David Milliken's Brand Marketing Blog

Three Cheerios to Great Cause Marketing

Posted in Cause marketing, Packaging by dlmilli on August 2, 2010

Speaking of cause marketing, here is a promotion I like: Cheerios Circle of Helping Hearts.

Cheerios "Helping Hearts" Microsite

What I like about “Helping Hearts” is its complete consistency with the Cheerios brand positioning. For years they have communicated Cheerios as a heart healthy breakfast option. So their charity of choice? WomanHeart, “the organization helping us provide women with free cholesterol screenings. They even went so far as to find “the only national organization dedicated to promoting women’s heart health”, maximizing appeal with their target shopper.

The cereal boxes say it all, this promotion is consistent with previous Cheerios messaging. Seamlessly tying “doing good” with brand positioning is a strong step towards consumers associating Cheerios with heart health.

Series of Cheerios "Heart" Boxes

Cheerio for now.


Cause Marketing, or Marketing with a Cause

Posted in Cause marketing, Planning by dlmilli on July 26, 2010

I had an incredible lunch today. And it was not about the food (which was good), it was because the company was inspiring. Lunch was with Janelle Hail, CEO and Founder of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Neal, her husband and Co-Founder, and sons Brent (VP of Operations) and Kevin (Chief Operating Officer).

My brand is collaborating with a major restaurant reservations website this October to raise funds for the NBCF. Today’s meeting was partially a mutual thank you, but also the opportunity to meet the personalities behind each organization and determine how to grow the relationship. I had similar meetings when I teamed with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital while working on Coors Light (I am proud to have played a role in raising over $1 million in the battle against pediatric diseases).

Most brands, mine included, pick their charities wisely. Our target consumer is 25-50 year old females – the demographic most concerned with the tragedies of breast cancer. So it is understandable that consumers can feel brands are only “doing good” for themselves.

But this meeting was an extraordinary reminder that, yes, working with a charity can build a brand AND be an authentic relationship. While her work has offered many noteworthy experiences, Janelle did not seek the position of leading a major charity. Her journey started with the misfortune of being diagnosed with breast cancer as a 34 year-old mother. And “success” was not handed to her, as a 30 year survivor, she has worked hard out of passion for a cause, not a paycheck or the next promotion or fame.

As we were saying our goodbyes, Neal thanked us for lunch and our donation, saying “what you do saves lives everyday”. He meant those kind words, and they served as a reminder that a brand can do good for itself and a cause at the same time. But of course, Janelle, Neal, and everyone at the NBCF are the ones who are saving lives everyday. We are just fortunate enough to have the marketing resources to assist their heroic efforts.

Janelle Hail was "lucky" enough to meet Hugh Grant

He Who Fails to Plan, Plans to Fail — Proverb

Posted in Planning by dlmilli on July 23, 2010

Summer in consumer packaged goods means beaches and BBQs. It also means long hours planning for the following year.

Late last month I gave a three hour presentation to our sales organization. The topic was our entire 2011 promotional calendar. The presentation included 2009 and year-to-date 2010 results and learnings, a review of the competitive and macroeconomic environment, 2011 brand objectives and strategies, and every single promotional activity we have planned for next year, from January 1 through New Year’s Eve – still 18 months away! (It went extremely well.) If applicable to my brand, this presentation would have included product changes or innovations, new partnerships, and other brand news. This step is very similar to planning processes I have experienced at different companies.

Last week I drafted budgets and sales volumes for each US sales region. Regions will review this information and provide their feedback shortly. As Senior Brand Manager, I will submit the final recommendation to senior management. In my experience at other companies, this step is typically completed via marketing and sales collaboration, or simply handed down by senior management. Each approach has their pros and cons.

Through an iterative process, our entire brand plan, including all brand activities and a profit and loss statement, will be rolled into a corporate plan. While planning, I will work with just about every department in the company, as well as several outside suppliers and agencies. The process will not be complete until early January – just in time to begin the planning anew.

So here’s to a great summer, and great planning.

David Milliken working at the winery on David Milliken's Brand Marketing Blog

Me at "the office"

Today There Are No Wrong Answers. Welcome to an Innovations Brainstorm

Posted in Innovations by dlmilli on January 13, 2010

Innovate or die” goes the famous saying. Since innovating suddenly sounds like a great idea, I recently led an afternoon of innovations brainstorming.

As we know from our packaging project, walking down the wine aisle is like swimming in a sea of sameness. The goal of today’s session was to identify concepts that would help us increase our appeal to consumer or retailer stakeholders.

The game plan:

  • Assemble diverse participants. One person each from the tasting room, wine making, event planning, production planning, and marketing. Members represented three countries of origin, both genders, and a wide age range.
  • Review benefits our target audiences would desire, for example, integrating more senses into the wine experience or reducing retailer waste.
  • As stimulation we had on hand about 100 grocery items that reflected those benefit areas. Who knew that cookies tasted better in 100 calorie bags?
  • We spent 40 minutes each ideating around each of the three pillars in our brand positioning.
  • Every idea was a good idea today (like a therapy session). Cost and feasibility do not matter until tomorrow.
  • Ideas could be small improvement (we should use soy ink) or game changers (let’s make a bottle that sings).

We identified hundreds of concepts. Our immediate next step is to determine the most interesting dozen ideas to develop further, building in cost and timing estimates, to present to winery management. After that, well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Real Thing v The Big Box: WAR!

Posted in Brand Marketing Current Events by dlmilli on December 14, 2009

Two weeks ago, Costco stopped buying all The Coca-Cola Company products. This story marks an overt battle in a previously unspoken war between brands and retailers that has waged for decades.

Consumers often joke that one or two companies sell everything we buy. That is not far off. But it is not the manufacturers they have to worry about, it’s the retailers.

In the 2009 Fortune 500, retailers are prevalent across the top companies in America, including Wal-Mart (#2), Kroger (#22), Costco (#24), and Target (#28). The only fast moving consumer goods producers to crack the top 30 is Proctor & Gamble at 20. Fortune also measures the retailers to be growing faster.

20 years ago the story was vastly different. The top 30 companies included Philip Morris (now Altria, #2), P&G (#15), Nabisco (#20), and PepsiCo (#20). Several more rounded out the top 100 without a single retailer until OfficeMax at 112.

Who will win this classic game theory situation? Let’s consider potential short-term outcomes:

Coke will lose revenue. But likely this impact can be absorbed.

1) The world’s largest beverage company sells it products at nearly every retail outlet in the US and around the world. Costco is likely a small fraction of their business.

2) Due to great brand marketing, most beverage brands are not interchangeable. Many consumers will delay purchase until they reach an outlet that carries their preferred brand. Other retails are likely cozying up to Coke and will make up most of the lost revenue.

Costco probably does not have white knights in the waiting. Pepsi probably cannot offer terms that will keep Coke out of Costco permanently. So why give in to Costco? If anything, Pepsi may look to raise prices because Costco’s biggest negotiating chip is spent.

Longer-term, Coke will lose revenue. It is unlikely Costco will lose members, their primary source of profit, due to de-listing Coke products. But they are susceptible to just one or two other major brand companies (P&G, Unilever, Kraft) not agreeing to their terms. Members may begin to defect if shopping at Costco means settling for Kirkland’s Signature cola, and peanut butter, and tooth paste, and Champagne.

Kirkland's Signature Champagne on David Milliken's Brand Marketing Blog

So how does this situation impact the daily life of a brand marketer? As soon as I heard this story I realized the impact on my profession would be great, regardless of the result. No, I do not expect we will pull our products from Costco anytime soon. And the “winner” will not be known immediately. (I can imagine the generic joint press release now.) But over time, the outcome of Coke v Costco will impact how I partner with retailers in the future.

If asked, most consumers probably would say they do not care who wins. But we consume brands, not stores, and brands help us express who we are. I doubt many families have pictures of their kids’ first experience comparing costs per pound on bags of salt or savoring “a Kirkland’s Signature and a smile.”

Fruit by the Foot on David Milliken's Brand Marketing Blog

Fruit by the Pallet. Click the picture for two decades of whimsical ads.

What You Wear Says A Lot About You – Packaging

Posted in Packaging by dlmilli on December 2, 2009

Packaging is considered, by many, a brand’s most important marketing material. It is the only marketing communication always visible at the point of purchase decision. Per Fred Richards of Interbrand Cincinnati, “The brand’s package seals or kills the deal”.

What, if anything, do these packages communicate? What benefits do they offer?

Today I spent three hours discussing packaging with our supply chain, production, and design teams. We are looking to change our labels from a glossy plastic material to a high quality linen paper – a quality cue to wine shoppers. We will also tweak our graphics to look more modern. Seemingly simple changes.

Wow! How do I get my packaging to break through this overcrowded grocery shelf?

In today’s meeting, we discussed every single step (and there are over 100, from designing the graphics to testing glues) it will take to execute and launch this change. New packaging will be on shelves in just under a year. Believe it or not, our timeline is already extraordinarily tight.

By the end of the meeting we had the ideal outcome. Marketing and our cross-functional partners were aligned on the need for this project and the timeline. Now comes the hard part… we must execute each and every task on time to launch our new labels.

I predict you will hear more about this packaging change. In the meantime, please share your packaging experiences.


Posted in Welcome by dlmilli on November 3, 2009

When I tell people I worked in brand marketing on the Coors Light brand I often get this response: What was it like working with the Coors Light twins?

Coors Light "Love Song" Ad

Many people hear the word marketing and immediately think of TV ads. But like an iceberg, the 10% of what we do that you see (like the famous twins), is supported by the mass of our efforts – strategy, research, planning, and more. So while ads of athletes and mascots roaming the halls of ESPN are funny, I promise they do not reflect the life of the ESPN brand marketing team. (Contrary to popular belief, the brand manager for Charmin is not an animated bear).


Charmin Bear ad

While there are countless blogs that offer marketing advice, the goal of David Milliken’s Brand Marketing Blog is to provide insight into the professional life of a brand marketer. Have no fear – I will also provide plenty of perspective about the right way to grow both sales and brand strength.

Who am I? The Senior Brand Manager at a large Napa, California winery. My marketing experience also includes MillerCoors, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Zagat Survey (yes, those awesome restaurant guides), and IBM. I have an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business and an undergraduate degree from Emory University.

So come along and share the new challenges, learning experiences, and fun I experience as a brand marketing professional. Please make this an interactive blog by sharing your questions, opinions, and experiences.