FEATURE1 April 2011

Food for thought

Clare Fuller, managing director of Promise Corporation, on how customers and employees helped Kraft Foods to set out a new corporate vision.


The challenge
In the period leading up to 2008 Kraft Foods underwent substantial change. It was spun off from its owner of 20 years, it took on a new CEO , and it made a major acquisition in the form of the Danone Biscuits business. The company decided to redefine its corporate purpose and values. What did the new Kraft Foods stand for? An important and difficult question for a company that had gone from selling ‘pantry’ products, mainly in the US, to selling high-value lines in countries all over the world.

This could have been tackled in a conventional way by a team at the centre, but Kraft was keen to explore new ways of solving the problem: to find an approach that would have more impact on customers and be taken up more enthusiastically by employees.

The company decided to take a co-creative approach with the direct involvement of thousands of customers and staff in the US, Europe and Asia.

The brief
Promise was responsible for ensuring genuine employee participation in the process of reform to avoid the traditional gap between the expectations of senior management and the extent to which changes are accepted and owned by employees. There were to be no more top-down solutions. Transparency also had to apply to the engagement of customer support and creativity in the change process. The aim was to come up with ‘the biggest idea that Kraft could own’. This newly created vision would symbolise the spirit of the company. Project Pathway was underway.

“By bringing consumers and staff closer together, Kraft was able to develop a bigger and more ambitious set of ideas”

The approach
Working face-to-face and online, Promise created an environment where people felt safe to express what they thought and could work creatively to develop and refine ideas. Two key elements in the programme – BigTalk Live and BigTalk Online – were combined with a series of other activities. The intention was to avoid the pattern of past dialogues which had focused on products and had been used mainly for marketing purposes.

Events in Chicago, Paris and Shanghai kick-started the programme, each involving more than 50 customers and 25 people from Kraft, including managers and other staff. These events were key to identifying and exploring ideas, enabling the team to build relationships and address big questions collaboratively. The events were focused on people’s relationship with food, their expectations of big food corporations, their perceptions of Kraft products and their impressions of the Kraft brand. Each event was filmed and the footage was used across the organisation.

Following these events a range of insights and ideas were developed, some closely related to Kraft’s history and some less familiar. These options were fed into the second part of the process, which took place online.

BigTalk Online is a private website, based on social networking principles, used to bring together thousands of employees from all over the world and at all levels in the business to debate, develop and filter ideas.

This group worked together for four months to share experiences and ideas and explore what would work in their markets. Thousands of people participated, generating and discussing hundereds of ideas in a series of conversations moderated by the Promise team, with input from the Kraft team too.

Participants could join in at any time that suited them and from anywhere in the world. For people in areas without reliable internet access, offline events were held and the results fed into the online discussion.

The senior team at Kraft was careful to ensure that the process should be as transparent and honest as possilbe. Everyone was encouraged to say what they really thought, supported by reassurances that this would not be career limiting. This was essential both to build commitment to the process and to ensure the best quality and most useful internal debate.

The various ideas were eventually narrowed down to a specific solution, and the team developed a plan to bring it to life.

The findings
Results showed that consumers felt out of touch with Kraft and where it was going, contrasting with their high expectations of big food companies. In some territories where the company is well established this was surprising, but not in others where Kraft is a relatively recent entrant. This highlighted the need for Kraft to stay close to consumers. A product can be in people’s cupboards, but that doesn’t mean they stop to think about it where it comes from – even though they are open to knowing more about what Kraft does and stands for.

BigTalk Live revealed that customers wanted to get to know the brand better, and increase the contribution it could make to their busy and changing lives. They see the brand as a source of quality, convenience and pleasure. They are keen for the organisation to develop its products and presence in ways that will make their lives easier and more pleasurable. For some at Kraft, this came as a surprise – and a pleasant one – that served to build internal commitment and belief in the brand.

By bringing consumers and staff closer together, Kraft was able to develop a bigger and more ambitious set of ideas, understand how better to drive value from their corporate brand, and build confidence and commitment internally.

BigTalk Online added to a rich pool of ideas, as well as creating a large number of advocates for the results of the work. It also helped to build relationships across the company, with many employees meeting online for the first time. A high level of energy and ambition was revealed across the company, together with the commitment and confidence to respond to consumer demands.

Active moderation, combined with lots of encouragement and feedback to users, ensured high participation levels. Almost half of those invited actively contributed, comparing very favourably with more traditional approaches such as staff surveys.

The outcome
“Make today delicious” is the customer-facing expression of Kraft’s new purpose and mission. Without overlooking key issues such as health, sustainability and nutrition, the statement stems from the insight that the most valuable part that Kraft can play in people’s lives is to increase the pleasure and enjoyment they get from food.

To support and communicate this work, Kraft created a new corporate brand mark featuring the Make today delicous tagline and a new list of corporate values.

The inclusive approach meant that, before we even launched the new corporate vision, we had thousands of ambassadors with a vested interest in promoting and realising it. Eight months after launch, a staff survey showed that close to 90% of staff agreed that the project had been worthwhile, believed in what the company was setting out to achieve and knew what they were expected to do to make Kraft successful.

This work was used to inform a number of key initiatives right across the business, including corporate branding, product endorsement, internal communication, product and service innovation and CSR. It helped to set priorities and provide guidance to resolve conflicts and dilemmas.

The outcome of this major exercise in co-creation was powerful ideas, values and vision that resonate across all markets and cultures.