GLOBAL BRAND DIRECTOR FOR MALIBU
"Summer 2017 looks like it’s going to be the best ever for Malibu. We have a strong and validated campaign platform. The assets are more focused and aligned than ever and I believe that we have some true Fame Drivers that will make consumers talk about the brand"
Jesper you have a background from Chalmers, FMCG and start-ups so why did you end up, in the Wine & Spirits Business?
Well I have always been interested in working with global brands and I have a special relationship to the wine & spirits business. I grew up with a family business in wine & spirits going back three generations so it had been a part of my life one way or the other. My grandfather was really proud when I told him I would be working at Pernod Ricard. That made me the 4th generation working with wine and spirits.
Malibu is growing fast now
(+7% YTD) with strong development in all lead markets. You started as Brand Director for Malibu about 3,5 years ago, was it the same situation then?
No, it was quite a challenging time for Malibu then and many markets like the UK, Spain, France and the Netherlands had seen a continuous decline for several years. In the US our strategy was focused on driving growth through product innovations. Unfortunately we had overextended ourselves with too many launches that didn’t build on the core strengths of the brand. Furthermore our key innovation didn’t connect with consumers and it was based on a completely different platform that lacked consistency with the overall brand message. That resulted in a decline for Malibu Original. We could also see that our positioning that focused on the Caribbean restricted our opportunities to expand the business, Malibu became a vacation brand for a limited set of occasions. The relaxed “island mindset” was not relevant to our target group and we needed to drive more energy and vibrancy into the brand to become a part of their summer lifestyle. A major strategic shift was therefore needed to turn around the brand.
It sounds like you had a big task, where did you start?
You should always start with the consumer. Together with the markets we began talking to our target group in search of a key insight. We soon realized that summer affected our consumers on a deeply emotional level. Consumers in all markets said the same thing: “summer is when I feel most free and happy”. It actually changes the way they behave and feel. This powerful insight was ownable for Malibu thanks to our heritage linked to summer. We did however need to shift the positioning of the brand and move away from being “on the island” and change from being focused on “escapism”, and instead stand for the release of a feeling. Our target group lives here and now and we must help them to make the best out of that in a context that they can relate to. The new insight gave us our core crusade to “liberate the spirit of summer”. If we do that our consumers can release the best version of themselves, their “summer you”, and we can give them the brand experience of “the best summer of their lives”. The new sharp focus on summer gave us a strong message and a clear platform to build on.
So with a new insight, how did you go about developing your strategy?
It was a very exciting time but also extremely hectic. I still remember how we briefed the agency on the new campaign on Christmas Eve. We had a small core team at the time and in less than 4 months we developed a new brand compass: Playbook (our main strategy document), campaign platform, communication strategy with focus on digital content, campaign assets including a YouTube series and TVCs, a new brand strategy, in-store tools and we re-structured the portfolio strategy to center around our hero Malibu Original. We also developed a new business model that changed the investment strategy behind the brand to focus the investments in the summer months. In the beginning that strategy met some resistance, but we can now see that it really works. Our strategy is all about recruitment and if you want to recruit a consumer to Malibu, when is the best time to do that?
Trying to get a consumer to drink a Piña Colada in December is quite hard and expensive. Trying to get them to drink a Piña Colada during the summer is a lot easier. So the starting point of the strategic shift was that we needed to invest our money when it was most effective to recruit new consumers into the brand, when our consumers are most likely to drink our product, which is between May-September in the northern hemisphere.
That sounds great but how did you push the implementation so fast in a big and complex organization like Pernod Ricard?
A key reason why we managed to make a shift and implement it so fast was an amazing collaboration around the strategic development as well as the execution with the lead markets. We said to ourselves: “Let’s try to live the brand”. What would a ‘summer you’ do? Of course we need to have a workshop on a beach! It’s a lot harder to be negative or unenergetic if you sit in the sun on a beach. So we took all lead markets to a sunny beach for a week and worked 12-14 hours a day. We have continued with this yearly lead market workshop in the sun for Malibu and I think it has been a core activity for the success of the brand. Having fun in the sun is also a great way to create a strong team feeling and I’ve made a lot of good friends along the way in these workshops. We have also developed a close formal and informal relationship with our markets with weekly discussions around all major challenges for the brand. Our key markets are closely involved in the development of our global campaign assets and most of our L3F tools are invented in the markets and then launched globally, like the hugely effective coconut cup.
You must have been nervous when the first communication and activations went live, when did you start seeing results?
It was really exciting and best of all was that we saw positive results straight away. Focusing on the summer season created more alignment, consistency and impact. Our new colorful brand identity also made us more distinctive, making Malibu stand out in store. The old one was all white and that made the white bottle disappear. Our new palette with strong color makes Malibu pop. The new identity made the markets execution in store more impactful. A major change was also an increased focus on digital media with more relevant content for our target group. Still it was a lot of things that we needed to work on and continuously improve. As always when you do major changes “shit happens” and we learned a lot around what doesn’t work from year one.
After an experience like that, what are the biggest lessons you learned and how does that influence what you do now?
I think the most important thing is that it takes time to drive a strategic shift. We will now implement the 4th summer campaign based on the strategic platform we started to develop 3,5 years ago. It’s important to keep improving from version one and we have made major evolutions of the strategy every year while still keeping consistency on the overall platform. We have simplified a lot and we keep cutting things out that aren’t necessary, making sure that we fuel our resources and investments into the things that truly drive growth.
Summer 2017 looks like it’s going to be the best ever for Malibu. We have a strong and validated campaign platform. The assets are more focused and aligned than ever and I believe that we have some true Fame Drivers that will make consumers talk about the brand. In summer 2016 Malibu became the most talked about Rum brand in the world. In 2017 we want to be one of the most talked about spirits brands. We have also finally found a great model on how to use innovations as recruitment tools without diverting a lot of funds. Malibu has seen strong growth this year and I think our great momentum will keep building in 2017. It’s definitely very exciting times!