Joshua Karpf of PepsiCo

As senior manager of digital media communications, Joshua Karpf is part of a team that runs digital and social media programming for the $60bn food and beverage parent of such icons as Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Gatorade and Quaker Oats.

He will be delivering the keynote at the Econsultancy Peer Summit in New York on June 2. 

Karpf has worked on a number of innovative programs, including Gatorade Mission Control, a digital engagement center at the core of the business, and PepsiCo10, a digital incubator that connects emerging media companies and PepsiCo brands.

We talked with him about innovation, emerging technology, and the value of failure.

What is the role of your group at PepsiCo?

I am a member of the corporate digital and media team. We have global reach on the digital side for anything that cuts across brands. PepsiCo has so many websites, the group touches on governance, testing, bootstrapping all emerging media, and looking at company-wide competency.

Tell us about the consumer insight dashboard created for Gatorade.

It’s called Gatorade Mission Control and it’s a NASA-type operation. We actually built a room at the Chicago headquarters and staffed it with a team of social operatives and a media team. They are monitoring conversations on sports, performance, health, nutrition, the competition, and mining it for insights.

We started it because we knew a lot of our consumers are talking about sports and nutrition online 24/7.  We have a lot of knowledge.

It started right around the time we had just launched a protein recovery drink, and a pre-game drink, in addition to our basic hydration drinks. We were able to talk to folks directly about which beverage to use at which occasion. There were lots of conversations around the role of protein. We’ve really used it to gain an understanding of our consumers.

How is the room staffed?

There are four people in the room at all times. Marketing and consumer insights people. Both Gatorade staff and agency people. They are in the brand and are empowered to get those insights back into the business.

What tools do you use?

Facebook, Twitter, social listening software, and custom data visualizations we developed ourselves that express the conversation clearly and simply in lay terms. We are looking at rolling this out, but everything is not a big consumer megabrand that people are talking about 24/7.

Our point of view is that all brands need social listening. Sometimes it’s enough to use off-the-shelf software.

What have you learned about Facebook?

Facebook is a powerful tool. We have to figure out how much consumers really want to engage with us that way.

How are you using online to drive offline and vice versa?

At PepsiCo, broadly we understand that our consumers are younger and for them digital is a valuable part of their day-to-day lives. As tools and platforms like mobile and tablets become more mainstream, we’re asking what can we do that is simple, but drives the business?

Take our Foursquare partnership. We ran a program at Hess Convenience and Gas. Check in and unlock a deal. It’s a promotion we already were running without the digital component, but when we layered in Foursquare, it drove the business significantly and we saw the promotion jump over 20%.

We validated that if we created the right deal we could drive business, and Hess also saw check-ins bump significantly, so we drove traffic.

Another online-offline Foursquare promo was at Vans where if you connected your Vans store card to your Foursquare account, it was good for a specific PepsiCo offer at different times of day. Morning check-ins would unlock the Quaker badge, for instance.

At SXSW, there was a brand PepsiCo presence. One of our PepsiCo10 winners created a virtual reality game. The premise was that you were in a supermarket and you had to capture the Pepsi products. It was a cool game and you could tweet out your results.

PepsiMax also did a promo with FourSquare to unlock a ticket at the airport. PepsiMax invites you to BigBoi  concert. To get a ticket, you had to unlock the badge and while at the concert, you experienced a new PepsiMax product. It was in line with the ethos of the attendees and it was fun.

What is PepsiCo10 and how did it come into being?

The mission of PepsiCo10 is two-fold. How do we expose our company and IT people to technologies that are around the corner? So many technologies are out there and it’s a challenge to decide which ones to try when it’s about doing the business.

We decided to have an open call inviting people to pitch us their idea and it had to be in social, mobile, gaming or place-based retail.

We received over 400 submissions and whittled it down to 80 companies we liked. They did a two-minute video, then 25 presented, and the final 10 were selected based on voting by employees and brands.

For us it is getting to see technology we wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise and to try it out in a low-risk way with the object of expanding on the successes. For the companies, they get a case they can use to help grow their businesses. It’s a win-win.

Will you repeat it?

We’re launching in May in Europe out of the U.K., including Pan-Europe and India.

What do you look at in terms of metrics for success?

At the corporate level, our point of view is on the emerging side, let’s identify companies where we can run programs, learn from those, and have room to fail and learn. Of these, maybe one or two will actually work at a bigger level. We consider it R&D. It is an imperative for us.

The second year of the Refresh social media campaign has just begun. What did you change this time based on what you learned in year one?

The beverage group runs that program, so I don’t know all those details. I can tell you consumer response was unprecedented in terms of ideas generated and the scale at which the program impacted communities.

People were lobbying and using their network to better their community, schools promoted ideas to improve their world. Pepsi was the enabler. One thing that’s different this year is that there are specific themes. We just opened up the voting.

It’s been widely reported that Pepsi’s market share has dropped. Was there a purchase incentive built in this year?

A lot of local causes will tie into a local purchase. This year we will look more closely at retail. The company is committed and is not turning away from Refresh.

What will people learn from you at Peer Summit?

Hopefully I’ll give a glimpse of how a big CPG company is constantly looking at how to break down walls and create an entrepreneurial spirit inside the larger organization.