Delivering on the promise of digital sits at the top of the marketing agenda for Pernod Ricard, the world’s second-biggest seller of wine and spirits.
For company CMO Martin Riley however, the first step is translating what terms such as brand content, brand conversations and brand experiences actually mean for a stable of upmarket alcohol bands, including iconic tipples such as Absolut vodka and Chivas Regal whisky.
“One of the risks with digital is that people use terms, and everybody thinks they know what people are talking about, but often it’s not quite as precise as you would want it to be,” Riley muses.
“So we’re defining that for ourselves, so we understand it,” he adds.
“We’re also working on how classic media works with digital media, so people understand the relationship and how to optimize that.”
Riley runs a 25-strong centralized marketing team from Pernod Ricard’s global headquarters in Paris, charged with defining key battlegrounds and setting out working practices for marketing teams around the world.
Pernod Ricard as a group is highly devolved, comprised of six global brand companies, responsible for everything from production to marketing strategy, as well as 80 local market companies. Each of these also has its own marketing team, to implement strategies while maximizing business performance on the ground.
Media and communications plans, and the role digital connectivity plays within those, vary widely by market and by brand as a result.
Nonetheless, two-way channels are rewiring marketing strategies, Riley stresses, from insights to communications to sales.
The media plan in particular will incorporate more segmented messaging, based around interests, in addition to traditional mass media approaches, anchored around demographics.
This year is all about embedding new principles for digital communication throughout Pernod Ricard, Riley explains: “How we approach the great opportunities we have of talking to our consumers directly; what we mean by brand conversations, and how we are going to define that; and making sure we’re part of as many conversations as possible relevant to us.”
Foresight and preparation
To make all this happen, Riley expects Pernod Ricard marketers to be ahead of the game, anticipating services and information that people might expect in the future, and organizing themselves accordingly.
While that process is underway internally, he fears agencies are falling behind.
“Major companies are all grappling with the same things,” he notes.
"Trying to figure out how to structure ourselves, how to optimize the situations that are unfolding with digital, with the way consumers are behaving, and the way they’re buying products.”
Big brand-owners are moving fairly fast, and more or less talking about the same things, contends Riley, who is also current president of global marketers’ association, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).
“My questions to agencies are how fast are you moving, and how much are you anticipating where we’re coming out in our thinking – reflections and restructures, and reallocation of resources to new areas?” he adds.
“I don’t get the impression they’re moving as fast as we’d like.”
This year, the WFA is hosting its annual meeting in Sydney, in late March. As part of this, Riley will lead a special session on Project Reconnect, the association’s quest for a new framework for brand marketing in a digital age.
As communications allow more people to have a voice, brands must stand for something to stay relevant, he argues.
At Pernod Ricard meanwhile, social and interactive channels are changing the way the company segments and engages consumers.
“Digital is like electricity, powering everything we do,” Riley observes. “The thing to do is just understand, this is a great enabler.
“It gives us a great opportunity to talk directly with our consumers, in a way we’ve not been able to do before.”