May 18, 2012

Beam exec raises a glass to social media

The Beam spirits company now spends 35% of its total promotional budget on digital media, up from 10% a few years ago, says Kevin George, Beam senior vice president and chief marketing officer. The company is active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube, and it uses social chatter to shape corporate strategy, engage consumers and drive sales. "We have a very singular goal, which is in the next 12 to 24 months, to be the most socially adept and responsive company in the industry," George says.Here's the article via eMarketer:

Kevin George, SVP and global CMO, spoke to eMarketer about how spirits producer Beam is moving beyond traditional channels to create digital campaigns that tap into the social behaviors of its consumers and leveraging online video to maximize campaigns' viral spread.

eMarketer: What top trends are you seeing in digital marketing in the spirits industry?
Kevin George: They’re probably not unlike a number of other trends you see in CPG, but clearly digital is growing for spirits companies, who traditionally have spent quite a bit on billboards and print. There is certainly a move toward mobile and apps.When we look at search and mobile in our industry, 30%-plus of all the searches done on spirits are done on a mobile device. It fits the nature of our business—when people are out at night and they’re searching for what drink they should have, they’re looking for apps, they’re looking for bars or trying to find our products in bars. We see a tremendous amount of discussion about our brands on the Twitter space with people enjoying our products or people experiencing our brands in other ways—like at a concert, or at a Maker’s Mark distillery, looking for a drink recipe or tweeting about one of our ads they saw on TV. We see a lot of action on all the social spaces, but we’ve seen a lot of that on Twitter.

eMarketer: You have brands including Jim Beam, Skinnygirl, Sauza Tequila and Maker’s Mark, how has the company’s spinoff last fall (October 2011) from Fortune Brands affected the digital marketing aspect of the business?
George: I don’t think the spinoff really affected how we ended up spending. We’ve moved our digital spend from about 10% of our total media two or three years ago to 35%. That really didn’t have anything to do with the spinoff itself. Certainly, we’ve been investing more money in our media and our brand investment, with a good portion of that going into digital.

eMarketer: How is Beam leveraging digital to stand out from big spirits companies such as Diageo?
George: There are two things that we’re focused on. One, creating a great brand experience for consumers—any way that we can do that, we do it. We try to understand what experience consumers want to have with our brands and determine which channels can deliver that in the best possible way. Sometimes that’s digital, sometimes that’s in person and sometimes it’s through an ad or trying our product via sampling. More and more we’re seeing digital as part of the solution for that experience, whether that’s content, education or recipes.

Two, try to make sure it’s easy for people to share that experience that they’re having through their social network, their brand and their peer networks. We see that when people are tweeting about a really interesting ad during a television show or when they go on TripAdvisor to talk about how great their visit to Maker’s Mark distillery was.

eMarketer: What type of presence does Beam have today in social? Why does the company see social as an important arena to be in?

George: We have a presence across a number of different platforms—Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, as well as YouTube channels.

I don’t think anybody has really completely figured it out yet. If you look at the landscape of spirits players, everybody is in a very similar position. We have a very singular goal, which is in the next 12 to 24 months, to be the most socially adept and responsive company in the industry. We try to make sure that we’re driving toward that every day.

Social allows us to engage with consumers in a dialogue one-on-one. It gives us the ability to listen to what consumers are saying about our brand and make decisions based on that. And, it helps us drive sales by encouraging people to find our products or directing them to find our products.

eMarketer: What’s happening in mobile for Beam?

George: There are a couple of things happening in mobile that are exciting for us. People are seeking information with their mobile phones on the go, whether that’s at a bar, restaurant or in a store standing in front of the shelf and finding out about a great bourbon to buy.

It’s exciting that everybody is carrying a computer in their pocket these days. Our ability to extend the in-person experience is going to be critical as we do a lot of experiential things on the ground, such as concerts and sampling or visits to our distillery centers. Those experiences can be extended very easily in real time with mobile by letting people post a picture of themselves at the distillery or use a QR code to find out more about the products. Our ability to extend an in-person experience must go further than just the five seconds or five minutes that we have their attention. Mobile can help extend that experience.

eMarketer: Can you share some of your digital best practices?

George: Make sure that digital sits at the center of the planning process. That’s a critical thing. The brands that have done that well have really shown an ability to grow. You can’t think of digital and social as just an add-on you do at the end when you run out of money. It’s important to think about it in the upfront process. A great example would be the Sauza Tequila fireman video that’s out on YouTube right now. In two weeks, it had close to 2 million views. The “viralness” of the video has been very good. A couple years ago doing recipes would have been about putting a recipe for a margarita on your website, where women could go and find the recipe. The insight is that women have these “ladies nights in” and they want a great recipe to make margaritas because that’s what a lot of women drink. We thought to do it in a really fun, interactive way. So we did a 2-minute video of a sexy fireman actually following the recipe online in a very humorous way.The other thing is to listen. Skinnygirl is a great example of listening. We have the Twitter feed [@SkinnygirlCKTLS] with our partner [reality TV star] Bethenny Frankel. It’s basically listening to people and [helping them] find Skinnygirl vodka, wine or our new pina colada product. We listen very closely to what they need or want, and then respond to them by saying here’s where you can go to find the products. People wanting the product and telling us where [it isn’t available] has been really helpful, and this has been a real success in helping to drive that brand by getting new distribution in places where it hadn’t been before.