Anheuser-Busch reported its fourth-quarter results earlier this week. The company saw 4.8 percent revenue growth during the fiscal year of 2018 and 5.3 percent growth during the quarter. Following the release of the results, Adweek caught up with Anheuser-Busch InBev’s U.S. CMO, Marcel Marcondes, to learn more about the company’s evolving strategy, how it has become a more agile marketer and more.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Adweek: What do you think of the Q4 results?
Marcel Marcondes: We’re excited, but not yet completely happy, right? There is a clear tangible evolution. We have been changing a lot the last year or so. We acknowledge it was time for us to change the way we get things done here. We are the leading brewery, and we’ve always been proud of being the number one in terms of market share, but to be very candid, we woke up to the fact that [being] number one in the market share [is] always connected to being the number one in driving growth. So we’ve been making a lot of changes here to really drive growth to the industry.
We decided to be much more consumer-centric. So we became obsessed about listening to consumers. Second thing, we decided that our portfolio of brands would have to evolve so that we could really address the recent consumer needs so that our portfolio brands would be up to speed to what consumers are looking for. And the third thing was speed and agility, because if you want to bring a lot of innovations to the market, if you want to upgrade and update our portfolio, [you] have to do it fast. In the world, as it is today, either you address a gap or an opportunity fast, or by the time you show up, the train has left the station.
For other marketers who might read our a conversation, what can they learn to become more agile and drive growth?
I would say it’s important to have long-term thinking. This was one of the most important things that enabled us to start doing the changes here, because if you’re just thinking about the next four weeks, you’re going to keep betting. You’re going to keep trying to do what you currently do a little bit better, instead of having a broader reflection about what’s going to make [you] better prepared for the future. … Companies, especially big companies, need to make sure that they are on the right side of history.
So, for example, a Michelob Ultra is the fastest growing brand in the industry, and it’s been like this for the last four years. This is amazing. But … we said, OK, what can we do to make sure the Michelob Ultra will still be the fastest growing brand in the industry for the next 10 years? We saw, for example, that there was a big organic trend [in the] food and beverage industry, but the beer wasn’t part of it yet. So we … launched the first major organic beer in the country directly connected to health and wellness, which is a core business for Michelob Ultra.
Did you make any internal changes to your structure?
Our brand teams are working in a completely different way. We work under the system of the newsroom. Instead of having long briefs that take one month to get defined, then you brief the agency, they take four weeks to bring together and then we do a call, we do newsroom meetings every day. … Then we present what people are talking about, what the opportunities [align] with what our brands stand for. … It’s a big change in the way we listen to consumers and in the way we develop our brand content.
Are there any particular ways that you’re listening to consumers?
We do daily research with consumers. We use online panels—this is where we proactively talk to consumers to share ideas, new concepts or new content [to which] we have to get their initial reaction. [W]e are referring to … new ways of doing research instead of going to a room and being behind the mirror and everything. This is when we proactively talk to them.
The second thing is, we’re betting deep [on] social listening. Like never before. I tell people that we became CNN people with the number of screens we have here [to show us] everything that people say, everything that’s trending all day. All of our brands have daily meetings that we call “newsroom meetings” where they start the day by checking what consumers are talking about and what is trending, and then they start working with to develop content as a publisher.
That sounds like a huge shift. When did you guys implement that?
We’ve been learning, we’ve been evolving, but [we] really started doing this last year.
Would you say that some of these positive results came from this strategical shift?
I believe so. We also changed the way we track [success] here, the indicators that you track. [W]e’re now paying much more attention to share of social conversation because what really matters is what people are talking about. … [W]henever people talk about beer, 60 percent of those conversations on social mention our brands in a positive way. So this is [an] indicator that [we] track, and this proves that we are becoming much more culturally relevant with our brand.
This is a reflection of that model, right? Something we can talk a little bit about as well [is] the impact on innovation, because as we listen more, we become more confident about what consumers are really looking for, and we become much more confident about taking some risks and developing some new products that aim to address the needs that we identify with consumers.
Do you have any examples of products that came out of that?
This is why we launched Bud Light Orange last year, and we’re just about to launch Bud Light Lemon Tea. We see that in summertime, people are going to [want] flavors.
We also [found that when people go out], they start mixing beer with bourbon or whiskey. And because we identified that, we spoke to Jim Beam, and we developed the partnership that enabled us to launch Budweiser Copper Lager—Budweiser aged on Jim Beam barrels, which is quite innovative for a beer brand.
This is what made us confident in betting big [on] developing the first organic beer in the industry, which is Michelob Ultra Pure Gold. All of that started by listening to consumers, and then we applied speed and agility, because again, if you are too late to the game, somebody is going to do it faster.