Making Breakthrough Ideas a Reality

Cargill grows a better Web site Company had dozens of sites, little coordination Star Tribune (PDF) - October 25, 2004
By John Reinan, Staff Writer

With 101,000 employees worldwide and sales last year of nearly $63 billion, Cargill Inc. is the nation's largest private company. But it took an e-mail from a frustrated farmer to nudge the Wayzata-based giant into re-examining its online strategy.

The farmer, looking for information on fertilizer, couldn't find it on Cargill's Web site. He sent an e-mail that ``traveled all over the company,'' said Tim Krause, director of Web services. ``That was a spur to take a look at how our site worked.''

When Cargill took that look, two years ago, it saw a mess. Its 89 business units worldwide had 65 different Web sites, a number that since has risen to 140. There was little coordination of online technology or design, and no consistent brand strategy.

That was a problem, said Ann Ness, Cargill's director of advertising and brand management. For companies today, especially those with global reach, the Web is becoming the key point of interaction with customers.

``It is the go-to place for any aspect of communications,'' she said. ``It has become the front lobby.''

Cargill enlisted two Twin Cities-based companies, [email protected] and Stellent, to spearhead its revamping. Connect researched and designed new sites; Stellent provided content management software that lets non-technical users create material that's automatically translated into Web formats.

Over time, Cargill plans to bring more of its sites under the umbrella of and develop design templates to ensure a consistent user experience.

Scott Litman, North American president of [email protected], said companies are waking up to the need for better brand management on the Web.

``You have brands that have had such careful stewardship in print and on TV,'' Litman said. ``Then you go to the Web and all of a sudden it's the wild, wild West.''

By making the online experience easier and more logical, Cargill hopes to increase cross-selling among its customers. The majority of Cargill's customers deal with only one business unit, Litman said: ``Getting the businesses out of the silos is important.''

Cargill also is looking to raise its overall profile with a new TV ad campaign by Martin/Williams of Minneapolis. One of the ads, touting Cargill's role in developing sugar-free chocolate, ran during the Olympics and ``inundated'' the Web site with requests for information, Krause said.

Long content to stay quietly in its business-to-business niche, Cargill is seeking greater public awareness of its reach, Ness said. In particular, Cargill wants to boost knowledge of its wide-ranging presence in the food business.

``For the first time, there is a specific management focus on brand strategy - a declaration that Cargill stands for something beyond commodities,'' Ness said.


John Reinan is at [email protected]