How I Plan: Cal Gibbons of Land O'Lakes

In this interview series, we speak with marketers from a variety of industries to bring you insights into the strategic marketing planning process. Read more posts from this series

Cal Gibbons

Cal Gibbons is Marketing Systems Administrator at Land O’Lakes, an agricultural cooperative in the dairy industry with over 10,000 employees and over $14 billion in revenue.

Cal sits on the Data Analytics team, which has the goal of providing Land O’Lakes’ numerous marketers in all the company’s various business units with all the data and insights they need to do their jobs. That includes everything from planning and budgeting all the way through to performance analysis.


Hi Cal! Tell us about the marketing planning process at Land O’Lakes.

For us, marketing planning follows a “cascading” model. First, our C-level officers and VPs work to define strategic business objectives early in the year. Next, those are communicated down to marketing directors and managers, who are in charge of determining how they’ll apply to specific marketing objectives. One step down from that, the specialized teams in each business until will figure out how to turn those into tactical approaches and which campaigns and activities need to happen.

Here’s an example of this cascading effect:

A top-level revenue objective could be to grow revenue in dairy foods by 2%.
Marketing leadership might determine that to achieve this, we’ll increase our market share in that category by 5%, which would result in a 1% increase in overall sales. To drive the other 1% growth, we’ll create a brand loyalty campaign.
The tactical marketers will determine what the precise tactical mix needs to be to achieve these goals.

This may sound straightforward, but in an organization with our size and complexity, the entire process spans between six and eight months, with a huge number of people involved.

As a member of the Data Analytics team, what’s your role in the planning process?

My team’s job is to support the entire marketing organization throughout this process. We equip them with the tools (such as Allocadia) and data they need to plan for the year ahead.

But I should also mention that our team’s goal is to enable our marketers with real-time performance data throughout the year. We don’t wait until the end of the year to look back on how things have gone. Instead, we aim to help marketers understand the effectiveness of their efforts while they’re executing.

What are the biggest challenges for you and for Land O’Lakes when it comes to marketing planning?

For the company, the challenge is creating a cohesive vision across all our very diverse business units. Everyone knows Land O’Lakes for butter and consumer dairy products, but we also have huge lines of business in animal nutrition, crop inputs, and seeds — all with different goals, tactics, relationships, and audiences.

For my role, it’s achieving standardization in everyone’s marketing plans. I administer Allocadia, which is where the marketing plans live. Marketers in the different business units plan differently. One group may organize their thinking based on activity (for example, promotional spend) whereas another may categorize their plan based on which vendors they’re spending money with. My challenge is to be able to serve up both groups with technology and processes that work for them.

What’s your top recommendation for better strategic marketing planning?

My tip is a very general one, but I think it’s valuable: when you’re doing marketing planning, communicate constantly. If you’re following a rigid planning process where the goals cascade down but there’s no communication between the groups, then everyone is playing a game of telephone. You need open lines of communication so each group can explain their thought process and context.

Also — having concrete goals to focus on is key, as opposed to just assembling a series of tactics.

Special thanks to Cal Gibbons for doing this interview!

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