Jeni Spinks, International Marketing Director for Planning and Deployment at Beam Suntory, speaks about the challenges of managing different markets, how digitisation has made it easier to manage brands, and her experience with different global brand governance models.
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Could you tell us about your role within global grand governance?
I’m currently International Marketing Director for Planning, Deployment and Brand Strategy at Beam Suntory. Our global company operates out of New York, and sub divided into three regions – Asia based out of Tokyo, North America region (including Mexico and Canada) headquartered in Chicago, with all other markets falling under International, based out of Madrid.
Within that context, it’s a big task with respect to global governance. Within the International Region, on the one hand, I have Australia and New Zealand and on the other, there’s Brazil, India, all of Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Europe.
When it comes to the alcohol industry, each market has its own legislation, codes and customs. Hence, there’s a key need to respect the local market context when it comes to building global brands.
How has it become more complex to manage global brands?
The answer depends on your point of view. Has life become more complex these days with digitalisation or has it become easier? There are many digital tools we use now; very little is now left to chance. We have the pinpoint accuracy of brand visuals, frameworks and tools all easily and quickly shareable digitally.
On the other hand, there is potentially more to do now. Your above-the-line media spend used to be predominantly on TV, with a bit of cinema and video, potentially some outdoor and press if the campaign was comprehensive. Now there’s a plethora of ways to engage and grab the attention of our consumers using digital and an array of social media platforms.
I always take the optimistic view – I think digitalisation has made it easier to manage brands despite there being more things to manage.
How many markets do you manage?
Within International, we can be responsible for upwards of 40 different markets.
Do you manage them through segmentation? Do some get more attention than the others?
Yes. We have a rigorous ‘grading’ process and have priority markets. Our corporate operating model, brand building, governance and day-to-day ways of working are built on the assumption that most of the focus will go on our priority markets.
Are there more expectations of face-to-face or video calls? Has that made it more complex and time-consuming?
We had a face-to-face leadership team meeting in Madrid recently and this was a point that came up. Back in the day, when you went to the office, you’d never have meetings in your diary from 8 AM to 6 PM. But that’s the expectation across the board these days in many large corporates, it’s likely unsustainable.
This isn’t unique to just marketing companies; it’s everywhere. You need to get more declarative and protective of your role when you’re working across time zones. When you have markets as far afield as Australia and as diverse as India, with everything in between, it’s made governing brands more difficult and corporate life a bit more complex.
Can you share examples of global brand governance models from your career?
I left Heineken in 2013 and I know a fair bit of it has changed now. Back then, the brand followed a global model with no one straying too far from what Amsterdam [the headquarters] wanted. There was a very good reason for this, however. I can’t reveal the exact amount we spent that year, but in 2012 Heineken sponsored the Olympics in London, they had the UEFA Champions League sponsorship, the Heineken Cup for rugby, and they also sponsored the James Bond movie. Of course, it becomes crucial to ‘show up’ in the right way consistently and globally when you’re spending so much on global assets.
Beam Suntory appointed Jessica Spence as President of brands, three years ago. That's the first time we've had that position and she has developed and embedded a rigorous way of building our brands. It's not so much policing or governing; it's about enabling people to do it right and starting by going back to the basics.
When you deal with premium spirits, especially whiskies, you’re looking at brands that can be 200-300 years old. Considering the founders’ original intentions of our brands’ DNA– these will not change over time. Everybody buys into this. And leading on, this is why our brand foundations will remain constant year on year.
The Global Brand House operating model was new to Beam Suntory, allowing us to focus on the long term growth of our brands in their key markets.
The top three layers are global and not subject to any reinterpretation. How are decisions made when you get to the fourth level down?
Those are still led by the global brand houses as per our framework. We do growth planning (with a 3 year horizon) annually on a market basis. The ‘top-tier’ markets do it in full collaboration with the global brand house. Basically, the brand market strategy, the key tasks and focus areas along with the enablers are aligned in a series of workshops. Each global brand house might have about six or seven of these markets.
It sounds like a global focus model rather than a top-down model. Do you think that's because you're a premium luxury brand with international customers?
It's certainly a factor. One of our driving principles is to win in premium spirits globally.
Realistically, how do you enforce this when you have local markets with their own opinions?
We can't get to all the markets, and we certainly couldn't get to all our markets in the last two years. That's starting to change now with the world opening up again.
Having said that, it’s more about instilling the right way to do this and enabling markets to execute locally with excellence. We utilise an aligned framework which has been developed and honed over the past 3 years. It was an education-led process and we’re still learning a and building and improving year on year. Everyone joining the company will be taken through the process and our ways of working.
We plan extensively and work collaboratively in our focus brand market combinations, with the majority of our resources and spend going here. We also have a job to do planning and working with our smaller growth markets, which may be less well resourced. For instance, getting work translated into Polish or considering the legalities of a visual that might be considered illegal or in poor taste in a particular market.
There are also external factors: the market could be largely media dark and it could be difficult to sell or talk about alcohol. There are also markets where the legislation changes rapidly and it’s important to keep on top of this.
How do agencies help with global brand governance? Have you changed your agency structure?
The agencies are part of the process. Agencies don’t usually participate in our strategic growth planning sessions, but we bring them in immediately after that as we start to build our brand experience blueprints and our programming.
We're doing growth planning sessions right now and the agencies will be brought in by January. Then, we build the programme overview from January through to May – building the campaigns we're looking to run in the market. Agencies are firmly at the centre of that. We also have a creative review process for each brand where they take the inputs from our growth planning as a starting point. We work collaboratively with markets (and channel experts within) alongside the agencies and of course the global brand houses. Following this process means we aim for global alignment by May or June.
Do some agencies cope better than others with the challenge of global brand governance?
Yes. For us, the agencies that understand what we're trying to achieve cope better. A lot of this model revolves around creating excellence at the points of execution and purchase. It's not all about creating award-winning above-the-line work.
We have a key philosophy we follow being a Japanese company – GEMBA. It’s a Japanese word which translates to ‘ensuring everyone is at the point where our customers are’. Our best agencies are really good at this and providing inspiring and practical solutions.
The biggest complaint that I would hear from markets – and this isn’t about Beam Suntory but rather all global/local marketing relationships – is that the work coming from global is not complete and ready to sue in a market.
So it's the ones that have an effective network and who’ve managed to get advice from their hubs?
They [the agencies] should be able to talk to local markets. They can be based anywhere. But it’s helpful to see the willingness to travel or understand local markets; it helps them participate in conversations with key local markets.
How has technology helped to manage global brand governance in practice?
Like most companies, we have a few key portals that our teams can dig into. We have one that holds all our digital asset and another with our key tools and templates.
We have introduced a new Gemba portal. Our previous way of collecting market insight and examples was quite time-consuming. Previously we we asked all of the key markets to fill in templates and got some amazing responses, but it took some time and the responses were not always consistent. The new portal encourages all markets to upload anything – from a photograph of our best-practice in market or a piece of activity a competitor is doing, a great digital execution or something they've seen in the press. Anyone in the business wanting to look at our own brilliant executions, a competitor or a type of activation, for instance, can do so.
Our agencies also have access to this. Under the right governance, they have access to both upload and use. This year, we delivered an international Brand Showcase using technology without spending millions on it. We took over one of the top bars in London and filmed all of our brand showcases there over the course of a week. To date, we have had thousands ov views, with over 45 markets viewing the content.
Is there anything missing you think from the way that brands are managed?
This probably sounds boring but it would be great to have the same level of data and insight across all markets. Markets like the UK or the US are data-heavy. You're required of course to make the same decisions in all your markets but the rigour of data is not always there for you.
There is also diversity of markets, for example, India is one of our global iconic markets and an additional 25 million new Indian drinkers come of drinking age every year. It’s like adding on a whole other UK market every year. The descriptions of the different markets doesn’t even come close – you really need to experience the market in person to know how best to enable and support them in building global brands.
Technology is great as are the ways of governance but you do have to visit the market. It's really important to know where and how best to invest and support markets.
Any trends that might affect global brand governance in the future?
The whole area of digitalisation, it will affect every area we work on. For example, we’re doing a large scale project on gifting, and for context, gifting in premium spirits is growing in relevance from an already high base. But does a gift these days have to be a bottle with loads of cardboard and a free glass? Probably not. It doesn't hit anyone's sustainability objectives, customer or consumer.
Having said that, nobody wants a bottle of whisk(e)y that only sits in the metaverse, either. We are exploring ways to move some of our brand experience into digital but in a way that it remains close to the brand.
Also, when you're looking at models of brand governance, I think it's better to enable, empower and equip your teams to do it the right way than to spend time fixing it or policing it. I don't mean that we don't ever look at our metrics. Of course, we do! And our brand planning is very joined up with our commercial planning, and KPI setting. Overall, global brand stewardship should be about enabling and equipping, and ultimately inspiring our local teams.