures program, we teamed with a company called Endorce. And we had great results via their consumer-facing app. Endorce was bought by DropBox, and the consumer-facing app was taken down. You just have to realize that this is going to happen. You’re not dealing with 10- or 15-year-old companies. We feel that the benefits with working with startups outweigh the risks.
CMO.com: Is it ever too early to work with a startup?
Kaczmarek: We certainly like them to have what we call “shovel-ready” technology, where it is ready to use. We are perfectly fine having conversations around concepts. But that’s really too early of a stage for us to make any commitments. Vetting concepts is fine, but we want to get things in market really quickly.
CMO.com: How do brands and startups work differently? Has that been a challenge in collaborating?
Kaczmarek: I would not say it is a challenge. It’s more of a learning experience. Brands and startups work differently. And our marketers are seeing value in the way that startups go out with many iterations on a platform. There’s value in creating something that may not be 100 percent perfect and go to market with it, to get a better sense, from users, what is working well and what is not. Then evolve. And we have done that with a few different programs now. Startups are also very collaborative in nature, and they connect with their great networkers in finding what’s right to add to the technology. They’re teaching our marketers how to evolve and almost market in a digital way. We want our marketers to think and act like startups, and be nimble and quickly iterate and get to market more quickly. That’s been a great learning that the startups have taught us. I can see our marketers are changing how they do things.
CMO.com: Can you give me two startups you’ve partnered with where you’ve seen success?
Kaczmarek: Our Stride brand worked with WAZE, which was bought by Google recently. We did a program with them, and it was successful. Also, we had an interesting experience with one of our brands--Sour Patch Kids--and the startup Kiip, where we also had great results, but I unfortunately cannot share them just yet. There are others, but we started with these two quite early on and, as a result, have had several iterations and have learned a lot. That’s why they were first to come to mind.
CMO.com: What’s your advice to startups and tech companies trying to pitch brands?
Kaczmarek: Be willing to learn about the brand and its specific challenges, and craft your pitch on how you can help solve those problems. A one-size-fits-all approach for every brand won’t work. Personalizing the pitch--doing your homework--helps the brand think better. It makes a marketer think, “OK, I can totally see how this product can be part of the solution.”