Interview Transcript

Could we move onto discuss Jim Beam? Or Beam Suntory but, specifically, the Jim Beam brand. You walked in, as CMO, to this huge brand, huge history, huge heritage. What was your thinking and how are you formulating a marketing strategy for that company?

Such a fun, great place to work and such good leadership there. The first thing I did was look for the archives department and I’m not joking. It came in a different form from Coke’s archives. Coke’s archives are unbelievable. It is like a museum and the people who work in it and run that are such a treasure trove for marketers. At Beam, we had living archives. We had family members on our team. I had an incredible amount of marketers on my team, who had been there decades. So those were my archives; I call them living archives.

When you have family members who are eight generations in, on a brand, that’s just unbelievable. Three generations in Maker’s Mark, eight generations in Jim Beam. One is, if you have a history, I think it’s important, as a CMO, to know it. To know it well and to tell it.

What did you do?

You go to the home place. The home place is in Kentucky and you go often. You don’t just go once. I’m really trying to be down there almost once a month. Again, that’s everything you’re working with. It’s such a differentiator. By the way, many spirits brands have strong, deep histories. You have to know what’s in yours that makes yours just a little bit different. Is it the way it’s made? Is it living family? What is it about it and what are those family values that have been passed on? How do they now need to be come and show up, as part of today’s fabric? That’s what you’ve got to get right. That’s where you’ve got to understand your consumer insight and what you’re pushing up against. You’ve got to understand how the palates are evolving and what consumers care about.

If you work in whisky, as an example, you know the consumers have a repertoire. You probably have one. You probably have an everyday drink, something you might mix, something you might sip. Maybe it depends on who you are with or where you are. You have to put all of these together, as part of your strategy. You’ve got to understand where your growth is coming from or where you might be losing growth. Who are you losing growth to? As you put all of that together, your story can help bring some of that to life. It may be even be that the story that you’ve been telling needs to evolve a little bit.

Sometimes we need to tell stories that are strong on the product and the product benefits. Sometimes, consumers aren’t that interested in that. In many vodkas, that’s really not the most important. Sometimes it’s more about the personality. You have to really know what you’re working with. But again, just like we talked about already, it’s got to match who you are. That’s where that DNA, those archives, are so important. That’s truth serum. You can’t change history; it is what it is. You can choose to not tell parts of it but, in today’s world, somebody might even be able to find it out. Work with what you have.

What did you find in those archives, at Beam?

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