[Interview] Samar Singh Sheikhawat, Marketing Head, United Breweries Ltd. on Building the Brand Heineken on Social Media

Samar Singh Sheikhawat, Marketing Head, United Breweries Ltd. shares the social media strategy of Heineken and how important it is to be focused on digital media. The intent with Facebook for brand Heineken is to engage consumers with original and compelling content around brand properties like music, Champions League, James Bond and the Rugby World Cup but more importantly to build communities around these properties. To engage users with original compelling content, drive traffic, drive conversations, drive interactions and build communities around these properties is their prime objective with social media.

How is your approach different from others? What are you doing different on social media opposed to other platforms?

There are a few things that we keep in mind, one is seamless integration of digital marketing into all our other mainstream designs along with digital and social. Secondly, we successfully bring about a robust online-offline integration. Our events are designed to be online as well as offline. An event does not feel complete without it and additionally it has worked very well for us. And of course there are events, properties and activations that are created only for digital and social media. So everything we do on-ground also replicates itself online. However, certain things we do only online, which need not be replicated on-ground. We take a mix and match sort of approach. We fortunately have legendary properties like the Champions League Football, the Rugby World Cup, James Bond, music etc.

Could you shed some light on your recent social media campaigns that have been very successful?

All of them have been very successful. Right from the time we started in India with the series of brand films – ‘The Entrance’ and ‘The Date’. Our work around James Bond and Crack the Case have been very successful, then the Heineken retail activation of ‘Inner Voice’ has also been very successful. Our recent Foosball campaign where we selected winners to go to the star final at Ibiza has been very successful. The ‘Voyage’ campaign where we have selected 2 winners from across the globe to go to space, to train at NASA and go to space, that has been very successful too. Since everything is larger than life it receives a massive response.

What are your views about Content Marketing as part of social media?

It’s the only way to go. Increasingly brands are like a media company now in digital and on social media. We’re creating content so people are not consuming our brand, they’re consuming brand stories. A brand head needs to ask what is inherited, why will someone come online on my Facebook page, why will someone follow me on Twitter, why will someone post pictures on Instagram if it’s not interesting enough or compelling. From that perspective, we see Television, Radio, Print, Picnic, Movies, Outdoor, Shopping, all of them as competing driving traffic to our Heineken page. We see ourselves as a Media company, creating content, posting content from ‘user-generated-content’, using that, giving people feedback and credit for that. We see ourselves as much more than just a  mere marketing company.

Your Social Reporter Campaign launched in India was in sync with The Candidate. So according to you how important is it to integrate your international campaigns with the Indian ones?

We have christened this kind of cross-geographic integration as a ‘Local Top Spin’. We launched Social Reporter Campaign because we realized that ‘The Candidate’ won’t work in the Indian context. Our hiring processes in India is far more difficult and very different, but we could used the concept of The Candidate in an interesting fashion for our marketing activation. So that is why we did The Social Reporter who went the Champions League to cover the finals last year. We will continue doing stuff like that whether it is on Rugby World Cup, James Bond or Champions League. We call for entries, screen candidates’ basis skill sets, analytical abilities, knowledge and fashion and it just drives engagement. It gives us several opportunities to connect with our target audience over a 2-3 month period. So this will now become the standard operating procedure for us going ahead.

Since liquor brands can only advertise through surrogate advertising in India, how is it that you can use social media to your advantage?

Heineken is an age-gated page, you should be above 25 to enter because it’s a global page and the legal drinking age varies from country-to-country. In terms of driving excitement, driving images, driving experiences, brand stories etc. that is really what we use social media for. There is a little more freedom today in digital than there is in mainstream media so that is what we utilize to propagate our brand stories and messages.

How do you manage to keep a track of the activities of other competitive brands on social media?

We are scanning other brands all the time, between Kingfisher and Heineken we control 85-90% of all digital traffic on social media on Facebook. So, we have a separate dedicated digital media team that reports to me and they work across all brands. We have a separate digital agency so its pretty much part of their job in terms of tracking competitive activity and seeing what competition is doing. You know, you can’t survive without doing that.

Being active on various social media platforms, how important is it for you to integrate your strategies on all these platforms, for example Facebook, Twitter, Instagram?

Very very important because there has to be consistency of communication and thought process. Today there are a variety of platforms and various elements driving each one. Additionally, there is an explosion of devices so people are watching from mobiles, laptops, internet, IPtvs, tablets and more. In India it is being driven largely by the mobile explosion so we are currently in the process of upgrading and strengthening our mobile platform options as well. So it’s a 3-way process that includes content, platforms through which you access this content and devices through which you’re accessing these platforms. A brand has to maintain consistency of thought process all the way through. The short answer to your question is, that its critical the user sees the same message across all platforms.

How do you measure the output of your social media efforts? Do you have any analytical tool to measure the same?

Currently we subscribe to the Unmetric Squad. Unmetric is a tool that measures your engagement rate etc. We’ve also signed up with SAP analytics, we will be getting data analytics on all our social media initiatives through SAP analytics. Apart from that we have our own tracking in terms of shares, tweets, likes, posts and views.

How important is it for you to align your social media strategies with your brand positioning? How do you manage to do that?

The brand and its social media initiatives cannot be different. The way to do it is to take all your brand properties and what your brand stands for and build stories, communities, engagements, interactions, activations around that. Anything that you do and is outside of the brand’s image will not be interesting and not be visited by your fans and users. Just because I am a big brand does not mean I can talk about irrelevant stuff. I cannot be talking about deep sea diving, there is no connection between the two because deep sea diving is more of an adventure sport that is more relevant to Kingfisher Blue, which is positioned in line with adventure sports. Social Media Strategies need to be consistent with the brand’s positioning and philosophy. There has to be total consistency.

Which other social platforms do you plan to explore in the near future?

Currently we have Facebook and Twitter. As and when new platforms emerge we need to see whether they are any different, Google Hangout for instance is something we’re exploring now. When other platforms arrive and begin to show great attraction we’ll explore them as well.

You got an amazing response from the UCL campaign on social media, do you plan to target other sports as well? If yes, which ones?

Well Heineken Worldwide takes on only the Champions League football and the Rugby World Cup so we will stick with that for the time being.

Your international follow base on social media is massive, how do you plan to translate that to India via social media?

We’ve made a beginning, we have 600000 number of fans on Facebook which is not small. There is some opportunity to guide or translate traffic from there to specific stories or events. There is a symbiotic sort of relationship that we have with the international brands.

What are your views about hiring a specialized agency or going with the traditional agency for your activities?

Most mainline agencies haven’t invested in developing new and necessary skill sets for social media. At the moment most activities arelimited by budgets. I would suggest going with a specialized agency any day. Until mainstream agencies actually manage to develop their skill sets and hire the right people and make it an important part of their overall repertoire one will have to rely on specialized agencies. I think clients and agencies have still not woken up the way they should to the potential of digital and social in this country.

Kingfisher and Heineken have been doing very good on social media so any parting words for other brand managers, what are the main ingredients to engage with your customers via social media?

You need to be interesting, you need to be original but you always need to be in-sync with your brand story. If you remain consistent and true to that, yet be interesting, original and quirky, that’s probably what is going to work. Remember that the ground changes every second. There is nothing that is constant in this business. In the social and digital part of marketing you need to have your eyes on the ball and ears on the ground and really be ready for change at a moment’s notice.

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