Getting inside consumers’ heads (and mouths!)

Stephanie Bazan

Fifteen years ago, Stephanie Bazan would never have foreseen a career in Hispanic-targeted marketing. But one of her first positions—an international role in South America—ignited a passion for cultural experiences and diversity that laid the foundation for her career choices down the road. Now, as director of marketing for Guerrero and Hispanic brands at Mission Foods Corporation, Bazan leads strategic initiatives, sales promotion programs, and directs advertising activities for the number-one tortilla brand among Hispanic consumers. Here, Bazan discusses why it’s her main responsibility to be the “voice of the consumer.”

How did you arrive at your current position with Mission Foods?
Living outside the United States was a great personal-growth experience, and I knew that, once I returned, whatever I pursued would center on the Latin American culture. When I returned to the United States, I took a role in a Hispanic agency and worked for big US brands that wanted to drive overall growth by developing strategies to target the US Hispanic market. The Mission Foods role, however, was an opportunity to work on purely Hispanic brands where the consumer target is 100 percent Hispanic. This approach is very different from taking an existing, established brand and positioning it to the US Hispanic market. To me, it was an opportunity to “cross over” and work in a category significant in the lives of Mexican-American consumers.

Executive Timeline

The career of Stephanie Bazan

Becomes international marketing director for Feld Entertainment, South America.

Completes an MBA in
international marketing at the University of Dallas.

Moves to Dieste, Harmel & Partners as Hispanic promotions director/account supervisor.

Joins Blockbuster as marketing manager of customer segments.

Receives Brillante Award from the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. Moves to Cadbury Schweppes Americas Beverages as brand manager, Hispanic marketing.

Joins Mission Foods as senior brand manager, Guerrero.

Promoted to director of marketing for Guerrero/Hispanic brands.

What are the most important responsibilities of your position?
My main duty and responsibility is to be the voice of the consumer. I spend a lot of time in the field visiting stores all over the United States, watching and talking to consumers while trying to understand what motivates them and drives their purchase decisions. Over the past few years, consumers have had to make tough decisions and, unfortunately, brand switching in many categories occurred. Our strategies had to change and we had to think differently because consumers also were purchasing less frequently. Spending time in the field is important because that’s where you truly understand the path to purchase and see firsthand what consumers, retailers, and distributors are saying about your brands. You can’t uncover those insights sitting behind your desk.

What initiatives are you currently working on?
My work involves an expansive portfolio of brands that span many different categories, but one example is Guerrero, a brand with a strong emotional connection to the consumer. While the female is the primary purchaser of tortillas for the household, it’s the male who is influences the brand choice, so our new initiatives are centered on the male consumer and his passion points: soccer and outdoor grilling. With soccer, we’ve entered into a three-year sponsorship with the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol (Mexican National Soccer Team), which will allow us to leverage promotion for the 2014 World Cup. We’ve also developed a partnership with sports celebrity/announcer Félix Fernández, giving us the ability to reach our core target with various activities centered on outdoor grilling.

How have cultural differences come into play when marketing to a Hispanic audience?
The Hispanic landscape has changed in the last few years. Growth is no longer coming from immigration and marketers have to realize we need to have a deep understanding of what motivates and drives US-born Hispanics and bicultural consumers. This understanding is where the future lies and it’s going to be critical for marketers to rethink their strategies to remain relevant now and tomorrow.

What do you feel is your strongest competency?
Putting plans into action and seeing them through. I’m very driven and like to see my efforts realized, whether that translates into a new product or a consumer-led campaign. I also enjoy leading teams and solving problems. Not everyone is open to dealing with conflict, but working through it helps build your professional relationships and makes you a better leader.

Name your top business philosophies.
You have to be passionate about what you do and the brands/company you work on/work for. It’s important that you clearly understand what the culture, goals, and guiding principles of the company are, as well, so that you can align your efforts accordingly.

Do you have any “secrets to success” for up-and-coming business leaders?
Surround yourself with people smarter than you and who are equally passionate about what they do. Simply working hard doesn’t always guarantee success—there has to be a balance between working hard and also understanding how to network and build [your brand]. Setting yourself apart from everyone else in the workplace also is key. Work on finding that one thing that makes you dynamic.