Home Marketers Inside AB InBev’s Strategy For Tapping Into First-Party Data

Inside AB InBev’s Strategy For Tapping Into First-Party Data

Pictograph of graph, mug of beer

Pour one out for third-party data.

These days, AB InBev’s digital marketing strategy is built squarely on first-party data.

All its first-party data – roughly 100 million customer records – is housed within a single customer data platform (CDP).

With all of its data accessible in one place, AB InBev can generate customer insights across its portfolio, create personalized campaigns across markets, run advanced analytics and track consumer privacy preferences.

But that wasn’t always the case. Around five years ago, AB InBev had a seriously massive silo problem.

Compliance first

And massive isn’t an understatement.

AB InBev collects data from across more than 1,000 sources, including ecommerce, social and branded websites. It owns over 500 brands in 42 countries.

This data, however, was “basically just sitting everywhere,” said Luiz Gama, AB InBev’s senior global martech manager for consumer data and CRM.

Regional marketing teams maintained their own databases and, in many cases, they would pass data between themselves and their agency and tech partners in .csv and Excel files – an untenable situation from a data compliance and security perspective.

“We were exposed, and we operate in a highly regulated industry,” Gama said.


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And that’s how AB InBev’s first-party data journey began. Not as a way to support cool new marketing use cases, but as a compliance project.

Which is how it should be – brands should build a data governance framework before they even start thinking about marketing.

“Today, we have personalization, insights, analytics, we understand customer behavior,” Gama said. “But our CDP push started as a compliance push. The first pillar is always building the data foundation.”

The DTC opportunity

And so, in 2019, AB InBev partnered with Treasure Data to unify all its customer data across brands and markets.

And the move proved prescient.

When the pandemic hit the following year and a wave of people suddenly started buying beer online, AB InBev’s fledging direct-to-consumer business experienced a boom and became a big source of first-party engagement and conversion data that could now flow directly into the Treasure Data CDP.

In the years since, the DTC business has continued to scale, Gama said, especially in Latin American markets, such as Mexico and Brazil, where ecommerce is growing rapidly.

“Because these consumers are coming directly to us, we can get a deeper understanding of their purchase habits, how often they buy and how they like to interact with us,” Gama said. “These are now key drivers that help us deliver personalized communications without spamming our users.”

Barrels of insights

But as important as it is to manage frequency and communicate with consumers efficiently, that’s a relatively quick win once a brand has its data organized. Not spamming users is (or at least should be) table stakes.

Now, AB InBev is starting to “unlock deeper insights” about its customers, Gama said.

Friends hangout online, drink beverages. Human hands hold bottles through smartphone screen. Mobile app, video call. Informal talking by internet. Party, birthday, virtual meeting vector illustrationFor example, AB InBev can observe consumer behavior across multiple brands and see how loyalties shift over time.

If, say, cohorts of people that were loyal to one brand start buying other brands under AB InBev’s umbrella, it’s worth digging in to find out why. Or if there’s an uptick in the number of people buying premium beers rather than cheaper ones, AB InBev is able to track the trend and consider reexamining its pricing and/or messaging strategy.

Meanwhile, AB InBev can also see what isn’t working.

“We can understand the point of loss, as in where we’re maybe losing people within the customer journey,” Gama said. “And if we can discover where the problem is in the way we’re communicating, then we can fix it.”

But there are applications beyond marketing and personalization. A few years ago, AB InBev used its CDP to help it release new flavors.

AB InBev surveyed its customers in Brazil about their soda flavor preferences, combined their responses with other first-party data signals and ran analysis on top of it.

“In the end, we were able to deliver new products that our customers wanted,” Gama said. “The work we’re doing here isn’t just about generating digital sales, it’s also about getting insights that can change the business.”

Strategy before scale

There is, however, no way to innovate using data without laying the technical groundwork first, he said. And that includes setting clear goals for the project – not that a first-party data project ever really ends.

Collecting customer data and getting value out of it is an ongoing process, and there’s no magic formula.

It’s a matter of having transparent data collection practices, honoring customer preferences and only collecting data that will help achieve business success, Gama said.

“We’re always thinking and rethinking our approach and asking ourselves whether there’s a better way to do what we want to do,” he said. “That’s the only way to keep pace with how people are changing and how digital marketing also needs to evolve.”

And a CDP alone won’t do that for you. While a CDP can be a strategic tool, it’s the marketer that sets the strategy.

“You always need a clear connection between the technology and your business objectives,” Gama said. “Otherwise, you’re just deploying technology because it’s cool or trendy.”

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