How a Shot of Technology Helps Bring These Bacardi Brands Closer to Their Customers

Patrón, Grey Goose leverage real-time engagement

Lee Applbaum, CMO of Patrón and Grey Goose, behind the bar with Adweek editorial director Jim Cooper.
Dianna McDougall for Adweek

For Bacardi brands Patrón and Grey Goose, innovation is a delicate balancing act. Leveraging technology for technology’s sake will do little to enhance the customer journey, explained Lee Applbaum, CMO of Patrón and Grey Goose. Rather, it’s the right blend of media that drives innovation. This sentiment was echoed by several top marketers who, like Applbaum, attended Brandweek in Palm Springs, Calif.

Here, Applbaum delves into the challenges and opportunities of marketing spirits in the digital age.

Adweek: How does Patrón and Grey Goose balance marketing technology with tried and true traditional approaches?
Lee Applbaum: Philosophically, for our brands, I’ve always maintained that technology needs to be a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself. By that, I mean that we don’t invest in or deploy marketing technology solutions to prove that we are smart or innovative. Rather, we utilize them as tools that help us address and exploit brand and commercial opportunities that link back to our core strategic pillars. This ensures that we stay honest and don’t fall in love with flashy technology for its own sake, or worse yet, to simply be recognized as innovative and lavished with awards with no understanding of the brand or business ROI.

That said, innovative marketing technology is a key part of our consumer and trade marketing strategy, alongside more traditional above-the-line media like TV, print and out of home. We’re unabashedly media agnostic. It’s not about one medium versus the other but thinking about the customer journey from when they wake up to when they go to sleep and then cohabitating with them at key points of the traditional funnel, whether it be consideration, intent or purchase.

Voice has played a key role in Patrón marketing. What technology are you eyeing next?
Voice is a great example of our cohabitation strategy. Consumers increasingly are using voice as a way to more easily access content, and we want to ensure we are part of that journey. We were one of the early brands to support the Amazon Alexa platform, and we did that through our “Ask Patrón” skill which enabled consumers to identify cocktails that met their needs and learn how to easily make them at home.

We’ve since expanded this across all major voice platforms and continue to see high rates of engagement because it addresses a real consumer need rather than just being a clever use of technology. We were very early to adopt VR as a platform as well as AR and will continue to explore both as they are rapidly evolving. Again, it’s not about technology, per se, but about how that technology helps us better partner with our consumers. When we see a solution that can aid in this effort, we invest and deploy as rapidly as possible.

Do you see direct-to-consumer brands as a threat? In what way are you embracing the challenger mentality?
Currently the spirits category has regulatory barriers to direct-to-consumer in the U.S. but it is something we are watching carefully. More relevant, perhaps, is the role that ecommerce will play as juggernauts like Amazon explore the space. In countries like China and Germany, there is strong growth in spirits ecomm and we must ensure we are at the forefront of that move. Much like media, we are channel agnostic. The key is helping our consumer get access to our brands and products however they choose.

Customers have high expectations these days regardless of their channel choice. What big swings have you taken that worked and/or failed to bring you closer to the customer?
Our category is unique by virtue of the distribution model which keeps us at arms-length from consumers transactionally, essentially restricted to communicating through media, both above and below the line. That said, social media continues to be an incredibly powerful tool for us to have dynamic interaction with consumers and the trade.

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