Cheetos, Cheese Snacks, and Consumer Insights

Dorothy Doan

Our final Texas AMA Tuesday event speaker was Dorothy Doan, a University of Texas graduate who currently lives in Dallas! Her work experience started from being the Campus Ambassador for General Mills to now being the Brand Manager for Cheetos at Pepsi-Co!

Cheetos package
I would make a joke here, but it’d be too cheesy.

Pepsi-Co is reportedly on a “mission to create more smiles”, and this mission encompasses everything they do. Currently, they’re earning $67 billion in revenue in 200 countries and territories, with $22 billion dollar brands. One of their brands? Frito-Lay, which happens to be the snack division that Dorothy works in! Frito-Lay comprises a substantial 25% of total revenue and 47% of total profit for Pepsi-Co. (Remember, revenue minus expenses equals profit.) Some iconic snacking brands within the Frito-Lay portfolio include Lay’s, Doritos, and Tostitos.

Frito-Lay’s Marketing Strategy
Frito-Lay’s marketing purpose is “transforming moments with joy”, which admittedly sounds a bit vague, after all, aren’t these just chips? Well turns out it’s a simple flow-chart process where they:

Unleash Brand Magic → Feed the Joy

To unleash the brand’s magic, they utilize a broad set of marketing roles and experiences such as shopper marketing, consumer insights, innovation/white space, creative agency, and food service. Each wildly different role is a step towards building a relationship with consumers.

Dorothy’s marketing work primarily utilizes consumer insights, the information you get about specific segments or demographics of individuals, to build consumer relations. It essentially works as a bridge between the research and marketing departments of a company. The strategic thought process to help drive measurable impact can be visualized in (another) simple flow-chart process:

Simplify → Educate → Inspire → Strategize

Too much information can be overwhelming for consumers, so we want to keep it simple. Then through easy-to-understand messaging, we can effectively educate consumers about your product features, benefits, and outcomes. From here we want to inspire shoppers and get them excited about your product through content such as lifestyle imagery. Finally, we strategize, and come up with a game plan to implement for the future.

But to jump from your consumer insights to tangible action you’ll first have to:

  1. Define the right research question (it’s got to be strategic and actionable)
  2. Identify the right target (look at demographics, psychographics, or behavioral)
  3. Design the research (this’ll be supplier-led)
  4. Listen to your consumer (consumer empathy is critical!)
  5. Discover unmet needs (uncover consumer truths, understand their motivations; identify and ideate on ways to solve for tensions)

The research portion of consumer insights could look like using tracking URLS, focus groups, or social media engagement. But overall, your consumer insights need to be powerful enough to impact behavior.

Smartfood Popcorn: A Case Study
While Dorothy mainly works with Cheetos, she’s also had experience with other delicious snacks such as Smartfood popcorn.

Smartfood popcorn bag
What do you call a bad popcorn joke? Corny.

Smartfood has recently gone through a brand refresh, sub-line relaunch, and found new occasions to combat the increasingly competitive activity that’s been happening in the popcorn category. At the beginning, Smartfood was revolutionary for the popcorn industry with it’s ready to eat (RTE) bags. Previously, you were stuck heating up a packet of Act II in your kitchen microwave.

Smartfood was the iconic popcorn brand for years, until the landscape erupted with new players, all seeking to deliver lower calorie benefits (ex: Skinny Pop and Boom Chicka Pop). So in 2014, they responded to the “light” popcorn category trends with their own launch of Smartfood Delight, and it quickly became the #1 priority for Smartfood’s business growth. But all good and overly profitable things eventually come to an end. In 2018, the growth of popcorn began to decrease, so after analyzing Smartfood’s slowing business, they uncovered three critical drags:

  • They were losing households, fueled by younger consumers
  • Delight was declining with high buyer churn (meaning lots of people chose not to re-buy)
  • Consumer needs were expanding

This quickly led to a 3-step plan to reverse the trend:
Step 1: attract younger households (through repackaging, after all, impulse purchases make up a large majority of RTE sales)
Step 2: addressing the “light” subline (they renamed Delight to Smart 50, it’s now just 50 calories per cup!)
Step 3: future thinking (how can they keep up with competition expanding to new categories other than popcorn – this is still a work in progress.)

The corn mascot looks like he’s waving 🙂

Our Takeaway
Dorothy Doan left us one last piece of advice: marketing creates a story across all consumer touchpoints, from product packaging, television product placements, social media, at the grocery store shelf, and on the press. Story-telling is a fundamental part of marketing, and it inspires people to take action. We hope you enjoyed our story of cheese snacks and consumer insights, and maybe you’ll feel inspired to apply it to your own marketing goals!



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