Smart sharing with vendors leads to better innovation at Pepsi

Written by Vince Thompson, Contributing Editor

As Director of Marketing for Pepsi in the U.S., Ana Maria Irazabal oversees the marketing campaigns, retail programs and product innovations for the brand Pepsi beverage portfolio. She and her team are behind the 2009 Pepsi "Refresh Everything" campaign, the popular "Dear Mr. President" digital program and the successful launches of Pepsi Natural and Pepsi Throwback. An experienced exec with an eleven-year history at Pepsi, Ana Maria was director of innovation for Pepsi sparkling beverages and worked in Pepsi International prior to her current role. Before joining Pepsi, Ana Maria held brand management roles at other CPG companies, including P&G and Kraft.

With the soda wars as competitive as ever and the category at large slightly down, Pepsi has managed to gain share. Recently I talked to her about gaining competitive advantage and where she’s finding success.

Tell us about your role and responsibility

I’m the brand steward responsible for brand positioning and communications. My job is to work with our agencies and ensure that we are communicating the right messages. My team manages everything from advertising to grassroots marketing to partnerships to sponsorships and more. My team’s responsibilities are for the US. We have seven people and then our extended group is comprised of our agency partners.

How’s business?

The category is decreasing a bit. However, we are building share and all of our brand health metrics are up. When we look at how consumers are expressing their feelings about our brands online, all of these metrics are up.

What’s your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge is the ever-changing media landscape and how consumers are learning about our brands. In the past the majority of consumers would learn our stories through 30-second television spots. Now our customers are spending more time online and so we need to deliver these stories in a way that’s relevant to the medium and allows our consumers to participate in the story.

I call it a Mr. Potato Head. You start with the bits and pieces and then put it together in a way that makes sense for consumers.

Can you share an example of how the medium has changed your marketing approach?

Yes…one recent example is Hulu. They show, in full-length form, many wonderful television shows from the past. For many marketers the approach seems to simply run their current commercials in this new online environment. However, we saw a problem-- the shows were old, the times were different and today’s spots didn’t work in that nostalgic setting, We needed to show that we understood the programming and wanted to be in on the joke as well. So, together with TBWA\ Chiat\ Day and College Humor, we created 12 15-second retro spots - to support our Pepsi Throwback Limited Edition product - and ran them during shows like Doogie Houser, M.D. and Married with Children. People laughed because they appreciated the fact that we understood the relevance.

What’s your best business move lately?

Something that really works for us is the way we brief our agencies. We now brief all of our agencies at the same time. We really focus on transparency and trust. We also make sure that before we invite an agency into this process, we must know that they are the absolute best at what they do. When we roll out our annual plans, we brief everyone, from TBWA/Chiat to 3-4 grassroot, music and promotional agencies. It’s expected that everyone will collaborate and pitch their ideas in front of everyone else when we reconvene. This way, we can work together and make the idea better. We are having a lot of fun in 2009 and 2010 plans are looking great

This feels fairly radical. How do you get people to partner?

It takes clarity, maturity, team work and a lot of love for the brand. We built a model where everyone has clear roles and responsibilities, Agencies know when they lead, support or simply inform. At the end what we want is that the best brains in the industry work together with one common purpose…To move the Pepsi forward.

Will this work with other vendors and other companies?

Why not? I believe that a good idea can come from anywhere. You need to step up, create the process, partner with the right vendors and express the vision that you want to accomplish. My former role was in product innovation and I learned there that our best ideas came from this type of collaboration.

What tips can you share for companies looking to level jump their relationships with vendors?

1 – you need to show that you love what you do.
2 - you need to be honest and transparent.
3- you need to be authentic. (and so does the vendor)
4 - when you build a brief for your vendor…build a good brief. If the brief is not tight…you won’t get ideas you can compare.
5- you need to be clear about how your business is doing and what your goals are.

How do you and your teammates stay Smart?

First we partner with smarter people. They bring us ideas and provide different perspectives. We do a lot of consumer research to understand what are the needs and wants of our target, We also listen carefully to the younger team members. They can be less biased and more honest and usually they are closer to what’s going on in culture because they live in it. We learn from our mistakes, we highlight our hot spots and bright spots. Our customers are also an amazing source of in-market intelligence They know what works and what doesn’t, which is specially important given the economic climate.

What’s your worst business move?

I really don’t feel I can pint point a “worst business move”. We have all made mistakes in this business but always learned from the experience and come out stronger. Rather than a specific situation I think there have been times that I have gotten so excited by the creative approach that I have lost sight of the business agenda. I now make a point to stop and ask myself if the approach will help us accomplish our business goals.

What’s the future hold for the marketer?

It’s an amazing time. We are learning at a pace faster than ever before, we have to be in our toes all the time, The media is changing so rapidly, the number of competitors increases by the minute, consumers are smarter and willing to challenge the big brands and the creative class is growing. If you love marketing, I have no doubt that the years to come are going to be a blast

To check out Pepsi's Refresh Everything Click Here:

To follow Ana Maria on Twitter Click Here:

I invite you to follow me on Twitter as well by Clicking Here:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards