Anheuser-Busch has always been part of my family. I was born in St. Louis and grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan (while going to games at Busch Stadium). I also watched my father as he progressed up the A-B chain: when I was a toddler, I remember him drinking Busch; as a teenager, he moved on to Budweiser; and in my twenties, he achieved Michelob status (actually Michelob Light, since he was watching his weight).
Now that I have young children and am watching my budget, I've gone back to square one and am drinking Busch. (But, I'm not sure if I will be growing up to Budweiser or resurrected Schlitz, which has one of the more remarkable brand stories occurring right now - more on that in the future). A-B advertising is ingrained in my head: from Hoyt Axton singing the melodic "Head for the Mountains"...
...to the Budweiser Holiday Classic
So, when Ad Age posted an article about the Bud Light Drinkability campaign [Bud's Big Blunder: Letting Consultants Steer Brand (Ad Age)], I was quite interested; primarily, because the campaign didn't do much for me. I was even more interested in the article, though, since it relates to the gap between by-the-numbers strategic consultants and creative ad agencies. It left me calling out: "You really needed good market research to have made that succeed." In short, I strongly believe that this is a key area where highly effective market research applies.
There is a lot to learn from this- and I really think we (as market researchers) could have filled a role between the groups. Someone makes a comment in the article that "Marketing is a blend of art and science", and market research (when done right) bridges that gap. Comments in the article are quick to compartmentalize the pitch into rational vs. emotional (really, I have a difficult time differentiating between the two). In fact, we have to look at all successful advertising as having both objective (rational) claims and subjective (emotional) claims. You need to be clear on both components (when developing the creative), and succeed in delivering on both. In other words, even the most rational of advertising has a strong emotional component, and vice versa.
Effective implementation of a brand strategy must translate between the straight-line thinking (science) and the non-linear creativity (art). The challenge we face is that often both sides do not know how the translation occurs; in fact, it requires a different skill set. One side loves data; while the other side fears it. One side informs through numbers; the other side informs through stories. Through effective research, we can provide useful information to make decisions and tell stories.
Example: We overcome this by applying several techniques and types of questions to unveil this information. One project we conducted for a Fortune-500 brand illustrates this very well. The client asked us to conduct a segmentation to define the market in a manner for them to position their brands to maximize market share. The brands had already established positions as premium versus low cost, but it is a price-competitive market, and the client had difficulty defining the value elements to differentiate them. Each brand needed to deliver unique benefits so that they would not cannibalize share. Management consultants were brought in, and they made the case very simple: treat one brand as premium and the other as low cost. However, the marketing vice president found it to be difficult to implement when defining the products/services and when developing the creative campaigns.
This is where we came in. We conducted a thorough research project to define the preferences, needs, brand attitudes, and demographics within the market. The methodology included advanced conjoint designs and simple, yet highly focused, attitudinal statements.
We identified, defined, and "gave life" to unique groups of customers that enabled the client to position her brands in the market. The research maintained the initial structure of Premium versus Low Cost while establishing quantifiable value and opportunities for each of the brands; additionally, the vice president had information she could weave into stories and real-world examples to inform product development and the ad agency. The results have been noteworthy advertisements that weave together strong emotional and rational benefits, and strong brand growth through difficult economic conditions of the past several years.
Could the vice president have been able to connect all of the different groups in her organization without our research? Possibly. (She has not risen to her position through blind luck). Did she increase her chances of successfully uniting all of the groups by turning to us to provide the information she needed? Definitely.
And this is where Anheuser-Busch appears to have dropped the ball. The brand managers left the opportunity for miscommunication and misdirection between two very unique groups of thinkers. In the end, neither group had the information and ability (or possibly desire) to speak to the other.
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Posted by Jeff McKenna. Jeff is a senior consultant at CMB and a lover of the mid-west, beer, and brand alignment.