AB InBev’s recipe for innovation

October 22nd, 2013 | ACA Team, Association of Canadian Advertisers

By Jorn Socquet, ‎Vice President, Marketing at AB InBev

Jorn Socquet
Jorn Socquet

Innovation is easy.

It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but with our key cultural principles at AB InBev (ABI) focused on creating a culture of entrepreneurship, hard work and consumer centricity (and we truly mean it), the result is a very fertile ground to develop teams. At ABI we develop teams who dare to innovate and challenge the status quo to create a sustainable competitive advantage in the market place. With this mindset, we’re capable of bringing all of the innovation buzz words and theory to life in a way that is extremely contagious and continuously motivates us to do more. Without this cultural mindset, innovation is not possible.

The second ingredient is people. And here it starts at the top. In order to get the most out of the fertility of the cultural mindset, the business leaders need to constantly challenge the entire organization to think BIG. This can be very uncomfortable, especially for younger team members, because by nature they will be risk-averse. Getting them to taste the power of risk-taking, and simultaneously handle the disappointment of failure is key if you want the organization to be innovative.

With culture and mindset in place, you have the ideal starting point to tackle consumer-centric innovation in a truly all-encompassing way. Today’s consumer is in constant motion, so you have to move quickly to keep up and think beyond just product innovation if you want to capture their attention. How will you connect with consumers’ needs to be part of the innovation cycle from day one? How will the consumer get to know your product? How will they have the perfect product experience? What will the path of purchase look like? And so on. To be honest, the idea of 360° integrated campaigns is outdated and if marketers today don’t think 365, they will fall behind.

At Labatt, we’ve been able to develop exactly this: a fertile culture that motivates people to take risks and think in a way that is all-encompassing when leading innovation projects. One of many examples on how this engenders breakthrough, innovative ideas is the Budweiser Red Light. We started this project by clearly defining what the meaningful difference Budweiser wanted to create in consumers’ lives and how this would apply to one of our consumer’s biggest passion points – hockey. The solution: Game synced lights. Lights that go off anytime your favorite team scores became a dream that took more than a year to develop and included partners spread across the world.

But really think about this one. If the brand manager of a FMCG product came to you and expressed his ambition to deliver the above, would you or your organization give him the liberty to explore it? How does a technological innovation help a company to sell more beer, soap or deodorant? I’m convinced that not even half of the marketing leaders around the world would be willing to take this risk.
In retrospect, we could not have made a better decision. The conversation we started with our consumers has been so successful that Budweiser has become the number one brand on numerous brand health and share indicators in Canada. And as I indicated earlier, success is contagious. The Budweiser Red Light has sparked a confidence and passion in our marketing organization that will continuously deliver these types of breakthrough ideas. Competition: watch out!