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As Senior Brand Manager for the Hot Pockets brand at Nestlé USA and MTM’s Marketer To Watch, Bryan Waddel has built a reputation for his expertise in partnership and cultural marketing strategies to drive brand relevance over the last six years.

He’s enabled a legacy brand that many of us grew up with to stay at the forefront of emerging media platforms and trends. How? By challenging the idea that marketing is a marathon and leaning into new modes of marketing for the brand across a diverse range of cultural partnerships within the digital landscape.

Prior to this role, he served as the Head of Influencers, Creators, and Gaming for Nestlé USA and held various leadership positions on the agency side and in design fulfillment. Over the course of his career, he’s worked with some of America’s largest brands, including Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream, Major League Soccer, REI, Chili’s, Dave & Buster’s, Pizza Hut, Victoria’s Secret, EXPRESS, Bath and Body Works, Red Robin, Kroger, and Wendy’s. In his spare time, he serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Here’s his story.

What gives me joy outside of work

Watching my wife and children explore their creative sides and curiosities as they create and fail. It’s the antidote to the endless amount of outreach about optimizations, efficiencies, and talking about “what AI can do for your business” I experience in my daily work life. 

A book every marketer should read

I have two books I keep turning back to lately: On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz, which helps me be a better observer of the world, and Cultish by Amanda Montell, which showcases the power language can have in unlocking cult followings and fanatic behaviors. 

Future of Marketing

Q: What is one thing coming down the pike for marketing you are most excited about?

Digital Normalcy. As cool and exciting as AI-enabled platforms and tools are, digital platforms and connected devices are the norm for most Americans today. Social is no longer emerging, new tech is more transformational than disruptive, and most people expect everything to be at their fingertips, on demand. By proxy, advertising has blurred the lines of their expectations and redefined what’s possible for where and how brands show up within their experiences.

Consumers are quick to call BS when it doesn’t hit the mark or add value. They expect to see ads where they should and not see them in spaces where they have no right to be in the first place. It’s starting to feel like we as marketers won’t be chasing the “next big thing” or newest innovation to garner breakthroughs in microseconds but instead build better strategies and foundations for digital on the tried and true of what’s working.

Q: What’s your prediction or something you see evolving in Brand Marketing over the next few years? 

I think we’ll see more legacy brands behaving like the digitally native brands that have shown up in recent years. The greatest thing about disruption and radical change is not just its effect on incumbents or competition but the actions it causes across the industries they occupy. For example, traditional commerce channels are being redefined in real time as DTC brands have scaled beyond their platforms and begun occupying the retail shelf where we have traditionally made our living.

It’s our time to think critically about the depth and realness of the effects on our businesses and not wait to act. Test and learn programs to combat behavior changes are now being run at scale and, in many cases, with key retailers to capitalize on the impact we can make together. Legacy brands must move away from fragmented experiences and embrace change to create more seamless ones for their consumers, no matter how daunting or inefficient they appear today.

Q: What widely accepted “marketing truth” or concept do you wish the industry would do away with or evolve? 

Let’s do away with the notion that marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a legacy metaphor that hasn’t evolved, and I still hear senior leaders across our industry use it. The fact is, the game has changed significantly, and we should too! Even marathon runners have changed their approach to training, mental awareness, and leveraging real-time data in recent years because a faster pace is needed across the board. Everyone is getting better, especially your competitors.

Should we, as marketers, continue to build and develop annual strategies? 100%. But you have got to be ready to throw it out of the window when it isn’t working or know when to make changes or adapt when you have to dig deep and move faster to the finish line. Pace and intensity are the new standards.

Marketing at Hot Pockets

Q: What’s something exciting you’re currently working on?  

Reigniting Hot Pockets return to relevancy. We (my team) talk a ton about returning this beloved brand to its place within mainstream culture, like when we were kids—oh so many moons ago. However, there isn’t a prewritten blueprint for making such things happen for legacy CPG brands. There are many mentors to look to and attempts others have made for us to learn from and be critical of, but it’s a challenge to decisively determine how to re-engineer or build upon these case studies to make our own way.

It’s an awesome challenge that excites me to log in to work every day and often keeps me up late most nights. What we do has to be uniquely Hot Pockets but also needs to matter to our consumers at the end of the day. Whether it’s a new social activation or a flavor renovation doesn’t matter. It all shows up in the comments across TikTok and our ratings and reviews. It takes guts to challenge ourselves to do better.

With it, we’ve had to refresh our agency roster, future-proof and update our core brand documents, and deploy a new consumer experience framework to better leverage insights in real-time and show up in the moments that matter most.

Q: What’s the most pressing business challenge you’ve faced within the last year, and how have you tried to solve it?  

Extreme consumer and category pressures. Ask anyone in CPG, and they’ll all tell you the same thing. Some will point to prices, others availability or competition, and some may still be feeling the pandemic’s ripple effects and discerning their new baselines. But the truth is, consumer’s expectations and experiences have changed, and this still comes as a massive challenge for businesses relying on traditional modes of operation.

For us, it’s been about finding our new gear and speed for our brand to operate on. It’s been an incredible challenge and undertaking. Not just in our marketing efforts but across all facets of our business to better meet their needs.

Career and Leadership Advice

Q: What leadership muscle is most important for marketers to exercise?

Empathy. So many aspects of American lives are at a critical inflection point on a near-hourly basis, from the national level down to local neighborhoods. As marketing leaders, we have to intimately understand the nuances within the consumer landscape beyond traditional demographic sets and be more in tune with their needs, states, and desires.

A big bucket, broad approach to how we look at the world isn’t going to yield the results they used to; scaled approaches aren’t the solution. Instead, we must have the courage to apply the personal, emotional lens to bring our brands into how they view the world and their experiences so we can better resonate with them.

Q: What’s the most game-changing career advice youve received?

“You don’t have to know all your blind spots, but when one appears, have the courage to ask for help.” I can’t tell you how many times that type of humility has led to conversations, better listening, and meaningful connections with unexpected individuals. As an output, this has fostered a more collaborative environment across my career journey.

Marketers to Watch is a recognition series to spotlight highly innovative and forward-thinking marketing leaders in the community. If you have someone you’d like to nominate for the series, apply here.