Everything that General Mills does online is designed to drive purchases, says Jeff Austin, senior mar tech manager at the CPG giant, and that includes the more than 300 brand websites that General Mills maintains across 42 countries in 26 different languages.
Its consumer-facing sites fall into two main buckets.
Core brands, including Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, have sites that serve as publishing platforms for recipes, cooking tips and how-to content that General Mills updates on a regular basis. More than 150 million people hit its content sites every year.
“We’re driving impressions for our brands – and ultimately getting people to buy General Mills products – by meeting specific need states,” Austin said. “People come to us when they want to know what to cook for dinner, how to boil an egg or how to roll out a pie crust.”
For its smaller and mid-size brands, such as Yoplait or Totino’s, General Mills focuses on providing product information, ingredients and details on where people can buy.
Most traffic in that case comes from organic search directly to product pages, and “we optimize toward those behaviors,” Austin said.
General Mills drives “a significant amount” of ecommerce conversions from both types of sites through click-to-buy integrations that let people add ingredients to their online cart at participating grocery stores.
Although General Mills only sells direct-to-consumer for one of the nearly 100 brands in its portfolio (natural protein bar brand EPIC is DTC), the CPG is privy to “all sorts of interesting data” that people generate when they’re doing their meal planning on its various websites, Austin said.
General Mills has insights into when people like to plan their meals for the week, for example, (it’s Sunday night), and information about what products people prefer to buy on a regional basis.
“We can tie these user interactions back to loyalty card data and determine the ROI of our sites and the investment we need to make in them,” he said.
Optimizing ROI also requires that General Mills creates a consistent customer experience across its hundreds of consumer-facing sites. Each online destination needs to be accessible, compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and optimized for SEO and performance.
Although that wasn’t the case several years ago, when General Mills was using multiple different code bases and tech stacks from external agencies, which left its sites open to security incidents and also made them pricey to create and maintain.
Working with an external agency on site development cost between $100,000 and $200,000 per site. Now, General Mills uses digital experience technology provider Sitecore as its technical development partner, which has reduced costs to around $10,000 or $20,000 per site.
“Our brands can reinvest those dollars in something that actually drives a return,” Austin said.
General Mills has also worked with Sitecore on a long-term basis to build a reusable, consolidated code base and hosting footprint that supports all of its sites globally, which makes spinning up new sites a lot easier.
At first, some brand managers were reticent about that approach because “there was the perception that it would turn into a paint-by-numbers sort of thing and that the brands wouldn’t be able to maintain their look and feel,” Austin said.
“We had to prove to them that the design system we implemented was flexible enough to let them be unique while also letting us maintain the sites efficiently,” he said. “The reality is, whether we’re talking about Old El Paso USA or Old El Paso France, Nature Valley Chile or Nature Valley Lithuania, most of our sites have many of the same needs.”