Brand Authenticity: What it Really Means

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Colleen Kelly (pictured at top), Vice President, Trade Marketing & Industry Relations at AB InBev and Kelly Ravestijn, Senior Vice President Strategic Planning & Insights at IN Connected Marketing, are co-presenting a session entitled "Return on Authenticity: A New Measure of Brand Success" at the ANA 2022 Brand Masters Conference April 11-13 in Carlsbad, CA. ANA's John Paquin, Senior Director, Brand Activation, recently interviewed them for a pre-conference discussion.

John Paquin: How do you define "authentic"? True to your own rich history and values? Or is it how those values are applied to today's conversations as a contemporary society?

Kelly Ravestijn: It's both. It is maintaining your brands' values and purpose in today's marketplace where consumer and shopper expectations have evolved. They expect brands to be authentic beyond corporate and brand initiatives, through the full funnel.

Pacquin: Anheuser-Busch has a rich sense of tradition that one could argue was authentic before "authenticity" became a marketing buzzword. How would you define what makes your brand "authentic," and how has it changed along with evolving consumer expectations?

Colleen Kelly: Anheuser-Busch has always had a sense of self and authenticity as a company and across our entire portfolio. To ensure that we are meeting our consumers' and shoppers' expectations and demands, we've evolved to driving interaction along the full path to purchase. Our tone of voice is cohesive across all channels but with differentiation across our portfolio, so we are meeting our audience where they are in that moment. We've evolved our corporate purpose to "We Dream Big to Create​ a Future with More Cheers," which is reflective of our ambition, optimism and helps create a sustainable future. We seek to bring that same level of purpose to each of our brands across our portfolio.

Paquin: Over the past two years, have you seen a rise in shopper expectations for your brands to be true/authentic? To what degree?

Kelly: The rise and transformation has been gradual but significant since the 1980s. As with many things, COVID has only fast-forwarded and intensified what was already there, driving shifts in narratives for brands and companies finding their way beyond transaction and into meaning.

Paquin: What role does "authenticity" play in AB's internal culture? How do you ensure it's well-communicated and understood?

Kelly: We're on a 10-year journey in the U.S. and are just about at the halfway point. As mentioned, we rolled out a new purpose and brand for Anheuser-Busch earlier this year that is reflective of our heritage but also clear about the future we are working toward, together. One key area where authenticity shines internally is our Employee Resource Groups and Panorama DEI Council. As a leader of our Women in Beer and Beyond group, as well as an ally in many other ERGs, I am impressed by the caliber of discussion and activity that each ERG brings. These groups serve as communities for our teams but also change agents within the company that create forums for discussions around topics like race, gender equity, and inclusion, to name a few. These initiatives are representative of who we are today and who we want to be tomorrow. Across these topics and many others, we acknowledge internally when we are imperfect, learn from it, and grow so that we can be better in the future, which is integral to our company culture.

Paquin: A company as visible as AB has a significant responsibility to use that power and influence wisely. How do you decide when and how to take a stand, and how strong of a stand to take?

Kelly: "With great power comes great responsibility." We take our position in the industry with our wholesaler and retailer partners very seriously as we all focus on giving consumers and shoppers the most authentic experiences with our brands. This behavior is at the core of authenticity. We remain focused on what is true and authentic to our brands and their purposes, not pandering or losing sight of that. We make decisions based on what our communities need and where our brands can play. For example, Budweiser elected to forego a Super Bowl commercial in 2021 and reallocate that money toward helping communities through vaccine and blood donation campaigns. The biggest shift we must focus on is at commerce. A key opportunity for us is meaningful communication throughout the consumer-to-shopper journey in the age of connected commerce. We've been dedicated to our corporate and brand authenticity, but now consumers are demanding to see that everywhere, across the funnel, with anything less being unacceptable.

Paquin: Tell us more about your KPIs for measuring "authenticity"? How do you judge "success"? How are these weighed against more traditional measures of success such as sales/share? Affinity and preference?

Ravestijn: As any measure, it is better demonstrated than written. The paradigm shift is in how we view authenticity. Currently, it is measured on brand sentiment and tracking studies versus sales, LTV and connectivity. As consumers continue to see their dollars as a vote of approval and action, authenticity is the fundamental measure for loyalty in today's consumer environment. Loyalty for us does not mean they only buy us, but they choose us more often across our portfolio because we have solutions that can meet their demands from morning to night.

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