Getting All Your Agencies to Think Digital

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Miller Genuine Draft on ice in a Colombian bar.
Miller Genuine Draft on ice in a Colombian bar. Credit: SABMiller
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In the aftermath of a complete digital transformation, it's easy to forget just how much time and learning went into making that change happen. Shifting paradigms doesn't happen overnight, after all, and organizational change certainly doesn't occur any more quickly. This week, Cara Coffee of SABMiller, the world's second-largest beer and beverage distributor, shares just how much effort has gone into -- and is still going into -- turning the company's marketing to a more social, consumer-focused approach. In Latin America, where Ms. Coffee is part of the Marketing Development Americas team, it's a case of collaboration and knowledge transfer that would make any self-proclaimed digital "growth hacker" more than just a little envious.

The challenge

Time and time again, we hear about the challenges of a globally recognized brand undergoing a facelift or repositioning, and the growing pains that accompany this. Often, there's a confluence of global and local messaging. Indeed, this was the first transformational challenge that Ms. Coffee and her Latin America digital team faced several years ago. At the time, SABMiller had a bare-bones presence on social media, and its global branded content didn't necessarily make sense for the distributor's local markets, which include Mexico, Nicaragua and the Caribbean.

"For the first couple of years," she says, "we focused on local market enablement through the creation of playbooks and the like, designed to ensure experience and messaging consistency across markets." They eventually settled on a system whereby the global team owns positioning and much of the branded content; the local teams own their brand goals and objectives; and the regional Latin American team builds the relationship between the two.

Brand roles having been solidified, Ms. Coffee and her team then began to reevaluate how digital could better work to drive conversations and, of course, sales. "With a solid foundation in place, we've taken a big step back in the last 18 months or so to focus on how we truly leverage digital as a competitive differentiator," says Ms. Coffee, adding, "specifically using it to connect with consumers in a meaningful manner."

The brains behind the brands

Shifting focus to digital and social media prowess has required collaboration and not a little bit of learning from all involved. For overall strategy, Ms. Coffee and her team turned to U.S.-based agency Trepoint to help rethink their approach to digital, which she says was "an opportunity to leverage some of the advanced expertise and capabilities that exist in the United States" and translate it to Latin American markets.

Ms. Coffee and her team also pooled together the various agencies responsible for local markets in what has become a complicated -- and unique -- system of knowledge transfer across 70 people and 10 countries. "Making sure that knowledge goes from the top all the way to the agencies that are executing can be quite difficult," she says, noting this is especially true because the group of agencies is only focused on digital during 20% of its day.

To help the teams build a brain trust, SABMiller has so far hosted three digital innovation summits "designed to harness the power of all of our agencies."