Breaking Down HEINEKEN USA’s First-Party Data Strategy

Industry: Consumer Goods|8 Minute Read

Breaking Down HEINEKEN USA’s First-Party Data Strategy

Recently, HEINEKEN USA Director of Consumer Data Strategy Rebekah (Bek) Kennedy spoke with AdExchanger about the multi-brand company’s evolving first-party data strategy — and the key role BlueConic plays in the success of that strategy.

Here’s some additional context around how growth-focused teams across HEINEKEN USA leverage unified first-party data in our pure-play customer data platform (CDP) today.

(Note: The full interview with AdExchanger has been edited for clarity.)

AdExchanger: I was wondering if you could provide some background info on how HEINEKEN USA and BlueConic teamed up for this first-party data strategy.

Bek: In regard to choosing BlueConic and our journey, it’s probably easier to start from the beginning of our first-party consumer data strategy. It started about five years ago, when HEINEKEN USA adopted the approach. I was working at HEINEKEN UK at the time, so it’s very much become a global initiative now.

We started our journey with a data management platform (DMP), then switched to a CDP. One of our goals for doing that was to improve media efficiency and effectiveness through segmentation and enhance consumer engagement strategies through advertising.

The problem we had with DMP-based segments was that we lacked insight. It wasn’t really future-proofing, so we needed to replace anonymous identifiers with a more sustainable solution built on identity, which we then could use more consistently across channels.

When I joined HEINEKEN USA in 2019 as a transfer from the UK, I realized we had a lot of duplicate tech in our stack. My initial task was to perform an audit of the stack, identify our objectives, and then tailor the brief we sent to CDPs in market.

Having those initial objectives outlined was really helpful, because there’s obviously a lot going on in the CDP space. Being able to cut to the chase and really understand if the partner was able to facilitate our goals was really important.

BlueConic answered all the questions we had in an amazing manner. They were able to come in and have someone who clearly knew the platform inside and out. We were particularly impressed with their answers regarding customer privacy.

AdExchanger: Is it fair to characterize your relationship with BlueConic as a partnership? How has it been working with them amid the pandemic?

Bek: Yeah, it’s absolutely a partnership. I’ve still never met anyone from BlueConic face to face, which is a pretty wild thing to think about when you work with someone so closely.

In regard to how COVID has affected our strategy, there are initiatives we had to scale back. A lot of HEINEKEN’s offline activities, like festivals and sporting events, that we were looking to leverage as data collection and acquisition programs, didn’t happen, obviously.

But with the boom in ecommerce, we were able to broker a number of second-party data agreements. We’d go directly to different companies and ask them if they were willing to share their consumer data with us with a focus on transactional data. We were able to lean more into that a lot more.

So there were definitely a lot of changes to our approach, but I think we still were able to achieve a lot of good things in 2020.

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AdExchanger: Can you explain why having a first-party data strategy is really important? And what has BlueConic allowed HEINEKEN USA to do today it couldn’t before?

Bek: The main advantage to having a first-party data strategy is primarily just understanding more about our audience. In the U.S., there is a lot of data privacy legislation. Plus we can’t sell directly to consumers. We can’t even sell directly to retailers.

We have to sell to distributors, they sell to retailers, and then they sell to consumers. So, we’re a long way away from the actual person who’s drinking our product. But we’re now able to understand more about them. And then we can tailor messaging to them.

So that’s the very kind of basic-level benefit of a first-party data approach.

I’d say the second benefit is future-proofing, to be honest. With the all the changes to browsers and privacy and third-party cookies going away, that adjustability is important to us. We had to ask ourselves, ‘How are we going to continue to be relevant in reaching people who drink our brands moving forward’?

With CCPA, consumers have a right to opt out. BlueConic is amazing at helping us comply and manage consent. Our legal team loves that. But also, BlueConic is a really great repository to store all data generated from our different agencies.

Finally, we appreciate what BlueConic is able to bring from a thought leadership point of view. They ask us questions like, ‘Have you thought about adding this email capture to your website? Have you considered how you can understand more about consumers over time?’

If we didn’t work with BlueConic, we’d have to do something like build our own kind of data warehouse internally and then contract another provider to make that actionable across our media plan. Since BlueConic now holds all our first-party data, we can work out what we want to do with that data and what channels we want to use it on.

AdExchanger: What about BlueConic and its CDP capabilities was most appealing?

Bek: I’m a central user of the platform. So, an easy and aesthetically pleasing UI is always a nice thing to have.

BlueConic also answered all the questions in our brief, which sounds like a pretty easy thing to do. But, when  someone comes in, nails that, and obviously understands your challenges as a brand, that’s really important.

And, as I said, the privacy issue was a big factor for our legal team. They were really impressed with the way that BlueConic answered questions around privacy.

AdExchanger: Can you offer some examples that show how you’re using your first-party data? Any projects you’re currently working on or have coming down the pike?

Bek: One initiative is email marketing. BlueConic powers that since it holds all the opted-in records for our contacts. So I’m really excited to work on that.

We’ve got a few email campaigns planned for this year, including one for Dos Equis, which is one of our main brands. We’re looking to understand how we can use email marketing as a channel for awareness and engagement, understanding what kind of products and flavors people like, maybe even leaning into promoting beer cocktails and recipes.

I don’t think email marketing is the sexiest marketing activity. It never really seemed like a thing HEINEKEN USA would do. But, with first-party data, it becomes quite compelling.

AdExchanger: Where’s the ideal place for CPGs to start with use cases once they get first-party data in a CDP?

Bek: For a company like HEINEKEN USA, where you don’t have that direct-to-consumer link, you have to think about what you’re currently doing that you could enhance.

For us, our interactions with consumers come from online touchpoints — our website is number one. So, we ask, ‘How do we enhance those touchpoints? How do we determine what content we put there?’

Then, there’s virtual events. Last year, Tecate, one of HEINEKEN USA’s brands, had some virtual festivals. People could attend during COVID and vote for their favorite songs. So initiatives like that are a good starting point too.

And then brokering those second-party data deals, looking at your data gaps, and approaching businesses and seeing if they’re willing to share data with you.

In regard to offline activities, we can use sponsored sporting events and music festivals and create VIP areas or other offerings in order for that value exchange to happen.

It’s really just looking at what you’re currently doing with data, then thinking, ‘Okay, how can we add a consumer data element into this?’ HEINEKEN USA is a very cool brand, so we have that data pool. People know about us, and we’re able to then offer something of value to them in exchange for data.

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AdExchanger: You mentioned third-party cookies going away. How disruptive is that going to be for you?

Bek: Yeah, it’s a big change. But it’s also been a gradual change.

When we began our first-data strategy in 2017, Safari launched their Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which was the first browser to block cookies. Then, in 2018, GDPR, the first major privacy legislation, came in.

So, third-party cookies going away and consumer privacy have always been in the background of what we’ve been doing and shaping our thinking in regard to how we can future-proof and shift to that known, consented identity of our consumers.

That obviously leads to choosing a partner like BlueConic. Other tools like DMPs are built on anonymous identifiers. They’ll become a lot harder to use once browser changes come.

But it’s something the industry should be embracing. I think the way things are currently done with cookie tracking and targeting is not a legitimate or respectful way of interacting with consumers today.

The accuracy we will get by moving away from third-party cookies and embracing first-party data is very advantageous. But there’s going to be a lot of changes that need to happen in the technology ecosystem. A lot of advertising technologies need to adapt.

AdExchanger: You mentioned email being one of your core programs. Are there any others BlueConic helps you execute with your first-party data?

Bek: Yeah. So, with any ecommerce campaigns we do, if we’re trying to drive people down the funnel, we say, ‘Okay, well, these users have already interacted with that brand, so they’re already in the consideration phase. Let’s show them the nearest stores where our product is and drive them to that retailer.’

That’s something we wouldn’t have been able to do prior to BlueConic.

Previously, we’d have to work out what consumer data source we wanted to use, pay for it, and not be really sure of how it was collected, whereas Blueconic enables us to use our own first-party data across our campaigns.

Watch our MarTech Conference session to learn more about HEINEKEN USA’s first-party data strategy, including how the company built ‘golden consumer records’ with BlueConic.

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