How do long-serving brands continue to resonate and grow despite modern-day fragmented marketing channels? Ultimately, it all points back to the marketers who see themselves as community champions and are willing to disrupt themselves to stay agile.
In our recent conversation with Lara Balazs, EVP, CMO, and GM of Strategic Partner Group of Intuit, and Doug Martin, Chief Brand and Disruptive Growth Officer of General Mills, we discussed how they are building resilient communities that stand the test of time. Both Lara and Doug share a keen understanding of their community challenges and needs, know what it takes to build a strong brand identity, and have a company culture excited to be a part of the mission.
Here is what they had to say on Visionaries and how it could influence your team, talent, and future.
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- Positioning Brands for Growth and Resilience
- Following the Pain to Solve the Consumer Problem
- Brands Serving Communities
- Building External and Internal Communities: Brand Identity
- The Foundations of Company Culture
Positioning Brands for Growth and Resilience
Lara Balazs: Marketers wear many hats today; however, for impact and credibility it is essential that marketers understand how building brands drive growth for the business, both top and bottom line.
At Intuit, I am responsible for marketing and communication. I have P&L responsibility for our Strategic Partner Group, and I have corporate responsibility as well. My responsibilities cover much ground, but they all work together to grow and bring our brand to life. (To read more on the multi-dimensional talent required by CMO leaders, read our latest article, “Discovering and Developing Unicorn Talent” featuring Lara Balazs)
Doug Martin: I differentiate my role as the Chief Brand and Disruptive Growth Officer by parsing out regular growth versus disruptive growth. Regular growth is 99% of what we do and entails our existing core businesses which have tremendous performance. Disruptive growth acknowledges the new things we need to establish to position the business to scale three to five years into the future.
For example, we have an internal incubator called “G-Works,” where we group up teams of three against the biggest problems in the food industry and ask them to start new businesses to test and learn. We also have a venture capital arm called “301 Inc,” where we invest in potential disruptors coming at us so we can learn about those spaces. Essentially, these initiatives act as a sensing engine for the whole company.
Following the Pain to Solve the Consumer Problem
Lara Balazs: One core element that drives brand growth is obsessing over our customer’s problems. This notion goes back to our founder, Scott Cook, who, 40 years ago, was balancing a checkbook at the kitchen table with his wife. They felt there had to be a better way to keep records and identified a problem many other people were facing. From there, Quicken was born, and now we have QuickBooks, TurboTax, Credit Karma, and MailChimp.
As a brand, we don’t fall in love with the solution because it takes you away from the pain point the customer is facing; we fall in love with the problem. Ultimately, it’s about identifying the customer problem and then building solutions around it. That is how we will accomplish our mission to power prosperity around the globe.
Doug Martin: As a traditional CPG, doubling down on the consumer problem first, especially regarding the digital shelf, is essential. Technology is constantly evolving and will eventually become obsolete; however, a Cheerio today is almost the same as it was 75 years ago. As a 150-year-old brand, we must continuously develop how we connect to our consumers to stay relevant.
Everyone knows what a cereal shelf should look like when you walk into a grocery store, but we need the same depth of knowledge concerning the digital shelf. Technology problems are one thing, but with consumer problems, we have to understand they are facing real daily life struggles that are full of emotion. From there, we need to learn how to market that appropriately in today’s environment.
Brands Serving Communities
Doug Martin: There are several examples across our organization of people who passionately work to solve important causes, but we must tell these stories from a brand perspective to engage our consumers. Much of our portfolio is focused on families; family sustainability and food security have always been the core of our mission.
One of our current focuses has been on school lunches. Many people aren’t aware that school lunch will not be free next year unless you apply to qualify. On our food service team, we created a program called, “Keeping Kids Fed.” Through this program, we remind people about the application paperwork because the last thing we want is for a kid to go to school and not have lunch.
Another focus has been on the sustainability of our soil. Many are disconnected from the fact that every single box of cereal came out of a field and was nurtured by a farmer. We’ve been on a regenerative agriculture journey, and we are committed to a million acres of regenerated farmland by 2030—but we have to tell the story of what that means through our brand.
Lara Balazs: At Intuit, we have always said that we are here to serve the communities around us, and we want to serve those who need it most. As a global tech platform that powers prosperity, we want to do that not only for our customers, but for underrepresented and underserved communities.
We have a program called Prosperity Hub School District Program, where we go into underserved school districts to teach kids how to be financially ready and develop today’s skills employers seek. Supporting our customers, giving communities in need access to our products, and creating jobs is the core of our mission.
Building External and Internal Communities: Brand Identity
Lara Balazs: We recently went through the process of updating our brand identity at Intuit. Your company logo is a key way of expressing your brand identity. A logo holds much emotion and is more meaningful to the company’s employees than you realize. Any time you decide to update your brand identity and its visual identity system, you want to be incredibly thoughtful, and that is what we did.
When we started testing our logo and the rest of our visual identity system, the research showed we felt old and outdated as a brand. We needed to be more current, so after much testing among our customers and employees, we were able to create a refreshed logo. The new look reflects our positioning as a financial tech platform that powers prosperity for our customers and communities and is more human, modern, and sleek. We made an internal video that allowed every employee to understand who we are and what we stand for; they loved it.
Doug Martin: In our process of updating the General Mills logo, we decided to add a heart to it. The “G” is the same script as it’s always been over the last 150 years, but the heart, especially for the employees here, has set the tone for how we work.
We start from the place of what’s best for our employees, and we try to put the employees at the center of our decision-making process. Ninety percent of our employees have ranked General Mills as a great place to work, and that only happens when you are authentic, consistent, and when they feel like you think of them when making decisions.
The Foundations of Company Culture
Doug Martin: In business, there is so much that we can’t control, but we can control the environment we create for each other. It is important to create an environment where team members can bring themselves to the table and contribute.
In addition, I am transparent with my team that they may not start their careers and retire from General Mills, but they will add value to their skill sets while they’re here. I encourage them to consider what skills they want to add and discuss how to gain those experiences here.
Lara Balazs: We are an employee-first company, and they are our number one stakeholder. As a tech company, we have to differentiate how we treat people and show them we care—this attracts the best talent in the world.
In a time when many are seeking hybrid work environments, we believe that people are adults and can decide what days they want to come into the office. We encourage them to work alongside their mission-based teams and identify when it makes sense to go into the office 2-3 days a week. This will keep our company culture strong.
Visionaries, hosted by Nadine Dietz, airs every Tuesday at 9 AM PT and is brought to you in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. Each week, two new visionaries share their game plan and how that impacts today’s teams, talent, and hybrid work environment.
Lara Balazs, EVP, CMO, and GM of Strategic Partner Group, Intuit: As Intuit’s Chief Marketing Officer leading marketing and communications for the company, Lara is responsible for driving company growth and building Intuit’s brands and reputation in support of Intuit’s mission to power prosperity around the world. As the General Manager of the Strategic Partner Group, Lara leads Intuit’s ProTax software business and is responsible for strategic partnerships to deliver the most important benefits to their customers. Lara also manages Intuit’s Corporate Responsibility efforts, which focus on job creation, job readiness, and making a positive impact on the climate.
Doug Martin, Chief Brand and Disruptive Growth Officer of General Mills: As Chief Brand and Disruptive Growth Officer, Doug Martin plays a significant role in shaping people’s experience with General Mill’s portfolio of brands and is responsible for the future long-term growth of the company through corporate venture capabilities. This powerful combination of brand and growth enriches relevancy with existing consumers and unlocks new audiences through innovation. With extensive experience building iconic brands, Doug’s genius is creating value by identifying and solving consumer problems with bold innovation. His deep business experience operationalizes brand experiences and creates disruptive innovation that spurs rapid growth.
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