Chobani CMO: The more you outsource, the less creative you get

This is ThinkTank, a new series from Digiday where we quiz CMOs and brand chiefs on where their industry is heading.

Chobani doesn’t want to be just a yogurt brand; it wants to stand for a healthy lifestyle. Its latest campaign “Love This Life,”  unveiled earlier this month, was the first step in that direction, promoting healthy eating and natural living, not just its products.

Chobani has a young, creative and entrepreneurial culture that will be the driver of this new brand vision, according to CMO Peter McGuinness, who has two-decade agency stint under his belt, including as CEO of DDB Chicago.

Digiday caught up with him at the NewsCred #ThinkContent Summit last week to chat about how Chobani fosters creativity and entrepreneurship in the company. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

How would you define your content strategy?
Content is kind of a wanky term, which we have got to reframe. It’s commoditized, overused and misunderstood. It’s brand expression, it’s storytelling. What we’re trying to do is be topical, be loved, be endearing, be enduring and always, always try to surprise and delight. That’s the outcome we desire, what keeps us up at night and excited.

How do you approach real-time marketing?
We calendar certain things we want to do, whether it is around Earth Day or July 4th. We also spend a lot of time on topical things that just come up, like the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. We’ve come out against it before. So we weighed in on that and it was natural, and it was authentic.

Most marketers steer clear of social issues. How do you weigh whether an issue is a fit for you?
Restraint is important, particularly for a young company with a lot of energy like Chobani. We have a lot of ideas. We’re a small company too. I’m not going to run it through a panel of 15 lawyers; I’m not going to have a summit about it. It is good judgment. I know what’s good for the business and what’s good for the brand. But at times, there’s always going to be this odd thing that kind of doesn’t make any sense, but we say hell, let’s do it, because content is a differentiator. I want to be the outlier every now and then.

Is it hard to maintain that young, creative company culture?
The more you outsource, the less of a creative culture you have. It’s funny coming from a guy who ran agencies, but it’s one thing to brief an agency and to give feedback to an agency on their work. And it’s another to create it. Creating is believing, creating is seeing and creating is contagious. Even if we outsourced everything, we’d still be more creative than our big, giant, lumbering competitors. But if I can keep 50 percent of it in-house, then it’s a whole other animal. Then we’re keeping the dream alive, the entrepreneurial spirit alive and it also helps in recruiting.

You’ve opened a store in New York City. Why?
You’ve got to change the way the physical and digital is divided. It’s all BS. The cafe is communicating something. It’s a physical design, but it’s still selling an idea, whether it’s in a physical space, in a film or on packaging.The fundamentals are the same, just the forms are different. I look at it as a big, beautiful ad because when you go in there, the experience you get, sticks with you. It’s experiential. We launch new products, we test products, we do limited batches, we do seasonals. What’s happening is that consumers get really surprised, because they’ve never imagined yogurt being paired with smoked salmon or yogurt with olive oil.

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