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PepsiCo's James Clarke talks digital

What's changed in digital, Pepsi's big opportunities, and how he keeps up

James Clarke joined PepsiCo Foods Canada as its senior digital marketing manager earlier this month.

Clarke’s worked at the intersection of packaged foods and digital marketing for the past eight years, first at Maple Leaf Foods, then at Kraft Foods Group, in a number of roles.

Given his status as a young veteran in the field, Marketing spoke to Clarke about what’s changed in digital since he started his career, the death of organic reach and where the big opportunities lie for PepsiCo.

You’ve done a lot of work in social media. What shifts in the social web have had the largest impact on business?
Social fragmentation is one of the biggest shifts in this area that  I’ve observed over the past several years. B2C social is no longer limited to just Facebook and Twitter. Brands must keep a close eye on where and how their consumer is engaging across the social web. The rise (and fall) in popularity of social channels means brands must operate more nimbly than ever, shifting investment and focus to follow key audiences across platforms while quickly getting themselves up to speed on the rules of engagement in order to achieve success while avoiding potentially embarrassing missteps.

Social has gone from a largely organic tool to a largely paid tool. As a marketer, how did you deal with the change?
For the social channels that have been most heavily impacted by algorithmic changes, the focus has been on delivering fewer, bigger, better brand posts. Reducing our posting cadence to focus resources on producing compelling content that can be amplified through paid media. This helps increase the efficiency of our spend, ensuring precious content development dollars are not wasted, while maximizing creative breakthrough and promoting earned media as consumers “like” and “share” this content within their respective social networks. PepsiCo Foods Canada has benefitted greatly from this strategy, with some of our best-loved brands in North America – including Doritos, Lay’s and Cheetos – leveraging impactful creative to tap into the cult-like following surrounding their brands.

How have brands changed the way they present themselves online since you started at Maple Leaf Foods?
I see brands working harder than ever to be interesting and add value to consumers’ lives in one form or another, rather than simply seeking to interrupt and stay top of mind. This is quite a paradigm shift versus marketing as we knew it in the twentieth century, as more and more brands begin to capitalize on the power of content marketing and in developing more authentic, personalized connections with their consumers.

Digital shifts from day to day. As a marketer, how do you keep up with the pace?
Coffee helps! All kidding aside, I am a firm believer in adopting and using new digital and social media tools first hand, in order to better understand their utility from the consumer’s point of view. It also definitely helps that I’m a curious guy by nature who is supremely passionate about all things digital-marketing related. This makes keeping abreast of the latest industry news and brand case studies a pleasure rather than making it feel like actual “work.”

What do you think are the big digital opportunities for PepsiCo?
PepsiCo Foods Canada has a strong marketing team – I’d say one of the best in the industry. We had a new CMO join the Canadian organization last year and one of her asks of the marketing department is to implement a 70-20-10 rule in our 2016 plans: 70% of time and money should be dedicated to “tried and true” channels, 20% to “safe bets” and 10% to “experimental/cutting edge” opportunities.  The 10% is a great place to explore some of these emerging digital spaces – this where amazing things can happen.

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