Frito-Lay Scores by Personalizing Consumer Experiences
By Dale Buss
It can be difficult for a brand to personalize consumer experiences when it sells more than 18 million units a day as Frito-Lay does. But given how digital technology has changed the expectations of customers who’ve become used to everything being individualized for them, the PepsiCo-owned salty-snack leader has embraced that challenge with determination – and growing success.
Whether it’s working with retailers to harness the enthusiasm of National Football League fans for their individual teams in a promotion for iconic snack Tostitos, or leveraging the hip factor of Cheetos in a culinary pop-up in New York City, Frito-Lay marketers keep coming up with ways to make consumers feel it’s all about them as individuals.
“It’s one thing to really understand the direct relationship we have with consumers and the designated silos our brands fit into,” Jennifer Saenz, chief marketing officer for Frito-Lay North America, told an audience at the recent IRI Growth Forum. “But understanding what’s important to consumers’ lives and going deep in understanding about … what’s ownable that our brands can take advantage of allows us to be relevant in ways we never thought possible.”
Saenz noted that the “world around us continues to change at an incredible pace” and that consumer expectations for interaction with brands also are set by the extreme individualization allowed by smartphones and other digital phenomena.
From brands, she said that consumers now want and expect:
Personalized Experiences: "This doesn’t necessarily mean one-on-one engagement," she said, but “also listening to (consumers) and offering solutions that are meaningful to them. You can do that on a mass scale.”
Frictionless Contact: As an example, Saenz pointed to a Starwood Hotels check-in platform that uses a mobile app to provide room check-in and to use a code to open the door. “There’s no waiting in line; you bypass all check-ins; you go straight to your room – removing all the friction that previously existed in the process,” she explained.
Contextual Relevance: This means using intention-based targeting versus demographic-based approaches, she said. Saenz’s illustration clearly explained this criterion: A 28-year-old man who’s just welcomed a baby into the household “is far more likely to pay attention to an advertisement with a baby than a 28-year-old man who’s just figuring out the dating scene,” as Saenz put it.
Then, Saenz said, brands have to deliver these types of experiences in ways that include these characteristics:
Shareworthiness: Consumers want experiences that are worth sharing on social media such as Instagram and Facebook, she said. “It must be beautiful, and it must live up to consumer expectations,” she said.
Simplicity: Today’s consumers have little tolerance for “slow and complicated experiences,” Saenz said. She pointed out that in a survey, about one-quarter of Americans said that they now are for more concerned with saving time than money.
Magic: Not only do individualized experiences need to remove friction and so on, but they must do so “in a way that leaves people simply in awe,” Saenz said. “That’s what makes it hard to stay one step ahead.”
Leveraging data from all sources is crucial to understanding how to do all of this, she said. In it, Frito-Lay searches for “overt” clues to what consumers are doing, such as patterns in the web sites they visit and purchase from.
It’s also important “to understand latent characteristics, silent signals” of consumer wants and needs, she said, “that give us a peek as to where they might be going next.” Historically, Saenz conceded, “that’s been challenging.” But “the beauty of today is that data and technology are unlocking a better understanding of those latent characteristics. It’s no longer a guessing game. And you have to listen.”
Frito-Lay increasingly is combining all of these factors to create more relevant experiences for today’s “me-first” consumer. The Cheetos pop-up and the Tostitos NFL-bag promotion last year were two of them.
Noticing that NFL fans are some of the most superstitious in sports, the Totstitos team wanted to tap into personalized game-day rituals that team backers often engage in, with some perhaps even believing that they affect the outcome of the contest. And teams themselves encourage traditions, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Terrible Towels and the Green Bay Packers’ cheeseheads.
So, at the beginning of last season, Tostitos created 19 team-specific bags that were bedecked with graphics about beloved team superstitions. These “lucky bags” were displayed prominently on store shelves and in perimeter displays, including end-cap displays with outsized depictions of team mascots atop huge collections of Tostitos chips and salsa. The brand launched them into the retail scene at the onset of the NFL season when team optimism is at its peak.
Frito-Lay also produced back-story videos for each team and team-specific social-media support that fans could leverage online, especially relevant for those who might be, say, Bears fans but live in San Francisco. On Amazon.com, fans could order a team-specific box that would unfold into their favorite stadium as a party centerpiece.
All told, Saenz said, the promotion lifted household penetration for the Tostitos brand during the season by nearly a full percentage point. “Those were great results that were incredibly encouraging to us,” she said.
In the Spotted Cheetah Restaurants by Cheetos promotion, the brand established a pop-up eatery in New York City during Restaurant Week that featured a top chef’s Cheetos-based creations. Cheetos “has a history of listening to consumers and engaging, tapping into pop-culture moments that are relevant and making a quarter-turn to give consumers something they didn’t even realize they wanted,” Saenz said.
Frito-Lay marketers had noticed via social media that Cheetos increasingly was being used not just as a finger snack but also as an ingredient, in items ranging from sushi to salads. “We took that inspiration and thought, ‘What if we could open a restaurant and all the food was actually made with Cheetos?’” she said.
The pop-up featured recipes by celebrity chef Anne Burrell, such as “flaming macaroni and cheese.” All 500 available table seating were booked within six hours after reservations were opened, and the web-site waiting list grew to more than 8,000.
Once inside, fans experienced “a combination of high-end retail with a hint of mischieviousness,” Saenz said. Besides the menu, it included takeaway cookbooks that included the recipes, plenty of Instagrammable opportunities, and the use of motion-capture technology that gave a video representation of Chester, the Cheetos mascot, the opportunity to interact playfully and personally in real time with guests.
“The restaurant experience was built on a personalized consumer connection that used data and technology to make it easy and frictionless to engage,” Saenz observed. The Cheetos restaurant also ticked the other boxes that she said make for a successful personalized engagement: Consumers could use Open Table and other booking platforms that they knew. Restaurant Week was contextually relevant. “And the dining aesthetic was beautiful, simple and a bit magical,” she said.
“The results blew away our expectations,” Saenz summed up.