MarTech Interview with Heather Conneran, Director of Brand Experience Platforms at General Mills

Welcome to this MarTech Series chat Heather, we’d love to hear more from you about your marketing experience and journey at Target and General Mills and your elevation to your current role…

I’ve been at General Mills for nine years, always in digital marketing roles because I love the intersection of data, digital and creativity. I started in Shopper Marketing collaborating with our retail partners on their new “precision” marketing capabilities. I went on to lead Audience Strategy, standing up our first Data Management Platform for General Mills and coaching brand teams on data-driven targeting. From there I led our Digital Media team and evolved our ad tech stack. I went on to lead our Data & Analytics (DNA) Marketing initiative where we piloted new capabilities, team structure and ways of working—this is where I got hooked on agile marketing process.

Most recently I have had the pleasure of leading our new Brand Experience Platforms team, which drives results for General Mills through our large digital platforms such as Box Tops for Education, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and more. One common thread throughout my career at General Mills is that almost all of these roles have been new roles as we’ve continuously evolved and prioritized digital marketing. It’s been an exciting journey and I’m proud to play an instrumental role in General Mills’ digital transformation.

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As someone who is leading implementation of a fresh martech stack for General Mills; what are some of the top factors you’re keeping in mind when evaluating  platforms?

Connected capabilities. To enable our vision of delivering relevant consumer experiences we need a martech stack that makes it possible to seamlessly connect consumer data to create journeys, deploy cross-channel communications and deliver reporting/optimization.

Over the years when working on and transforming brand experiences, what are some of the basic fundamentals that you’ve always kept in mind? Tell us about a few challenges you’ve experienced too…

It’s all about solving consumer needs. Marketing has always been about leveraging consumer insights, but now we have rich data we can leverage to see trends quickly and action off of immediately. Digital capabilities allow us to increase relevancy to consumers via personalization—the same product can solve different needs for consumers based on the benefit that is most relevant to each audience. I’ve shared this “Audience-Led Approach” with our brand teams to help demystify digital marketing. It’s still about the same fundamental of deeply understanding consumers, now with exciting data-driven digital capabilities like never before.

From a challenges perspective, it is a big change for marketers who are used to broad reach and TV demos to embrace segmentation and personalization. Leading digital transformation requires significant change management efforts including education, case studies, process change, evolving roles and responsibilities, internal buzz and more. You have to bring people along on the journey with you.

How in your view will marketing fundamentals change in the near-future as processes, expectations change from the user point of view as well as business point of view?

Consumer expectations will continue to evolve, and our digital experiences need to be as good, or better, than what they are experiencing with other platforms. This requires the value exchange to be worth it for consumers and the content to help meet their needs.

From a business standpoint, agility is more important than ever. Digital transformation is happening across industries, and we have to continually evolve the way we work to stay at the forefront. A big piece of this is enabling our teams to be empowered to action off of data-driven insights quickly. 

When it comes to creating and building memorable marketing and brand experiences, what do you feel marketers need to pay attention to more?

Marketers need to think about how their brands can go to market with different benefits to different consumers in order to increase relevancy, which yields more effective marketing. For example, we launched our Ratio brand by featuring protein content to protein seekers and low sugar to those watching their sugar intake. 

We’d love to hear a few thoughts on your views about the future of martech in 2022 and beyond!

I’m excited for more connected, AI-driven capabilities. Delivering on a personalized, cross-channel journey is very cumbersome to action off of today. Capabilities are still in silos and systems aren’t as integrated as they should be. In addition, there is still a lot of manual manipulation to enable personalization where the technology could be doing more of the heavy lifting. 

Some last thoughts, takeaways, before we wrap up!

My mantra is, “people over progress over perfection.” It used to be an agile mindset of “progress over perfection,” but working and leading in this Covid-19 world requires putting people first, whether it’s our teams or our consumers. If you don’t get that right, then you won’t make progress.

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General Mills

General Mills is a globally known force in food processing; The company markets many well-known North American brands, like Gold Medal flour, Annie’s Homegrown, Lärabar, Cascadian Farm, Betty Crocker, Yoplait, Nature Valley, Totino’s, Pillsbury, Old El Paso, Häagen-Dazs, Cheerios, Chex, Lucky Charms, Trix, Cocoa Puffs, Count Chocula and more.

Heather Conneran, Director, Brand Experience Platforms, General Mills

With nearly 20 years of digital marketing experience across CPG, retail and agency, Heather Conneran has been on the forefront of the digital evolution. She is currently the Director of Brand Experience Platforms at General Mills leading data strategy and digital experience across major platforms such as Box Tops for Education, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and more. In her 9 years at General Mills, she has led several first of their kind efforts to transform how brands go to market with new digital capabilities, such as dynamic creative and in-flight sales measurement, as well as new team structures and agile processes.

Prior to General Mills, Heather created communication experience strategies for Pampers, Kellogg’s and JetBlue while at AIMIA. She began her career in marketing communications at Target shortly after receiving her degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison in Journalism and Advertising. Heather is passionate about delivering valuable experiences for consumers, while helping marketers become more data-driven and agile.

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