The spice and packaged goods giant turns to an API strategy to deliver greater value to its business partners and customers, while boosting brand loyalty.
It's no secret that businesses are continually looking for ways to create greater value for customers and boost brand loyalty. However, transforming the concept into reality is a daunting task—particularly as touch points grow and possibilities become more complex and intertwined.
One company taking aim at the challenge is McCormick & Co., a leading manufacturer of spices, herbs and flavorings. The Fortune 1000 firm recognized the need to move beyond traditional marketing and advertising and embrace a more interactive digital world, says Jerry Wolfe, CIO and vice president of Connected Commerce. "We wanted to take our knowhow about food and the eating experience into the digital world and put it in the connected consumer's pocket," he explains.
As a result, the company introduced FlavorPrint, a service that allows customers to create a personal profile and enter information on a Website and receive relevant ideas and recipes through McCormick's Website, as well as mobile apps offered by grocery store chains. The company turned to API management and analytics firm Apigee to extend data and touch points to business partners and other outside sources.
"We wanted to create an environment that allows us to deploy and scale the service without building and managing infrastructure," Wolfe says.
This allows McCormick to tie together diverse data, information and content from databases, bloggers, publishers and more. "We are able to integrate everything into the same service and then make the service available to any number of customers and partners," he notes.
In addition, the service plugs in contextual data, such as the time of day, day of the week, weather and other key elements to deliver more relevant results. "We use information in a person's profile—including preferences and intolerances—and combine that with other data elements," he points out. For example, if it's a weeknight and the customer is at the grocery store, he or she will view a simpler and faster-to-prepare recipe.
McCormick launched the FlavorPrint initiative in March 2014. Wolfe says that the API development and deployment process took place without any significant hitches. The biggest challenges were related to recalibrating internal skill sets to match the demands of the digital environment and understanding how to use APIs to maximum advantage.
"We are an enterprise shop running SAP, so we didn't have anyone available to handle the tasks," Wolfe says. "We trained two engineers from scratch on API technology and had them productive within 30 days." The company had the service running within 90 days.
The food and spice manufacturer views FlavorPrint as only a starting point for interacting with customers more effectively. "Customers that use FlavorPrint are massively more engaged than those who don't," Wolfe concludes. "They save more recipes, post more reviews and interact more often. The goal is to boost the brand name and build larger shopping baskets for our retail customers.
"The APIs allow us to tap into underdeveloped growth opportunities and add a high value service layer that can be customized for individual partners and their apps. This is a far more sophisticated approach to marketing and sales."
Samuel Greengard, a contributing writer for CIO Insight, writes about business, technology and other topics. His forthcoming book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press), will be released in the spring of 2015.