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Stop talking about digital, interactive, PR, as if it were some kind of mythical communication: Maarten L Albarda, ABInBev

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Stop talking about digital, interactive, PR, as if it were some kind of mythical communication: Maarten L Albarda, ABInBev

Maarten L Albarda, too, had a mad story to tell about his journey to Festival of Media, which apart from including the luggage coming in 24 hours after he did, also meant working overnight on an elongated presentation since session partner, OMD’s Global CEO, Mainardo de Nardis, was unable to make it to the event despite trying till “the very end”.

Albarda, the VP, Global Connections, Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABInBev) – the company that owns beer brands such as Budweiser, Budlight, Becks and Stella Artois, was till recently the Worldwide Director, Media and Communication Innovation, Coca-Cola Company. He began his presentation by stating that from representing a brand that was over a century old, he was now representing a brand, which was still undergoing transitional process after the various consolidations in the beer market, the merger of Anheuser-Busch and InBev being one of them.

The marketing focus at ABInBev is very ‘young’. The company’s philosophy revolved around three key factors – Dream, People and Culture. But the company has now developed a fourth muscle – marketing muscle. He said, “It is Brand Equity today and top-line growth tomorrow. We link means with results, so brand connection is also about measurement.”

The move to focus on marketing has been serious enough for the company to make its senior management undertake a marketing course that was developed together with the Kellogg’s Business School. Albarda spoke further on what the thoughts behind this marketing exercise were.

Marketing, Integration and Agency Relation

Beginning with the role between the ABInBev and agency, he pointed out, “We lead the communication process and they are an integral part of it. We give the brief, they develop the strategy, we direct and they execute, they are essentially partners in ensuring that we reach where we see ourselves in the future.”

Taking the audience through the various markets where AbInBev brands have presence in, he stated that brand consistency was the most important amongst the various integrated markets. He said, “We have aligned brand essence across all internal stakeholders and agencies. And all communication is strongly rooted in brand essence, both horizontal and vertical.” This meant getting key agencies on the table at the same time, briefing them together. He reckoned that the brand team was the orchestrator of all branding exercises.

He then spoke about building the connection planning house, which had ‘Most Effective’ right on top of the triangle, followed by ‘Lowest Cost’ and ‘Transparent Results’ on either side. Albarda spoke extensively on these brand building models and on capability building, which included a marketing restructure within the company. He then spoke on the scale, reach and scope that they hoped to derive from this exercise and then cited examples of marketing initiatives that the company had done across various platforms, including the FIFA World Cup Integration. He said, “FIFA World Cup is the single most important marketing asset for ABInBev. We have planned many things around the 2010 World Cup that includes things like Bud House, Bud Cup and so on. We are looking at maximum reach through digital platforms. For us, it is to take our local brands on the global FIFA platform.”

The key metrics that ABInBev has put together for its marketing include share increase, brand performance tracker, media value, digital activation, tailor-made surveys and sales increase.

Albarda ended his presentation with an addition to pet peeves from last year, and said, “Let’s stop talking about digital or interactive or PR or sponsorship as if it were some of kind of a mythical separate piece. We have not yet really understood the full impact of these various pieces of communication exercise, and a company like ABInBev is probably in its diapers on the marketing route.”

When asked which stage that left Coke in, Albarda said, “Coke is like Madonna, always reinventing itself and forever young.”

Albarda concluded that it was essential for all pieces of marketing to work together since a problem to a PR person, or a digital professional would attract a solution that was PR or digital. Quoting Abraham Maslow, he said, “‘To a person with a hammer, every problem is a nail’. The collective view of a problem and then coming to a solution is the key today.”


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