Absolut Vodka CMO: great ideas demand leadership that is open to the insane
A view from Craig Johnson

Absolut Vodka CMO: great ideas demand leadership that is open to the insane

Ideas are the lifeblood of any brand, and people are the beating heart that pumps the ideas into business success.

Being the CMO for Absolut Vodka is a dream job.I lead and represent an iconic brand with the heritage of groundbreaking advertising, the most environmentally sustainable spirit brand and collaborations with creative geniuses. I love my job but come into work each day challenged on how to build on the legacy of creativity that Absolut has created around the world.

This fear has led me to focus on the two simple ingredients to solve any brand and leadership challenge: ideas and people; deceptively simple, but infinitely complex to harness.

Great brands are built by inspired people and from nurtured ideas. There is a dichotomy to ideas that uninspired people often miss. The primacy of the idea is just the start. Great ideas are ephemeral.  They need to be creative, bold, visionary and fresh; but they also need to be crafted, shaped, substantiated and most importantly sold with the passion of an entrepreneur.

People are the key ingredient, they are essential to the final cocktail. They are not a tool, they are not a hammer to crack the ice or a shaker to mix all the ingredients.

The dual nature of an idea; ephemeral and polished demands creative and fearless people. It also demands leadership that is open to a bit of the insane and unconventional.

Does your brand leadership allow ideas to germinate? Do you have a mechanism and a team culture to harden and sell your ideas? Not creating this capacity will lead to stagnancy for your brand.  

The second ingredient is people. Succinctly, people are the key ingredient, they are essential to the final cocktail. They are not a tool, they are not a hammer to crack the ice or a shaker to mix all the ingredients.

At Absolut we talk about our team as a family. We are a big, loud, creative family with different voices and experiences, but we share a common purpose for our brand.

Passionate and happy teams will outperform dedicated and hardworking teams every day of the week.

We focus on our behaviors not our individual styles. Team behaviors, when emotive and true to your brand, drive infinite ideas and creativity.

The most important lever to solve a leadership challenge is to cultivate dynamic individuals. Passionate and happy teams will outperform dedicated and hardworking teams every day of the week. Ideas worth fighting for only come from individuals that are confident they have support and have the freedom to explore.

Ask yourself the following: do you spend enough time building passion into your teams? Do you hire for creativity and audacity?  

Please forgive my mixing of metaphors now; the lesson I always repeat to myself when a challenge is in front of me: ideas truly are the lifeblood of any brand and people are the beating heart that nourishes and pumps the ideas into business success. Focus on those two ingredients and you will create a beautiful cocktail.

By the way, my favorite cocktail moment is a simple martini: Absolut Elyx stirred over ice with two drops of orange bitters, served up, with a lemon peel while celebrating with my team another successful idea brought to life.  

Craig Johnson is vice-president global marketing and chief marketing officer for Absolut Vodka at Pernod-Ricard, and a member of Campaign’s Power 100.