Surekha Ragavan
Jul 19, 2019

80% of all spirits and alcohol consumed in China is with a meal: MHD China

The VP of marketing at Moët Hennessy Diageo on using experiential marketing to build brand advocacy in a market where Chinese spirits still dominate.

Moët Hennessy Diageo (MHD) is responsible for some of the world’s best-selling spirits, wines and champagnes. But in China, where the market is dominated by local brands, reach and awareness is very much needed for imported spirits. 

Andrew Khan, vice president of marketing at MHD China, is on course to use experiential and events as mediums to educate, recruit and convert. 

How important are experiential marketing and events in your marketing strategy?

I would say that behind media buying, brand events are number two in terms of marketing investment. For all of our brands, events are an important part for us in terms of raising our presence and awareness. We are still far behind. The market is predominantly made up of Chinese spirits. 

There are some events that are purely to raise awareness, to give the brand an energy. And there are events that focus just on education and craft for people who want to know, for instance, what is Hennessy made of? So each event has specific objectives and purposes to fulfil some of our core strategic pillars. 

How far in advance do you plan your events?

Typically, the process is as long as a year for sizable events; otherwise the turnaround will be about six months. It starts with ideation from a solid background of research and insights. 

And depending on the strategic needs of the particular brand, we start the ideation process by partnering with our agencies. Sometimes we have a pitching process, depending on the size and the scale. 

Andrew Khan

What event formats do you put on?

Perhaps leading most of it are experiential events. Experiential can come in the form of pop-ups, or collaborations with chefs at local restaurants according to the occasion that we want to build. 

The other type would be focused on heritage and craft. This is for our consumers who want to learn a bit more about what the products are made of, or what makes them unique. Then we have product launches, collaborations and cross-overs with different artists. For instance, in January, we had a partnership with [director] Ridley Scott for Hennessy X.O. It was the launch of our new advertising campaign, so the event was built around it. 

Finally, we have trade-related events that are those that we do with partners in clubs, bars, restaurants or retail stores. They’re our touchpoint events, I would say. 

How do you implement localisation?

Driving local and cultural relevance is important for us because a lot of our brands are foreign. We want people to know that despite being foreign, we have a strong understanding of them. We are close to the lives of the consumers and we’re not just another foreign brand in the market. 

I’ll give you an example. Eighty percent of all spirits and alcohol consumed in China is through a form of meal consumption whether that’s meals with friends, family, or business. Hence it’s important that we let our Chinese consumers know that it’s okay to drink, say, a Hennessy cognac or Scottish whisky with a Chinese meal.

To do that, we need a very specific meal program to connect the product with the occasion. It’s important that we lead locally because even within China, there are a lot of differences between meals. What someone eats in the south is very different from someone in the north of China – the food that they eat, where they eat it, and the type of drinks and spirits they consume with their meals. It’s very hard for somebody sitting outside of China, this is why local implementation is important. 

Do millennials play a big role at your events? 

I would say the millennials (post ‘80s and ‘90s) make up the bulk of our consumers right now so they’re an important part of us. I will curate my events very differently for say, a group of mature, high net-worth individuals versus millennials who are more social or casual consumers. The style of the event will be very different – it will be more high-energy, vibrant, we’d maybe work with artists and street art. The touchpoints will be very different. 

Home parties are becoming more popular [for millennials] and having insights are important to make sure we speak to the right people using the right communication. However, the ‘80s and ’90s are two different generations so we need to talk to them slightly differently at times, we’ve got different approaches.

Do you seek out unique venues?

The venue is definitely one of the top criteria, or one of the things that we select very carefully, especially because we work along the pages of a luxury brand with us being part of LVMH. We look at the uniqueness, the freshness of the place, how often is it being used, but most of all, it needs to relate to the overall objective and purpose of the brand. The venue we select has to be spot-on in terms of the strategy and the overall DNA of the brand. 

In sophisticated and modern cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou it’s not a problem to look for venues. I think the challenge would be if you wanted to go a bit further out, but compared to say 10 years ago, it’s far easier to find a good location now than before.

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