Why Kraft Heinz made Diana Frost its head disruptor

The new CMO shares how the company is "breaking plates" and no longer looking for perfection.

Diana FrostYou’re reading a story from Strategy C-Suite, a weekly briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up here to receive the latest stories.

By Will Novosedlik

Disruption: it’s a word that gets innovators excited, but strikes fear in the hearts of those less inclined to go where no marketer has gone before. Some organizations pay lip service to it, but when it comes to actually doing it, the results are more often incremental than game-changing.

For the last three decades or so, companies have been obsessed with operational efficiency. (Investing in innovation is often perceived to be at odds with that.) However, while operational efficiency is a necessary internal discipline, it doesn’t get you to growth. For that, you need to step outside normal operational constraints and break some plates. But who wants to do that? Kraft Heinz, that’s who.

Since the latter part of last year the CPG co. has been restructuring its marketing department. This month, Diana Frost moved out of her role as chief growth officer and made head of North American disruption and CMO. We sat down with Frost to talk about her new remit and the changes that it portends for her team and for the brand.

Now that you have been made “head disruptor,” what is expected of you?

I’ve worked in multiple CPGs, from PepsiCo to Mars to Kraft-Heinz. I’ve learned that you can’t have the same people running the business and changing the business. One of the things that we are really looking to do through this North American change, and through the group that I’m setting up, is to have agile methodology, disruptive innovation, ESG and M&A as one group of activities with a focused set of resources. Our leadership is committed to achieving agility at scale, and my group is going to be the team that leads that effort. With focused resources we’ll be able to set up processes that will enable us to operate beyond just executing line extensions and incremental changes. You have to change the process to change the game.

It’s been said that in a modern commercial organization, everyone is in the marketing department, everyone is responsible for customer experience. How does your disruption mandate extend beyond marketing per se?

I think you said it perfectly. Disruption has to happen across the entire value chain. It cannot be just product or just communication. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly proud of the industry-leading work that we’ve done on marketing communications over the last 18 months to two years. But it’s got to go far beyond that. It’s partnership and innovation through the entire value chain beyond just product.

What sparked this interest in innovation and disruption?

The need for growth. We’re in a new chapter at Kraft Heinz. We’ve been on a journey of consumer obsession, and growth comes from understanding where the consumer is going. Innovation flows from that. It’s not only about accessible food, it’s about accessible nourishment. And so we’re looking at the future of food and what that can mean within the context of our portfolio. We have the privilege of operating with brands that have been around forever and have a huge connection with consumers. How do we connect the future with that legacy?

Are there other departments in the company that are changing as profoundly as yours?

I would say that the whole business is really focused on achieving agility at scale. There are certain pockets of our business that need to look at new processes and ways of working. We’re calling this an evolution in structure and a revolution in ways of working, and that means truly embracing agile methodology and the expertise and capabilities that go along with that. We’re asking, ‘what are the plates that need to be broken? What are parts of the process that we have to unlearn?’ We have for so long been wired for efficiency and for scale, so in order to actually change the way the organization does business, it’s got to go beyond just growth and marketing.

How are you changing your approach to finding, attracting and keeping customers?

That’s a critical part of the process. Perfection comes at a cost. You can no longer work on perfecting something for 18 to 24 months before putting it in front of the consumer. Iterating with consumers along the way to get to a minimum viable product (MVP) is a cornerstone to the agile approach. You’ve got to observe what they actually do versus what they say they’re going to do. People will say anything in a focus group so you’ve got to test within the actual experiential environment, iterating to a MVP first and then keep iterating until you get to product-market fit. The other important piece is how you co-create with key customers, whether that means your retailers or alternate distribution channels. The opportunity cost of waiting until something is perfect is too great. You’ve got to get customers and consumers involved earlier.

How will the fuzzy front-end – that messy beginning stage of of the innovation process – look for you and your team?

I would say that first, we’re looking at strategic foresight to truly understand where consumers are going. What’s a social data point today may become a trend in the future, something that can scale. We need to get out in front of those potential trends rather than waiting for them to happen. The second piece is de-averaging the consumer. Gone are the days of standard demographic segmentation. So we have embraced this notion that if we truly are consumer-obsessed, that starts with getting rid of the law of averages. The third piece in that fuzzy front-end is to take the results of foresight and consumer insight and use design thinking to get to a relevant problem statement.