Bob Howland calls it an incredibly exciting time to serve in his new role as chief digital officer for Dawn Foods. In this newly created leadership position, Howland will play an instrumental role in engaging customers with Dawn’s digital solutions. He is responsible for developing the company’s long-term digital vision, engaging customers with digital solutions and leading its broad-reaching digital initiatives, which includes the following:

  • Drive Dawn’s e-commerce business development.
  • Drive digital capabilities within Dawn.
  • Develop Dawn’s digital strategy to transform the company and the baking industry.

What excites Howland, who joined Dawn earlier this year, starts with helping Dawn’s bakery customers realize the full potential of their digital journey. More consumers than ever before are engaging with their favorite shops on a “hyper local level,” and the path for bakeries is wide open. 

“I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, working in industries ranging from chocolate to home goods, and I believe it comes down to three words: people, process and technology,” says Howland, who previously served as executive vice president and general manager of Blueport Commerce, a Boston-based e-commerce platform for furniture, used by the largest retailers in North America. “The big part of this effort is the people. It is about change management, helping people know the potential for what digital could mean to their business, and understand the differences of consumer behavior. The opportunity to change tends to be very rewarding.”

Based on his lengthy experience, Howland says it’s less about the online tools and more about the wealth of opportunities ahead to more fully engage with consumers.

“Bakers can have more customer engagement if they can enable customers in more ways to shop and engage with their bakery,” he says. “Beyond their consumer website, we need to help them establish their local footprint. In today’s world, there is much more mobile engagement between consumers and their preferred shops. Bakers tell us, ‘I want to make sure my shop comes up as the top search result.’ Social media is one example of a way to be more fully engaging with consumers, by giving a face to the baker that goes beyond the product.”

Bob Howland, the new chief digital officer for Dawn Foods

In one key project announced earlier this year, Dawn is using the initial phase of its new Dawn Bakery Business Portal to test, learn and gain insights for a deeper dive into the next phase. The Bakery Business Portal was introduced in a test phase in the Chicago market where a group of 8 to 10 retail bakeries use this portal as a virtual storefront where consumers order fresh bakery products that they pick up and pay for at the retail bakery store.

“These efforts have gone very well. A few have seen a pretty significant percentage of orders made online, and still others are working to create more,” Howland says. “At the end of June, we plan to expand the next phase to 30 to 50 bakeries, as we continue to learn more and partner more fully with Dawn customers. More deployments give us a richer understanding of who’s doing it well, what’s working and why. We are creating a community where bakers can share through Dawn, and I think that will go far.”

So what has Dawn learned so far?

“The clear message I’ve heard from bakers is help me today,” he says. “Bakeries focus on today and tomorrow, so it is important that we respect where bakers are coming from. They want to communicate with Dawn in real time, 24/7.”

Bakers have expressed the desire to place online orders for bakery ingredients. This is another goal for Dawn to make happen. Howland says that many have stated their wish to order from Dawn just as they might do already from places like Amazon or Walmart: Create a list of needs that you add to your shopping cart, and simply click the order button when you are ready. “They tell us, ‘I really want that with Dawn,’” he says. “Online ordering will free them to engage more fully with their Dawn rep.”

As a result, Dawn customers will have more time to share relevant information and plan for key trends from Dawn consumer insights about where their business is heading. “By tying data into the experience, so many bakers have a handle on the opportunity ahead for them.”

Digital transformation presents new opportunities for small and medium size businesses (SMBs), and according to a 2018 Visa study, 52% of consumers surveyed say they would prefer to shop exclusively online. Further, 80% mention that digital-related benefits such as an easy-to-use website and digital loyalty program are motivating factors when deciding where to shop.

Based on his experience, Howland says he would guess that even higher percentages of consumers would want such digital engagement with their local bakery.

Prior to Blueport Commerce, he held positions focused on e-commerce and marketing at companies such as Spencer Partners, GSI Commerce, The Vanguard Group, GE Capital and American Express. He holds a master’s in business administration degree from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

Looking ahead, Howland envisions an exciting future for bakers who embrace the wide-ranging capabilities of digital and the full power of change management.

“The world we live in is about having fingers on keyboards or screens, but the world we are quickly going to will be all around voice-activation,” he points out. Thus, a consumer might speak into their phone, ‘Does ABC Bakery have the products I want?’

“We are there today,” Howland says. “The question for us is how does Dawn further that opportunity. It is so exciting to be in an organization that has its finger on the pulse at the ground floor. It’s a phenomenal opportunity: How do we help shape the future of digital engagement in bakery?”