CMO interview: How a portfolio brand strategy and consumer insights help CUB’s marketing chief deliver growth

Group marketing director for alcohol producer shares how he's worked to better align brands to distinct customer segments within a wider portfolio strategy

Richard Oppy
Richard Oppy

Carlton & United Breweries marketing director, Richard Oppy, says the biggest change to marketing strategy he’s seen over his 15-year career is the client-agency relationship.

“Fifteen years ago, the agency was taking a lot more ownership of strategy, whereas I’m very clear on our marketers owning the brand strategy, knowing what the brand positioning is and identifying the most compelling thing we can tell consumers about our brands,” he tells CMO.

“Too often, marketers go to agencies for everything from strategy through to creative execution. Give the agencies the freedom of a tight brief. Once you’re clear on what you stand for, they can come up with a creative, emotional way to cut through.”

Getting such cut-through also means recognising consumers are bombarded with messages daily and not always thinking about your brand, Oppy says.

“Where there is that window of opportunity for them to be open to your brand, you need to have a simple message that cuts through to smash that open,” he says. “You have to be really clear on what your brand stands for, and when you launch or relaunch it, have that consistent message at every consumer touchpoint.”

Oppy is striving to achieve this through a portfolio strategy that sees each of the alcohol group’s beer brands maintain a distinct identity, target demographic and occasion. For many years, CUB focused on big classic brands that were in decline, he says. At the same time, teams operated in siloes competing for the same consumer, on the same occasion with the same sensory profile.

“It’s not about being a brand for everybody – that is why we have a portfolio strategy,” Oppy says. “Being very clear on our portfolio strategy has allowed each brand to play their individual role, rather than expect too much out of a specific brand in isolation.”

Brand background

Oppy started his career as an assistant brand manager on CUB’s Victoria Bitter brand. Since then, he’s moved through a range of different brand marketing positions in the group, working in Melbourne and Perth.

A professional milestone was the launch of Carlton Dry in 2006 to grab back market share in the 18-24-year old category. With an executive team wary of a national brand launch, Oppy convinced them to let him trial the new product in Western Australia. Now the biggest beer brand in WA and on track to become the biggest brand in the country over the next three years, Oppy says the key to success was clear positioning.

“It was about targeting young guys and girls that want to live in the now and for today,” he recalls. “It also had the credentials of Carlton, which has been around since 1864, behind it.”

From there, Oppy worked as general manager of the international portfolio, incorporating Corona, Stella Artois, Carlsberg and Asahi, until SAB Miller acquired CUB. He then became GM of Victoria Bitter and Crown Lager. A year later, he relaunched VB back at 4.9 per cent, resulting in five consecutive quarters of growth.

“It was a good way to rally the troops and the business and restore our core brand, having lost our international brands,” Oppy says. “It showed the trade we were focusing on the quality of our products. For consumers that had walked away from the brand because we’d tinkered with it, dropping the alcohol content over the years, it gave them a reason to come back. It also got the business excited that we were heading in the right direction.”

In February 2015, Oppy become group marketing director, replacing Peter McLouglin, who stepped down due to ill health.

Being brave and bold

Since then, Oppy has had his sights squarely set on rejuvenating the beer category by rebalancing CUB’s portfolio of products back into growth categories, while spearheading innovation in white spaces.

“We made some bold and brave decisions to invest appropriately behind our core brands, including VB, Carlton Draught and Carlton Mid, but actually also focus on innovation,” he says.

The first cab off the rank was relaunching Pure Blonde, which entered the market in 2004 as the first to market low carb, full-flavoured premium lager.

“We changed the formula of the beer and made it an ultra-low carb beer, with 80 per cent less carbs than regular beer and 50 per cent less calories than wine, and it’s gone from five years of double-digit decline into 20 per cent year-on-year growth, a 30 percentage point swing,” Oppy says.

Having less calories than wine was also an important message to take to the female demographic. “We have 58 per cent more females drinking Pure Blonde today than 12 months ago, and we’re picking up people from categories outside of beer, which has been a fantastic result,” he says.

On the innovation front, CUB launched Lazy Yak, an easy drinking, pale ale version of its full-flavoured craft beer, Fat Yak, which swiftly became the third biggest craft brand in the country. A highlight of the marketing activity for Oppy was using digital capability in outdoor to adjust creative changing based on weather triggers.

The next product launch was Great Northern, a lower alcohol, more contemporary style of beer. More than 3.5 million cases were sold in the first year, and it’s added more category value than any other alcohol brand, Oppy says.

These three innovations turned CUB’s beer category around and delivered significant sales growth. Importantly for Oppy, three brands also demonstrate the power of distinct identity within a wider portfolio approach.

Up next: How Oppy is ensuring success through product collaboration

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