Kraft Heinz CMO: the FMCG industry is the ultimate marketing training ground
Kraft Heinz CMO Shalabh Atray explains why up-and-coming marketers should be steering company culture and why the FMCG sector is the perfect place to start.
Of all the categories, there is no better training ground for young marketers than the FMCG sector – that’s according to Kraft Heinz Australia’s CMO Shalabh Atray. According to the long-standing Australian food brand, the FMCG industry is second to none in developing marketers’ skills in building a comprehensive understanding of the customer and thus developing consumer-driven strategies.
With two decades of experience in FMCG marketing, Atray’s duties at Kraft Heinz now include overseeing of the company’s decorated graduated program – recognised in the Australian Financial Review’s Top 100 Graduate Employers List for 2018.
Marketing caught up with Atray to learn more about why brands should be putting fresh and shiny faces at the helm of steering company culture and to hear his case for the FMCG sector being the growing marketer’s ultimate launchpad.
Marketing: Why is the FMCG sector such a great playground for young marketers?
Shalabh Atray, CMO of Kraft Heinz Australia: FMCG is where marketing started in the first place. If you look at the two industries that have traditionally been at the heart of marketing – building brands, building desire and really just creating craving from a brand perspective – they are the car and FMCG industries.
The beauty of FMCG is that it has always been a place of massive energy. FMCG has traditionally been, and will continue to be, a hunting ground for marketers because the reality is – if I just take Kraft Heinz or Golden Circle as an example – they tend to be present in almost every single Australian household. And on top of that, this is paired with the ability to connect with every individual across generations – whether it’s a young kid or someone who isn’t so young anymore, somebody who loves brand or doesn’t believe in brand.
At the end of the day when you’re looking at food as a category, it is something that appeals to every single person. Some people like cars and some people don’t like cars, but everybody loves food. As a result of that, your ability to create desire, to create craving, to drive purpose, to stand for something bigger and make sure that you are meaningful to millions of people tends to be much higher in FMCG than any other category.
Every single Australian consumer that we have spoken to has a visual memory of Kraft from their childhood – the first time they used a Kraft Singles product, the first time they spread peanut butter onto bread – these are beautiful memories for people. FMCG brands are not just commodities, they are brands, they are part of your memories, part of your life and part of your future – that’s why people love FMCG brands.
Is brand building a big focus for the program?
Absolutely! The graduate program is not just for marketing, it straddles multiple functions. Within the graduates who are in the marketing cohort, they play a huge role in terms of making our brands more contemporary. This year, for example, we had a recent graduate by the name of Hugo Gates who was working on Heinz sauces – he’s done some incredible work. During the AFL season he came up with an idea called the ‘Museum of Missed Opportunities’, which we ran at Southern Cross Station.
The whole idea was to really bring to life a very small but interesting exhibition, which was actually done in a shipping container. People would walk in and see different moments from points in Australian history when people missed certain opportunities – a goal in footy for example. At the end they were told they needed to try Heinz Ketchup because avoid feeling as though they’d missed an opportunity. The graduate program works as an integral part of the different projects, building brands and innovation, and really building the culture within our brand.
Where do you see young marketers lacking the most when they first enter the program?
One of the things the program tries to drive as a principle for marketers is a balance between logic and magic. That is always something that is good for a marketer to be self-aware of because the reality is that most human beings tend to be either a little stronger on the left or the right side of the brain – and that is absolutely okay!
Some people are more creative and others are more logical, some people can deal with the abstract more so than others can. We encourage this balance because what we try to do, rather than look at people’s shortcomings, is make sure that people are aware of their strengths. We always try to encourage people to expose themselves not only to the creative parts of marketing, but the commercial aspect also.
Advice for young marketers?
We really encouraged marketers to absorb the culture, to be true to who they are. At the end of the day, yes you can have a broad impact in marketing, but you also bring an individual stamp. For every single person who enters the program, we make sure that they are able to leave their own personal stamp.
A lot of the great work we see in marketing – whether it’s a piece of communication or a packaging label – requires the colour of individual magic that is unique to every single marketer. We genuinely encourage marketers to retain their colour, to understand the different templates and careers in which we work, but ultimately to make sure to bring their own magic to the table.
We really believe a lot in the graduate program and we treat graduates like owners of our brand. For us, the graduate program is not only a pipeline for the future but also a commitment that our marketers aren’t only giving a lot to the brand, but also getting a lot back by making sure that they are truly part of and helping to define the culture.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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Image credit:Jon Tyson