Heineken on why craft needs a ‘reverse’ marketing approach

Heineken is looking at different ways to engage consumers around craft beers in order to retain  their authenticity, keep loyal customers engaged and bring in new drinkers.


Heineken is adopting a “reversed” marketing approach for its smaller brands and craft beers as it looks to retain their authenticity and build out awareness.

At an event in Amsterdam last week, Walter Drenth, senior global director international brands at Heineken, explained that craft brands require a fundamentally different approach compared to scaled brand building. This means starting its communications with consumers who are already passionate about the brand, which spreads to “adopters”, and then to those it is looking to get to try the brand. Only then would it launch a wide-scale marketing campaign.

In comparison, for more mainstream brands such as its namesake Heineken lager the strategy typically starts with a major campaign and then gets more personal..

“[Marketing for craft] is the reverse of what we normally do. Normally you start traditional with big campaigns creating awareness and then hopefully people try it but with craft you start very formal working with outlets and staying true to what the brand stands for — letting the beer speak for itself,” said Drenth, speaking to Marketing Week.

Drenth believes the rise in craft beers is due to “consumers moving towards more complex tastes”. He explained: “[Consumers’] repertoire is growing which means a man might be drinking IPA in one outlet and Sol in the next. This means it’s less about marketing and more about story-selling and stories travelling from person to person.”

Drenth adds: “It’s important that you talk to the authenticity of the brand and really build it with [craft brands]. It’s about collaboration.”

That approach also extends to Heineken’s sponsorship programme for its smaller brands. Rather than craft beers sponsoring major sporting events, it will be more event led in the form of smaller gigs and taste sessions in bars.

Heineken’s international ‘menu for growth’

At the event, Heineken also outlined plans to focus its growth efforts on eight international brands. Dubbed the “menu for growth” strategy, it will see Heineken push Amstel, Tiger, Desporados, Tecate, Red Stripe, Krusovice, Birra Moretti in new markets. For example, Heineken could launch its Mexican beers in certain Asian markets or expand the reach of Amstel and Moretti.

These international brands already represent 25% of Heineken’s global revenue, plus focusing more on newer international markets should help boost growth, which has seen volume sales falling in Europe but growing in Asia Pacific, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East.

“We use the word menu deliberately as we don’t want to have all these brands in every market as part of the portfolio. We will be analysing where there is opportunity in the portfolio and what of these propositions work best in the local markets,” Drenth said.

To drive this growth, Heineken will be launching a number of marketing campaigns to raise awareness and introduce the brands to new consumers. And while Drenth wouldn’t be drawn on where and when these might run, he did say they would be digitally led.

Despite this focus on digital, Drenth said the company has undergone a “mindset shift” when it comes to thinking about where to run its marketing. He concluded: “When we talk about brands we don’t even talk about digital anymore because digital should be so integrated with what you do. It should almost be mobile first.”