César Hernández: Chief Marketing Officer, Mahou San Miguel
Raising a glass
Keeping the fizz in century-old business
Chief Marketing Officer, Mahou San Miguel
The company turned 125 years old in 2015… not all brands live to be centenarians, so how have the Mahou San Miguel brands managed such longevity?
Essentially, it’s about Mahou San Miguel having “truth”. They are brands that were born with truth and it has maintained that over time, both in its products and in its marketing. Obviously it is necessary to adapt and even anticipate the times, but truth is a good guarantor of being able to last over time.
How important to the brand is it that the company is family owned?
It shows a lot in the day-to-day work, since the family is very involved. It also shows in the values of the brand, which are the values of the family and therefore the values of the company. It is helpful when we need decisions to be made – this can be much faster than in much larger companies. The presence of a family brings agility and freshness to our work.
How do you stand out in such a competitive product category?
Thanks to a good combination of the “truth” we talked about before, and having a good product. All the company's brands have very good products; We have great brewers and their work, regardless of the marketing that we do, is very important in helping us stand out in the market. The same applies for our excellent water Solán de Cabras.
You have a large portfolio of beer brands in the company; how do you ensure that one brand doesn’t make gains at the expense of another?
The brewing industry has traditionally been very stable, both in terms of the number of brands and the level of advertising. This has changed radically over the last four years. We use Kantar Millward Brown research to carefully analyze what each individual brand brings to the mother brand Mahou, as well as working to support Mahou brand health.
There’s a lot of focus now on brand experience. How do you deliver more than just a drink?
The consumer is telling us that they want to discuss not just a bottle or a drink but they want to share an experience with the brand. We have the brewing space Manzana Mahou 330 in Madrid (combining art, gastronomy and beer), from which we have learned that this kind of experience speaks to consumers as much as a new advertising campaign. This is the future for Mahou: to add experiences to the product.
Mahou is present in many countries around the world. Do you position yourselves as a Spanish brand or a global brand, and does that differ by market?
Our truth is that we are Spanish. Mahou, everywhere it goes, is positioned as a Spanish brand that offers a certain type of beer. Although, just by the way, the name does not help much, since Mahou is a French surname.
You describe yourself as an ambassador of Spain. How do you think the brand affects ‘brand Spain’, and how does ‘brand Spain’ reflect on you?
They are totally interrelated. When you go out of our country with a brand like Mahou, you have Brand Spain behind you, and all the strengths that this carries: gastronomy, modernity, good work, good product ... in fact, when a Spanish brand makes a move towards premium, it differs a lot from what a brand from another country would do. For example, we can use concepts like “genius” or “art”, which are associated more closely with Spain than with Germany, which is much more about “consistency” and “doing well”.
What have you learned about international expansion that other Spanish brands could benefit from?
Build on your strengths and concentrate, rather than dispersing your efforts.. We have to be aware that we are not relevant everywhere, and focus on where we are relevant.
How does your media strategy vary by market, and how is the mix evolving in Spain?
Instead of talking about how it varies we should focus on how the different media strategies come together. The move towards digitalization is tremendous and digitalization is important even when you are small, because it can make you tremendously prominent in the media. It is true that depending on the market where you are you can do different things depending on your size, but digitization is everywhere. Even in Spain, where we are a leading company, the movement towards digital has also been enormous.
Can we talk about your CSR efforts? How important is it for Spanish brands to consider the natural environment, and how important is it to consider other aspects of social responsibility?
We are in a period of stage in the world of marketing. Everything related to CSR and sustainability has come as a tsunami. Before, the consumer had their own values but did not ask brands whether their values were the same. Now, we ask brands to share or at least to respect our values. And that, as a brand, affects us in our relationship with the environment, our relationship with our employees, and everything we do both internally and externally: what we do with our products and experiences, with the environment, with employees, with factories, with taxes. All this fundamentally changes the concept of marketing.
What’s the role of innovation at Mahou San Miguel?
Innovation, to be useful, has to stop being a separate silo in a business and become part of the DNA of a brand, because consumers do not understand brands that aren’t constantly developing. Our job is to continue developing – with the consumer – a whole world that is to come. At Mahou San Miguel, we have already integrated this into the business and in fact, innovation is where we have invested and grown the most in the last three years. This can be seen in recent releases such as San Miguel Isotónica or Mahou Barrica. As leaders, we have to lead innovation and face the future without fear that an idea might fail.
How does Mahou San Miguel see the future?
I like that current generations define themselves and ask brands things that generations like mine did not ask, as we were much more “transactional” in our relationship with brands. Consumers ask us for a product, an experience and values, and the future of Mahou is undoubtedly to continue to respond to these requests.