Walking the talk in building brands

Companies have been hit hard by the economic downturn and too many are passively sitting back, festering in negative press, thinking in the short-term and waiting on the sidelines hoping the storm will pass.

Companies have been hit hard by the economic downturn and too many are passively sitting back, festering in negative press, thinking in the short-term and waiting on the sidelines hoping the storm will pass. These companies are failing to think strategically and creatively.

As marketers, we need to look at this time in history as a unique opportunity to get creative about the way we market products - in spite of all the potential hardships that both companies and consumers are experiencing.

This is the approach we are taking at Beam Global Spirits & Wine. Like all companies, we are faced with the challenge of changing consumer behaviors. This has forced us to think differently about how we're going to market, the messages we are sending to consumers, and the mediums we are relying on to engage with them.

Our vision at Beam Global is “Building Brands People Want to Talk About,” and we have seized the current economic climate to approach our marketing and PR with optimism and ingenuity. This vision differentiates us as we reach consumers where they live and play.

For starters, we have embraced the power of driving talkability through social media in several new marketing campaigns. Social media moves brand power from CMOs to the consumers, allowing for faster response time, more meaningful conversations, and greater company accountability. By opening these channels, marketers must be willing to embrace the good with the bad consumer feedback and be prepared to respond in an honest manner that builds bridges and fosters relationships. But when done effectively, it can be an extremely credible way to build brands.

We are paying attention to what our consumers have to say about our products, not only to create a sense of trust, but also to provide a forum for feedback. This can only lead to the positive development of our brands. If used correctly, social media tools and word-of-mouth tactics, such as blogging and webcasts, can be more effective than a picture in a magazine or video on a TV screen.

Combining traditional marketing efforts with social media activation, Jim Beam recently hosted “The Remake” contest – a user-generated social media contest in support of “The Girlfriend” TV commercial. Legal purchase age consumers were challenged to create their own video “remake” by spoofing or improving upon older Jim Beam commercials. The five top-scoring video remakes were judged by the public voting online. This interactive contest allowed us to reach and engage with our target demographic. The contest had nearly 300 submissions, more than 6,800 online votes, and 3.3 million video views across the Web.

Another example of leveraging the power of PR and social media at Beam Global is with Laphroaig Scotch whisky, a 200-year-old brand. To engage fans today, we created the global “Friends of Laphroaig” online program where consumers can become a “Friend” and receive a lifetime lease on a square foot of land next to the Laphroaig distillery in Scotland. We interact with our “Friends” through brand e-mail updates and forums.

The brand has hosted Laphroaig LIVE, an online tasting of new and rare expressions, for the past two years. “Friends” taste these expressions at home, guided by the streaming webcast of our distillers and Scotch experts. Our first webcast tasting had more than 20,000 online live participates, and more than 5,000 questions submitted. In 2008, we added 40,000 new “Friends” to the program.

The cost to implement both of these programs was nominal and resulted in great success rates – a direction responsive to a tough economic climate, but still impactful in consumer interaction and marketing power. We generated conversations about our brands and encouraged consumer engagement.

Recessions come and go, but great consumer brands should not. Times like these call for marketers to be courageous and innovative. Beam Global faces a competitive landscape with smart companies and quality brands. We have to be different if we want to win in the categories where we play. We have to be smarter, better informed, more agile, and more creative with how we build our brands. Our strategy is working and truly gets people talking.

At the end of the day, the company driver should be building brands in the minds and hearts of consumers, increasing market share, and increasing share holder return.

Have you dared to be different?

Rory Finlay is SVP and CMO of Beam Global Spirits & Wine, a position he has held since January 2007. Prior to joining Beam Global, he spent nearly two decades with the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company.

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