• Adam Conner

Anheuser-Busch | Marcel Marcondes: Customer Centricity on Tap


This is the cover of the Authentic Avenue podcast episode featuring Marcel Marcondes, U.S. Chief Marketing Officer of Anheuser-Busch, and host Adam Conner.

Anheuser-Busch: Known around the world as a beverage behemoth. And led here in the U.S. by a guy who’s learned to have a lot of fun with it. [FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW.]



This is a link you can use to find Authentic Avenue, a marketing podcast hosted by Adam Conner, on Apple Podcasts. Remember to subscribe, rate, and review!

His name’s Marcel Marcondes, and he's their U.S. Chief Marketing Officer. And between things like hiring a Chief Meme Officer, teaching you how to cook, or serving up a brew for your dog, he’s figured out how to bring more than just an adult beverage to his customer’s lives.


Today, I ask him all about those things, why they’re important to him, and what’s next for the King of the Can. So listen in and enjoy as I get real with Anheuser-Busch and Marcel Marcondes.


More links:

Chief Meme Officer (application open until Sept. 18, 2020): https://www.budlight.com/en/chief-meme-officer.html

Dog Beer (Busch): https://www.busch.com/busch-dog-brew.html

Stella Artois Sessions: https://www.anheuser-busch.com/newsroom/2020/04/stella-artois-introduces-stella-sessions-home.html


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Theme Song: Extreme Energy (Music Today 80) Composed & Produced by Anwar Amr Video Link: https://youtu.be/8ZZbAkKNx7s


FULL TRANSCRIPT:


Adam Conner: [00:00:00] I just love cracking open a cold one. There's nothing like it. Today's guest agrees. In fact, he's made it his life and I get to share a taste of that with you here on Authentic Avenue.


Anheuser-Busch: known around the world as a beverage behemoth, and led here in the U.S. by a guy learned to have a lot of fun with it. His name's Marcel Marcondes and between things like hiring a Chief Meme Officer, teaching you how to cook, or serving up a brew for your dog. he's figured out how to bring more than just an adult beverage to his customers' lives.


Today. I ask him all about those things, why they're important to him, and what's next for the King of the Can. So listen in and enjoy as I get real with Anheuser Busch and Marcel Marcondes.


(interview begins)


Now, I love beer. I'm a beer drinker, not going to lie about it, but this guy is doing something really special and has been for a long, long time.


And I can't wait to dive into it a little bit more just about how he's getting real with the brand and having fun with it. I got Marcel Marcondes on from Anheuser-Busch, Marcel. How you doing? Thank you so much for joining me.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:01:11] Hey, Adam, I'm doing great. Everything's okay. It's awesome to be here. Speaking with you, my friend.


Adam Conner: [00:01:17] Glad to hear it. You're doing a lot of stuff right now and I, like I said, you're having a lot of fun and I'm going to talk about that in just a second, but you've contributed to Anheuser-Busch in so many different ways over the year, all over the place. It seems like you're having a lot of fun with it right now, especially when you're forced to become a little more creative than normal, but what excites you most about being at Anheuser-Busch right now?


Marcel Marcondes: [00:01:40] It's a great question, Adam. I think it's a very exciting moment for marketers, overall, and, it is true as well at Anheuser-Busch because this company acknowledges the fact that it's more than enough time for us to go all in, in terms of really a strong consumer centric organization.

I think we've reached a, a point of no return and COVID is here kind of to prove it to everybody right now, more than ever. It's useless if you do something that serves the serves your own purpose, only. You got to understand your consumers. You have to read, understand what they're going through.


Which are their new routines, their needs? Which are the real problems that you can add value on solving for? Anheuser-Busch is fully aware of that. So, this is why I think it's a very exciting time for any marketer and here at Anheuser-Busch it's great because the company is really focused on becoming best in class, on the consumer centricity.


So the more we do that, the more we feel like we're developing programs that add real value, added to consumers' lives. And so consumers respond very positively to that. And then their whole team enjoys even more what they're doing. And then it creates a very positive inertia, a very positive cycle, for the teams and for the work. So I think this is how we feel, which is great. Although we're going through tough times. Of course.


Adam Conner: [00:03:03] Yeah. It's part of that consumer centricity and bringing the product and a service, which brings genuine value, which makes me think of, of course the experience of consuming product. Right. That's great.


But also everything else that you're doing around it, which just lifts my spirits regardless. And I want to talk about something specifically here. This is something that I saw very recently. On LinkedIn, something that's happening for, I believe the Bud Light brand. Now, you know, I'm going to, I'm going to preface this by saying: they say that great leaders are always doing what they can to train their replacement.


But I got to ask about memes for a moment, if you don't mind, because I saw another CMO role crop up at Anheuser-Busch, the Chief Meme Officer. Now I gotta ask you what the heck is going on with that? Will meme royalty bring down the great Marcel Marcondes? What, what's up with that? Cause that, I mean, that's an example of like great value, especially to, I would say the youngest cohort able to consume the product. So tell me a little bit more about, about that.

Marcel Marcondes: [00:03:58] Now, that's one of the ideas that we are indeed having a lot of fun, as you said, right? Yeah, by the way, we have a clear philosophy here, especially having it's a privilege of working in the, in the beer, in the, in the beverage industry.


We always say, right, "We gotta have fun as well. We work super hard, but we've got to have fun." It's really a privilege to work with a category that represents bringing people together that is present in social moments when people are having a good time talking about good things. It's really a privilege.


So it's not a coincidence that the tagline for Michelob Ultra, for example, is: "It's only worth it if you enjoy it." But we, we take it very seriously, on, on our daily routines here and especially, Bud Light. Because, Bud Light is all about, bringing fun to an extremely serious world. So that's the key essence of the brand.

So the Chief Meme Officer was a very spontaneous thing that happened to us. We like to be very honest and very transparent with consumers as well with what's going on here. So the explanation, Adam, is as simple as that: we really have a hell of a seltzer. Bud Light Seltzer is awesome.


From a technical perspective, from a product perspective, the liquid is really, really great. It's been proven in all the different tests that we've been doing with consumers and technical tests as well. But we know that this is a category that is being built big time over social media -- and memes are extremely relevant in building these brands nowadays. And we clearly observed that we had, that we still have, a gap on that. We have a great campaign, we have a great product, but we need to do better at memes. So we said, what do we do about it? Right. We said, you know what? Let's just face it. And let's ask for help.


So the conversation was as simple as that. Okay, so let's give even more relevance to this role. Yeah, what if it was almost like a Chief Meme Officer? Yeah, let's do this! And you know what, the Chief Meme Officer is a CMO. so, let's just do it. We spoke with Weiden & Kennedy and we had a lot of fun in preparation to that. And then we said, let's just do it. And let's invite people to join us, to send their ideas. And let's actually hire for real, somebody, to create a team to do this. And I think it's the best way to, to hire somebody is to make it public. So you can really, attract the ones that are really into your brand and they can show their work upfront.


And we can start by having fun even before the work really starts. So that was the inspiration and then that's what's behind it. It's amazing. And, we got like, how many thousands of, applications? More than 1000 applications in like, two days! It's been awesome.


Adam Conner: [00:06:43] Like the dream for, for some, for like younger folks, right?

Because like meme culture has exploded over. I don't know. I'd say like the last, like, Hmm, probably nine years ish. but stepping into like the world, like, okay, now real big businesses. It's like care about this. Like it's great. And you, of course you see like, you know, brands on TikTok and all that kind of stuff.


But I love -- this is probably the first time I've ever heard from leader of a brand that's like, "we got together in a boardroom and said, 'man, we need to be better at memes.'" That's great. I've never heard that before, but it sounds like you're well, as I said before, having a lot of fun with it.


I'm curious if I could expand on that for just one second: how leaning into that behavior that's, I guess, really come up over the last 9 or 10 years, but today what's happening within, let's say that at least in America, that 21-24 cohort that, that older end of gen Z, crazy as that sounds -- how you are tapping into the way they behave and communicate as a way to help push you forward with all of your consumers, even those who are above that cohort. Because they're on the cutting edge, but I'm sure, you know, folks like me and folks older than us, like their memes as well. Curious how, how leaning into that behavior is, is creating a halo effect upon the way you're doing business with everybody else.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:07:54] Yeah. I mean, that's extremely important. And this question takes us back to the first one on consumer centricity and really taking it seriously, and doing it for real. It's beautiful. A lot of companies say that they, they put consumers first, but, from having this as a beautiful speech to really bringing it to life. there's, there's a big difference. And we are doing this for real. So of course, for any brand, in any industry, it's strategically important for you to recruit new consumers, new young consumers, because this is what gives you longevity for your brand? Right?


Adam Conner: [00:08:30] Right.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:08:30] But we have also the privilege of having a large portfolio of brands here.


So it all starts --the big, the big work that I have starts by having total clarity on what's the job to be done by each one of the brands. What's the specific consumer cohort that is the focus for each one of the different brands, so that we can connect those consumers with what the brand stands for with what the brand positioning is?


And that's when the magic starts. Otherwise you just follow trends. Otherwise you just search for whatever is happening, but it's not really authentic. So we always look for the bright spot where we connect what people care about with what we stand for as a brand. And when we have that intersection, that's the bright spot to act.


So when we talk about Bud Light, for example, Bud Light is the, is the largest, brand franchise in the industry, it's the number one brand. And we really treat it as a franchise. So Bud Light is not only beer. We're talking about a tangible example of that. We were talking to the Chief Meme Officer is for Bud Light Seltzer.


Adam Conner: [00:09:36] Right.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:09:36] Right? So, as we understand those consumers, those seltzer consumers, we see that they skew younger. So the role of seltzers for Bud Light as a franchise is exactly to attract these younger consumers. So when you see the plans we have for Bud Light Seltzer, they're like this. So we have the Chief Meme Officer, and then we also have music live streaming, a big platform for music livestream.


We are betting big behind gaming with Bud Light Seltzer, for example. So we're now going to our third big tournament with Bud Light Seltzer, where we want to have...we'll want to create the Super Bowl of e-gaming. with Bud Light Seltzer. We're now starting to invest behind comedy on streaming as well.


So it's all about these platforms that resonate better with this younger cohort. If you pay attention to what we do with Bud Light beer, it's a different thing. This is when you have the Victory Fridge that I hope you, you remember, that we did in Ohio, or "Philly Philly," we will lean more heavily into sports because this is what connects with the typical beer drinker.


With the big bulk of the light beer drinkers, with the big bulk of the Bud Light lovers. But different products connect with different consumers. And our job here is to understand those consumers so that we can add value to them in a meaningful and especially authentic way. So, this is why we have different programs depending on the brand.


Absolutely. But again, Adam, it also connects back to understanding consumers to work in... let me restart. I think, I speak very openly about it. I think that, I don't know exactly why -- if it was just inertia or just a pre-concept that we had before, like decades ago -- but I believe I was educated as a marketer, to believe that my job was to convince consumers to buy whatever we made.


And I think this is fundamentally what, what has changed dramatically now. I think nowadays, my job is exactly about learning to adjust what we make here faster to better serve what consumers want, instead of trying to convince them to adjust the way they live so that they can buy our products.


Adam Conner: [00:11:53] Right, right, right.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:11:54] And I think COVID is again a great example of that. So we always try to have a strong pulse on what's going on with consumers. We have a lot of technologies and tools and insights, to have daily tracks of, how consumers are behaving, or what's trending and what's going on.


So it was clear to us by observing their behavior right at the beginning, when the pandemic broke out, everybody was in panic. That's what we call the phase one of COVID. People were concerned about their safety. It was all about, "how can you have support to better defend ourselves?" From this thing. So they were totally not into advertising.


And then if we turn the TV on, I'm pretty sure you remember that it was all about the counting on the evolution of cases. the number of deaths.


Adam Conner: [00:12:47] Yeah it was serious stuff. Nobody wanted to see a brand next to that. In fact, probably brands didn't even want to see themselves because it's a horrible adjacency to have to cope with.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:12:53] Exactly right. And then you go to the break and then they have somebody pretending that nothing's going on offering a product. It was completely tone deaf. So it was terrible. So this is when we came up with this, "Okay. We're out of advertising." This is when I said "We're not on advertising mode."


And we stopped kind of a hundred percent of our investment, especially on TV. And we really focused our efforts on adding value in different ways. So for example, we detected that there was a big issue with the blood reserves in the, in the hospitals. Because people stopped going to the hospital to donate blood, the reserves were going extremely down and the hospitals were about to collapse. So we spoke with the American Red Cross and they said "we really need help here." So this is when we reached out to all the sports leagues that we have a partnership with, all the teams that we sponsor, and we said, "let's get together and let's use the sports venues as places to provide safe blood drives," because they needed space to do the blood drives, with social distancing. This is when we came up with the One Team action that was one of the biggest things that we did during the pandemic. And we provided a safe place for thousands of Americans, to donate blood.


And it made a big difference, for the Red Cross. Also, this is when he decided to convert many of our lines to stop brewing beer and to produce hand sanitizers. Because obviously there was not enough hand sanitizer for the demand and so on and so forth. Right. This is some of the things that we did at the beginning. But then, I mean, this is not an epidemic that is something that that is taking just, just a few weeks, right? We're all on month number five or six already. And, and we're still gonna be on these weird lifestyles still for awhile. So we observed that, although in the beginning, consumers were on that phase one, like trying to defend themselves from the virus, people realized that it would take awhile. So they started to get used to that. And then they started, they started to try to get used to the lockdown life. And so they became more open for some kind of entertainment because they said, "okay, this is how life is going to be for awhile. We've got to get used to, so we're scared, we're concerned, but we need to continue to live."


So they started looking again for moments to socialize, for moments to, to have a smile, to get together to people the way they could to try to have some sense of normalcy. So as we detected that they got, they were getting into another kind of phase -- which is what we call phase two, the lockdown life -- we said, okay, now we can act in a different way as well. And then it was interesting. I remember having a conversation with Weiden & Kennedy and they said, "Marcel, Saturday Night Live is back. It's all produced from home, but it's back." So if Saturday Night Live is back, it means that Americans are open for different kinds of content.


We said, okay, so let's shift a little bit of what we do. Then we made a decision that I think was really interesting. We were calling those ideas, like I just mentioned like One Team or the hand sanitizers, Ideas for Good. And then we got into Ideas for Good and Growth. We said, "okay, now we believe that we can find ways to be relevant, to have our brands being relevant to our consumers in their new ways of living. But at the same time, we do not want to run away from having tangible actions and from really doing something meaningful, to make a difference, to add value to them. So we came up with platforms that would follow their new behavior, always with that 50-50 approach. Showing up in a relevant way, but also contributing to specific segments of the population or segments of the industry. For example, people wanting to stay healthy -- all the gyms were closed, right? We're working out at home. So we came up with the platform with Michelob Ultra called Michelob Ultra Movement Live.


It was all about live streaming, workout sessions, live streams, but we brought athletes, great people, top models, DJs to make it really nice and interesting. And those workout sessions always finished with a happy hour having beer. So we started doing this almost like every other day.


Adam Conner: [00:17:26] Yup.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:17:27] And they have already like close to 30 million viewers on that -- more viewers than Nike.


Adam Conner: [00:17:32] Wow.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:17:32] But at the same time as we provide this, something that consumers were looking for, we opened an opportunity for them as they participated to donate money for all those gyms that were closed so that those gyms could stay open, could stay in business. We did, for example, something similar with Stella Artois. Everybody was at home. Everybody was cooking at home. People were...we saw a big spike on searches for how can they cook better?


Adam Conner: [00:17:59] I remember this one. Yep.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:18:01] Right. So we came up with Stella Sessions at Home, which was all about bringing chefs and celebrities, showing people how to elevate their meals at home.


Also connected with e-commerce so that people could buy those recipes. Also Stella Artois. And then at the same time as we provided the content to people, we also opened, again, the opportunity for people -- and we did our part as well -- to donate money to restaurants so that the restaurants could stay open during this time.


And then we did live streaming. This is when we started to do the music live streaming platform with Bud Light Seltzer, but always donating money for the Red Cross as well. So by doing that, we were always adding value to the reality that we knew our consumers were going through in a very authentic way, because each one of our brands was doing something that was connected to what they stand for, but always having together a component to support and to add value to some segments of the industry so that we could really make a difference.


Adam Conner: [00:19:00] Wow. Well, I had heard of a couple of those things that you're doing, but it seems like all across the board, and even by different brand, different things were happening.


And it certainly is an elegant way to, again, as you said, provide that value, but not be in advertising. It's not really an advertisement. You're helping people to cook. You're helping them to work out. Things that they actually care about. And doing that not as a brand on high, but actually in partnership with people -- I think, really important, if we are to say yes, an authentic way to do things.


I want to know where you're going from here. You're always pushing the envelope. You know, this Chief Meme Officer was, what really made me think of that. But, you know, when it comes to marketing in a creative way, especially in a relatable way, I'm curious what you're up to next. What's out there, what's coming down the pike that we can look forward to? I saw something earlier today that was about dog beer. I thought that was very interesting. I never heard of that before. So what's going on there? What can we, what can we look forward to? Cause we've seen all this incredible stuff to date and I guess people are wondering, what the heck Marcel is going to pull out of his hat next.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:19:57] I don't know how to answer this question, Adam, because maybe I don't have an answer. This is the kind of thing that we figured out on a daily basis.


Adam Conner: [00:20:06] That's good.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:20:07] If I could tell you though, what's the biggest change that I feel in our routine. Working on top of having almost everybody working from home. And I really miss the physical presence and the, the human proximity. But anyways, on top of that, the biggest change that we have is exactly that we're talking every day about consumer behavior about what's happening now. Now more than ever, we are all adjusting to their reality on a weekly basis.


Right, so now restaurants are open. Now restaurants are not open anymore. Now schools are opening. Now schools are closing. right. So, the different states of the country, things are happening by the day. So we are much more paying attention to what's going on now and adjusting the plans on a daily basis, or on a weekly basis, rather than saying, "okay, so let's have a meeting now for the project that we know since last year that we're going to have next month."


Adam Conner: [00:21:05] Yeah. Right. I'm sure everything's getting thrown out the window. Yeah.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:21:08] Exactly! Things are much less planned and we're getting used now to really work almost as a publisher. You know, we, we have a, what we call the "newsroom meetings" every day and then we track what's going on, what's trending. And then of course we select those topics that are connected to what our brands stand for. Otherwise, it's a trap to jump into those conversations. For the ones that do make sense to participate, we say, "okay, what are we going to do about it?" And then we start. So the dog brew that you just mentioned for example, is something very new.


Like from weeks ago. We saw that because of the lockdown reality, people start feeling lonely and then there's much more dog owners now. It's exponential, the curve of people now having dogs versus before the pandemic.


Adam Conner: [00:21:54] Yeah. I heard it called pandemic puppies for a second there. Someone was referring to it.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:21:57] Exactly. Right. So then we, we did one of those platforms with Busch.


We started offering beer for the new dog owners. It exploded, the amount of people that reached out to us. And we said, "okay, what else can we do?" And then we said, "why don't we do a dog brew? Because, when you're, when you're having a Busch, you should -- if, your dog is your best friend, you should be able to offer a Busch to your best friend as well. So let's do something for dogs." Then the initial reaction is like...it's crazy. And then we talked to consumers, they say, "we would love it." And then we conclude, so let's do it!


Adam Conner: [00:22:30] Right. Yeah. Right.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:22:31] And we did it. And it was sold out in six hours.


Adam Conner: [00:22:34] That's pretty compelling.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:22:35] So again, that's, that's the power of doing things that people really care about.


So the more we do it, we work like this, the more we fall in love, the more I have fun, the more we see good results. So it's tough to answer a question in a straightforward way because we're, we're figuring these things out by the day.


Adam Conner: [00:22:51] So then I guess I'll just say: can't wait to see what's next.


And I'll ask a finishing question, which is something that you probably do know, because what we've talked about to date are: all of these different things that you've done to connect with consumers in a real way, bring them real value for things they actually want to be hearing -- whether it's not being in advertising mode, whether it's relating to Gen Z, whether it's making memes, no matter what it is. I want to ask a question for advice. All brands today are on this path to figuring out how to do pretty much what you are doing: I would say, getting to authenticity. Everybody's on a path to that. And ever if I were to use that metaphor, there's a different route for everyone, but there's always a turn on to, let's say, the Authentic Avenue. How do you think, or how would you advise, that other brand leaders, folks building brands, people leading businesses or in advertising -- how would you advise them to push their own envelopes, to navigate what consumers actually want and get to something which is truly authentic?


What are some things that you've put in place to ensure that you do that each and every day?


Marcel Marcondes: [00:23:49] So, very important question, Adam. And I think, if I can offer my humble 2 cents here: three big things that we've been learning, maybe these are three of the most important principles we try to follow here after learning and having things that worked and did not work. And then these are three big things that we concluded.


One: spend really a serious, serious amount of time on understanding of consumers. Sometimes you'll think you know your consumers -- but the more you dedicate an extra time to get to know them better, you figure out that you really didn't know them before.


Go deeper. Try to understand them as people. Usually we say, our consumers are 35-plus with this level of income...no, try to understand them as human beings. What makes them happy? What are they going through? Which are their key occasions? Which are the problems you can help them solve for? So that's point number one.


Point number two: When you decide to take action into develop[ing] a brand program or, or anything like this...when you decide to jump into a conversation, find that bright spot, that intersection between what your consumers care about and what your brand stands for. Don't follow whatever's trending.


Don't go after whatever is part of the conversation. You need to find something that is both relevant to your consumers and also connected to what your brand stands for. This is the magical place, the bright spot that gives the best results.


And three: don't be afraid to change. We need to get adjusted to pivot fast. Because the speed of change in terms of customer behavior has never been so fast. We got to adjust what we do to better serve them, instead of trying to convince them to change how they live so that they can buy what we make. So we got to change fast and to adjust what we do to better connect with those opportunities you identify on your bright spot. So don't be afraid to change. It usually pays off. Big time. So these are three of the most important things that we try to follow here, Adam.

Adam Conner: [00:25:55] Well, it's clear to me that you have. And listeners, I hope that you've heard some of this as well, and you should go and check out some of the things that this, the wide family of brands is doing.


I mean, you could look at Bud Light, they're doing something,Bud Light Seltzer. They're doing something. Michelob, Stella, I mean, all of these brands are doing incredible things. And hey: every now and then, especially right now, you need a beer. So kick back -- or you need a seltzer as the case may be! -- so kick back and see what these guys are doing.


I think these, you know, what Marcel is doing here is a...it's a shining light for how you should relate to consumers and being authentic in that way is, of course, important. So for letting me know a little bit more about that: Marcel, thank you so much for being on the show today. It was a pleasure to have you.


Marcel Marcondes: [00:26:35] It was a big pleasure to be here as well, Adam. Great conversation, great questions. And, count on me. We're together on this. We are one team.


Adam Conner: [00:26:43] If you want to be Bud Light Seltzer's Chief Meme Officer, that application is still open. I'll leave a link in the show notes. If you want to share your spicy stuff with Marcel and the team, I'll leave a few more links there for you as well.


Thanks Marcel. And thanks to you, the listener, for tuning into this debut episode of Authentic Avenue. Be sure to subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. And here's where else we live: Twitter @authenticave, Instagram @authenticavemedia. And you can also write me directly: adam@authenticavenuemedia.com. Say hello, recommend a guest, or tell me what you think of the show.


This has been your host, Adam Conner, saying: until I get real again with you, thanks for taking a walk with me down Authentic Avenue.