Chobani CMO Peter McGuinness on its heart first marketing

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With ClickZ Live just three weeks away, we caught up with Chobani CMO Peter McGuinness to chat about heart first marketing and how plain yogurt is the new sour cream.

You’ve already gotten a glimpse of Seth Godin’s keynote at ClickZ Live New York (which is fast approaching; you’ll be there, right?). So we thought, it’s only fair that we also give you a preview of our other opener.

Peter McGuinness, chief marketing officer (CMO) at Chobani, will deliver the keynote speech on our conference’s second day.

What are Chobani’s marketing priorities, especially in the realm of digital storytelling?

Flip is the fastest-growing yogurt platform since Chobani launched nine years ago. There’s very low trial and high repeat. You’ll see us do TV and digital, and pound away on social, of course. You’ll see us doing some advertising, some demos, some sampling. We’ll do all that while we’re launching a platform, but that’s not where we live.

The core of our marketing program is heart first marketing and connecting with people in relevant, credible ways. With heart first marketing, I don’t think there’s a gray area. If you’re following your heart, what you’re going to talk about is going to be clear because it’s what you believe deep down.

We don’t mince words and we don’t speak legalese; we speak from the heart. You see a lot of companies advertising like, “Come try this, here’s our brand pyramid” and I just don’t think that’s the way to connect with people. We want to be a modern CPG company with spirit and soul.

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In your experience, where do some marketers go wrong when it comes to creating relevant brand stories and content?

It goes back to realness and authenticity. Don’t overtest and don’t overanalyze. Don’t try to go total consensus because it’ll lead to the lowest-common denominator. A lot of people tell you to do stories down the middle. No one has a problem down the middle, so there’s very little risk in that, but I would argue that there’s very little reward because nobody wants to watch, like or share the middle.

If you have a conviction, tell it with conviction and clarity. If there’s conflict, so be it, but at least there’s relevance. There’s an aspect of making content beautiful and shooting well, but if the premise isn’t clear and provocative and entertaining with a clear point of view, it’s in the middle.

Chobani has a store in New York with a menu that’s way more extensive than just yogurt. What’s your go-to?

The brick-and-mortar place – which is highly digital; it’s “phidigital” – is one of the top Instagrammed restaurants in New York, not because it’s a Michelin restaurant, but because it has interesting creations. We have everything from fresh raspberries and blueberries to chia seeds, and peanut butter and jelly, all the way to lemon meringue pie. There are also savory options, like a roasted red pepper yogurt creation.

My favorite, because I have a sweet tooth, is our rice pudding. It’s not like the health food you buy at GNC, but it’s healthier than the rice pudding that’s out there. It’s made with our Greek yogurt, doesn’t have preservatives and additives, but it’s indulgent when you eat it. You don’t feel like you’ve compromised in any way, shape or form.

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You’ve worked for some iconic agencies over the years. What drew you over to the brand side?

When I was CEO of Gotham, we pitched and won Chobani six or seven years ago, and launched the brand nationally. I fell in love with the brand back then, and I became quite friendly and fond of the owner [Hamdi Ulukaya]. When Chobani got big and the category got more competitive, they needed to sharpen their marketing, so he called me and said, “We need a CMO.”

I like the philosophy. I like that it’s delicious, nutritious, natural and affordable. I think that’s the future of food and I like the vision of being a modern CPG company and leading the food revolution that’s happening. If I was going to leave advertising and work on the client side, it was going to be for a company I respected and identified with, and whose products I ate.

When you collect data, can you glean anything about someone based on which yogurt flavors they buy?

It’s not like passion fruit and pineapple are bestsellers to Hispanic audiences in the South. I think people have a broader range than that; it’s more palate-driven than demographic-driven. We’re a mass brand so we’re in Walmart, Target, Kroger, and people kind of eat around our portfolio.

But plain yogurt, we think is the future. It’s competing with other dips and hummus. You’re going to see it as an ingredient: a dollop on a potato, instead of sour cream.

If you look at Europe, where the yogurt consumption is much higher, plain is huge. In the U.S., it’s $1 billion out of $8 billion so you’re going to see us push harder for plain.

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You’re delivering the keynote on day two of ClickZ Live New York. Can you give us a sneak preview?

I want to touch on this whole notion that anything can be content. If you had a crisis and handled it really well, in an on-brand way, that can be great content for your loyal fans.

If something went wrong or you made a mistake, if you handled it well, that’s content, too. Consistency, clarity and conviction: if you have those 3 C’s in everything you do, you can create content from anything.

Peter McGuinness will be at ClickZ Live New York, delivering the keynote on Wednesday, April 13. Be sure to get your ticket by registering here!

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