FEATURE1 March 2006

Search for proof

Lucy Aitken talks to Diageo’s Michael Harvey about drinking, planning, responsibility and the search for a compelling international research service

Johnnie Walker’s ‘keep walking’ ads tap into a male need to make progress. And Michael Harvey, Diageo’s global consumer planning and research director, is the very embodiment of this desire. Harvey’s progress has helped Diageo to keep walking at a sprightly pace in a famously cut-throat sector.

He joined Guinness in 1997, the same year that it merged with Grand Metropolitan. Looking back on how research used to be organised, he shakes his head in disbelief: “We were four separate companies: Burger King, Pillsbury, Guinness and UDV. All of them had their own ways of doing marketing. It was an absolute nightmare. You couldn’t have a conversation with anybody, and everyone was testing things differently.”

Following the Guinness merger with UDV in 2000, Harvey became the global consumer planning and research for the newly-enlarged Diageo. He set to work improving the research function, using his experience of working in the planning departments of advertising agencies. “Today we have common ways of working which help the company to move much more quickly than it could five years ago.”

Learn your letters
The hallmark of his tenure so far has been a love of vowels. When he joined, he introduced the 4As – Adore, Adopt, Accept and Available – to replace the classic 10 point brand commitment scale. The 4As were then used by Diageo marketers to help profile consumers in different territories and influence local marketing strategies. Next, Harvey devised a thinking framework, the 5is – Issue, Information, Insight, Implication and Implementation – to help problem-solving within the company. Both tools were created entirely in-house and are used by all Diageo staff.

Harvey remembers when he first presented the 4As. “Marketers came up to me and said: ‘This is amazing. Why have you research people never made it this simple before? Why have you confused us for all these years with information and enormous presentations and charts?’ My response was: ‘That’s a very good question. Why have we done that?’”

Harvey is proud of how he has simplified working practices at Diageo, and has limited patience for researchers who insist on over-complicating for a living. “Many researchers still produce complex data presentations, almost to justify their existence, or to create a role for themselves in the company as Interpreter Of Data. But actually most people just get hacked off with that. We’re trying to create simple tools to drive growth.”

His 20 years spent in advertising agencies – most notably, Saatchi & Saatchi, FCB and WCRS – have helped him to apply a planning discipline to Diageo’s research function which prevents it from becoming a mechanical process where marketers drown in data. It also gave him a clear idea of how to understand the needs of consumers. “We spend our whole lives thinking about consumers of brands and how their needs should be satisfied. Yet, in research, our consumers are the marketing people. If you can’t actually prove that you’re helping marketers to do their jobs better, what role do you have in the company? That’s the acid test.”

He adds: “You can’t justify a person who’s a middle-man between the company and the research agencies. It’s not the role of a research department to find out brand share in Northern England; marketers can access that data for themselves. It adds no value whatsoever for a researcher to be downloading information from a research company and giving it to a marketer.”

Dressing up statistics as ‘insights’ is another bugbear. “It’s not a consumer insight that 55 per cent of Baileys consumers are women. That’s a fact. Insight is understanding why women prefer it to men. Only then can you start to create marketing.”

No ‘I’ in team
To articulate the changes in research’s role within Diageo, Harvey uses a football team analogy where market researchers have traditionally been goal-keepers, while sales and marketing teams have been strikers. It’s his ambition to create more of a midfielder role for researchers where they pass the balls to the strikers and allow them to score.

Harvey’s team is over five times the size of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad, comprising 125 consumer planners and researchers worldwide, serving the180 markets in which Diageo operates. Teams based in the UK might work on British brands, namely Bell’s, Pimm’s, Gordon’s and Blossom Hill wine, while others work on Diageo’s Global Priority Brands: Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Smirnoff, Baileys, Cuervo, Tanqueray, Captain Morgan and J&B.

Each Global Priority Brand has a global marketing director and a global brand planner. There are also capability and best practice champions to maintain standards. The average stint of a planner at Diageo is two and a half years, so, as Harvey points out: “We need to remind them what our vision is.”

Global support comes from proprietary techniques belonging to market research agencies such as NeedScope International, part of TNS, a New Zealand-based firm which Diageo uses for a global segmentation study. Millward Brown is used for advertising quantitative pre-testing, and the drinks giant is currently looking for a partner for simulated test marketing. In individual markets, however, planners recruit and manage their own roster of local agencies.

Think global, please!
Harvey finds something lacking in certain market research agencies that Diageo uses, particularly when it comes to fulfiling the company’s global requirements. “We have yet to find an agency that is perfect internationally. They’d all love to give this international service where a common point in their company liaises with a common point in Diageo, and everything around the world runs smoothly. But, in reality, their structures are not set up for that. There should be a global co-coordinator at the agency who makes sure that people in different markets are up to scratch.”

He concedes that qualitative agencies tend to perform better, attributing the difference to longer-term relationships and a more responsible attitude towards problems. He laughs, but is deadly serious when he requests: “Will you please own the problem centrally, research agency, and not say to us, ‘well actually you have to sort out the problem in Colombia.’”

Time slips
Part of Harvey’s frustration when Diageo finds itself lumbered with such problems is that time is of the essence. In fact, time is so tight, that Harvey has organised a training programme entitled ‘Making Time For Planning’ to help researchers with time-management and prioritising skills. “You have to become a master at time management. And that often means going to marketing people and saying: ‘Here are the priorities we’re going to work on. Here’s what we’re not going to do for you anymore.’ It is quite difficult to do that sometimes; managing stake holders is not easy.”

Along with planning and priorit-ising, there’s another strand to the training for planners: influencing skills. Why train research people in this discipline? “A lot of our people start their careers in the back room of research agencies and are quite quiet; they’re not as edgy as the marketers,” says Harvey, “and they need to have more influence with them.”

Perhaps part of the reason why ads for brands such as Guinness and Johnnie Walker have become magnets for awards is because Diageo’s planners are more vocal, involved and influential than those in other organisations. A recent example of how insight has helped to influence new product development is Ciroc, a grape-based vodka targeting premium drinkers. “That brand understands that authenticity is something that people seek,” says Harvey. Rums are also “on fire”, he observes. “Some consumers are perhaps beginning to tire of the blandness of white spirits, so they are looking for something with more heritage. Our Pampero rum is going very well because of its Latin American provenance. There is a trend away from quantity towards quality of consumption, and we want to play at the premium end of the market.”

Take responsibility
Research also plays a pivotal role in promoting responsible drinking. In the US, 20 per cent of Diageo’s media spend is invested in responsible drinking ads in its quest to be what Harvey describes as: “Unequivocally the most responsible drinks company in the world.”

Diageo uses its consumer planning and insight skills to create ads which, rather than lecture consumers, tries to get them on side to deliver a responsible drinking message.

“Consumers don’t respond to preaching; they respond to someone saying to them: ‘drink is enjoyable, and we want you to have a good night.’ That way, you can guide them to find the message for themselves,” says Harvey.

Diageo’s in-house marketing and research codes are far more stringent than many government regulations. When the codes were introduced three years ago, there was concern that the advertising would suffer as a result. Harvey claims that it hasn’t yet been affected. “You can do great communication and still be responsible,” he states.

Whether it’s an ad promoting responsible drinking, or Guinness’ ‘worth waiting for’ slogan, Harvey and his team work hard to keep research as one of Diageo’s core values. Harvey’s immediate boss, Rob Malcolm, the global president of marketing, sales and innovation, sits on the company’s executive committee. His presence helps to ensure that the interests of consumers and marketing issues have a voice at the very top of Diageo. Harvey regularly presents to this committee. “Although it’s a large company, it’s actually very small from a management point of view,” he says. “Those of us in the senior management team all know each other personally, and that helps to break down any barriers.”

One other barrier-breaker is that research and marketing teams “all talk the same language” according to Harvey, which he describes as “an amazing win for us as a company.”

It’s impossible to predict where a premium drinks company might be in five years’ time because consumer-driven organisations – just like consumers – tend to be fickle beasts. But a streamlined, planning-focused approach towards research and marketing will no doubt help it to keep walking.

BOXOUT: Michael Harvey in 72 words
Michael Harvey started his career in research before joining Saatchi & Saatchi. He helped inspire the ‘I bet he drinks Carling Black Label’ campaign whilst at WCRS and spent 10 years at Foote, Cone & Belding Advertising. He joined Springpoint as planning director in 1995 before moving to Guinness in 1997 where he became the global consumer planning director. Following the merger of Guinness and UDV, he became the global consumer planning and research director for Diageo.

March | 2006