How to Ice the Competition via Marketing as Service

With the Great Recession looming on the horizon, Catherine Davis, then the SVP of Marketing Services at Diageo, knew it was not a time for the usual, and called for an entire re-distillation of her online marketing program. Noting that, “In 2008, we saw a big shift to home consumption,” Catherine and her team at the world’s largest spirits company set the bar high, aspiring to “own cocktails” and to “preempt the competition” in order to gain share. When the program rolled out in the latter part of 2008, it soon achieved all its goals providing a “top-shelf” example of the power of Marketing as Service.

With the totally reconceived microsite at the core along with a paid search program and partnerships with leading recipe sites feeding it, Diageo effectively dominated the online cocktail recipe search and fulfillment during the all-important holiday seasons in both 2008 and 2009. Traffic to, according to, was four times that of any of the leading brand sites, peaking at a whopping 286,621 visitors in December 2009, thus allowing this punctilious author to outline for you seven key ingredients to icing your competition.

1. Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Catherine reflects upon her efforts at Diageo with a matter of fact tone that minimizes the true nature of her challenge, stating simply, “The economy had gone south and we needed to grow share.” Easier said than done. Many marketers saw the storm clouds but most just closed the windows on their efforts, choosing inactivity over new initiatives. Catherine, on the other hand, planned out a fully integrated online program that had real scale in the market in order to take advantage of the shift to home consumption. “We looked around and we saw a lot of programs, but they weren’t generating a lot of scale,” offered Catherine, whose three-pronged approach turned economic lemons into share-gaining lemonade.

2. Know Your Patrons

Prior to the re-concepting of, Diageo conducted extensive qualitative research to understand the needs of their target. “Our research showed that consumers lacked a lot of confidence about how to make a cocktail,” offered Catherine who used these and other insights to guide the makeover. Noting that “rum and Coke is the 9th most searched recipe,” Catherine and her team focused on content that was easy to grasp even for novices. Instructional videos and hundreds of simple recipes made it easy for “consumers to see what they really wanted,” added Catherine. “We understood the purchase decision process and what they needed to do to feel good serving cocktails,” thus insuring that fulfilled a real consumer need.

3. Shake Things Up

Marketing at its best is a mutually beneficial exchange of value between brand and consumer. The original sought that exchange as entertainment, trying to replicate a genuine bar experience complete with a chatty bartender named Jack. Turns out, even the hardiest of spirits lovers aren’t seeking that online experience and instead visit brand sites primarily for recipes. “We went from being a combination of entertainment and service to really being 100% focused on service that consumers wanted,” noted Catherine who also hired a new agency, Tribal DDB, to help with the transformation.

4. Find the Right Mix

Knowing the critical role of search in consumer’s quests to find recipes, Catherine and her team sought to “own search,” both of the organic and paid variety. By ditching the flash-based content in the old site, improving key word tagging and adding a lot more recipes, Diageo saw significant gains in organic search performance. Adds Catherine, “We developed a multifaceted search program around drink types, spirits categories and brands, particularly around the holiday season – our period of higher volume.” Without revealing any confidential information, Catherine assured me that these activities were among the most cost effective she’d ever seen, driving qualified traffic to the site by the caseload.

5. Flavor it with Partners

Wanting a program with true scale, Catherine told of partnering with “the top 4 recipes sites, which represented 70% of all recipe volume.” These were not typical ad buys, but rather true partnership deals in which sites like and focused on recipes that featured Diageo brands. “We know that about 1.6 million people search the word margarita each month,” offered Catherine as further evidence of the need to be everywhere the consumer searched. “The whole strategy was about going where people already were and intercepting them at the right point in the decision making process,” she concluded.

6. Measure the Right Things

Because spirits has a complex distribution system, it is very difficult to directly correlate marketing and sales. ‘Since we couldn’t tie it directly to sales, we had to develop proxies like number of page views and the number of brand views as a better proxy of success for cross sell and up sell.” As usual, this was grounded in a consumer insight as well. Offered Catherine, “When you’re planning a party you’re not thinking about a single brand or a single spirits category,” so monitoring page views and brand views by individual visitors along with number of recipes printed were simply the best means of measuring site performance.

7. Trust a Proven Recipe

Acknowledging that a recipe-focused program was hardly a new idea, Catherine laughed, chalking it up to the benefit of good training. “I worked on Pillsbury for 5 years at Leo Burnett and had seen the power of recipe campaigns and what they can do to drive a brand,” added Catherine. Knowing full well that “about 50% of people who are looking for drink recipes are looking for them online,” she pursued this approach with the clarity of purpose that only comes from experience. Catherine notes, “we knew what role we wanted to play and aimed to do so in a sophisticated and polished way that still enhanced all the Diageo brands.” Cheers to that.

Final Note: Though Catherine has since moved on, she considered this program to be one of the major highlights of her three years at Diageo. She also delighted in the fact that this premium example of Marketing as Service lives on, adding more content via a recent mobile edition and thus continuing to “fulfill a need and dominate the competition on recipe search.”

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