Full Transcript

George Kamide:

Welcome to the Zero Hour, brought to you by SafeGuard Cyber. This is the podcast where we come at you every two weeks with interviews with business leaders in marketing security, business management, all talking about transformational change or confronting new challenges in business. I'm your host, George Kamide. I will also be joined in the episode by my co-host Ashley Stone, but I did want to take a moment to provide a little bit of context around this episode.

 

George Kamide:

Today we talk with Gabriela McCoy, Director of Insights and Analytics at Bacardi, the world's largest privately held spirits company. Now this episode was recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, but Gabriela is a much needed bright spot in these times. We discussed how to get it real human insights and drive emotional connections with brands. In other words, not focus groups. We also discuss, to my delight, why failure is necessary for innovation and how Bacardi cultivates that in such a large enterprise. Gabriela is a powerhouse, innovator and absolute delight to listen to. I'm so grateful that we got to meet at CES earlier this year. I highly encourage you to look at the show notes and follow her on LinkedIn because she is amazing. All right. Without further ado, here is Gabriela McCoy of Bacardi.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Hello?

 

George Kamide:

Hello, Gabriela.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Hi. How are you?

 

George Kamide:

All right. This is George and you have on the line also my co-host, Ashley Stone.

 

Ashley Stone:

Hi there.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Hi, Ashley. How are you?

 

Ashley Stone:

I'm great. How's it going?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

I'm in Florida, sunny, Florida. So everything is great and warm and beautiful.

 

George Kamide:

Oh, don't rub it in.

 

Ashley Stone:

Dreamy.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Yes.

 

George Kamide:

Cool. All right. Well, we are going to get started and thank you for the time and Ashley will kick us off.

 

Ashley Stone:

Great. So what does customer insight mean to you and where does that data come from and how do you act on it?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Uh, wow. So that's a big loaded question. So maybe I should start by maybe saying a little bit about what I do at Bacardi, if that's okay.

 

Ashley Stone:

Yes, of course.

 

George Kamide:

Yes, let's do that.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Okay, perfect. So I'm director the of Strategic Insights and Analytics for our North American Portfolio, and basically what I get to do, when it comes to your question, what consumer insights are, is I get to obsess about understanding people and how our brands can connect with them in meaningful ways. So people ask me often what is an insight? And at core, I mean, if you were to like technically define it, it's a deep, intuitive understanding. But really what you're really wanting to do when it comes to an insight is understand who people are, how they behave and how they can get, you know, how we can get them to love our brands. It's basically like opening up their brains and trying to jump into their heads and understanding them a little bit better.

 

Ashley Stone:

That's a great description.

 

George Kamide:

Yeah. So professional brain opener, check.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Exactly, exactly.

 

George Kamide:

In this data driven industry, where is Bacardi getting those insights? Because there's a certain layer, I'm sure that you can get at massive scale at a superficial level, but how are you digging into, like, the motivations or, you know, the stuff that's not immediately conversion focused, but you said, you're trying to understand. It sounds like you're almost doing an ethnography or the anthropology of your customers.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Yeah. That's, that's part of it. That's definitely part of it. But there's one thing I have to say before we continue, which is we, we refer to, you know, people often say consumer insights, but I'm going to be banning the word consumer throughout this whole entire podcast, if that's okay. So big X on consumers. I like to refer to them as people or as humans. Uh because you know, the word consumer really takes us to more of this, like add to cart, mindset and mentality and transactions. And really, if we want to be a brand that people love it's all about connection and connecting with humans. So having said that so where does the data come from and how do we act on it?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

I think that was the question that you said? So first of all, I have to say that I have a heightened sense of curiosity. I think I was born asking my mom why, why, why? And that curiosity really has fueled this kind of obsession I have with understanding people. And data for me comes from everywhere. It's data and insights are everywhere. But we have, you know what you were just saying, George anthropology. We have two different types of data that we usually look at insights. The first is qualitative and the second is quantitative. I'll give you an example about the qualitative data. Let's say that we want to understand and develop strategies for our products during the super bowl. We'll go out to people's homes hang out at parties with our friends.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

So we'll go and hang out with them and we'll learn all about, you know, and the Superbowl is about comfort in sweat pants and, you know, enjoying the comfort of their other family, of their friends, comfort food. And with that, we'll learn probably that it's all about easy to make cocktails that still taste delicious. So that's kind of like the qualitative side. But you know, you have to get a little bit geeky and then there's the quantitative side. And that part is, you know, it's about digging into the hardcore numbers data it's about not to get too technical, but if we're launching a new, let's say we're launching a new spirit, you know, is the viscosity okay? Is the alcohol burn level, the right, the level of sweetness. So there's kind of those two sides, the qual and the quant.

 

George Kamide:

Okay. That's good to know. And then do you find at all a confrontation or a conflict between, you know, massive amounts of quantitative data, which is now easier than ever to get at and the remit to establish an emotional connection, which may require doing things that are harder to measure or quantify?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

That's a great question, actually. I often talk about, I talk a lot about this whole idea of emotional connections between brands and consumers. And when I think about big data, I mean, we're, you know, marketers are like kind of the worst offenders of like data hoarders, right. And if you think about it, I mean obviously like technology, big data, all of that is going to continue to run its course. And you know, to some degree, both the big data and technology has helped us to connect better with humans. But at the same time, you know, what keeps me up at night a lot is that while our brands are more connected and maybe understand people with big data and numerical ways I see us a little bit more disconnected from humanity than ever. And that's not to say like only at Bacardi.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

I've had an interesting career working in booze and burgers and condoms and detergents pretty much anything. I I've I've, I've touched it a little bit at least. And what I've seen is that the biggest problem is that brands get sucked into this. I call it the consumer matrix. It's this idea of let's quantify people, let's categorize them. Let's try to create these algorithms to predict their behaviors. But what I've seen is that if we really want to have a true human understanding, people are like the cozier they're messier. They're like a little bit imperfect, you know? And even the methods in which we try to understand people. Aren't the greatest, I don't know. Do you guys, are you familiar with focus groups? How brands usually okay. So for those who are not familiar with focus groups, look, this is a tried and, you know, to some degree true way. It's been, it's a method that's been around since I think it was like the sixties Merton started in the sixties. And it's basically brands want to understand how people are and what they want. And in order to research, they hire an agency that puts them, you know, it gets a group of different consumers. I'm saying the word consumer, cause it's appropriate in this case.

 

George Kamide:

You're excused.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Thank you. Thank you. I'm glad we're not playing the shot game of taking a shot every time that you say something that you shouldn't say. But back to focus groups. So they put a group of people in a room and people do not know each other. Okay. A group of strangers, there's a moderator and the moderator asks him a bunch of different questions that behind a two way mirror is the marketing team, like stalking them and watching them as they're being asked these different questions. It's, it's a very inhuman way at getting human insights, right.

 

George Kamide:

Right, artificial environments.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Yeah. You know, and there's a time and place for everything, but I always say this it's like when you go to the zoo, do you expect that the animals that you see at the zoo, they're going to be like, acting like that in the wild? It probably is going to be a little bit different, right. It's not going to be the same. So I what I, what I'm getting to here is that it's really about establishing human connection. And for me, human input to get human output, it's all about human input. So instead of necessarily shoving people into focus group room, I prefer to ask people questions like, you know, going to their houses and visiting them with agencies, of course, with researchers, but asking them like, you know, a a saying something like, not only, you know, what do you, instead of saying, like, what do think about our brand on a scale of 1-10 asking them, you know, if you were to write an obituary for a Bacardi what might you say in that obituary, what would you be writing about how would you change if your life was gone, if Bacardi ceased to exist, do you see the, the difference between asking and approaching people with very human questions

 

George Kamide:

Indeed, and even their environment, they're going to feel much more at ease at home than, you know, in this like office space or the sterile room with the two way mirror

 

Gabriela McCoy:

And eating crappy snacks in the back, or having a really crappy coffee that they're slipping on. And yeah, and even like in the context of like, you know, asking them these questions with, you know, amongst their friends, it's a very cool dynamic that ends up happening. You know, friends tend to bring out the real in you.

 

George Kamide:

Yes. And I think that this is a very interesting point and I think a lot of people will listen to this and they'll nod and they'll really get that. But I think that in the large brands, there is still a lot of friction because it takes a lot of bravery to go outside of things that, as you said, are a tried and true or anything that feels like it's getting away from numbers. So have you run into any organizational resistance? It doesn't really have to be a Bacardi. It could be in a past life. How, how have you negotiated this approach in an environment that seems like there's ever more pressure for just number based ROI?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

I mean, of course, you know, this, you know, conflict never happens at Bacardi, right? We're the largest well family as well, but privately owned company in the world. No, I mean, look, there's always there's always going to be resistance to trying something new trying something different. But what I found is when, first of all, you start small you don't try to do like major big projects and try to, you know, win people love her with brand new, different ways like this this idea of, you know, steering somewhat away from focus groups and going more into unconventional ways. It took some time, you know, but what I'm lucky about is that at Bacardi it's a company that really embraces, like being fearless and trying new things. And so I was able to convince people to, you know, give me the opportunity to try something different. And also having the Liberty and not being scared of, like, if I tried these new methods and I failed that I would get fired, because that's not, that's not the Bacardi way. The Bacardi way is try something. It's okay to fail, but fail fast and move on. So I think also I'm very lucky to work in a company that's allowed me to try these new, different things.

 

George Kamide:

Yes. Oh, we're going to get into that. Because I'm very, I'm very fascinated to learn more from an organizational culture perspective, but I wanted to back into a few things. So you did mention your story to past in booze, burgers, condoms, detergent, quite the journey.

 

Ashley Stone:

Can you tell us How that journey took you to Bacardi? Where did you start?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Yes. So yes, my journey to Bacardi. So when I think that, like I've looked back at this and I look back and I have thought about like the two major themes, I think that have been very prevalent throughout my career. And specifically I think that landed me at Bacardi. And I always go back to Steve, you know, Steve Jobs, my, my icon of marketing. And he always used to say that you can't really connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking back. And now that I look back, I see that these two themes, the first one is my obsession and wanting to understand people. And the second one is my love of travel. Those are the things that have kind of driven me to end up at Bacardi. And this first one, like I said, I'm obsessed with people.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

I was born asking questions out of my mom's womb. I'm curious. And it, it, it naturally led me to study in my undergraduate psychology. And when I was studying psychology people are going to nerd out when I hear this, but like when they hear this, but I fell in love with statistics. And that love for stats led me to my first job, which was in analytics and research. So that's kind of into research, but on the other side, the part of travel that's my second biggest obsession. I was, I was born in Venezuela and I was, you know, I grew up traveling. I can't remember not being on an airplane. And somehow by the time I was like 16, I convinced my parents to let me volunteer and spend my summers in Zimbabwe and Philippines and, you know, anywhere around the world that my parents would, or that my passport, now my parents would let me travel.

 

George Kamide:

So not just curious, but also persuasive as, as a young woman.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

That is a very kind way of saying I'll take it persuasive. Yeah. So, so exactly. So these two themes of, you know, it travel and my, my love to understand people landed, me in burgers and condoms. And like I said, detergents and in lots of other different products but always in insights and always in a global capacity.

 

Ashley Stone:

Wow. I love that. So then the obvious question is what is your favorite drink with Bacardi?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Ooh, that is, you know what, that is a hard question it is seriously, like someone coming up to me and be like Gabby, which son is your favorite son?

 

George Kamide:

The alcohol are my children.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Exactly. No, but it, but it is because it's like, which one's behaving the best on that day. Right. I know I need right now. So right now, which one is your favorite? Okay. So today, if I had to go, if tonight I had to go to a bar, I would probably go for a Bacardi old fashion or chill old fashion. Yes. People always associate an old fashioned kind of with whiskey. Have you guys, have you tried it with a rum? Have you ever tried an old fashioned with rum?

 

Ashley Stone:

Oh, I have recently. And it was amazing.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Yeah. It kind of gives it this nice. I don't know if this is what you experienced, but like a really nice sweet naturally sweet flavors. I won't ask you what rum you tried,

 

Ashley Stone:

I don't know what it was, but I'll tell you, Bacardi.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Bacardi Ocho really is beautiful. It's a beautiful rum. Yeah, that sounds good

 

George Kamide:

For the benefit of our listeners. I've traded a few emails with Gabby and also some other folks who have Bacardi. And the one thing that I truly love is that you have cocktail recipes in your email footer. I just thought that was a very nice touch. On brand.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

So yeah you're talking about the out of home emails? Yeah. We have fun with that because it's, it's, it's you know, there's a drink for every occasion and every moment, and most recently I did kind of put one related to the to president's day and exciting you know, what, what was Obama's favorite cocktail? So I got to put in a little job there, which is quite fun.

 

George Kamide:

Yes. I feel like that's a, that was pretty indicative in a very small way of the culture at Bacardi to have that, that level of friendship,

 

Gabriela McCoy:

But Obama loves to drink Grey Goose martinis. So what can I say? It happened to be great.

 

George Kamide:

As, as someone who is describes herself on LinkedIn, as suffering from a serious case of wanderlust, then we've talked about travel. Where are you headed next?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Oh, so let me think about this. Wanderlust is another thing besides humans that keeps me up at night and, and really like, literally if I'm not, if I'm not on the trip, I'm planning a trip. I don't know if you guys can relate to that.

 

George Kamide:

Yeah I get that, I mean, planning the trip is almost half the fun, just the buildup. Yes. The planning fantasizing. Yeah.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Yeah. That's a good question. Is, is it better to the planning or during the trip or even like the remembering of the trip?

 

George Kamide:

Yeah. I mean, that's a very human question. I don't have an answer for that today, but

 

Gabriela McCoy:

So for me, I went a few years ago to Japan and I fell in love with it. I think that the whole wandering through Tokyo and kind of letting my feet get lost and go wherever they wanted to and feeling the sense of like being transported back in time and spending time in Ryokans, which are traditional places to stay in Japan. And then at the same time, the modernity of Tokyo, I think I felt it was very fascinating to see the juxtaposition of both kind of how like the modern world. I think, I think I read that somewhere that you spent time in Japan, are you still living here?

 

George Kamide:

I used to live in Japan and it is, as you say, crazy in Tokyo that you can be standing next to a brand new glass skyscraper. And then at the corner of that city block is a 5,000 year old shinto shrine.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Exactly.

 

George Kamide:

Or that you're walking in Kyoto. And this was a city built on a grid system that was a thousand years old when the declaration of independence was signed. That's like the level of history is just sort of maddening, but that's great.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

I'm sorry. I have to say this though. Like we can't, we can't talk about Japan without talking about the sushi and the noodles. I mean, like not want to go back there the next level. Exactly. I'll die. Happy eating them for the rest of my life.

 

George Kamide:

Are your, are your two boys lucky enough to get to go along with you?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Yes. they are just starting on their journey of travel. But definitely I'll take them on adventure travel. Eh, we've stayed in real working cowboy ranches and, you know, went hunting for rattlesnakes and horseback riding all day. So they're definitely starting to have that little wanderlust bit inside them growing and growing.

 

George Kamide:

That is a, that is a fortunate childhood. Good for you. Okay. So I wanted to turn back. I did promise as I wanted to come back to this idea of the fail fast culture, but kind of a bigger question behind that. So we met at CES at a brand innovators event, and I particularly loved something that you said on the panel that you were on about the wall of shame. I know that story and I'm going to follow it up with something else, but for the benefit of our listeners, could you elaborate on that?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

And let me elaborate you said wall of shame, not walk of shame. So I love this actually Bacardi has three core pillars, which is family treat each other, like family founder have this entrepreneurial kind of mentality and to be fearless. And if there's any company that I've worked at that really fuels this fearless mentality, it's Bacardi and fearless. We talk about it a lot. Fearless means you also have to be open to failure. And the cool thing that Epi, one of my coworkers, she actually thought of this idea. We have this room called the think tank and they put up a huge giant section of a wall where people were encouraged to put like their biggest fearless failures. And of course, because, you know, I love to humanize things.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

I call it the wall of shame, but it's, it's awesome. It's amazing. People go up there, they put, you know, what was the project? What were the different things that happened that may have not, you know, that didn't lead to quite the success they thought but what they could have done differently and then other people can kind of comment and post it on there. And that's the point it's like, failure is not a negative thing. You know, failure is also a chance for us to have opportunities to develop and to grow from.

 

George Kamide:

Yes, the obstacle is the way as I say, I mean, how else would you learn? Otherwise you could just keep doing the same thing year in, year out, and that'd be pretty boring. So first note is a personal note is that I came back from CES. And the first thing I did was I put up a wall of shame here. So thank you for that.

 

Ashley Stone:

Can confirm.

 

George Kamide:

And then, but the second is this got me thinking, and I love that you, you touched on it a little bit here between family, founder, and fearless, but that strikes me as something very unique about the culture at Bacardi, because I think that again, marketers are facing a lot of pressure for ROI and there's a lot of lip service to trying new things. But not a lot of appetite for failures. So I guess you've spoken about the Bacardi culture, but how do you manage this with your team? How do you encourage them to like, yes, you can go out on a limb or, but, you know, here's how you justify it and if it doesn't come back the way we planned, how do we metabolize those learnings? Could you just talk about how at the culture of your team, how do you, how do you put this into, into play?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Sure, sure. So, yeah, for sure, Bacardi is a company that fosters this culture of failing fast, you know, for the sake of being the best. And you know, it's interesting that you say like within the team, but it's very difficult to say within the team because the company as a whole operates in this idea, you know, with this idea of experimentation everything, you know, all the time that they have these different competitions that, that we do that really foster experimentation. And I'll, I'll talk about one of them. So we have this group or this program at Bacardi called next gen. And it's all about fostering experimentation living under that fearless and founders kind of mentality within our family. And what's really cool is that this is a competition that's across all 7,000 employees. I don't know if people know that the Bacardi is super global 7,000 employees over 40 different countries.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

And basically they have this open, you know competition that says, Hey, whoever has the best idea you know, write it down, put it down and we'll commercialize it. And so what ends up happening is we rolled it out this, this year was the first year that they rolled it out and they picked a winner. And what was super, super interesting and great was that this year's winner was a team of five different people in all kinds of geographies and from all kinds of different functions from finance to eCommerce, to business development. And they were all people that love innovation. Right. and it was fascinating because we're such a global company yet we operate really small and fostering this, you know, just this one competition of having the opportunity to experiment. And if your idea gets chosen, then to commercialize an idea around the world is massive. If there's, if there's any company that, that fosters, you know experimentation and allows for failure it's definitely Bacardi.

 

George Kamide:

Well, that's awesome. And also a good example of also not just innovation within a marketing team that you mentioned that there was finance too. And I think that's like the big challenge that we see talking with our clients is that they often have these great ideas, but they kinda gotta bust through a few walls to bring other departments along with them.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Yeah. And it's fueled this sense of excitement. If you see the team - I wish you could see the team that won that the group of five of just feeling like, you know, a lot of times, of course finance is extremely critical to our company, but maybe they don't get to have as much, you know, eh, attention as some of the other big marketing campaigns that you see. And this was such a great opportunity for them to be able to show like how savvy they are and how great they are at innovation and how creative. So it generated a lot of excitement and buzz within the company. And it's a really cool product, stay tuned. It's coming.

 

George Kamide:

That's good. That's good to know. So this strikes me as exemplary on behalf of Bacardi, but here's a, here's a hypothetical for you not implying that you're going anywhere else, but if you were to try and replicate this, like you go out and you're hired as a CMO somewhere, and you are tasked with driving change top down sort of thing. What is the advice basically that you would give to other large corporations seeking to, to embrace a culture of innovation, or, you know, how do you kind of wear people down who are resistant to change, or maybe, I guess maybe the better term is bringing them around. So if you were trying to export this, this cultural or recreate it somewhere else, how would you start?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Well, I mean, of course I would be CEO of a global company. Right because I love to travel. So I think, again, it goes to one of the things that Bacardi does very well is I would start really with a grassroots approach. A lot of times I've worked a lot of global companies and I think that Bacardi has gotten it right. That it starts from grassroots and understanding like people locally and people what they want and what are the nuances within, you know, the different regions and then feeding that up and looking for commonalities across cultures and coming up with global strategies that way. Obviously I think that the other thing that, that does, if you start with this very grassroots approach is you get early buy-in to your ideas and into your different strategies, because it's the people in the local markets that came up with these ideas.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Like by the time, by the time you come back to them, you're like, well, listen, if you don't want to execute this, you came up with this idea. So, you know, move on. If not, right. Not really, but not that's an exaggeration, but yeah. Getting local buy-in, starting grassroots, they know their culture the best and they know what people want the most. So, yeah, I think that's a great approach.

 

Ashley Stone:

So when you think about starting with the local or regional ideas, are there any issues that come up when you think about data privacy or security?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

I mean, really getting back to this idea is that, you know, we are Bacardi is the largest privately owned company in the world. And again, you know, we're huge, but we behave local and small and each different market has its own compliance, its own regulatory. It's own, you know, privacy and demands. And so what I can say is that that is also very grass roots and that's also something that we absolutely adhere to all the local demands. And, and, you know, from an insights perspective, I have to say that connecting with humans is at the core of everything we want to do, which also means like if we don't gain their trust and their privacy in every aspect, they're never going to want to love our brand.

 

Ashley Stone:

Trust is everything.

 

George Kamide:

Some companies are learning the hard way.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Yes. Glad we're not one of them.

 

George Kamide:

Okay. So in the, in the final few minutes we have, I'm gonna turn our attention to the squishy and overused, but somewhat, necessarily applicable term "digital transformation". So I'm curious to learn about how this might be going on at Bacardi. Because it strikes me that there is a traditional sales model element to Bacardi's business, but as you said, you were a global business, but ultimately it's like the consumer may love Bacardi, but they must make the journey to the store. It's not sort of direct to consumer, I guess I'm asking more broadly, how are sort of digital transformation initiatives or efforts tackling what might be viewed as the world's oldest form of commerce?

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Interesting. eh, I'll speak more to the human aspect of it. One of the things that we're, I mean, digital is obviously a massive e-commerce versus a big platform and something that we're very much paying attention to and developing. But what's most important for us in insights, at least from an insights perspective is to understand people and understand their journey and understand how our brand can, not inter it's not about interfering with ads or interfering with like messages, but about enhancing the different moments providing value when they're trying to connect digitally, how can we help them to have a better experience with our brand? So from a human perspective, from a people perspective, it's really about understanding their journey, their path to purchase and how we can enhance that experience, whether it's digital or whether it's, you know, something, an experience or, you know, a sign that they see on the street or a TV commercial.

 

George Kamide:

Awesome. Well that I think that wraps it up for us. So thank you again for taking the time it's been incredible and I hope our paths cross again soon. So yeah, thanks again.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

I have to say though: Cheers salute.

 

George Kamide:

Yes, of course.

 

Gabriela McCoy:

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I had a great time with you guys and thanks again for the opportunity.