INDUSTRY VOICES: Seth Hillstrom, American Beverage Consortium Managing Partner

‘We’re closer than ever to personalized beverage marketing!’ – eBev exec


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Coca-Cola's global 'Share a Coke' campaign: A good example of marketers 'driving different message through different groups' (Picture Credit: Mikey/Flickr)
Coca-Cola's global 'Share a Coke' campaign: A good example of marketers 'driving different message through different groups' (Picture Credit: Mikey/Flickr)
As we gear up for eBev 2014 in Atlanta Georgia, the American Beverage Consortium’s Seth Hillstrom tells us that personalized beverage marketing is here to stay, but warns that getting too personal can be ‘just creepy’.

Hillstrom gave editor Ben Bouckley the lowdown on this year’s conference (October 1-3), which is dedicated to ‘navigating digital, mobile and social media marketing the beverage industry’.

Organized by the ABC, the three-day event will feature speakers from the likes of Coca-Cola, AB InBev, Pernod Ricard and SAB Miller.

BB: “Thanks for joining me Seth. One thing I picked up from the integrated/digital marketing people who we heard speak at eBev last year​ is the democratization of the message and their enthusiasm. The new generation of marketers seem much more open-minded in terms of adjusting their message for a given group over time, or tweaking it for other groups.

‘Would you agree, and how healthy an exercise do you think this has been for some of the big brands – in terms of reigniting their enthusiasm for the market and getting closer to consumers?”

SH:​ “I would absolutely agree. As marketers we’ve long been told the lore of one-to-one marketing, but the truth is that through the advent of unimaginable data systems, analysis and interpretation by some absolutely brilliant minds (you should see what companies like Cardinal Path and Visible Measures are doing), and new/improved platforms for then actually accessing the consumer, we’re a lot closer to personalized marketing than we’ve ever been. Maybe we’re about as close as we need to be – at some point it’s just creepy and can be counterproductive.

“I think a big brand being able to speak passionately and enthusiastically to a group of consumers in a way that they most likely to relate to (by tweaking their message over time or for specific groups) has been an extremely healthy exercise, as it allows the consumer to ‘digest the brand in a way likely to be most palatable, and the difference in terms of impact is dramatic.

“For a demonstration of how much more impactful a ‘personalized’, or more relatable, message can be (even without huge data doing the targeting), look at the success Coke has had with their ‘Share a Coke’ campaign simply because the person who bought the Coke happens to know someone named ‘Sean’ or ‘Sarah’.  The ability to tap into this type of potential impact is exactly why marketers are shifting towards being more open to driving different messages through different groups.”

BB: ‘Do old-style marketers exist who feel challenged by the new trends? Should they be, or do the same marketing principles apply, just through new media?’

SH: ​“This question is near and dear to the goals of eBev.  As the digital, mobile, and social media realms continue their transformation from new frontiers to critical components of any successful campaign, one thing has become quite clear: This is no longer digital, mobile, or social media marketing - this IS marketing.  

“Gone are the days of siloing our efforts and still hoping to deliver a message that inspires action.  Where we go from here will forever depend on our ability to see and understand the complete picture of the integrated marketing landscape.  Do some people resist change? Sure, of course.  But will they be able to move forward as prolific marketers without utilizing the full spectrum of tools at their disposal? Absolutely not.

“At least not for long.  The good news is that yes, many of the same principles do apply and old-style marketers who embrace change are often well-equipped to make the transition to a fully integrated marketing effort.”

BB: How have you worked to improve the quality of eBev in 2014, its second year?’ 

SH:​ “We ensure that our speaking faculty and sessions are of the highest caliber by working with our advisory board, which is comprised of some of the most influential marketers in the industry, to evaluate the merit and value of each potential presentation.

“Further, we’ve expanded the scope of what we’re doing.  Taking feedback from brands that they would love an opportunity to sit down and chat with top agency-side marketers in an intimate setting, we have introduced the Innovation Forum, which will be an hour-long session that will allow attendees to participate in round table discussions centered around the topics they care about.  

“Also, we’re introducing our eBev Tasting Bar, which gives emerging brands an opportunity to be showcased to our audience, generating industry awareness and providing these smaller brands with an invaluable opportunity to receive real-time feedback from top experts.”

BB: What slots do you most look forward to within the 2014 eBev program?

SH: ​Tough one! A lot of people are excited about our innovation in technology panel, entitled ‘Using the Power of Technology Platforms to Drive Sales’ that will feature leaders from Google, Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. The session will be led by one of our key brand marketers, and gives all of our brands an opportunity to pose critical questions directly to some of the world’s most important technology platforms. 

“Another key session with major global implications will be ‘Digital at Scale: Platforms, People, Processes, and Priorities around the Globe’, presented by Tom Brady, Head of Digital Enablement at SAB Miller.  Tom has some brilliant insights to share with us as the leader of SABMiller’s digital transformation, which has brought the entire organization to the cutting-edge of data driven enterprises. 

“Finally, I am personally very excited for ‘Harnessing the Power of Sponsorships & Endorsements in a Digital Age,’ because where else are you going to see Coke and Pepsi’s top minds in this area sit on the same panel to share wisdom across the entire industry? Not to mention, we’ll be hearing from Octagon’s David Schwab, who is a leading authority on brand and celebrity/talent partnerships as the Managing Partner of Octagon First Call.”

Seth Hillstrom is managing partner of the American Beverage Consortium, which is organizing eBev 2014. You can access the program in full here​.

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