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Absolut Access

Bruce C. Jonas
Absolut Access Bruce C. Jonas

In the 25 years since it launched in the United States, ABSOLUT has become the leading imported premium vodka in this country, where vodka -- with over 25 percent of industry sales -- is the best selling spirit. Not coincidentally, ABSOLUT also became a megabrand in that time, and has long been instantly recognizable worldwide.

In recent years, though, a seemingly endless supply of new competitors and flavors, plus novel product categories such as super-premium and ultra-premium have combined to slow the rapid growth of ABSOLUT.

That’s why in 2002, ABSOLUT tapped Emerge Partners, Inc., a CRM/Relationship Marketing company, to begin planning a groundbreaking Customer Relationship Marketing program.

Its purpose: to reconnect the brand with its core consumers in the United States, which represent 60 percent of total worldwide sales for ABSOLUT. The bond would be based not only on the core product attributes of clarity, simplicity and perfection, but also on the creativity and lifestyle ABSOLUT represents, and which sophisticated, urban consumers share with the brand.

“Working with an iconic brand like ABSOLUT was an incredibly exciting, yet daunting, challenge,” says Parnell Woodard, founder and CEO of Emerge. “We had created significant programs and platforms before -- but none with the brand stature of ABSOLUT.”

The situation was complicated by the fact that ABSOLUT never had a CRM program before, and didn’t even have a database of names, according to Woodard, “ABSOLUT and Emerge had to build the program from the ground up.” One of their first steps was to break the program down into four distinct goals:

• Identify vodka drinkers
• Retard defections to competitors
• Build loyalty among current ABSOLUT drinkers
• Increase ABSOLUT consumption within the vodka category

Other vodka brands, of course, had similar goals. They had even instituted rudimentary CRM programs, which consisted primarily of simple websites, small giveaways and occasional email greetings. But the unique brand identity ABSOLUT established through decades of artistic, witty advertising and creative sponsorship of fashion, film and music, provided an ideal platform from which to launch a more engaging multimedia and multidimensional CRM program. The program itself could embody the very values of ABSOLUT.

After all, ABSOLUT drinkers identify not only with the quality of the product, but with the creative spirit it represents. No other vodka, no other liquor -- and perhaps no other brand in the world --could invite its consumers to get behind the scenes and live the brand experience in quite the same way.

For this reason, the program was named ABSOLUT ACCESS. The name emphasizes that members can literally enter the creative, dynamic world of ABSOLUT.

ABSOLUT ACCESS connects consumers to the core brand

The program’s primary access point, so to speak, is a custom-designed website that launched in March, 2004. It is updated in quarterly “issues,” each with a unique theme tied to current ABSOLUT campaigns and events. The website embodies the voice, look and creative identity of ABSOLUT and functions as a hub where members can find the three main components of the program: inside information about the world of ABSOLUT; invitations to events; and ABSOLUT gifts.

Each issue features details of ABSOLUT products and campaigns that were never before available to the public. While the issues vary in content, they generally include:

• Stories about the world-famous ads
• In-depth product features, especially about new flavors
• News about ABSOLUT events outside the U.S.
• An ever-expanding collection of recipes
• Interactive features to engage with ABSOLUT in new ways

Absolut.com/access has also become the place to learn about and get invited to ABSOLUT events all over the country, including:

• Tasting and sampling events
• Parties presented by ABSOLUT
• Concerts, films and other performances presented by ABSOLUT

Each issue comes with new examples of free gifts and ABSOLUT memorabilia, called SWAG. Among the items offered to members so far are:

• Reproductions of noteworthy ads
• Coffee-table style drinks book personalized with ABSOLUT on the cover
• The ABSOLUT DECK playing cards

Emails notify ABSOLUT ACCESS members of the launch of each issue and direct mail pieces reinforce both the website and ongoing advertising campaigns. Members can also text message recipes from the site to themselves or a friend. And the program sponsors events in the real world, such as film festivals and ski resorts, with featured drinks, discounts and contests for members and the general public.

Making the ABSOLUT experience a reality

Leveraging all the resources available to a global company in support of a new initiative is never easy. It was particularly challenging in this case because ABSOLUT ACCESS had to encourage various stakeholders within the company to commit and contribute to the program, obtain internal approvals from both the U.S. and Sweden and ensure agreement from external partners as well.

To wit: the website was developed and is run by teams working in New York and Stockholm, and overseen by ABSOLUT representatives in both cities. Informing members about upcoming events and promotional activities requires input not only from the ABSOLUT headquarters in Stockholm, but also from the New York national office along with Sales Managers across the country. ABSOLUT advertising agencies in the U.S. and Europe contribute information about the development of ABSOLUT ad campaigns and provide real-time information on ongoing initiatives. Public relations agencies and internal teams provide content and product news. And independent partners help develop and promote program events.

From the very beginning, rigorous measurement has been -- and continues to be -- essential to determining the value of the program and its progress towards its established goals. Many behavioral factors that indicate the impact of the program can be collected and analyzed through the website. They include:

• Total registrations
• Percentage of active members who visit the site
• Referral factor (based on a “Tell a Friend” feature on the site)
• Time spent on site
• Open and click-through rates of emails

ABSOLUT and Emerge currently are developing focus groups to quantify the attitudinal impact of the program, specifically its:

• Ability to increase consumption
• Impact on consumers’ relationship with ABSOLUT
• Contribution to brand image
• Influence on the perception of the quality of ABSOLUT

Of course, influencing consumption is the most important goal. And while that can’t be measured directly, initial feedback from consumers shows that ABSOLUT ACCESS is succeeding in bringing ABSOLUT drinkers closer to the brand and deepening their affinity for it.

As the program evolves, ABSOLUT and Emerge continue to work together, seeking out new ways to enrich ABSOLUT ACCESS. For now, that includes planning more events in the real world, developing new online features and creating opportunities for contact between ABSOLUT and its consumers (such as downloading recipes to cell phones). While the core values of ABSOLUT -- clarity, simplicity and perfection -- remain the same, ABSOLUT ACCESS is the perfect, adaptable mechanism to keep expressing them in fresh ways to new audiences.

Emerge Partners, Inc. is an interactive marketing and consultancy company.

What types of campaigns will score most with consumers in 2010 and why?

Adam Broitman: There are two popular trends in advertising today that seem to resonate with consumers: platform-based and utility-based. Campaigns that have an arbitrary end date and provide little consumer value (other than a quick chuckle) are becoming less and less relevant and more easily avoided.

I am not a new media zealot that feels there is no place for television, radio, and print. I do however think that initiatives need to be strongly rooted in a marketing concept that tells a story throughout the life of the initiative. The story should be elastic to the point that its success could determine whether or not it will be extended. I often refer to this notion as the marketing storytelling platform.

The second, more popular trend is branded utility. Armed with technology that can be integrated more easily into the way we live, brands can create assets that add to consumers lives. I truly believe that branded utility will become more than a trend, but 2010 will be the year it really gets legs.

Daniel Flamberg: Value and service will lead the way. Consumers are broke and scared. Saving time, money, and energy will resonate universally.

Adam Kleinberg: Ones that are fun and honest. Fun, because people can choose whether they want to engage with your brand. Honest, because people's bullshit detectors are turned up to the highest settings ever.

Clark Kokich: We feel strongly that the most effective campaigns will be those that create engaging and relevant experiences for consumers. For us, this means that campaigns have to move beyond simple "call and response" -- or "we have this and you should click" messages. Increasingly, the concept of campaigns as discrete communication events that brands turn on and off will disappear. Brands will spend more time tuning marketing to the specific needs of their customers, and consider carefully the long-term relationships they need to foster through meaningful experiences.

To be able to create campaigns that resonate, advertisers and brands are going to have to break down any remaining walls that exist between online and offline, and between media and creative in their own organizations or their agencies. Gone are the days when the creative focused on TV spots, and everyone else waits for their cue.

Jim Nichols: Over the past two or so years, there has been a gradual sea change in the extent to which digital marketing efforts are centered on real campaignable ideas. This is partly because integrated campaigns have become more common, and partly because digital has matured and now has lots of creative and media people that can recognize an idea and run with it across a variety of platforms. Whereas just a few years ago the word "campaign" in digital circles often connoted this month's five blue banners, we're seeing more and more real ideas brought to life online in compelling ways.

Lori Schwartz: Campaigns that don't feel like campaigns but are more conversations. Consumers want to take part in designing their products and services, and marketers need to create opportunities in all their communications and long-term strategy.

What types of campaigns from 2009 should fall by the wayside in 2010?

Broitman: Campaigns that begin and end on a single platform (Facebook) will most likely lose their luster for marketers and consumers alike. Branded Facebook apps that are not connected to the rest of the web will become less and less useful.

Flamberg: Lame attempts at empathy and "we feel your pain" sentiments will go away. And hopefully banners will finally die of neglect.

Nichols: Oh, Lord, I beseech you, please end non-transparent pay per post.

What will be the best use for mobile when it comes to campaigns in 2010?

Flamberg: Promotions will dominate the mobile scene. Few CPG brands and others have mastered the form. Possibly a brand will reduce the steps, increase the perceived value of participation, and deliver bang-up results.

Place-based mobile campaigns will be tested, but will not reach critical mass. Nobody will have extra cash to try branding via mobile. Many campaigns will try to link channels using mobile, but the ultimate business results and value will not be immediately clear.

Nichols: Activation. People are carrying mini PCs now when they are out and about. Let's capitalize on location-based, offer-based, and CTA mobile efforts. It's beyond time to do so.

Schwartz: Mobile as a true extension of the PC -- for immediate two-way communication and information where ever you are.

What will be the best use for email when it comes to campaigns in 2010?

Flamberg: Lead generation, coupon distribution, and usage stimulation.

What will be the best use for video when it comes to campaigns in 2010?

Flamberg: Any and all experiments will get play. Video will continue to explode as brands create and syndicate video widely. Younger demos see video as a God-given right and use YouTube as their search engine of choice. Look for videos to get shorter, a lesson taken from the porn guys, and carry more extensive tags and clicking CTAs. Also expect more online video series and continuity video campaigns aiming for broad scale virility.

Kleinberg: We're looking at producing a lot of serial video content in 2010. Over the past two years, every brand wanted to chase after a "viral" video only to find later on that a million hits on your YouTube doesn't sell a million pairs of jeans. But if you can produce content that is relevant to your brand and that the consumer seeks out over time because they enjoy it or find it useful, there's a tremendous opportunity to build brand relevancy and advocacy with your customers.

Schwartz: Using video to educate and inform; give more detailed product information and allow consumers to express their viewpoint.

Which technology or platform didn't deliver on its promise in 2009? Will that change in 2010?

Broitman: In light of the addition of GPS to the iPhone and other mobile devices, location-based mobile applications became a very hot topic for marketers in 2009. Applications like Foursqaure became the talk of the town for the digerati. Still, we did not see mass consumer adoption of such applications.

As devices with GPS become more pervasive and as marketers and developers work together to find creative uses of location-based technologies, they will begin to become more useful and widespread. I predict 2010 will see major advancements in this area.

Flamberg: Social media will continue to generate much more hype than ROI. The recession has killed off the momentum that started to build behind automating marketing tools and behind broader, more-sophisticated uses of CRM platforms.

Dave Morgan: Mobile advertising hasn't delivered yet on the lofty promises and expectations that have been set over the past decade. I believe that will change in 2010. Finally, with the massive explosion in deployments of iPhones and other smartphones, and the robust application developer community that has grown up around them, we are going to see significant advancement in mobile marketing.

David Smith: Third-party ad serving has been a huge disappointment. While there has been so much promise via the acquisitions of DoubleClick by Google and Atlas by Microsoft, many of the same problems remain. One problem includes old interfaces [and a] lack of business rules, which result in too much time in trafficking and extraction of data from the engines. Another is that, despite the efforts to provide planning and buying front ends, the RFP process is far too complex. Lastly, the promise of multiple attribution protocol is just that -- a promise. The only way to utilize the incredible increase of information that comes out of these attribution systems is through use of outside consulting services. The agency needs a dashboard and algorithms to deal with this.

Which marketing technology or platform will advance the most in 2010?

Morgan: Watch television. TV is the new internet. 2010 will bring us the first wave of new advanced TV advertising services that will start to merge techniques developed on the internet with the world's most powerful marketing platform and most popular consumer media.

Kokich: Cloud computing will advance the most in 2010 because using cloud computing services makes it possible for marketers to implement more effective campaigns in a cost-effective way. When we say "cloud computing," we are referring to both cloud services like Facebook Connect or cloud infrastructure like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. With large players such as Microsoft entering the market with offerings like Azure, and existing players like Amazon and Rackspace pushing to stay ahead, we believe the market will move quickly. Cloud services make it possible for Razorfish to more rapidly build marketing campaigns that can scale on demand. Whether the marketer is working with a multi-touch based experience or a traditional browser based experience, the cloud will help her advance her business and marketing activities with speed, cost savings, and scalability.

Nichols: Social search. The wisdom of crowds has transformed so many other areas of the way people get information and entertainment online. 2010 is the year that social search really takes off. The concept can transform the relevance and appeal of content online by enabling users to share in the activity of everyone.

Smith: The new digital buying technology platforms have become a factor in 2009. However, they are still not scalable, interfaces are still being developed, and all of the targeting options are not ready for prime-time inclusion in the exchange bidding process. For this category to be significant, big advances in practice vs. promise must be made in 2010, or bigger, more established companies will wipe out the smaller companies attempting these innovations.

Which new technology or platform do you want to incorporate into your marketing in 2010?

Broitman: Circ.us has done a lot of experimentation with augmented reality in 2009. Most of our commercial work that leverages AR has been PC based. In 2010 we will be doing a lot more mobile AR, and we are hoping that more marketers will see the value in experimenting with this technology.

Flamberg: Everyone will build a smartphone app. Brands will race to have the bragging rights to the first app in their vertical. Most will be useless and broadly ignored. A few will skyrocket and just maybe someone will create a practical, useful app that will elevate the technology above the level of games and time wasters.

Kleinberg: Traction's approach to marketing is to create a brand narrative that aligns our clients' business objective with human behavior. To that end, we're starting to use sophisticated tools like ListenLogic to uncover what the most influential consumers are saying to one another in their natural environment and translate that into actionable insights for brands. Social media analytics is going to be an important technology for marketers to leverage in 2010.

Nichols: Expo TV. Consumer video evangelists for your brand. Oh my God the power of online video evangelism is only beginning to be understood.

Schwartz: User interface will become a major player this year as location-based solutions, interactive screens, touch screens, and gestural navigation takes prime stage. Marketers will need to create experiences that anticipate this integrated layer with the consumer.

Smith: Digital buying technologies like MediaMath, DataXu, [x+1], and Invite; dynamic content engines and true frequency capping across a campaign.

In what new ways will marketers use social networks in 2010?

Broitman: Hopefully, marketers will be more human when it comes to social networks. Being a human is not new; I am not sure why so many marketers have had such a hard time with this.

Flamberg: Marketers will use content as media and syndicate branded messages and branded memes using social networks. This will impact not only their ability to drive direct traffic to websites and campaign landing pages, but it will simultaneously ratchet up SEO efforts.

Kokich: Marketers are becoming more sophisticated in their use of social media and influencers to achieve marketing and business objectives, such as supporting new product launches. For example, the use of social media has helped Razorfish client Coors Light launch product innovations such as its cold-activated can. Vitamin Water is using Facebook to crowd source the development of a new Vitamin Water flavor to be sold on the market. I think we'll also see marketers get savvier about using Facebook and Twitter to make their customers feel special, such as exclusive offers and content to loyal fans. Our own research, published in our third annual "FEED" report, shows that consumers are attracted to Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts for those reasons. Although we do not advocate that marketers turn social media into one giant direct response mechanism, marketers can certainly engender loyalty if they offer their fans something exclusive that they could not get elsewhere.

Morgan: Social marketing will become more and more part of the DNA of how brands market and how they communicate with consumers and partners. I would really watch the location-based services -- Foursquare, Centrl. There is a lot going on there.

Nichols: I think we will see more people leverage popular citizen journalists versus trying to build stand-alone social media efforts out of whole cloth. Reflecting the reality that no one wants to friend drain opener on Facebook.

Schwartz: The real change for 2010 is that smart marketers will be viewing social behavior beyond just a play on a "network," but rather utilizing social behaviors to create on all platforms.

Smith: They will learn, with the help of companies like Media6degrees, 33Across, Lotame, and XGraph, how to use the data from social networks. We will be given the tools to leverage real-time search of the social communities. And marketers will be either building in social functionality into their sites to enable two-way communication or tapping into systems like Facebook Connect.

How do you see the issue of online marketing measurement/metrics evolving in 2010?

Broitman: This is a hard one to predict, as I would have thought that marketers would have moved beyond the click years ago. I am hoping that more marketers will begin to find metrics that tell a more holistic, concise story. Marketers, vendors, and agencies will all need to agree on new ways to buy and sell media -- ways that make sense for the environment the ads are being served in. Buying and selling of online media based on time is very compelling for me.

Flamberg: Very slowly. There will be lots of blab, as usual. Maybe there will be consensus that the click no longer matters. But anticipate very little movement by brands or agencies to nail down the data points or develop new measurement protocols.

Morgan: Measurement and metrics in digital marketing have evolved slower than many would like, mostly because folks want to recreate old measurements in new forms. Digital won't be measured like analog media, and shouldn't. The future of digital marketing is about delivering better results, not better analogs to analog media. We will see significant work and progress on the developing of end-state return-on-investment metrics -- how much did the campaign grow sales, etc.

Nichols: There is a massive opportunity for someone to come in and simplify the process of campaign management by making it dynamic and platform neutral. Responding in real time to changes in the ways people are interacting with marketing messages will be important in the next couple of years.

Smith: Ever so slowly. It would be nice to change, but there are few need areas that move at such a glacial pace.
Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.

Want to hear the latest from this week's iMedia Agency Summit? Follow the conversation on Twitter #iMediaSummit.

Tracking if ads are actually being seen (in real time)

Even after all the technology that's been developed to understand viewability, marketers are still faced with a huge tracking problem: measuring if their ads are even being seen by consumers. Sure, it's easy to track clicks, impressions, conversions, and such, but at the end of the day, marketers are still left simply hoping that their ads are visible and catching the eye of the publisher's audience. Wouldn't it be great if your ad could send you a message letting you know if there are eyeballs on it? If marketers knew in real time if their ads were visible (and could make immediate changes) millions of impressions could be saved and money would not be wasted.

Creating new gamification marketing techniques that people actually like

It's pretty clear to this industry that if you gamify your marketing techniques, engagement skyrockets and consumers enjoy the experience. The problem is that unless you're Nike with the FuelBand, McDonalds with the Monopoly game, or Heineken sponsoring a sporting event, it can get pretty challenging for marketers looking to gamify their brand in an organic and creative way. The industry needs more highly creative people who can develop gamification techniques that can work for any brand.

Too many unnecessary steps between the brand and end user

Due to the nature of today's fast-paced and information-rich world, the line between the consumer and brand is diminishing. However, traditional marketers are still approaching their advertising efforts the old fashioned way, introducing as many middlemen as possible. The fact is, sometimes the brand/agency model is not needed. Brands have the ability to cut out intermediaries and go directly to their customers; the problem is that not a lot of brand marketers want to do this. Marketers could avoid confusion, clutter, and wasted time if they recognized that every once in a while the act of reaching out to consumers doesn't require so many cooks in the kitchen.

Getting media buyers to break from their current model of buying

There are a lot of creative marketers who want to approach selling in unique ways. Unfortunately, traditional media buyers seem to be stuck in their ways and committed to the same processes. Are spreadsheets and IOs necessary in today's marketing world? Many people don't think so, and they constantly lock horns with traditionalists who are so used to the same routine.

There's simply not enough time in the day

Maybe this problem isn't unique to the marketing world, but the marketing world sure feels it more than most industries. With the rapid pace of technology, short-term goals to hit, clients to grab, and relationships to make, marketers just don't have enough time in the day and often burn the midnight oil at work trying to set themselves up for the next day or week. How many times have you found yourself in the office after sunset? It happens all the time in the ad industry, to the point where it's become a fact of life when entering a marketing career. There's no marketer who doesn't wish they had a few more hours in the day.

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