The digital age brings people together like never before, says the marketing chief of leading alcohol producer, Pernod Ricard.
Whether they’re posting on Facebook or Googling the web, consumers are consistently on the hunt for product information—like the difference between a 12-year-old bottle and a non-aged bottle of Chivas Regal, says Martin Riley.
By making that information accessible online, brands can give consumers the confidence to spark a face-to-face conversation. Even at the bar.
“And often people are very happy and interested to talk to each other about what they are drinking and why it is their favourite drink, and how they drink it. So you can feel the conversation in this way, in a way that’s entertaining, in a way that’s quite visual and quite inspirational,” Riley says. “Ultimately in our business, it’s all about conviviality and it’s about that shared social experience.”
Not to say that social media doesn’t have limits. Although Riley’s children encouraged him to join Facebook – which he uses to stay in touch with overseas family—his 15-year-old son rejected him as a Facebook friend to maintain privacy. Riley concedes: “As a parent, you don’t want to be too involved, you don’t want to be too intrusive.”
If Riley was in Paris and had left his smartphone in London, he would consider asking his wife to “hop on the train and come over for the day with my Blackberry,” he says. “It’s part of the whole life. It’s part of the whole way we live.”
The iPad is also now part of family life and a regular item on the kitchen table, making digital media a “fundamental part of how people live and communicate today,” Riley says.
In this new world, Pernod Ricard must ensure it communicates its brand messages responsibly and ensures online age verification is a key priority.
Digital provides not just as a rapid source of consumer feedback, but can occasionally lead to the spread of untruths, which need to be corrected, Riley says.
“You can’t stop consumers talking about your brand. They just happen to be talking about it now digitally, but of course they were talking about them before in bars or whatever,” Riley says. “So at least you can be part of that conversation.”
Frédéric Colas: Can you remember a kind of moment where you as a marketer looked at digital and said ‘Well now, I need to really get involved into this?’
Martin Riley: I think when we acquired Absolut a couple of years ago that was really quite a big step… because Absolut Vodka has always been at the forefront of the use of digital technology as part of their brand communication. And we saw what they had already achieved and obviously what they have continued to do. And that has been an inspiration.
I think the fact that they looked at it as a communication channel and said, ‘we have to have this stream of content,’ and that they already knew the brand content. So digital was going to be an important way of engaging with consumers. And what they have done in terms of collaboration with Spike Jonze’s ‘I’m Here’ film, which was released entirely on digital, which was shortly after the acquisition, was a good example of saying, ‘look: brand content.’ This is making a 30-minute film exclusively for friends on Facebook to have access to. This is further along the track than we are with our other brands
…We’ve been involved in a big project over the last 12 months, in terms of creating a whole digital development for the whole company for all our brands and all our colleagues in all our affiliates around the world to really embrace digital and take it to the next stage.
FC: What is the role of digital within your global marketing strategy?
MR: The role of digital will be to connect with our consumers. So how we identify who are the core consumers and how we also would like [them] to become more brand advocates for each of our brands. Then, how do we connect with them in areas of interest.
For example, if we take a brand like Jameson, it’s very involved in cinema [and] has been for some time on a global basis, and one of the initiatives is called The Cult film club. So actually: targeting people who are interested in film through the Jameson Facebook page, giving them access to some events, cult films talking about their involvement in the cinema which is now multidimensional.
But clearly that’s a way we could use digital to communicate on a broad international basis and an interactive basis. So, for each of our brands, there will be a different digital strategy.
FC: Talking about Facebook. In a first phase, wine and spirits advertising was not possible. Now, it is. Do you see Facebook having a potential as an advertising channel for your brands?
MR: We would be very careful on Facebook as well as on any digital platform. We have to target by age. The age verification system for targeting our advertising would have to be bulletproof. It is a key point for us.
FC: What are you doing to change your marketing organisation as related to the digital age?
MR: In terms of speed of response, in terms of interactivity, in terms of response to what maybe being said on Facebook or elsewhere, then we have to have teams in our brand companies that are able to respond, who are able to create brand content. If we talk about brands being associated with certain interests such as a cinema for Jameson, then we need people who are genuinely interested in that as well to be able to collect the information, put the information online and also respond to comments.
…And looking at what is being said centrally and what’s being said locally and how we bring all that together. Because clearly you have the issue of language for the local sites that people will be commenting in their local language, so it can’t all be done centrally through a brand company.
But at the same time, the themes of what we are putting on to Facebook have to be determined by the brand companies. And then in corporation with the market companies they will be amplified and developed and made local by the market companies.
FC: What topics are you interested in hearing about from your fellow Chief Marketing Officers from the World Federation of Advertisers?
MR: I think how they have met the organisational challenge which digital brings; I will be very interested to know more about that. I think also the challenge of ensuring the marketing people in particular have time to really engage with consumers. I don’t just mean in a digital way, I mean in a real life way. I think we have to get back to the position where information was real and live. It’s great that we can get this direct information now digitally and through what the digital age has brought us.
I think it may be a swing of the pendulum, a way of saying let’s not live our lives virtually, let’s get back to reality. And I think if marketers bring some of that reality back in the next five to 10 years, then they will be the winning brands. Marketing needs to be at the centre of people’s lives and people’s lives are lived partly online but also in the real world.