How and Why We Use Sitecore: General Mills and ASQ

At Sitecore Symposium 2019, I caught up with some very different brands to learn how they use, and get value from, Sitecore’s products. There are few bigger corporations than General Mills, owner of Betty Crocker, Haagen Dazs, Pillsbury, and countless other household name brands; and General Mills has been a Sitecore customer for over ten years.

General Mills

“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with Sitecore. I think the date on the contract is 2010,” Jeff Austin told me. He’s senior solution manager at General Mills, sitting at the heart of a global digital operation. “I’m responsible for all our consumer-facing websites.” That includes not only the corporate website, but the sites for Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and Tablespoon, the recipes sites, which together generate over 250 million visits per year. “And then all 300 of our global, customer-facing brand sites.” For example, Haagen Dazs websites in 40 different countries.

I had expected that a brand the size of Betty Crocker would have its own digital team, but in fact operations are centralized. “I have like 45 people on team,” said Austin. “It’s distributed around the world. But then Betty Crocker and Pillsbury do have content teams.”

The big brands, like those already mentioned, have their own Sitecore instances. The smaller brands run on one central instance, which is on premise. There’s an initiative underway to move to the cloud, but that’s a year away, said Austin.

General Mills does have a WordPress CMS practice, but the decision has been to invest in Sitecore and move the WordPress content over. “The reason being,” said Austin, “Sitecore has a lot more native functionality, that we have to duct tape together with WordPress or an open source CMS. Things like multi-lingual sites: that’s out-of-the-box functionality with Sitecore. And there’s all the support we get from Sitecore.”

Personalization has become another important differentiator. In the past, General Mills had relied on Oracle Maxymiser, but Austin now sees the personalization tools within Sitecore as mature enough to meet the brand’s needs. “All the tools are there, right down to CRM and email management.”

General Mills does not have a direct to consumer strategy. “People aren’t going to go to an Old El Paso website to buy taco shells, or Betty Crocker to buy cake mix —
they’re going to go to Walmart, or wherever they do their weekly grocery shopping.” There is, though, an eCommerce strategy, which amounts to raising the profile of products within third party retail websites. “Making our products more visible within and Amazon Fresh,” as Austin describes it.

General Mills, like many other brands, is experiencing the mobile wave, with 80 percent of its traffic coming from mobile devices. With brands in emerging markets, like in South East Asia, a lot of their customers skipped the desktop stage of device evolution and are native smartphone users. Smartphones are cheap, and data is practically free.

One challenge with being mobile first is that, while marketers demand deeply immersive experiences, pages which take more than a few seconds to load on mobile experience huge drop-off. The experiences don’t necessarily add value to the nutritional or recipe information customers are searching for.

What’s the central aim of General Mills’ digital investment. “I’m not looking to provide a digital experience around the brands,” said Austin. “I am providing product information, where people can get the products, and how they can use them.” That includes delivering content outside General Mills’ own eco-system. Some of Betty Crocker’s thousands of recipes are being piped direct to through an API. “We’ve just ingested all those recipes into Amazon, so if you have an Alexa on your kitchen counter, you can say ‘Show me chocolate chip cookie recipes, and our recipes are going to rank high in the results.”

ASQ  (The American Society for Quality)

Ama Wanniarachchi is the web applications manager at ASQ, and she joined me along with John Price of AmericanEagle, a Sitecore platinum partner consulting with ASQ on their Sitecore strategy. “John’s team helped us move to Sitecore, and also integrate Coveo [AI-powered search] with Sitecore, and that’s one of the best things that’s happened with the website.”

ASQ is a membership organization, offering a series of products on its website, including training and certification, as well as content which can be accessed by different membership levels. “We want to help members get the content they’re looking for, and integrating Coveo search helped a lot. The biggest complaint was that members couldn’t find content. They would go to Google and search for the content. Now there are no complaints. We migrated our books and standards first, then the training, and now we are moving another 40,000 content pieces from our old Oracle content management software to Sitecore.”

Price explained the significance of Coveo, another Sitecore partner. The implementation of Sitecore at ASQ had been done by a different digital agency, and AmericanEagle found that the organization was under-utilizing the offering’s capabilities. “They were skimming the surface, not using personalization or the analytics. ASQ has a complex product catalog, a lot of different personas and industry types, and the powerful thing about Coveo is the machine learning aspect.”

Coveo segments users by behavior, by content consumed, and understands what they’re looking for. “We improved the search experience as far as click-through and click-rank, both with 100 percent improvement,” said Price. “Coveo takes care of personalization rules for you, behind the scenes.” The more users it analyzes, of course, the better the machine learning is.

In effect, ASQ was in an unusual position. Many brands have countless user segments, but not the wide range of content to offer them. ASQ has almost bottomless content, but has struggled to expose it to the right users. 

Once the content migration is completed, over 100,000 assets will be hosted on Sitecore rather than Oracle. Another advantage is the ability to use Sitecore’s user role management to determine which members have access to which assets. “But they’re still scratching the surface,” said Price. “Now we have all the technology pieces lined up, when a member logs in we know what they searched for, what they bought, which pages they viewed, and when their certs will be expiring.” The goal is to deliver a one-stop experience for logged in members. “Here’s your blog posts, here’s your certs. We know exactly what to give you next.”

Sitecore covered DMN’s expenses to attend Symposium

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