Coping with brand management: Diageo’s story

Alcoholic beverage giant Diageo talks to CMO about how its SmartBrand asset management platform has driven cost efficiencies and collaboration while still meeting rigorous alcohol advertising laws

Managing the brand assets of a company the size of alcoholic beverage giant Diageo is no mean feat. Rising sensitivity and complex legal requirements around how alcohol is marketed globally make it an even bigger challenge.

But the adoption and enhancement of an end-to-end digital asset management solution is helping to drive better collaboration across marketing creative and brand information in both a responsible and more cost-effective way.

With net sales of close to £10 billion, and more than 25,000 employees covering 180 territories globally, Diageo’s culture is diverse and its brand assets vast. The business was established in 1999 off the back of a series of mergers and acquisitions and now represents 370 brands including Smirnoff, Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Captain Morgan, Baileys and J&B.

Diageo first started working on asset management a decade ago, but the technology platform has gained both importance and significant new capabilities in the last two years as the global mandate for compliance beefed up. The company’s annual marketing spend tops US$1.5bn globally.

Diageo’s global brand asset management lead, Stephen McKillop, oversees SmartBrand, an end-to-end asset and rights management platform built using the Unify marketing application platform now owned by Canadian-based asset software vendor, North Plains. The company acquired Unify when it purchased management resource management vendor, Vyre, in December.

The SmartBrand project sits within the procurement division but is fully funded by the global marketing function led by Diageo CMO, Andy Fennel. It is mandated worldwide and acts as both a central repository for brand assets as well as a rights management platform, enabling internal staff and their agencies to view, approve and manage assets.

The initial impetus for SmartBrand was to reduce the risk of brand asset misuse and associated costs. “Any big organisation with multiple brands is always going to have first of all the difficulty in housing or sourcing assets,” McKillop told CMO. “The legal and marketing teams wanted a secure and locked down repository for our growing number of brand assets.

“We produce alcoholic goods, which are sensitive products, and we’re very proud of the Diageo marketing code. To make sure we are compliant with that in each and every country we operate in, so we needed an approval process where every piece of activity going forward to consumer was visible and signed off by appropriate approvers. We then decided to marry the asset library and approval tool together to create what we call ‘SmartBrand’.”

The SmartApprove component allows individual project owners to create a project, align agencies and approvers, upload low-resolution materials, request and receive approval, and fulfil that project. It then switches into the asset library and rights management piece, where agency partners provide commercial usage agreements, give Diageo marketers the rights to use and adapt those materials, then upload high-resolution materials to be processed into the library and made live.

Today, more than 8000 agencies use the asset library, and 5760 Diageo staff use SmartApprove.

Latest innovations

The biggest enhancement to SmartBrand this year is the ability for users to start adapting assets in the library. These capabilities will initially be restricted to adjusting templates for things like local pricing and menus, but the intention is to allow users to also adjust brand text in the future.

Diageo will first roll-out ‘SmartAdapt’ in Asia-Pacific to create regional menus, a process which previously had to be done by external suppliers and added unnecessary cost and usage right concerns, McKillop said.

“We have all these third-party solutions doing various elements of this but had little control over it,” he said. “There was a potential to use assets without correct usage rights or employ the right materials in the wrong way, which is clearly a risk.

“We want to launch adapt capabilities very carefully and sensitively. As we get better at it, we’ll allow people to start making customisations to text, which will need to be brought into the approval process. But in the first instance it’s about taking some of the wonderful assets we have and redeploying in them different regions.”

McKillop is starting with the smaller regions first and said it was important for his team to ensure adequate support, training mechanisms and server capacity before going global.

Other recent changes to SmartBrand include an overhaul of the user interface and dashboard, along with news stories and lightbox links. Secure collaboration tools have also been added to help the Diageo teams interact with multiple agencies on project development. An intuitive library search using predictive text and categorisation has also been deployed.

Sticking to the core objective

As the need for greater compliance and ensuring our marketing code is adhered to, the need for SmartBrand grows. “As we have become bigger and better and the library has filled up, we have a greater need for people to access that material, reuse it and adapt it,” he said.

While he’s keen to ensure SmartBrand sticks to its remit of end-to-end asset management, there are still further innovations on the cards. For example, McKillop said his team hoped to track brand assets better in the future, to see what happens once they have been downloaded.

It’s also important to remain on top of the compliance and legal aspects of brand assets. “It has become a harder environment in which to sell alcohol,” McKillop said. “We are a highly responsible company with no interest in doing otherwise. To make sure we do, our mandate has become stronger.”

McKillop agreed there was rising demand for faster approval and asset access processes, a reflection of the need for marketers to become more agile and respond to consumers in as real-time a way as possible.

“We do get requests that things have to be done today or uploaded today and we respond as best we can. It’s as much about having a great support team as a great tool,” he claimed. “We have had to adapt to people’s needs and so we have started to provide training in different languages, and make sure we have in-timezone support.

“SmartBrand is a mandated tool, but we make it clear we will listen to people’s requests to ensure the best user experience. If their suggestion is beneficial to the wider community of users, we will implement those subject to budget.We do that all the time and adapt.”

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