Q&A with AB Inbev’s global CMO Miguel Patricio

Miguel Patricio’s career trajectory should provide marketers wishing to grow their influence in an organisation with inspiration. Beginning his career at what is now AB Inbev in 1998 as a marketer he climbed to region president of North America in 2005 and then led the strategically crucial Asia Pacific region in 2006. He rejoined the marketing ranks in July 2012 as global chief marketing officer. He talks to Marketing Week about revenue generation, the role of marketing in society, social media, his objectives for the brewer and “watery beer” gate.


MW: What have you identified as your biggest challenge as CMO?

MP: The biggest challenge is top line growth. The beer industry is mature, flat or in decline in some of the more mature countries. And that is a big challenge. In some places of course, especially in the emerging markets, which are important for us, the market is growing.

MW: How are you looking to manage the decline in western Europe and in the UK?

MP: The industry is declining and there are a lot of reasons for that. Some of them are social reasons – a number of pubs in the UK close every week and that has hit volumes. Some of those volumes have migrated off premise but overall the industry is suffering there.

We don’t believe this trend is eternal. It is up to us to change this trend. Innovation plays a big role in that and it is one of our big priorities.

MW: What is the key role marketers play in the company. And in wider society?

MP: My view is perhaps a bit more pragmatic [than other marketers]. Perhaps because I ran businesses for the last eight years. The role of marketing is to sell more. Period. Good marketing is the one that sells more. To produce good marketing you have to do a lot of things. The idea that there is a new set of 4Ps is the case but at the end of the day the world is the same – the essence of marketing is still the same. Does it sell?

MW: But do you believe that marketers do have a role to play in improving society?

MP: Yes. The world has changed and brands today do have to have a purpose. Companies also. Not only from a company standpoint but as a human being as well. The world has evolved. Companies have to have a role in society too.

MW: Do you believe marketing needs to present itself more seriously to become more influential in the boardroom?

MP: No. Perhaps in world of banking, for example, that might be true but in a consumer goods company if you don’t have marketing at the centre then your company will not have much of a future. You can be efficient in a lot of things but if you don’t understand your customer you are going to fail. Marketing in my company and my world has to start and finish the conversation. If there are companies where that doesn’t happen then it is either a weakness of the company or a weakness of the marketing team.

At AB Inbev, marketing is becoming more important and more influential everyday especially as we have to crack the code on company growth in emerging markets – we [marketing] have to start that conversation.

MW: Are you as committed to social media as your predecessor Chris Burggraeve was?

MP: There is still a big commitment to social media. We are a company that operates out of six zones with a very lean headquarters. We have a lot of great experiences and best practices in the company but we have not been very good at cascading that throughout the world. So, before bringing new revolution to social media we need to first cascade best practice examples throughout the world.

MW: Do you see social media replacing traditional in the media mix?

MP: Looking at the digital world is a huge priority because we are always behind it. Traditional media, however, still has a huge role to play. Beer is a very democratic product. Maybe for Apple or other luxury or consumer goods the online world might be enough. But for beer which has 60 per cent penetration. It is such a democratic product that I don’t see it [an end to investment in traditional media channels] happening in the near future.

MW: What is the main objective you have set yourself in your new role?

Mp: Having a big influence on carving top line growth in the company.

MW: What is your reaction to being sued in the US over allegations AB Inbev cheated consumers out of the stated alcohol strength by adding water just before bottling its beers?

MP: It is in a country where everybody sues everyone right? It’s bad and a pretty big lie. Period.

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