Stella Artois’ experiential recipe
Interview with Todd Allen, AB InBev
The growing consumer appetite for new experiences and different perspectives has changed the game for marketers. Todd Allen, VP of global marketing for Stella Artois at brewing powerhouse AB InBev, explains how providing unforgettable experiences — and capitalizing on the content that comes from it — will grow both brand equity and the bottom line.
What are the biggest trends affecting what you do as a brand today?
The first is media fragmentation — this massive shift to digital and social. And more importantly, how mobile is such an important channel to deliver content and connect with our consumers. The second one, more big picture, is that consumers are expecting transparency from brands a lot more. Brands that can bring more purpose and meaning to people’s lives are connecting and seeing stronger results in engagement with consumers and in top line sales as well.
Have you seen evidence that ad blocking is making it more difficult to connect with your consumers?
For us, ad blocking has always been there. Whether it was in the old days when someone would get up from the couch and going to the kitchen to get a snack when a commercial came on, or to the more modern technology that exists today. It all boils down to the quality of the content. You need to produce content that people want to engage with. So I don’t feel it’s anything new, it has just evolved in different ways and it’s on us as marketers to use creativity to deliver content that is relevant and engaging for people.
So where does experiential marketing fit into this equation for Stella now?
What we’ve really noticed is a bit of a culture shift in that the meaning of premium has evolved. Premium and luxury used to be about the accumulation of wealth or status symbols. Now it’s defined by experiences and the new perspectives that people gain from these experiences. Delivering a meaningful experience can really set you apart as a brand. So this has become a very important channel for us as consumers’ values evolve and they search for experiences over material wealth and possessions. Our goal now is to use those experiential efforts as platforms to produce relevant branded content.
How do you know you’re providing meaningful experiences that also make sense for your brand?
Everything starts with your brand purpose and your brand ideal. You need to have a meaningful and purposeful point of view on how you can make consumers’ lives better. And it needs to be rooted in the equity of the brand. We have over 600 years of European brewing expertise, but we’re also the world’s most sophisticated beer brand, so we’re all about finding that perfect balance between style and substance, curiosity and ambition. Ultimately, it’s about giving people opportunities to discover new experiences that will provide them with a new perspective.
How are you using experiential and events to do that?
Every holiday season we run a global campaign for Stella Artois because it was actually named after the Christmas star. Stella is Latin for star and back then we were crafted as a Christmas gift for the town of Leuven in Belgium. Essentially, we were creating experiences for the town of Leuven all those years ago.
This year, we thought about how we could recreate that experience and give a gift to two of our most important markets: New York City and Buenos Aires, so we created an installation called Stars By Stella Artois. The idea was based on giving the gift of stars to the cities that don’t often see the stars. It was an interactive light display where people could come, be engaged and immerse themselves in the feeling of walking through the stars.
We partnered with John Legend for the launch where he performed a holiday song that he wrote for us based on the unique sound that each star emitted. I think that’s just one example of how you can bring consumers an experience that is rooted in the purpose of your brand and connect with them in a meaningful way.
That’s excellent, can you give us another?
Last year, we created the Stella Artois Sensorium in Toronto — a great multi-sensorial dining experience. We partnered with Michelin-starred chef Richie Farina who was inspired by the way pouring a Stella Artois into the iconic chalice stimulates the five senses.
Sensorium was all about giving consumers a venue where they could experience something they haven’t experienced before and share it with their friends. As a brand, we leave our mark by hosting unforgettable experiences, but we’re always hoping that people will be inspired to go deeper into these new perspectives on their own. For example, if they’re at home hosting a dinner party, we hope that the inspiration they got from Sensorium would help them pair our beer with their meal and enhance the overall experience of their party. It’s really about challenging perspectives and bringing a multi-sensorial experience that people haven’t felt before.
Relatively speaking, not that many people can attend an event like Sensorium. What would you say to skeptical CEOs and finance execs to convince them of the value of these kinds of events?
It’s not only the number of consumers at the event, it’s the content generated for our brand. The key to the best experiential is the branded content, the content that we can amplify through media channels to drive reach. It’s all the earned media you get through the press and the amount of user-generated content that we acquire through key influencers or consumers at the event.
In essence, it’s about making sure the objectives are very clear at the beginning and ensuring that the event has a very robust amplification plan, from the branded content to the PR to the earned media with influencers and the media. The overall objective is to get the scale and reach to go much further than the people that just experience the event.
How do you measure success?
For us, there are two ways. First, there’s the straightforward return on investment — the volume you get from the sales of the program versus the costs. Second, and more importantly, there’s the return you get by driving your brand equity through experiential initiatives to the people that are participating in the event. For the people that can’t, we take advantage of things like branded content, PR, and on- and off-trade activations. So we’re able to measure the return on equity through the whole platform as well as the ROI through the volume that we sell associated with the events.
Read the interview with Bradford Ross, a senior marketer at Coca-Cola, on consumer experiences: “Technology is great, but Coca-Cola wants more human connections”.