Home > Marketing > Confusion, Technology and Talent in Marketing; Off Script No. 26: Frank Pollock on Fundamentals and What He’s Learned from Working in CPG

Confusion, Technology and Talent in Marketing; Off Script No. 26: Frank Pollock on Fundamentals and What He’s Learned from Working in CPG

Confusion Technology and Talent in Marketing; Off Script #26 Frank Pollock on Fundamentals and What He’s Learned from Working in CPG

I hadn’t met him previously, but that’s part of the point with the Off Script series.  It’s equal parts learning, networking, sharing and giving back to the community.

All the better he came highly recommended, and I’m sure glad he did because this interview doesn’t disappoint.

When I looked at his background to develop relevant questions, his experience in consumer packaged goods (CPG) was what stood out to me.  As it turns out, he got his start selling radio and television advertising and only later went to work in the CPG industry after earning an MBA.

Today he’s on his own.  He’s hung a shingle and runs a consultancy focused on marketing technology. He is Frank Pollock and he’s my guest in this excellent edition of this interview series.


1) How would you characterize the state of marketing in 2018?

In a word: confusion.

I curate a newsletter on marketing technology so I read a ton of articles about marketing every week. Most of the articles are about the latest technology or tool and Scott Brinker makes some great points about this in his book Hacking Marketing. His marketing technology landscape lists ~5K tools.

Marketers are focused on navigating the tools but we need to focus on the fundamentals of marketing. If you understand the fundamentals then you can navigate the technology landscape.

Instead of Hubspot vs. Marketo v.s Acton, we need to get back to basics like understanding the customer.

2) You’ve got a lot of big company CPG experience.  What do you think you learned as you grew in those roles?

The CPG industry is a great training ground for marketers in any industry. Here are three key takeaways from my experience:

a) I learned how to be a data-driven marketer. Data driven marketing is a popular term now, but marketing has always been data driven during my career. The big differences are how much data is available and how quickly marketers can get feedback. If I read one more post about how the days of Mad Men are gone and that marketing departments are now data driven and more accountable I will SCREAM.

In 1999 at Frito-Lay I was mining loyalty card data for grocery chains. One of my responsibilities was using K-means clustering and factor analysis to segment stores. I also ran marketing mix and drivers analyses to identify the most effective channels to promote our products.

b) I learned how ruthlessly competitive big brand marketing is. When I talk to my friends who market local or regional businesses they imply that big brand marketing is easy because of large budgets and tons of resources. If a campaign doesn’t work you still have a billion-dollar business, right?

One colleague said to me last week that a small business has to choose the most effective keywords because every dollar matters. That’s true but here is the growth challenge for a company like Frito-Lay. A salty snack is in 90% of the households in the U.S. and the other 10% won’t eat them for lifestyle reasons. Frito has a 65% share and they killed their only national competitor in the early 90’s. The remaining competitors are deeply ingrained regionals like UTZ. How do you grow a business in that position?

You have three levers: how much a consumer pays, how often he or she buys and how much he or she buys.

You can’t increase the price too much because retailers are making great private label products. Shopping habits aren’t going to change dramatically and chips alone won’t get a consumer to the grocery store more frequently. And finally, how many bags of chips can one family eat in one week?

We tried every tactic possible but every point of market share we won was a battle. With all of those challenges we were tasked with growing profits for a $10 Billion business by 10% every year. Every dollar mattered!

c) I also learned how marketing really works. The large CPG companies I worked for had well developed teams for every part of the marketing mix. I regularly interacted with professionals who had significant professional accomplishments and an educational background in their field.

Recently I was talking with a startup founder and I was explaining how to structure interview questions for customer discovery. I didn’t have to rely on a book or a video because I learned how to do things like avoid leading questions from a world-class market researcher.

Whether I am marketing a physical product or a software-as-a-service (SaaS) I have a deep foundation that helps me manage channel issues, address pricing or develop a product.

See these related interviews:
Without Marketing You’re Just the Business…Off Script #25: Steve Olenski
 Startup Marketing? Creating a Great Culture; Off Script #24: Kevin Sandlin
Good Martech Talent is Hard to Replace; Off Script #23: Allison Schneider 

3) Do you think marketing in CPG has gotten harder or easier?

It has definitely gotten harder because retailers are more sophisticated, consumer behavior has changed and there are more communication channels to manage.

Retailers have built strong store brands and they make high-quality products. They have also become very data savvy so they are able to hold their CPG partners more accountable.

Consumers have become more cost-conscious. Real income has been flat since the 90’s and the recession of 2008-9 permanently changed consumer’s perception of price and value.

The millennial generation is entering prime shopping years and, in general, they make purchase decisions based upon their values. Brands have to be authentic and transparent to resonate with them.

Communicating with the consumer is also a bigger challenge because of digital channels. It was hard enough to stand out in traditional media. The social platforms are really ad platforms and they’ve done a wonderful job of making it easy for anyone to run an ad. The combination of the two means more clutter for marketers to cut through.

Marketers are focused on navigating the tools-s

4) Sometimes in larger businesses, marketing spends as much time justifying their actions as they do actually doing them.  How do you prove value in marketing?

The obvious answer is the income statement.

A marketer should be able to show his financial impact. More sophisticated organizations will also look at the intangible assets that a great marketing team creates. It’s common to bash brands and lots of bloggers have suggested that branding efforts are ineffective, but they are taking a provocative position to maximize their clicks.

Here’s a simple exercise to show the power of a brand. Go to the grocery store and compare the price of private label Kosher salt to Morton’s. Remember, if it isn’t NaCl it isn’t salt. They have to be the same physical item, but the power of the Morton’s brand means Morton’s can charge more and maintain market share.

Now, think about the database that a company like Amazon has created. What’s the value of the enormous amount of data that they have? I don’t know, but Amazon’s share price indicates that it’s a huge asset that’s translating into enormous revenue.

Intangible assets are hard to quantify but they have huge impacts on a business.

5) What value does marketing bring that you think generally goes under-appreciated by business leaders who are not marketers?


Recruiting top-tier talent certainly involves compensation and culture, but marketing the company’s brands and successes is a key ingredient.

Look at Apple. Steve Jobs was not a warm and fuzzy guy but people raced to work there. They make great products but the company’s brand drew people who aren’t technologists to the company as well.

6) Just for fun; fill in the blanks:

  • One company you with marketing you admire is…Apple.
  • One marketing tool you can’t live without is…Mautic.
  • If you suddenly got 10% more marketing budget you’d spend it on…analytics.

* * *

You can find more from Frank Pollock on Twitter @Frank_Pollock or by subscribing to his email newsletter, which I recently did!

Want to be part of the Off Script series?
We are always looking for good people to interview about
PR, marketing, sales and journalism.
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send us a pitch!

 If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
They Don’t Make Marketers in Law School; Off Script #22: Ginny Allen

Photo credit: Pixabay (CC0 1.0)

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