8 Social Targeting Lessons Marketers Can Learn From Heineken

Heineken USA’s media director shares the secrets to success he’s learned over the years.

International beer drinkers are about to open a bigger tab.

According to research and consulting firm Allied Market Research, the global beer market is expected to accumulate $688.4 billion by 2020—producing a compound annual growth rate of 6% over the course of 2015 to 2020. And brewers like Heinekenare fighting for wallet share.

“Over the past 10, maybe even a little bit closer to five years…the number of beers people drink every month has remained about the same,” says Frank Amorese, media director for Heineken USA, “but the number of brands that they drink has grown a lot.”

To stand out from competitors on the tap and on the shelves, Heineken relies on targeted social ads. Producing these ads, Amorese says, allows the brand to do two things: target more precisely than it could on television (such as by interest groups or demographics) and expand its reach to its audiences’ primary screen—mobile.

“That gives us the freedom to give the right person the right message at the right time,” he says. “That’s really what we’re trying to do because we really feel like that’s going to be the most efficient and effective way to spend our money and maximize our return on ad spend.”

For more than two years, Heineken has worked with social advertising insights and solution provider SocialCode to develop its social targeting strategy, reach desired audiences, manage ads, and monitor which ads are performing the best. Amorese says Heineken uses a combination of first- and third-party data to deliver the right ads to the right audiences and then relies on data partners like Oracle to track whether a consumer who viewed an ad actually bought beer.

This last step can be tricky considering that most alcohol producers aren’t legally allowed to sell to consumers directly; instead, they have to sell to wholesale distributors who then sell to retailers who then sell to consumers.  This is known as the three-tier system. However, Heineken is testing new ways to generate more direct sales, such as by creating ads that drive consumers to Drizly—an on-demand alcohol delivery service that is allowed to sell directly to consumers.

Since partnering with SocialCode, Heineken has been able to reduce its costs “significantly,” Amorese says, and experience “huge lifts” on their return on ad spend. But these measurable results aren’t the only ones Heineken has gleaned. Amorese and his team have also learned valuable lessons on how to run targeted social ads successfully.

Here are eight lessons to take away from the brand’s experience.

1. Realize that a return on an investment should be a return on an investment. If marketers want to generate a return, then they need to be willing to invest. Instead of solely searching for the cheapest way to draw eyeballs and clicks, marketers need to consider which tactics will boost the bottom line the most—even if these methods are a little more costly. For instance, Amorese says Heineken is willing to a pay a higher cost per impression if the return on ad spend bears out.

“Instead of just looking at CPMs and media metrics like that we’ve been looking a lot at business metrics, as well as driving incremental sales,” he notes.

2. Know what moves the needle. A few years ago Heineken optimized its ads toward engagement—concentrating on likes, comments, and shares. But after conducting several studies and working with SocialCode, Heineken’s marketers realized that there was no correlation between its engagement and sales. So, they shifted their focus to optimizing reach. In the event that Heineken does run an ad encouraging engagement, the brand’s marketers ensure that it has a clear call-to-action, such as to visit the brand’s website to receive more information or go to Drizly.com to make a purchase.

“Everything that we’ve seen from our closed loop studies that we’ve done [shows] that the higher reach you have, the higher the return on ad spend it going to be,” Amorese says. “It’s a penetration game.”

3. Understand that generating reach requires good creative. What marketers put in front of their audiences matters. And if they want consumers to view their ads, then they better make them eye-catching. While Amorese didn’t give away Heineken’s complete “playbook,” he says that there is a checklist of characteristics his team and partners review before running an ad, including the following:

– Is the ad “thumb-stopping?”
– Does it tell a story?
– Is the creative truly something the brand can own?
– Is it relatable?

“The creative has to be good and effective for us to really maximize that strategy of optimizing reach,” Amorese says.

4. Don’t show the same creative to everyone. Just because Heineken’s marketers want their ads to reach as many people as possible, that doesn’t mean that they want every person to see the same ad. So, the team creates different content to resonate with different segments.

For example, Heineken is a sponsor of the UEFA Champions League. So, sometimes it creates content tailored for soccer fans. However, Heineken’s marketers know that all of the brands that fall underneath the Heineken umbrella have their own target segments, too. Take Tecate, for instance. Amorese says that Hispanic men are often fans of this beer and that many enjoy boxing. So, Heineken’s marketers create content that speaks to this audience.

“The targeting piece is actually kind of easy,” Amorese says. “The content piece is what’s hard. If you have just one piece of content, it doesn’t really make sense to target different groups of people with it. Because if everyone is seeing the same thing, then it doesn’t really matter.”

5.  Be agile and open to testing. The social landscape is constantly changing, and marketers need to be willing to change along with it. Amorese says that SocialCode has tests in place to help Heineken identify which pieces of creative will be most successful on a given platform. He also says that Heineken always looks at a campaign’s results from a return-on-ad-spend perspective to see how the company can tweak its creative or strategy.

“Sometimes shots of the pack work better; sometimes shots of the beer work better,” he says. “We’re constantly trying to optimize to get the best creative we can.”

6. Follow competitors but stay true to your brand. Unlike with broadcast, there aren’t a lot of resources Heineken can tap into to measure its competitors’ performance in the social and digital space. So, the brand’s marketers have to monitor their competitors themselves. Although Heineken’s marketers keep an eye on competitors’ social and digital behaviors, Amorese says they ultimately try to focus on their own strategy.

“We like to consider ourselves experts in our space,” he says. “We follow our competition and we understand what they’re doing well and where they could probably grow….But really what we’re most focused on is us…. We want to go out there and do it right. We’re less so worried about the competition.”

7. Think like your consumers. If marketers want to attract consumers, then they need to think like consumers, Amorese says. So, he encourages marketers to look at the creative from the consumer perspective—such as by viewing an ad on a smartphone, rather than a giant computer screen—and asking themselves why a person would care about their content.

“If you can understand how your consumer thinks, then that’s half of the battle,” he says.

8. Understand that being there is not enough. While it’s easy for marketers to simply have a presence in the social sphere, Amorese says that this isn’t enough. He and his team are constantly on the forefront, he says, learning, listening, and trying to get a little bit smarter every month.

“It’s our goal to keep being best in class,” he says. “Just because you’re there, that doesn’t mean that you’re making an impact.”