I spoke with PepsiCo CMO Seth Kaufman about how he and his team stay ahead of the marketing curve. Think: Internal Shark Tank competitions, an innovation team, and constantly evaluating new technologies.

How did you get into marketing?

I've always been interested in influencing consumer behavior and having an impact. I worked for a few years in ad sales and then went to business school. I interned at PepsiCo and fell in love with the company. I had this interest in being at a company who was influencing consumers and then I also fell in love with the brand. I decided to go back and have been lucky enough to build a lot of depth and breadth and still stay challenged. I've been here 15 years now and am still excited to come into work and make a difference and have a good time doing it.

Over those 15 years, what have been some of the biggest changes in the beverage industry that you've seen? How have you thought about changing your marketing strategy?

A lot has obviously changed, but at the end of the day it comes back to the fact that consumer demand is evolving faster than ever before. As that happens, what they want and how they engage with the brand has changed. There are more nuanced needs, so a proliferation of choices is really important. We're able to offer a lot of different beverages for different needs and occasions.

How consumers communicate, and how we communicate with them, has changed. We have to understand what is and isn't realistic. We can't speak at a consumer and land a message, so it's important that we evolve in terms of how we're engaging with consumers.

What makes an innovative brand leader?

I think it starts with humility, to be honest. As a brand leader you have to have an openness and willingness to listen and learn from your consumers, from the marketplaces, and from the team. I am a proponent of having a diverse team with different strengths. I surround myself with diverse talent and keep humility and know that they know a whole lot more. I can ask questions and push them in different directions and support them in the risk-taking. I think being able to take risks backed by insight and then failing fast or succeeding big is really important. It starts with the humility of the leader of that team.

How does your team make you a better CMO?

When I say diversity, I mean true diversity. I don't mean just visible diversity, but also of backgrounds and skillsets. People who were English majors and have a fundamental understanding of language. People who have been selling at the front lines. People who are agency people and have a good perspective coming back to the team.

From there, creating the right culture to support a team and break down barriers is really important. If you don't create an environment for them to prosper in, you won't have a strong team.

Tell me more about your innovation team.

I think the actions speak louder than words. I'll share a couple of examples of how you make progress through action.

One is PepsiCo Creator -- it's a group on the team that is focused on marketing innovation. They are setting the entrepreneurial example, looking at new technologies, finding new partnerships, testing new things, and seeing what they can bring back. They have a lot of foresight, rather than just insight.

We've created PepsiCo Fast Pitch. We have internal teams that are coming up with ideas focused on driving sales, content creating, or developing new revenue streams, and they're pitching them to us and we'll decide if we're going to fund this idea. They get together with a team of people who are passionate and if they can sell us on the idea, we'll give them the resources. It's a lot like Shark Tank.

This keeps agility, entrepreneurial spirit, and experimentation. But the culture also empowers individuals. You should be doing stuff, and not just talking about the culture that you want to have.

What are some areas within marketing moving forward that you're most excited to learn more about?

Something I find really interesting right now that's not new, but is happening more and more, is the blurring of fiction and reality in how brands are engaging with consumers.

Think about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - they launched the movie with AirBnB who actually created a ninja lair where consumers could go just like any other AirBnB. Another great example is certainly House of Cards. Netflix created a fake world for Frank Underwood running for office - email blasts and campaign ads.

We've started to do it a little bit. You could say that this is all fiction, but we worked with Empire and got integrated into a three-episode storyline where the artist wanted nothing more than to land a Pepsi commercial because it takes music stars and make them icons. The reality is that we do lean into artists, and in the fictional show that was a great storyline for us.

It's important to us that we add value to a consumer's experience. One way we can do that is this fun little blurring of fiction and reality.

How do you evaluate new emerging technologies that are thrown at you all the time?

We always have an interest in being thought leaders and not followers. This goes back many years ago to when we worked with startups who pitched the company, narrowed it down to 40, and then pitched the marketing department, and then we chose ten to work with.

It's obviously become harder and harder because there are so many more platforms. First, it's ok to try new things, and two, we believe in people. We are much more apt to lean in with folks that get it. That's often easy to tell based on how you're engaging with someone.

Then you figure out how to push a little beyond our comfort zone. We are certainly on emerging platforms, and we want to put some resources into it and learn from it and then push ourselves a little more next time. It is becoming harder and harder, but that makes it all the much more necessary to focus on the people and then the platform.


Seth Kaufman is PepsiCo North America Beverages CMO, where he leads the holistic business, brand and consumer agenda across PepsiCo's vast beverage portfolio of carbonated soft drinks, waters, teas, energy and ready-to-drink coffee drinks in the U.S. He is also an avid cyclist. Follow him on Twitter @SethAKaufman.