Social Signals Guide CPG Product Development, Says General Mills Vet

Gayle Fuguitt talks future and past

Gayle Fuguitt spent 32 years working on General Mills' consumer-packaged-goods prowess before switching executive gears to lead the Advertising Research Foundation in 2012. She took a break from getting ready for next week's ARF Re:Think Conference to chat with Adweek about where CPG marketing should be headed and more.

What's the most important thing you learned in three decades at General Mills?

It's actually something that's especially relevant in the digital world—listening to consumers rather than just asking them questions. That's why when I was promoted to vice president I changed the name of my department from Market Research to Consumer Insights. We consistently, during my tenure, adapted to new technologies while consumers were adapting to them in their lives. When social media came along, we started listening to them via their posts and started to understand that you could segment their interests based on activity—not by just representative samples. 

Is there anything in digital that CPGs should be doing but are not?

There's a lot of big numbers that go along with big data. But the consumers navigate social media for us. As they share what their needs are to make their lives easier, they invite consumer packaged goods companies to be a part of the conversation. The [industry] needs to listen to what those needs are and do a better job coming up with [product] solutions.

Razorfish just released a study that found 76 percent of marketing execs said they don't use behavioral data for targeting. Seems surprisingly high to me. What's your take?

Well, I think there is a lot of work going on in identifying direct consumers' needs, what they are buying and how to reach them. And there are CPG companies that are on the bleeding edge of this kind of work. 

What is the most important ARF initiative this year?

I would say what we are talking most about is cross-platform measurement. It's about how we model analytics and insights … so researchers can go up to the C-suites and show them how we can be in real time with the consumer. The fastest-growing consumer touchpoints, such as mobile, social and digital, are the ones we are the least precise in measuring. We need to work on improving our research techniques and analytics [for the sake] of decision-making.

What's the most important thing you want to accomplish at ARF over the long term?

I want to build leadership skills in the organization and in the community, and that includes best practices. We can help advertisers through research.