Anheuser-Busch InBev’s inclusive marketing efforts start from within

Many brands are striving to better reflect real-world diversity in an effort to strengthen their relationships with consumers. For Anheuser-Busch InBev, that work begins internally.

We recently spoke with Jodi Harris, global vice president of marketing culture and capabilities at Anheuser-Busch InBev, about what the company’s inclusivity efforts look like and what it is focusing on in H2 2021.

Tell us about your role.

A few years back, we created a group called Marketing Culture and Capabilities. It was [created] to help re-engage the marketing team and inspire it to look to the outside world and see what is going on in terms of creativity and capabilities.

My role at the company [is similar] to a coach. We try to create a safe environment for the team to be collaborative, take risks, and ask questions they might not want to ask in another setting or with another senior leadership team. [The initiative] has really broken down the walls of bureaucracy and hierarchy.

Your team’s efforts must touch the company’s external initiatives, too. Can you speak to that?

Yes, the reputation piece, or industry leadership piece, is also a big part of the team. I call it my three C’s: creativity, capabilities, and culture. Culture is internal as well as external, but we’re focusing a lot right now on the internal, because if we don’t believe in ourselves, if we don’t reflect who our consumers are and understand their needs, then we’re missing the mark.

The internal culture really needs to be taken care of. It’s not just a human resources thing; [change] has to be driven from within. It takes a while to change culture internally, but we’re able to do that little by little. In a global setting, it’s a bit more difficult. You’ve got to get people to believe that what we’re doing at a global headquarters can actually influence and impact the rest of the world very quickly.

In recent months, we’ve noticed marketing has undergone a fundamental shift. Have you witnessed that as well?

First of all, there’s no playbook anymore. There are foundations that we have to keep sacred, like brand positioning and recruitment strategies. But the world is continuously evolving, and demographics are shifting. For companies to respond, they need to have their eyes on the street to understand what is happening. There’s a difference between slow-moving culture and fast-moving culture, and we’ve got to be able to time [our responses] right and be open to learn.

It’s all about learning. Usually, a campaign ends and that’s it—move on, do the next thing. Well, no, because the campaign can go on and be reborn in a different way, perhaps. We need to pause and figure out what’s working, what’s not, and how can we make it better. A lot of companies [view] these changes within the industry as a fad and adopt them as a short-term fix. That doesn’t work. You have to really go into the brand, understand the purpose of the brand, and what needs it is solving for people. Focus on that, and make sure that your demographic is inclusive, especially in this day and age.

The other big shift is that it’s less about being perfect, and more about making progress. With that, you change your whole structure in terms of agility and flexibility, and it takes some getting used to. We used to rely on big research programs, studies, and simulated test markets. We’d go to market, not get the same results, and pull the funding back. Well, they’re simulated test markets, so [their results are] not exactly how it’ll be in reality.

Now, we’re much more into piloting things live, on a small scale, then rolling them out over time into different markets and geographies. That’s how we measure success now.

I also love this move toward multisensory marketing. Mastercard has done this with audio, but there’s so much more to explore about how to make a brand and a product not only come to life, but also fit the needs of the consumer in multiple ways.

In our category especially, it’s not just drinking the beer; it’s the smell, the aroma. There’s a lot we can do there, and a lot of other companies are starting to see that as well.

What are your key focuses for H2?

With the return to—I want to say normalcy—being with people, there are so many opportunities for communication, for innovation. We’re also looking at growing a portfolio based on all the different needs of consumers. Our brands can go beyond just advertising and product.

The other big thing we have been working on is our smart drinking program. We’re in the middle of an internal competition centered on ideas about binge drinking, violence with drinking, and moderation. We’ve received over a hundred submissions. It’s actually opened up a whole avenue for the brands as well.