Insights that Bring Brands A.L.I.V.E. - Part 1

04 Dec 2014|Mark Whiting

This paper presented at the annual 2014 ESOMAR Congress, describes the thinking behind, the ambitions for and the challenges faced in developing an actionable and differentiated approach to generating and leveraging insights at Pernod Ricard. The resulting five-step process, known as A.L.I.V.E., was framed and executed in the humanistic and entrepreneurial spirit of Pernod Ricard’s way of building “passion brands” (living brands), where deeper connections with consumers and generating advocacy are the driving ambition.

Brands are Living Entities
The term “entified brand” was coined by Sashittal, Hodis and Sriramachandramurthy to describe brands that “transcend their status as things and become seen… as living entities with thoughts and feelings”. They describe observing that some brands (the examples they cite are Starbucks, Whole Foods and Intel) enjoyed a special status amongst the undergraduate students they were teaching, monopolizing their attention during classes through interaction on social media (Twitter). These brands were the students’ partners in highly emotional and personal relationships and were perceived as being authentic, lovable and capable of loving in return, and worthy of an elevated, “celebrity-like” following.

As markets have become increasingly competitive and commoditized, it has become more difficult for brands to differentiate on product-based benefits alone. The most successful brands are those that have transcended their status as products, developing a brand character of distinction as a winning strategy.
“A brand is a living entity and is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures” said Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner.

According to the Brand Asset Valuator®, an annual study established by Y&R from 1993 and now managed by BAV Consulting, brands of true character grow 66% faster than other brands.

When a brand has a personality, it takes on an identity of its own. Its every word, gesture and action become natural expressions which make the brand instantly recognizable. Not only do these brands behave more consistently, they are seen as being more authentic, engaging, trustworthy and desirable.

Passion Brands at Pernod Ricard
In the same way that individuals adhere to social groups, people commonly use brands to build their social self. As consumers, we are defined in a tribal manner and brands are the totems that we use to establish our allegiance to those tribes. Typically, each consumer will become an advocate for only a few brands about which they are most passionate and, observing this, the term “Passion Brands” was variously coined by brand strategists such as Derek Day, Helen Edwards and Kate Newlin.

“Passion brands – brands that we recommend to friends wholeheartedly, with a joyous, even evangelical zeal. Passion brands inspire an emotional attachment. Unlike consumer fads, we become personally invested in them, sometimes even more so than we do with our friends and loved ones.” Kate Newlin.

At Pernod Ricard, the notion of Passion Brands has struck a deep chord and has been distilled down into seven key tenets:
1. They behave like human beings;
2. They have energy;
3. They have magnetism;
4. They create and share emotions;
5. They change over time, they are sensitive to their context;
6. They have an on-going conversation with the people who love them;
7. They develop strong bonds for the long-term based on excitement, pride and belonging.

Above all, it was established that Passion Brands can be mobilized by Passion Insights; a brand can be brought alive through a deep understanding of the way that people experience culture, society and emotions as this insight can then be applied to a broad spectrum of brand building activities across multiple touch points and channels at appropriate moments.

But in a decentralized and global organization like Pernod Ricard with around 80 insight team members, who work with 19,000 collaborators in 80 countries, how should a Passion Insight be defined and what are the best ways of generating and leveraging these insights in a unique and differentiated way (the Pernod Ricard way) to guarantee the strongest possible impact on the business? In short, how can a highly actionable approach to insights be codified and implemented successfully?

This was the challenge which faced the Pernod Ricard Global Insights Team in 2013, aided by the team at Added Value. The answer lay deep within the Pernod Ricard DNA.

Paul Ricard, Entrepreneur and Humanist
Paul Ricard created the pastis Ricard in 1932. The Ricard and Pernod companies linked up in 1975 and today Pernod Ricard is the co-leader of the wine & spirits industry commercializing iconic brands which include spirits like Absolut, Chivas, Jameson, Havana Club, Ballantine’s, Beefeater and Martell, the champagnes Mumm and Perrier Jouët and a portfolio of premium wines. Although Paul Ricard, had he still been alive, might not have recognized the group today by the scale of its operations, he would surely have been familiar with the group’s core values which continue to reflect his own personal values of an entrepreneurial spirit and a humanistic (people-centric) approach to business.

In his autobiography, published in 1983, Paul Ricard writes of the admiration he held for the independent businessmen of his home town and the inspiration they gave him to set up his own company: Mr Milou who made a mechanical dough kneading machine, Mr Légier who owned the local Ford concession, the pharmacists Silbert and Gros as well as the Coder brothers who set up their own small business as wheelwrights.

“C’est en partie à cause de ces réussites que j’ai moi-même réussi. Le succès de ces hommes, souvent partis d’une situation modeste, aiguillonnait mon ambition alors que j’étais encore très jeune. Je voulais, à leur exemple, devenir quelqu’un.”1
Paul’s son, Patrick Ricard, who became the group’s Managing Director in 1972 echoed his father by describing an entrepreneur as:
“… the one who innovates, who doesn’t hesitate to challenge the established order through a combination of intuition and vision. The entrepreneur dares, imagines, invents – and doesn’t hesitate to rewrite the rules.”

It was thus that Paul Ricard’s desire to become an entrepreneur led him to elaborate his own original recipe for pastis “Ricard, le vrai pastis de Marseille” and to sell over 250,000 bottles to local cafés in the first eight months of his company’s existence, in spite of stiff competition from more established producers. Paul Ricard’s entrepreneurial spirit was demonstrated throughout his life as he designed his own labels and advertising campaigns for his products and invented the concept of the “marketing mix” by combining advertising, sponsorship, commercial actions and the development of a sizable sales’ force. Today, over 40 million liters of Ricard are sold annually and Ricard is the leading brand of spirits in France.

In addition to being an entrepreneur, Paul Ricard was also notable for his humanistic (people-centric) approach to business. He understood the impact of events and social marketing in building “social” brands and sent out a message to his sales force to “make a friend a day”. By talking to people in cafés and bars, he believed it was possible to understand their motivations and build their enthusiasm for Ricard by placing it at the centre of their social activities. It was in this belief that he would personally visit five or six bars a day to develop relations with their owners and their customers and to gain feedback on his products:
“J’avais choisi de proposer mon Cantagas à l’heure de l’apéritif, ce qui me permettait de rencontrer les patrons des établissements, mais aussi la clientèle. Je participais à ces discussions colorées qui s’engageaient devant les comptoirs, le bistrot remplaçant l’agora des Grecs et le forum des Romains… On trinquait ensemble dans les exclamations de satisfaction, les discussions s’ouvraient, les gens nous disaient ce qu’ils pensaient de notre pastis. Nous leur donnions des nouvelles de notre maison, de notre progression. Cette méthode, qui s’est répandue aujourd’hui, était nouvelle.” 2

Paul Ricard’s analysis was clear: there is no life in society without conviviality or without parties. And where there are parties, there is usually a sharing of alcohol. Over the years, Ricard gained the unofficial title of the biggest organizer of parties in France: free concert tours, beach tours, pétanque (bowls) tournaments, “ferias”. For instance, in 1948, Ricard organized a free concert with famous artists at every staging point of the Tour de France. The power of these public events is to create word of mouth amongst communities of people sharing the same passions; participating at the event leads you to talk about it to those around you, passing on new habits and behaviours (such as the alcohol you shared at the event) to your friends and relations.

So from the very origins of Pernod Ricard, Paul Ricard and his employees established a focus on social connections – engaging in conversations and getting to know the real person behind the “consumer” – and fostering brand advocacy. Along with an entrepreneurial spirit, this value sits at the very heart of the Pernod Ricard DNA today.

What do World Class Insights Organizations have in common?
If Pernod Ricard has always been an organization driven by a passion for people and insights, from its most senior management downwards, throughout the last 15 years’ the insight function at Pernod Ricard has undergone a major transformation. The insights team itself has grown from less than five people in 2000 to around 80 people in 2014!

It is rare for any insights team (agency or client) to grow so rapidly, but growth is not just a matter of quantity, it is also a question of quality. The ambition at Pernod Ricard has been not simply to deliver more insight, but to deliver better insight. It was therefore natural to ask the question, what defines “world class” within insights? This subject could of course fill an entire ESOMAR paper on its own (cf. Kugel and Henseler, 2013), but a literature review and benchmarking analysis regularly revealed to us four key contributing factors:
1. A passion for insight that comes from the top of the organization, which is shared by everyone, but ignited by the insights’ team.
2. A well-defined insight agenda which is broadly agreed across the organization and a clear view on the issues that insights need to help solve.
3. A focus on the future as much as the present, where insights are mandated to challenge and shape the future agenda.
4. A culture of learning. World Class Insight Organizations train broader teams to receive and use data efficiently. They have clearly defined and consistent Insight Ways that guide their thinking around the application of insight.

It was this last observation that motivated Pernod Ricard, in the Spring of 2013, to embark upon a journey to codify and implement a highly actionable and differentiated approach to insights (the Pernod Ricard way of generating and leveraging insights); executed entrepreneurially and framed in the spirit of the Pernod Ricard approach to building passion brands where deeper connections with consumers and generating advocacy are the central tenets. Pierre Pringuet, Pernod Ricard’s Chief Executive Officer launched the project with these words:
“Our brands are our key assets… but we need to transform them into Passion Brands: brands that consumers love, that they want to live with. In order to achieve that, we have to turn our company into a fully consumer-centric organization. We must be the best at understanding our consumers. Not only as consumers, but as individuals: what they want, what they will look for in the future… to develop the closest possible relationship with consumers. You (the insights team) are instrumental in achieving this. You are the most important people in achieving this revolution by stimulating and inspiring the whole organization. You are Passionate Entrepreneurs serving Passion Brands.”

The resulting process and toolkit was developed in an extremely pragmatic fashion so that it could quickly be owned by the insights’ team and implemented across the whole Pernod Ricard organization (including the brand companies and the local distribution companies). This in itself was a major challenge because Pernod Ricard is structured according to a highly decentralized organizational model.

Decentralization: a unique organization to capture growth opportunities
Pernod Ricard’s organization, unique in its industry, is built around six Brand Companies and 80 Market Companies. The wholly-owned distribution network ensures a commercial presence that is closer to the markets and to consumer needs, allowing the global strategies defined by the Brand Companies to be tailored to local realities. It is a flexible and responsive structure and is one of the reasons why Pernod Ricard has been able to establish itself so quickly in emerging Asian and South American markets.

However, a decentralized organization also presents many challenges, specifically to the implementation of a shared insights process. Concretely, the insights people at Pernod Ricard are situated in many different parts of the business: at the headquarters, in the brand marketing teams and in the local companies responsible for distributing Pernod Ricard’s products. In spite of past work led by the insights team at the headquarters to propagate and share best practices, it was still possible to observe that two teams working in different markets on the same brands might tackle the issue of generating and leveraging insights in different ways (or at least refer to similar approaches with different terms). The result was to complicate, unnecessarily, the delivery of insights to teams in different parts of the organization.

Thus, one of the key challenges facing Pernod Ricard in terms of insight management is to ensure that all of the members of the team (the insights team and the broader marketing teams) are using efficient, effective and aligned approaches to working with insights that are specifically adapted to the unique challenges faced by Pernod Ricard’s brands. Only with the whole team working together, using a proven, common approach, and importantly sharing a common insights’ language, can they enhance the impact of insights, taking them to new levels.

They need to show that they can make insight available and relevant to multiple stakeholders at various levels, each charged with taking action in different ways to deliver brand growth. The members of the insight team themselves need to be empowered to act as inspiration partners who contextualize risk and provide the context necessary to guide better decision making; and the insight team needs to be a sum greater than its individual parts – working efficiently in a coordinated way, applying pragmatic, shared best practices and speaking a common language to constantly deliver high quality insights that the business needs to know rather than ones that are just nice to know… insights that drive action to bring brands alive.

An Entrepreneurial and Humanistic Approach to Insights
At every step of the way on this journey, culminating in the creation of the A.L.I.V.E. insights’ process, the guiding principles for the insights team have been an entrepreneurial spirit and a humanistic approach to understanding motivations and how to influence consumer behaviours.
One of the key “humanist” initiatives that has been developed at Pernod Ricard in the last 10 years has been the Magic Tuesday initiative; for while the sales’ team at Pernod Ricard have continued to follow Paul Ricard’s call to “make a friend a day” as they work out in the field (though even they tend to spend more of their time with intermediaries such as on- and off-trade distributors rather than the end consumer), other functions (including, but not only, marketing) have become increasingly desk-bound.

Magic Tuesday was thus established as a once a month initiative whereby teams from sales and marketing would meet as a group and head out into local bars and restaurants, as well as into consumers’ own homes to meet and befriend (not just observe) consumers for an evening; followed by a team debrief the following day when each participant would share their stories.

Magic Tuesday (which sits at the heart of the A.L.I.V.E. process), was developed by drawing on existing best practice consumer-contact initiatives in many of the brand and local market companies: on-trade safaris, consumer panels and co-creation sessions, life books and lunch and learn sessions. The best practices were distilled down into a toolbox of tools and tips (e.g. objective-fixing for the outing, how to form a rapport with consumers and how to formulate questions in a way that will reveal interesting clues about their behaviours and opinions) for successfully running a Magic Tuesday session and made available on a dedicated web portal for any member of the Pernod Ricard team planning or participating in a session. The same portal is also used for teams that have conducted a Magic Tuesday session to share the highlights of their experiences and to encourage others to participate.

An entrepreneurial spirit has been essential in allowing insight driven practices (such as Magic Tuesday or equally Maestria, a standardized approach to optimizing A&P spend across the local market companies or the Brand Compass, a shared model that the brand companies at Pernod Ricard use to express a brand’s positioning) to infuse every part of the organization.

In such a decentralized business, there are principally two ways of driving new ways of working with insights through the organization – centrifugally (pushing best practices out from the centre) or centripetally (drawing best practices in from the edges). Successful insight initiatives at Pernod Ricard have largely been achieved centripetally; that is to say, best practices have been “harvested” from the various brand and local market companies (as an when they emerge, driven by individual insight entrepreneurs) in such a way that the whole organization feels that they have the opportunity to be co-creators of new initiatives that can be adopted company-wide.

The central insights team (at the Pernod Ricard head office) thus acts as a centre of gravity, drawing in good ideas, refining and harmonizing them, rather than trying to impose wholly new ideas (that are not home-grown) in an authoritative fashion. Essentially, this enables the central team to avoid the “not invented here” syndrome which is the major barrier to the adoption of new practices and behaviours in an organization with a strong decentralized culture.

Click here to read part 2.

1. “It is partly because of these successes, that I succeeded myself. The success of these men, often starting from a modest situation, sharpened my ambition even though I was very young. I wanted, following their example, to be someone.”
2. “I had chosen to propose my Cantagas at aperitif-time, which enabled me to meet the owners of the establishments as well as their customers. I participated in the animated discussions which took place in front of the counters, the bistro replacing the agora of the Greeks and the forum of the Romans… We toasted together to their expressions of satisfaction, the conversations opened up, people told us what they thought of our pastis. We told them about the news of our company, of our progress. This method, which is common today, was new.”

Hermant C Sashittal, Monica Hodis and Rajendran Sriramachandramurthy, Is your brand a living entity? MIT Sloan Management Review Spring 2014
Brand Asset Valuator,
Derek Day and Helen Edwards, Creating Passion Brands: How to Build Emotional Brand Connection with Customers, 2007
Kate Newlin, Passion Brands, 2009
Paul Ricard, La Passion de Créer, 1983
Christian Kugel, Cortney Henseler, Organizational Research Reinvigoration, ESOMAR Congress, 2013
Edmund Bergler, The Theory of the Therapeutic Results of Psycho-Analysis, 1937

The authors:
Nathalie De Rochechouart is Global Marketing Development & Insights Director at the Pernod Ricard company in Paris, France.
Kim Gaspar is the Market Research Best Practice manager at the Pernod Ricard company in Paris, France.
Florence Rainsard is the Consumer Insight and Research manager at the Pernod Ricard company in Paris, France.
Mark Whiting is a Director at Added Value in Paris, France.


Image source: Added Value

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