Chobani's Leland Maschmeyer on Achieving Top-line Growth Through Creativity

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Cover image for  article: Chobani's Leland Maschmeyer on Achieving Top-line Growth Through Creativity

One of the featured speakers at ANA's Masters of Marketing, Chobani chief creative officer Leland Maschmeyer (pictured above) is known for his focus on business outcomes and employee centricity.  He'll be presenting on the October conference's "Second Stage," which features speakers who will discuss what's new, what's next and what matters most in marketing today.

ANA's Bill Duggan recently interviewed Maschmeyer, covering topics ranging from in-house agencies to abductive reasoning, and from the importance of being "a factory" to energizing in-house agency talent.

Bill Duggan:  Give us the background on Chobani's in-house agency.

Leland Maschmeyer:  To understand our operation, it's important to understand why I always hesitate to describe what we've built as an "in-house agency."  The strategic imperative for Chobani is to achieve top-line growth through creativity — not, necessarily, to build an in-house agency. Given that nuance, we've spent two years experimenting with many ways to maximize the expression and impact of creativity within the organization.  It's why our model, which I affectionately call the Accelerator Model, is more accurately described as a creativity-led consumer marketing department that resides within Chobani's larger demand department.

We are a 60-person, soup-to-nuts operation inclusive of the strategy, creative and production across all consumer marketing activity: brand management, traditional campaigns, performance campaigns, experiential, design, partnerships, loyalty, content and media.  We are also deeply integrated into corporate growth strategy and product innovation.  For innovation, we shape not just the go-to-market approach, but the food, as well.  We have outside partners for back-end digital development and media buying.

Duggan:  What's the greatest benefit your in-house agency provides?

Maschmeyer:  The greatest benefit affects company decision making.  Abductive reasoning is now a coequal to deductive and inductive reasoning.  That sounds super heady.  Nonetheless, in a time when organizations are moving from a "steady hand at the wheel" model of growth to an "adapt and innovate" one in which they demand their departments conjure win-win outcomes from overwhelming amounts of always-insufficient information while handcuffed by severe resource and time limitations, understanding this A-D-I triad is, in my opinion, a must.

Deductive reasoning is the logic of sorting; based on knowledge of the general, it defines the specifics.  Inductive reasoning is the logic of predicting; it finds relationships between specifics to arrive at a generalized pattern.  Abductive reasoning is the logic of wondering; it observes data (or even a single data point) that doesn't fit with the existing models, then makes a logical leap to the best explanation — a.k.a. a new idea.  Its purpose is not to say what is true or false but to posit what could be true beyond what data can tell, prove, or even reach.  This is the core function of the creative mind and the only way companies can reach new worlds of ideas.

A perfect example of this is our Chobani Gimmies.  At noon for seven days, we released limited-run merchandise supporting our new line of kids' yogurt.  There was little data to support the effort and there were many doubters.  Yet, the drops were insanely successful.  Tens of thousands of people queued up on the drop website at 11:59 a.m. each day.  Each drop sold out in seconds.  In seven days, a total of 1,700 pieces of merchandise disappeared in a total of 64 seconds.  Beyond the earned media impressions, we grew our loyalty program's first-party database by a significant amount.  We're now scaling our learning from this into several other exciting projects.

Duggan:  What is the financial model for your in-house agency?

Maschmeyer:  We are a funded model.  Each year, the company entrusts us with a budget, inclusive of the full media budget, to spend as effectively and creatively as possible to help reach that year's growth goals.

Duggan:  You've spoken previously about the in-house agency being "a factory, not a service."  Please explain that.

Maschmeyer:  "Being a factory" means creating something monetizable and scalable.  "Being a service" means creating one-off and, therefore, unscalable solutions that help people better do something they're already doing.

While our Accelerator Model does provide services to the organization, we've rooted my department in the factory analogy.  We create the brand to increase its financial value.  We create new, scalable revenue streams for the company — be it food products or otherwise.  We create programs that aggregate valuable consumer data.  And we create scalable programs that save the company money.

"Being a factory" isn't necessarily better than "being a service."  The factory analogy happened to best fit Chobani's culture and ambitions.

Duggan:  A recent study that ANA conducted in partnership with Boston Consulting Group and Reed Smith found that keeping in-house agency talent energized is a key concern for many in-house agencies.  How do you keep in-house talent energized at Chobani?

Maschmeyer:  Beyond ensuring that people work across a wide diversity of projects, we have three major principles we strive to implement:

1. Keep the story alive.  Our team began two years ago with a clear and ambitious narrative.  We regularly situate our day-to-day efforts into that story.  With each retelling, that story becomes richer and more motivating.

2. Push power to the edges.  This means bestowing small teams with meaningful responsibility, significant decision rights and shared context and challenging them to work toward high, clear expectations.

3. Dig up dream projects.  Our department's leadership works hard to create meaningful projects that our team wouldn't get anywhere else.

In short, we do our best to offer trust, growth, inspiration, impact and dream briefs.

Duggan:  How is the success of your in-house agency measured?

Maschmeyer:  We measure business impact by awareness, purchase intent, media ROI, first-party data growth and household penetration, as well as brand health measures.

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