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February, 2024

Performance enhancer: Asahi toasts 23% paid media efficiency gains, 46% click cost plunge, 20% cheaper CPMs, hits 50% click throughs – now ‘all 23 brands want to get on board’

Achieving 23 per cent more efficiency in paid media spend and an extra $125,000 off a $500,000 investment has been a standout early win for global beverages giant, Asahi, after taking the marketing intelligence investment plunge.

Asahi senior manager of data and CX, Megan Coutts-Quinn, told attendees at Salesforce World Tour in Sydney the goal had been to hit a 20 per cent return on investment through more efficient paid media activity by deploying Salesforce Marketing Cloud Intelligence. Three months in, the team had hit 23 per cent more efficient paid media spend.

Asahi has 23 brands across three divisions in ANZ: Lifestyle Beverages, Carlton & United Brewery (CUB) and Asahi Beverages New Zealand. In charge of quantifying and improving media performance was Coutts-Quinn, who has been with the group for five years. She sits within Asahi’s 70-strong internal agency ‘One House’, which provides creative production, media, digital media, client services, data and technology services to the group.

According to Coutts-Quinn, there were both internal and external reasons to invest in a marketing intelligence platform.

“Internally, we were growing spend in digital channels as we moved online – shifting to online video from traditional TV, expanding our brand portfolio through the CUB acquisition in 2020. There’s also the broader industry shift towards in-house capabilities,” she said.

Externally, Coutts-Quinn pointed to growth in digital happening everywhere – and something that’s only accelerated through the Covid pandemic. Just take the number of consumers now buying not just through an Instagram feed, but also via stories and sponsored posts.

“There are lot of ways to show up in platforms. Then there’s the proliferation of channels in general – we want to take a screen-based approach but that’s hard to do if you can’t see single view of performance in one place,” she said.

Yet for three years, the team suffered through a combination of Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides for each brands in its struggle to manage a growing number of media channels investments and subsequent performance reporting requirements.

“The team was spending a lot of time pulling data into one place. If our digital specialist coming in of a morning wanted to see how we’re doing, they could go to Facebook first. But what if it’s online video underperforming? It’s hard to understand the next-best thing to do,” she continued.  

“For us, we really needed a platform so our digital specialist could see figures from overnight and be empowered to make the right decision on a brand immediately. That meant gaining a unified view of marketing in one place. It needed to be real-time, powered by AI to help make decisions and identify what’s important, then have alerts and actions in-built. It’s not just a dashboard, it’s a true activation platform.”

Coutts-Quinn outlined a four-pronged plan to bringing a more intelligent approach to media investment and reporting into the business. The first was to bring data in from all data sources, while the second was unifying and harmonise data into a consistent framework. The third was to turn data into consumable insights with continuous optimisation, while the fourth was leveraging AI to uncover insights that can be used to derive learnings that then scale across the business.

It’s the combination of efficiency and effectiveness that drives value and growth for your brands.

Megan Coutts-Quinn, senior manager of data and CX, Asahi

Getting buy-in for more tech

It’s another technology platform to invest in, and as many stories on Mi3 have attested, integration and optimisation over simply buying more martech and adtech is a growing trend across many brands today.

To convince the executive team to invest in new platform, Asahi committed to running a phased approach to projects and implementation. Mi3 understands Asahi is also a Mutinex customer and uses its market mix modelling (MMM) platform.

“A phased approach helped build belief and appetite without disrupting the core,” Coutts-Quinn explained. “We found where possible, using a phased approach helps where you need to go faster. It’s not always possible – some platforms have network effects and you don’t want half your team on a different platform. But other times, as counterintuitive as it sounds, you maximise ROI much quicker when you go slower.”

She’s also not of the belief a platform has to be 100 per cent utilised to be commercially effectively, suggesting the optimum utilisation rate is around “40-60 per cent”.

Asahi set a two-month implementation phase, with a five-month initial launch across three brands:  Asahi, Vodka Cruiser and Great Northern Brewing Co. There was three months testing then a move to scale. The FMCG giant partnered with Bower House for implementation work.

Five steps were critical in the process, said Coutts-Quinn. The first was having a dedicated project squad, while the second was training and enablement.

“This is new technology and a new way of working, which can be very intimidating for teams,” she said. “With budget allocation, there are risks and goals to hit to make a brand successful. How to put guardrails in place so they feel comfortable to play around was important.”

Also critical was buttoning down and pre-aligning on KPIs across the whole phased approach. The team built these for every brand, channel and format from the bottom up.

“You want people to know exactly what they’re building so every day, we had a big focus on communications,” Coutts-Quinn said. “We had a small, focused team shouting about what we were doing.”

Asahi also had a ‘10 per cent rule’ of starting small. “We wanted the team to feel psychologically safe and to build confidence. If you think it’ll work, spend 10 per cent, track it for a day, then go for more. This led to more decisiveness and quicker decision making.”

Even with a unified view, reviewing within channel first “before going back to the original strategy and starting again” was a pillar the team needed to adopt, Quinn-Coutts said. Thinking differently is another must in these sorts of deployments, given how much there is to optimise, she said.

“You can move between channels, such as from social to display, and between publishers – there are lots of levers and they’re not always the obvious ones,” Quinn-Coutts said.

Not surprisingly, a test-and-learn approach with plenty of A/B comparison, along with a strong process to capture learnings, was put in play. Quinn-Coutts noted 79 optimisations in the first three months from this iterative approach.

“And knowledge share, internally and externally. Get the teams to share and take accountability for sharing,” she advised.

The results

Top of the ROI list in the first three months for Asahi was to hit 20 per cent return on investment on paid media through more efficient spend.

“We hit 23 per cent in first three months,” she said. Across the three initial brands, Asahi allocated $550,000 of media investment and saw an extra $125,000 of incremental re-investment from that. And it scales, with Quinn-Coutts extrapolating the figures out to a $1.5 million benefit on $45 million spend.

As a direct consequence of the first phase, Asahi restructured 12 digital deals, which were mostly online video and BVOD, and conducted eight formal ANZ tests, plus plenty more ad hoc.

“What we have seen has significantly helped us get more bang for our buck across all levels of investment,” Quinn-Coutts said.

There’s a 10 per cent productivity lift too. “When jumping in spreadsheets, platform, you’re not doing the job well, and you’re not having a fun time on tasks. That can put downward pressure on engagement,” Quinn-Coutts said. “Getting tools to do the heavy lifting gave us back more time to think strategically, talk to our brands and to our agency partners, and focus on doing good work.”

Efficiency KPIs include a 46 per cent drop in cost per click, plus 20 per cent CPM reduction.

“It’s not just about reaching people cheaply,” Quinn-Coutts said, adding effectiveness measures include a 33 per cent lift in 3-second view rates, 17 per cent higher engagement rates on media assets and 50 per cent click through rate.

“It’s the combination of efficiency and effectiveness that drives value and growth for your brands,” she added.  

Internally, the project has been a win, with people calling up asking for their brands to be put into the first phase. And there’s been improvements in insight and analysis sharing thanks to the single view.

“It does uplift the way people think about performance media,” Quinn-Coutts said. “We’re resonating more with people actually seeing communications, marketing, driving engagement, productivity with internal teams. It’s a big success for us.

“Digital marketing literacy is up too – all brand teams have access to the dashboards, which creates a good anchor point in WIPs. The fact teams have more time for conversations is starting to uplift literacy in our wider digital marketing team and we expect that to continue to grow.”

Another piece of advice from Quinn-Coutts is to “anchor on the benefits”  

“But do ringfence funding for adjustment – a truncated phase one isn’t going to get everything right, and you learn more when everyone is on the tools. So make sure you have budget for phase two adjustment rollout,” she added.

Asahi is now rolling out Salesforce Marketing Cloud Intelligence to all 23 brands in ANZ, with every division “wanting to get on board with this”, Quinn-Cloud said, concluding all brands are now expected to be in the platform by the end of March.