By Joe Pulizzi published November 21, 2012

Mining Data for the Right Content Marketing at the Right Time

Kraft mines data for content marketingBig brands don’t just make big content marketing moves — they make smart moves; moves that are based on extensive research into their customers’ needs, their behaviors, and their expressed opinions on digital platforms, such as social media.

In this interview, Julie Fleischer, Director of CRM at Kraft Foods, reveals how this powerhouse brand mines data and monitors trends to create content that people want to spend time with, again and again. 

CCO: How is Kraft using content to stand out? What are you doing differently than your direct competitors, as well as other food-related media sites?

Fleischer: We developed our content marketing platform over more than a decade, so the size and reach of our content activities are really unique. Our paid subscription magazine in the United States, called “Food & Family,” is bigger than “Food & Wine Magazine” — in fact, our audience is about the size of the Food Network’s. Our subscription renewal rates are about twice the industry average, and our consumers tend to hold onto back issues for years.

At Kraft, we create content — and specifically recipes — that our customers try out and make over and over again. Our website has about 85 million visits per year; it’s one of the top 20 food websites on the web. Our scores for time spent on site and page views are significantly higher than those of our competition. Our mobile website is growing at 100 percent per year. We also have our social channels, and an influencer program. We oversee an email program that reaches about 5 million opt-in consumers weekly. Essentially, we try to create content that people will come back to and that they spend time with.

Looking at it from 10,000 feet, we have this vast array of channels that provide us with the opportunity to intersect with consumers where they want, at just the right moment. To do that well, we closely study our consumers, from an attitudinal and behavioral perspective. We mine our data, and look carefully at search trends to understand which recipes people are making at any given day of the year, and then we serve those recipes up to our consumers in the manner, and at the moment, they’re most interested in.

CCO: Tell us more about what you mean by “in the manner, and at the moment.”

Fleischer: We feel it’s really important to provide the right food idea, the right recipe, at the right moment, as in “You know, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to make tonight, but this is exactly perfect; this is what I want.” We spend a lot of time understanding who our consumer is, how she cooks, what kinds of food she wants to cook. Even more, we understand on any given day the kinds of recipes our customers want to make.

We use pantry items to know what’s already in the house because we don’t want you to have to go out and get extra ingredients to make something. We know what produce our customers are more likely to have in their refrigerator, as well as those they’re unlikely to ever purchase.

If you look at our competitors (e.g., “Cooking Light,” “Bon Appetit,” “Martha Stewart Living,” “Every Day with Rachael Ray”), all of those magazines exist to sell advertising. Readers may look at a recipe and think, “That looks beautiful,” and move on without ever considering making it. At Kraft, we publish in order to sell products, so we want to create recipes our customers really want to make and share.

CCO: Once you’ve developed great content, what does Kraft do to support and accelerate sharing?

Fleischer: We monitor everything that we put out to see how many clicks and what type of engagement we get. Are customers printing a recipe? Saving it to their recipe box? Adding it to the shopping list? “Liking” it, emailing it, and pinning it on Pinterest? When we see something hit a spark of high interest, we pull it into our weekly email (which in turn ignites it on Facebook and Pinterest — it’s a virtuous cycle).

When we have content that’s really performing well, we quickly use other platforms to promote and share it, and support that viral spread. Pinterest has been really important to us this year. It took us by surprise because it so suddenly became a critical referral site. Though we manage our Pinterest page, most of what happens on Pinterest is entirely organic. Best of all, Pinterest has been a great real-time indicator of which emailed recipes are a hit.

CCO: What have you personally found most challenging as a marketing executive working in a discipline that is changing so quickly?

Fleischer: There are so many new channels, and bright and shiny objects. Budgets are limited, team size is limited, resources are limited, and so there’s this constant battle between relying on what’s working today versus making smart choices about what will be effective down the road. There are so many emerging tactics and technologies today that may never become widely used. We need to experiment, but also allocate our resources wisely. I find that tension to be the most challenging.

CCO: What are some of those emerging ideas and technologies you have your eye on?

We’re beginning to consider smart appliances and whether we should customize content for that medium. Online video is another interesting channel we are investigating.

The challenge is deciding whether you will be a first-mover — and benefit from the early advantage — or wait to see how things play out. Before the tablet came out a year and a half ago, nobody really understood how consumers would use it. Was it going to be a giant iPhone, a little desktop, or something else entirely?

I’m a firm believer that you have to match consumer behavior, channel and content — and it’s a very difficult problem to solve. Our mobile strategy will be changing for next year because we believe there’s a bigger opportunity in mobile than simply creating a very mobile-optimized, friendly version of the desktop.

CCO: We’ve seen some high-profile collaborations between brands and traditional media, as well as brands and mobile app makers. How does Kraft sort out which companies are competitors versus collaborators in the race for your customers’ attention?

Like every organization, we’ve evolved strategies over time. We strongly believe there is something magical about having a permission-based relationship with our consumers, who come back to us over and over again. We don’t try to be everything to everyone. There’s a big chunk of our audience that we see weekly or every other week, and they keep coming back.

So for quite a while, we’ve been very focused on creating that ecosystem — that meaningful relationship with the consumer — and not trying to be everywhere. That doesn’t mean that in the future we won’t say, “You know what, there’s a really good reason to syndicate our recipes to this other place,” or “There’s a very, very good reason to build this tool into our site, or our content into some other tool.” So we’re always exploring those kinds of things.

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Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, Managing Content Marketing and Get Content Get Customers. Joe's latest book is Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill). If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Lyndon NA

    Now that’s a fine interview – and it’s an absolute joy to see not only what companies do, but how well they do it, and how invested they are in doing it.

    Hats off to Kraft for investing in their market!

    Any more clues as to the Mobile plans?

    • http://blog.junta42.com/ Joe Pulizzi

      Hi Lyndon…honestly, not sure as to mobile plans…we’ll see if we can get more information on that in the very near future.

  • armentisteve

    I love how Kraft calls out their competitors for only creating content to sell advertising. Consumers are smart, they will realize that and go elsewhere.

    • http://managedformimi.com/ osbennn

      Right on. The value has to be there if people are going to pay attention.

  • Sarah Bauer

    I love that Kraft has built this entirely user-generated, organic content presence on Pinterest. We can chalk it up to the accessible recipes that can make any amateur cook feel like an empowered chef. In the same way, Pinterest makes tastemakers out of everyday Internet users. Both look for ways to showcase the extraordinary in the ordinary, and it seems to be a successful partnership.

  • http://twitter.com/simonpenson simon penson

    Fantastic, insightful piece Julie. You clearly have a great handle on how use of data and content strategy should marry in the new world of digital marketing. Would love to understand more about how you mine that data and process it…