How Heineken is reaching new customers through digital

Heineken used its sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League to attract new digital consumers, dispelling the myth that digital only increases sales penetration among loyal customers.

heineken uefaHeineken is using digital to attract new consumers as it looks to disprove the idea that digital advertising only increases sales penetration among loyal customers.

The brand discovered that many of its consumers watching the UEFA Champions League, which it sponsors, were doing so through digital devices only, meaning they wouldn’t see activations taking place in so-called traditional media. It noted, working with Blauw Research, that globally more than eight out of 10 people follow the league using at least one digital channel (for example online live streams or social media), while approximately one in six of them exclusively using digital channels to follow matches.

This has only increased over time; in December 2018, 8% of consumers used only traditional channels to follow the UEFA Champions League, dropping to 3% in June 2019. At the same time, those only watching digital channels rose from 12%to 14% with this two percentage point rise representing 18 million  consumers.

Of these customers, Heineken discovered many were ‘light users’ of beer (consumers who buy the brand only occasionally) so were the ideal audience for Heineken to target to increase penetration.

Walter Drenth, who was global CMO for global international brands for craft at Heineken but is currently taking a sabbatical, explains: “What you see is that there is a group of people who only use digital media channels and digital devices exclusively. And if you add those devices and digital media channels you enlarge the total group [you are reaching] who include non-users of the brands.”

Reaching digital-only consumers

To reach this digital audience, in 2018 and 2019 the beer giant ran a direct-to-consumer initiative in Amsterdam called Drinkies. This was an ecommerce channel that enabled cold beer and snacks to be delivered to consumers door within 60 minutes of ordering.

During the UEFA Champions League knock-out stage in spring 2019, sales of Drinkies showed a considerable uplift on match days. This was especially the case when the home team – Ajax – was playing.

Not only did sales increase, but data also showed that the number of new Drinkies customers grew. Comparing sales data with brick and mortar retail sales on the same match days showed an improved uplift for Drinkies sales.

Heineken used this case study to demonstrate that brand communication through UEFA Champions League sponsorship, combined with direct to consumer instant delivery, reached new customers and ultimately to increased overall penetration. It also showed how combining clear marketing with direct-to-consumer initiatives can be.

Drenth explains: “It means we cannot take marketing as only sales or only supply chain. It’s a completely integrated way of working in that sense.”

Heineken made three key findings when combining its research and the Drinkies initiative. Firstly, that digital can lead to reaching new consumers and to building mental availability; secondly, that the number of consumers that exclusively use digital communication devices/channels continues to grow; and lastly that new customers have been reached and increased sales penetration achieved through a direct-to-consumer initiative.

Drenth says that while at Heineken he was aware of the Byron Sharp’s argument that, most of the time, digital commerce leads to reaching loyal customers rather than new consumers. However, he argues that this case study offers a “fresh perspective” proving otherwise.

Despite these findings, he is clear that digital shouldn’t replace traditional channels like TV and instead be integrated as part of an overall strategy.

“It is not about either doing this OR doing that. It is more about AND-AND,” he says.

By applying and integrating digital tools as part of the total mix, Heineken is improving its individualised data-driven marketing (getting the right message, to the right person, at the right moment) and data-driven sales (the right SKUs, of the rights brands, in the right outlet, at the right moment).

An added bonus is this also requires a more integrated way of working between departments, which only helps to improve marketing.

Drenth concludes: “A lot of people talk about ‘what is your digital strategy?’ and that is the wrong question to ask. The question is how can you use digital tools and your digital knowledge to improve your overall company’s performance?”