101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
VP Global Cereal at Kellogg’s
"If I think about the role of sound in branding, I believe it’s largely under-utilized. Sound is important because it appeals both to the heart and the mind. And in marketing, you’re trying to appeal to the hearts and minds of consumers."
Tiana Conley, VP Global Cereal, Kellogg’s
Tiana serves as the Vice President of Global Cereal for the Kellogg Company, where she is responsible for the $6 billion flagship portfolio with treasured brands such as Special K, Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops and Corn Flakes. Prior to joining Kellogg, she was Marketing Director of global tequila at Beam Suntory, where she led a portfolio of 5 brands and oversaw operations at the Casa Sauza Heritage Center in Tequila, Mexico. Before joining Beam Suntory, Ms. Conley held a variety of marketing roles at Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble, including leading the $4 billion Global Bath Tissue Portfolio as well as leading the P&L for the North American Olay brand.
Reese: Can you tell me a little bit about your role at Kellogg’s?
Tiana Conley: I currently oversee the global cereal portfolio, which is our flagship portfolio: our bread and butter, to use a food analogy! So it’s an important business to us, and one that’s rooted in an occasion that is really special to us – breakfast, which has interesting implications when it comes to sound. Our brands include Special K, Frosted Flakes, Coco Pops, Raisin Bran…In addition, I started off with Pringles in my portfolio, before I became focused on cereals, so I can talk about sound from that perspective as well.
Reese: So what’s the role of audio at Kellogg’s for these brands – especially looking at the consumer experience and the consumer journey?
Tiana: I wouldn’t say we have a sharpened corporate point of view on the role of audio in particular. But it’s one of the assets that bring our brands to life. Of all the companies I’ve worked at, probably Kellogg has the most assets with some sort of sound equity. For me, if I think about the role of sound in branding, I believe it’s largely under-utilized. Sound is important because it appeals both to the heart and the mind. And in marketing, you’re trying to appeal to the hearts and minds of consumers, right? So sound can be a bridge that’s transcending both functionally and emotionally, which is really powerful.
If you think about Pringles, which has a really strong acoustic signature in the “pop” of Pringles, the role that plays functionally is to convey the crispness of the product, while the role it plays emotively is to reinforce this playful ritual of eating.
Reese: As you just said, music and sound is so under-utilized by brands. Why is that?
Tiana: I think sound has always been important, but although it has always played a role and has always been influential, people are only just now coming to that realization. So sound is important in terms of thinking about how your brand will come to life across all the different touch points. We tend to forget as marketers that there is real science about the way people internalize things. For example, we know an olfactory response takes you back to memories. When I smell Frosted Flakes, it reminds me of my childhood! So I think people are just now making that connection between scientific understanding and how to motivate and drive consumer behavior – how these scientific and psychological components translate into consumer outcomes, as behavioral science becomes more important.
Reese: The benchmark is that a consumer should be able to recognize your brand with their eyes closed, purely through sound, wherever they find you. Can you empathize with that?
Tiana: Certainly. Some of the businesses we’re in were present in the era of the jingle, and it’s good fortune that some of that identity in terms of audio is left over…If I think about an asset where we have something that we could build on, I can again take one my own favorite brands, Frosted Flakes. In terms of our mix we have Tony the Tiger, our character, and then we have “They’re grrreat!” as one of our key sound equities. So I think it’s about leveraging those distinctive assets across relevant media in a way that’s optimal. In places where we don’t have some kind of sonic branding component, how do we make that own-able? And how could we extend that across Kellogg more broadly? Thinking about sound in that context felt really interesting to me – and potentially powerful. How could Kellogg be the soundtrack to the morning?
Reese: I think what’s going to be important for all brands is to stop consuming pop culture and start becoming pop culture. “They’re grrreat!” is a good example of that. But what I think brands really need is a sharable sonic DNA, which allows them to co-create.
Tiana: The translation and trans-creation concept is not wildly foreign to us. You mentioned that Kellogg is part of pop culture. A lot of times what we’ll see is an articulation visually of our assets that reflects something more current – something a little more like pop art. This is already a digital world – and we can see the implications of that as the entire world experiences a lockdown simultaneously for the first time in history. What it has underscored is not only how critical it is to come to life in a multi-sensorial fashion online, but how there will be a premium on experiences when it’s safe to engage offline. Whether you’re in the online or offline world, it’s not enough to say, “I’m a brand and here’s my brand experience – it’s fixed.” What’s going to be critical in the future is to offer consumers an interactive experience that taps into the co-creation idea you were talking about before – that they feel a part of.
Reese: In marketing these days, with Gen Alpha and Gen Z, nobody knows how to reach anybody anymore. Consumers own the brand at the end of the day. So what they want to see is: do you really care?
Tiana: Music has the power to be both positive and negative. And going back to what you were saying before, is it leveraged in a way that’s authentic? Because music is the language of life, it’s the language of emotion. We’ve experienced the sea of sameness that’s the sound of coronavirus advertising – and I am so sick of the same piano track, the same sappy music, and people telling me how I should feel about this. In fact throughout my career, every time I’ve had to work on some sort of “anthemic” advertising, it’s always had the same sappy track. And I’m, like, “Guys, there are other ways to convey things that are meaningful, important and serious!” If you’re not authentic, people can see right through that. So if you ask me about brands I admire, I’m going to go old school on you and say McDonald’s. But the “why” behind that is because I always saw them as a pioneer in the category of sound – and I’m going to take it back to the fact that they really mastered radio. They have always understood the role and the value of sonic branding. They’ve always been able to master their riffs to flex multi-culturally, to resonate with their different consumer audiences…I say this as a person who’s multi-cultural myself: I’m half Asian and half Black. And I always felt growing up that McDonald’s spoke to me differently than they spoke to everyone else. And they spoke to me through radio, which was the channel I was consuming.
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