As part of the WARC x Ogilvy Image to Impact report, Ann Mukherjee, CEO at Pernod Ricard North America, how brand and purpose have become synonymous, embracing a brand’s ‘timeless story’, and a new era of targeting.

Ann Mukherjee

Ann Mukherjee, CEO, Pernod Ricard North America

If we look at how marketing has changed over the past 10 years, what are the biggest shifts that you have seen personally in that time?

I think it can be summarised in two words: purpose and performance. Brands have to think about what their purpose is more and more. And I don't mean purpose in an altruistic form – it's not about saving the world or doing only good things. Purpose to me is about brands getting sharper about what they stand for and what they stand against.

Sometimes that could be around social values. It could be around how people choose to live. It could be about how brands choose to promote not just emotional benefits, but benefits around identity that help people understand how they are seen by using the brand. Purpose is a much bigger word than just doing good. It's about consumers being able to really understand the 'True North' of a brand. That's the first big shift.

I think the second is performance. The power of the smartphone has brought down competitive barriers to substitution. Consumers today can do whatever they want. They can buy whatever they want. They can get it at any price anywhere, anytime. So, performance for a brand today is about finding ways to really stand out and perform in a way that understands how they disrupt, and interrupt. It's about how consumers think about purchasing a brand and finding that balance between driving performance but still building a brand. So, purpose and performance are probably the most profound changes that we've seen in brands today.

Do brand building and purpose almost go hand in hand? Whereas, perhaps before we might have separated them.

I think today, purpose and brand building have become synonymous. Gone are the days where you didn't need to understand the why of your brand. It's really, really hard for a brand to thrive and you have brands today that don't need big ad dollars. They don't need mass distribution. They don't need scale to be popular brands and brands that disrupt an industry. So, brands have to get sharper. The competitive landscape for brands is not just their close substitutes in a category, competition can come from anywhere so, I really think brand building and purpose that leads to performance is how people need to think about marketing today.

Have you noted the effectiveness story of how purpose is linked to performance and how they connect? You've got a wide range of brands - how easy has it been to connect purpose to performance?

Personally speaking, for me, it is very easy. To do that widely across a large organisation, where you have to help people understand what that means, that's not easy. I think we are still suffering from marketers thinking that we should do marketing the way we used to 20 years ago, which is all about brand equity and nothing else. Those days are over. You have to understand the analytics and the data that links purpose to performance, and embed that in the way you work because we do have predictive sciences today around human behaviour. So that link of art to science, where I think most marketers love the art part, and taking science to make a more brilliant art. It's not hard to do, it's just hard to learn and adopt.

Within large corporations, in the past, smaller brands might have been allowed to fail quietly without it affecting the corporate identity. How much ‘in the front line’ does a corporate brand actually have to be nowadays, to be visible?

It really depends on the company. If the brand is a company like Apple, you have no choice. Brands like Unilever or P&G are large consumer packaged goods companies so they've really tried to put their corporate brand front and centre to make it a trust mark. And they've spent a lot of money trying to do it.

I think the jury is still out around what that really means at the consumer level. I think it means a lot from a Wall Street or from an analyst perspective. I worked at SC Johnson where for 50 years, they would put at the end of their commercials, 'SC Johnson. A Family Company'. They thought that that attribution would help all their brands because it was a trust mark. Well, research has shown that, still, after 50 years of investment – hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of investment – it's hard to permeate consumers' minds.

Attribution is difficult. However, that doesn't mean that companies don't have to really understand what their corporate reputation and image are and how it links to their brands, because we are in a world where consumers are inquisitive. You can Google anything tomorrow and figure out who owns what brand, so it's more the people investigating you versus you trying to take advantage of that trust brand for your brands. It's not a driver of choice, but it's certainly a driver of mis-choice, or not choosing if you misstep.

I think this is still evolving in terms of what corporate brands need to stand for. As a CEO, I get the question all the time: are you an activist, a corporate activist? And I say no. I'm a human activist. Everything that we do has to fit the values of the company and what we stand for. People can check me out or check out Pernod Ricard any time and our track record is important because they know which brands we make. But for people to overtly say, 'Wow. I drink Absolut because it's a Pernod Ricard brand. I don't think we're there yet with consumers.

How would you then describe your corporate brand, philosophy or approach when it comes to creating impact in the marketplace?

At Pernod Ricard, this is our North Star. It's a strong part of our compass. We believe our mission in the world is about conviviality. And just like Apple thought theirs was about helping people unlock their creativity and do what's different and change the world, we believe that the power of the human spirit - the magic that happens when human beings connect - in that positivity, great things happen. Beautiful things happen, and it helps people build a world of responsibility and respect. That is our guiding philosophy.

Our brands are about those moments of connection and unlocking those moments of human connection. That's been our guiding light - whether it's a social issue or it's a political issue or any issue, it is always grounded in that value. And if it's something that fits that value, we'll stand for it. If it doesn't, we stay silent. That's our moral compass. I think more and more companies have to be very clear about the 'why' they are who they are, and how that guides what they do with their brands and what they do with policy, etc. So, that's the way we manage it at Pernod Ricard.

What do you think the benefits are of staying silent versus not when it comes to creating an impact?

People should stay silent if they have no credibility or authenticity in talking about the issue. The example I always give to my teams is one that I think people can understand. We did an Absolut campaign, Sex Responsibly, and it was around the #MeToo movement and this notion of consent and that if we truly feel that we need to be responsible, our industry needs to stand up and say look, if you're using our brand as a weapon against victims and violence, don't buy our brand.

And absolutely Absolut could say that, because it's had a history of talking about issues around people that felt that they couldn't be heard. So, we give a voice to people that need to be heard and that was great for us to do. Now, if Harley-Davidson - which has always also stood by as a rebel - started to talk about consent and sex responsibly, people would laugh them out of the water because it's not authentic. It's not credible.

But if Harley-Davidson during the withdrawal from Afghanistan wanted to say, look, we believe in American freedom, and we want to honour those families whose people were overseas defending our freedom, people would think that makes sense. That's an issue that I understand Harley would talk about.

One has to ask themselves, is it in the DNA of the brand? Is it in, what I call, the ‘timeless story’ of the brand? And if it's not, stay silent, because speaking up can do more damage to the brand than it can do good to the brand or the cause.

Going back to that DNA of the brand, is this been something that has always been clear or has it evolved over time, especially in light of COVID and various societal shifts?

I've always believed in this philosophy that great brands tell timeless stories in timely and relevant ways. One example I always give is a brand that I worked on before which was Doritos. Doritos' timeless story has always been about standing up for those people who wanted to break the rules, who wanted to explore the world, and really wanted to challenge convention and so, how it did that over the years – because it's an intense experience – has been different.

Back in the 80s, it was part of the Gen X movement and they believed in the whole MTV craze and so Doritos was a part of that craze. In 2010, when I worked on the brand, that's when YouTube and social media was just coming to bear and it was about giving Doritos fans their 15 bytes of fame.

So, these timeless stories can be retold in a very timely, contemporary way that hits on the culture of the time, which is what we're facing today with the pandemic, etc. but you have to do it in a way that goes back to that DNA. In marketing, we talk all the time about people switching brands so it is so important to codify what that timeless story is, regardless of who works on a brand, and use that as the backbone of the brand.

It's more than just the essence and the tone of the brand. It's really about the story of the brand. What does it stand for and what does it stand against? It's not good versus evil. Interesting stories have interesting protagonists and interesting enemies. The fight between Apple and Microsoft wasn't good versus evil. It was about individual creativity versus conformity that brought about efficiency and speed. That's an interesting story. So, you have to be sophisticated enough to understand these stories and embed them into the organisation so that regardless of who works on the brand, that timeless story lives on.

When you think of brands across categories, how much work is there for them to do to become more authentic from the boardroom to that very first customer interaction?

How does one operationalise art is the big question, because that's what you're asking. Consumers don't want to see paint by numbers. They want to see masterpieces. Regardless of science and analytics and data, creativity is still the oxygen to growth. Consumers have to see beautiful stories being told to them that speak to their spirit as to how the brand connects. So, how you operationalise from the boardroom all the way to execution is about democratising that brand and what it does. Going back to the Absolut example of going out and talking about sex responsibly – that went all the way up to the Pernod Ricard board. I was three weeks into the job and my first board meeting!

Once you get the OK, it’s then having that pristine system of a really good brief, working with an agency that you trust, making sure everybody on the team – all the way from the brand to your sales organisation – understands what you're trying to accomplish and what that means for every touchpoint from consumer to shopper.

That's what great marketing is. It's about understanding a very powerful, simple idea, and spending 90% of your time executing and operationalising it. I think we spend too much time on the let's get the campaign right, let's get the strategy right. That's only 20% of the work and getting it flawlessly executed is 80% of the work. That's how great brands thrive.

Putting that system in place, while it doesn't sound sexy – we're talking about infrastructure which doesn't sound sexy – but if you don't have infrastructure, nothing's going to go through the pipes.

How well would you say that the brand stories are integrated across the customer, customer journeys and channels?

I think that's where the opportunity really lies, in really understanding how a story unfolds across the path to purchase. In today's bricks-and-clicks world, that's even a bigger challenge and matching your digital shelf to your physical shelf is not easy.

There's so much data underpinning the whole path-to-purchase cycle and how you disrupt and how you make sure that you're part of what we call, that last three feet, when it comes to the purchase of the brand or the service. That could be a digital last three feet. It could be a physical last three feet. And too many people are spending too much time on the top of the funnel and not enough time on the bottom of the funnel. And for that story to permeate in the bottom of the funnel as that's where a lot of innovation and creativity really comes in. But people don't find it sexy and that's not where they put their best marketers.

I think in today's performance world, if we don't devote as much time to the bottom of the funnel as we do the top, you might have a great brand but you might not have a great brand that sustains over time because it is sales that sustain a brand over time. That's how a brand is viable – that people still want to buy it and buy into it. I think that's the next hill to climb. It may not sound fun, but it is fun when you do it right. And I think there's a lot of opportunity for brands to figure that out.

So, the opportunity is in adding creativity to the bottom of the funnel if you want to create sustained impact, and continue that story all the way through to the checkout? Would you also say it goes beyond that to post-sales customer nurturing and loyalty?

Here's the problem, and this is the part that I think most marketers are still struggling with. I hate to say this, but there is no such thing as loyalty. There is zero loyalty. What we face today, and it's different in different industries from durable goods to fast-moving goods, is that at the end of the day, consumers are not loyal. If they are, then great, but it's not enough to help a brand grow.

This notion of constantly recruiting consumers and sometimes re-recruiting consumers who are lapsed users, this notion of continuously driving around penetration and not just buy rate - that takes a whole different brand of marketing across the path to purchase. Once they've purchased you, you are not done, because the odds that they're going to come back and purchase you again are working against you every single day. This notion of re-recruitment after the purchase doesn't stop. That's I think the biggest change that marketers need to think about. A lot of them feel like once I've got them to purchase, I'm done. And I'm thinking, not if you want the brand to thrive and still be impactful.

How important is it for a brand to be a companion in people's lives? Is that the role for brands that even after the sale, we've got to work harder?

Yes, but you have to give people reasons to still want to buy into the brand because there's always someone trying to disrupt you. And no brand is protected for life. The other thing that's really hard for people to understand when it comes to impact, is that I think in traditional forms of marketing, the word 'target' has become a dangerous word because it forces marketers to think about brand impact by identifying this small demographic group that they have to build loyalty among.

Those days are over. Consumers don't choose brands based on demographics. We're all very multidimensional people. How I behave when I'm by myself versus how I behave when I'm with a group or how I behave when I might be outside of the home or be influenced by different things.

We will choose, in the same category, different brands depending upon the context that we're in. I may eat healthily when I'm at home, but when I'm at a party, I'm probably going to eat unhealthily. That same consumer may be buying healthy products and not healthy products. To box people into one type of behaviour is just wrong. That's issue number one.

Issue number two is, therefore, you have to go beyond demographics. You have to go to context. I'll give you a great example with our Malibu brand. Any time I say Malibu, people say I think of the beach, I think of fun and I think of youth. And we market it that way, as a very youthful brand. But when we look at the data, almost 50% of consumption comes from people who are over 50 years old. So, it isn't about just targeting a demographic, it's targeting a mindset.

I think that's really hard for marketers, because if I didn't have that 50% consumption for people over 45 or 50, the brand wouldn't be as big as it is and it wouldn't be growing as fast as it is. Understand that targeting a mindset, which might have demographic properties, is very different from how you target your volume for impact.

We've been talking about the importance of shifting to context rather than demographics, and especially with cookies going out for good in 2023, what do the next 10 years hold for brands who are going to need to have an impact? How can you see it evolving over the next decade?

While we've talked a lot about it, it really hasn't quite operationalised yet. I think in today's world of predictive analytics, predictive human analytics and the role that AI can play sounds really scary because data is cold. Data feels unhuman. It feels robotic. But let's be clear, consumers over time are going to want more feelings of personalised service. Brands feel like they're catering to their personal needs.

We all know that when you're a mass, big brand, then that's inefficient - you can't afford to do that. So, in the next 10 years, mass personalisation is really where it's going. This is where the power of predictive analytics powered with AI can get scaled brands to act in a very personalised way.

People talk about dynamic content and about programmatic but when you can serve based on data signals, micro data signals but served on a scaled basis using technology, it will unlock a brand's purposeful story at scale in a personalised manner for impact. I think people have to understand what that means. It doesn't mean letting a computer take over, it means how you bring humanity into how you serve marketing on a mass basis. When you can do that, I think you're going to unlock a whole new definition of impact.