Debating whether it’s best to be first to market is an age-old pastime among business leaders. The time it takes to ponder the question, however, is something of a luxury when it comes to the breakneck development of digital media. In the race to keep up with what’s next, even the savviest marketing team can’t beat the actual market, which is why General Mills launched G-WIN Digital, an open portal that solicits the public’s ideas for emerging digital marketing technologies.
G-WIN Digital is an extension of the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN), which launched in 2007 and solicits input and ideas to improve everything from products and ingredients to technology, packaging, and processes. With the digital extension, the company hopes to bridge the corporate ingenuity gap when it comes to advances in gaming, social, mobile, and online video.
"Our goal is to make sure that people outside of General Mills know that we have an open invitation to talk about emerging technologies and digital capabilities," says General Mills chief marketing officer Mark Addicks. "We have these iconic brands and we have consumers that are way ahead of virtually every company in terms of how they’re thinking of and using technology. We want to run as fast as we can behind them."
Those just bursting with ideas for a game involving Cheerios or a mobile app for Betty Crocker—or any of the multitude of General Mills brands, including Green Giant, Pillsbury, and Häagen-Dazs—are directed to the innovation portal to share their non-confidential idea, product, company, or technology. Once submitted, GM’s digital marketing group vets the ideas, and status updates are promised within three weeks. From there, a dedicated review team is at the ready to quickly hand intriguing ideas right over to the digital marketing operations. Specific ideas they choose to engage in will likely start out small and experimental with lessons and experiences applied on a broader scale.
The two areas Addicks earmarks as key for innovation are gaming and mobile, with social arguably an element of all digital communications. "We’re hoping to get some ideas on how our brands can participate in gaming and how you can share food ideas in a gaming way," he says. "We’ve done games on Zynga and have learned a lot, but we don’t participate at the level we think we should because we don’t understand the space as well as we should."
To mark the launch of G-WIN Digital, General Mills launched "Holiday Ideas Made Easy," a holiday ad for Pillsbury that while creatively unremarkable is technologically novel. Aimed at "busy millennial moms," the 15-second spot includes audio cues that trigger content from music discovery service Shazam. Tag the spot with Shazam and voila, holiday party ideas are delivered right to your phone (though at a hurried 15 seconds, you’re more likely to just fumble for your phone than successfully tag the commercial). While General Mills is not the first brand to integrate Shazam for TV into their marketing, they do boast first-in-category status.
Being first, as it turns out, is exceedingly important for General Mills. This past April, it was the first consumer packaged goods company to use a daily deals service, offering consumers in Minneapolis and San Francisco a sampler pack of GM goodies for $20 on Groupon, a 50% discount. Also, in October the company announced an ambitious initiative called Trail View that creates a first-person, street-view style experience of national parks such as the Great Smoky Mountains, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.
"Sometimes I think its mandatory to be first. I would say one of the reasons behind G-WIN Digital is we want to make sure that innovators have a great experience when bringing us never-before-seen technology that they would like us to possibly engage on," says Addicks. "I think being first there is powerful."
If the success of the initial G-WIN initiative is any indication, the outlook for G-WIN digital is positive. In its four years the original innovation network yielded products such as Fibre One Brownies, Progresso Light soups, Wanchai Ferry Frozen Entrees, and Pillsbury Savorings. But more important is the impact open collaboration has had on the company.
Addicks offers the mantra "create, iterate, learn, and scale," which, he says, means becoming an agile, learning organization. "I don’t think that’s a small thing; I think that’s a big thing for organizations like ours. There’s a big cultural change that has to happen—you have to be very agile, ready to move super fast and you have to be in the moment. You have to learn. We call it 'market while we research, research while we market.' Those used to be discreet functions. Today, it’s finding partners, trying something on the brand and really watching and learning as we go and continuing to iterate."
[Image: Flickr user vernhart]