If you’re currently working for an organization that needs to pull itself into the MoSoLo (mobile social local) era, you’re going to want to read this extensive interview with from start to finish. Such a transformation is neither rapid nor guaranteed to work without a number of factors coming together:
- An internal catalyst
- Senior management buy-in
- An external expert / facilitator
- Mandated compliance across all stakeholders including outside agencies
The interview, by the way, is with Cara Coffee who is part of the Market Development Americas team, which is the export arm of SABMiller. Cara leads marketing for all of Latin America including Mexico, Central American and the Caribbean and has been with SAB Miller for 11 years. As you will soon see, she’s been on a very interesting journey resulting in a substantially more consumer-focused and social media-centric approach to marketing SAB Miller’s various beer brands in Latin America. Cheers to that.
Drew: Cara, tell me a little bit about your role and responsibilities at SABMiller.
Cara: I am part of the Market Development Americas team, which is the export arm of SABMiller. I have a dual role in that I look after markets in Latin America, specifically Mexico, Central American and the Caribbean as well as leading marketing capabilities for all of Latin American export markets.
Drew: And how long have you been with SABMiller?
Cara: Just over 11 years.
Drew: Tell me a little bit about your journey to date and where you’re headed.
Cara: I’ve definitely seen a significant shift in our digital transformation during the last year or so. We started our digital journey a few years back with focus on establishing a basic online experience. While we had an obligatory presence on Facebook, as example, I don’t believe we were truly capitalizing on the opportunity afforded by this and other online platforms. For the first couple of years, we focused on local market enablement through the creation of playbooks and the like designed to ensure experience and messaging consistency across markets. With a solid foundation in place, we’ve taken a big step back in the last 18 months or so to focus on how we truly leverage digital as a competitive differentiator – specifically using it to connect with consumers in a meaningful manner.
Drew: What are some of the key tenets of your digital strategy now?
Cara: Our most important tenet is the move from broadcasting content to really connecting with consumers. Consumers are expecting more from brands in our socially-enabled world, and it’s just not how you would traditionally communicate in other forms of media. It’s important to understand how to engage with customers, where to find them, what’s of interest to them, and how to communicate with them on their terms, not ours. That’s really what we’re focused on.
Drew: What kind of things did you do specifically to move from being a broadcast brand to a non-broadcast brand? And how would you define a non-broadcast brand?
Cara: A broadcast brand is one that focuses on unidirectional communications versus bidirectional. As a brand, digital offers us the opportunity to engage with consumers versus shouting at them. We are focused on building real relationships with consumers and creating engagements, while also understanding their channels of preference and overall interests. We want to figure out how we can engage consumers in a natural way during their day to day activity with a focus on adding value. Also, making sure we’re utilizing the right tools so that when we get an opportunity to engage with a consumer, we can really make the most of it.
Drew: How do you manage a digital strategy across these different geographies?
Cara: The easiest way to explain it is that the global team owns the positioning and they deliver a significant amount of branded content. Locally, we own our brand goals and objectives in that market. The regional team is bridging that gap between the two and building capability. Before, it was just content from global or local but no one knew how to really put that together and to ultimately achieve brand goals in the market through digitally enabled plans.
Drew: What are you doing now that you never would’ve done a year ago? How have you gotten better at generating engagement?
Cara: Mexico, led by Gonzalo Carcelen, is the market that has seen the most advancement in this space. It’s been quite an amazing transformation. Where we would once come up with a program and put all of our offline content online, we now think digital first. The entire program was aligned with our brand objectives of creating awareness and building engagement frequency with the consumers. We’re using different social platforms for specific purposes, utilizing different types of content, listening to consumers and engaging with them along the way. When we look at how many mentions we’re getting and how many shares we’re getting, we’re amazed because this wasn’t happening before. Plus, we were able to drive consumers to the stores to purchase product. This is another core tenant of our strategy. We believe that digital is much more than follower counts, and increasingly are looking at digital attribution to trial and purchase as a KPI.
Drew: How do you make sure that there’s alignment between the strategy and the execution all the way down to a local basis?
Cara: The challenge was to really make sure that my internal team knew the right questions to ask their agencies. We then had to identify the capabilities that we required and what we were expecting from our agencies. We had candid conversations with them saying, “these are the skills that we’re looking for. You may not have them but we’re going to partner together and build them if not.” We’ve conducted three digital innovation summits designed to harness the power of all of our agencies instead of letting them work independently all the time. We were nervous initially as at the end of the day, they’re all competing with one another. Instead we’ve seen time and time again the power that can come out of driving innovation across such a large and disparate group of talented individuals.
Drew: Was there a lead agency from the digital transformation strategy that helped throughout the process?
Cara: We’ve partnered with digital marketing firm Trepoint here in the US to help us rethink our overall approach to digital. They’ve been great in terms of creating our strategy and in helping us identify those capabilities required to support it, including communicating this to the local agencies. This was an opportunity for us to leverage some of the advanced expertise and capabilities that exist in the United States and translate that to our markets across Latin America.
Drew: How did you convince your leadership team that this was the right way to go?
Cara: Senior leadership was on-board from the beginning. What was more challenging was dealing with the sales directors in the markets because they don’t see the value and how digital can drive retail activity. You have to show them how this will help the bottom-line.
Drew: What has been the biggest challenge in terms of driving this digital transformation across the geographies?
Cara: I certainly think it is the transfer of knowledge. We have a very complex system of agencies, including distributor partners that sometimes manage the digital agencies as well as our internal staff. So, you’re looking at 70 people managing 10 countries. Making sure that knowledge goes from the top all the way to the agencies that are executing can be quite difficult. Equally, making sure the shared vision and their understanding of how all of the nuts and bolts are going to work together is another challenge. Additionally, this large group is not responsible for digital only, in most cases it is about 20% of their jobs. We are expecting this team to learn as they go and become experts on their journey.
Drew: Has social proven to be an effective way of communicating and sharing knowledge?
Cara: Absolutely. In addition to our cross-agency digital summits, we’ve also created an online community for agencies to collaborate in real time on what they’re seeing in market. The group is great because 70 people can share what’s working and also ask for help from others. For example, someone posted a particularly effective piece of content and wanted the other markets to be able to use it. Everyone has really been working collaboratively. Obviously, there are a few agencies that I feel are really leading that collaboration and taking more advantage of the group approach, but I think everyone has benefited.
Drew: Is there another example of a program that you’ve done in the last 12 months that you think was surprising in terms of how it came together and how it worked?
Cara: Nicaragua is a market that I found to be particularly interesting. We realized we have all these people out there online talking about us that love us, and they weren’t the standard portrait of the socialite person you put on the front cover of a magazine. This made us go through the process of listening and understanding who is talking about us, who has a larger reach of influence, and really making them brand advocates. It’s now one of the things that we’re going to be looking at moving forward. We want to learn how to better use brand advocates, how to identify them, and how to celebrate them. All these pieces of information would make us a stronger market.
Drew: What have you learned about influential marketing that you could share with your fellow marketers?
Cara: It’s not worth paying them to talk about your brand. That seems to be a common model but it’s not genuine, and it’s obvious from miles away. I believe in surprising the consumer, such as somebody who is not even expecting our brand to talk to them but we’ve identified them by just listening to what they’re saying. They might not even be talking about your brand specifically. Then we respond in a relevant and meaningful way that shows the consumer they are import to us and the very powerful part of that relationship is when they share that experience within their community.
Drew: So, you’ve just mentioned that you would like to do a little bit better with real time listening and responding. What else is on your list as you sort of get into year two of the digital transformation?
Cara: We have 10 agencies right now and we all have various challenges. I think there will still be quite a bit of focus in making sure the new capabilities are developed continuously and put into place as common business practice. However, I mentioned we really want to better understand brand advocates and how we better leverage online word of mouth marketing. Also, I think really getting digital into the point of sale is the next step in our journey. You’re seeing that happen in the US and we’re just not sure how that’s going to work in Latin America. It’s really important to make that link between digital and our products to the point of sale and how we can influence purchase.
Interviewer: What’s the sort of advice that you have for a company that, let’s say is two years behind you in terms of digital transformation?
Cara: The biggest thing I would say is to stop thinking brand first and think consumer first. We were so focused on the brand and our posting calendar and our broadcast message that we never stopped to think “how would we want to be engaged?” A lot of the ideas that we were executing, we realized we would hate as consumers. We had to figure out how to communicate with them in a manner that would to add value to them and provide them with inspiration. Once you figure out how to interact with the consumer, we can figure out the goals of the brand.