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Heineken's Jacco van der Linden on building brand and fighting for the beer category

Heineken's UK marketing director on celebrating the brand's 150th anniversary, product launches and making moderate drinking an aspiration for young adults.

Heineken's Jacco van der Linden
Heineken's Jacco van der Linden

January is always a hugely significant month for me. Returning to work from a relaxing break, there is always a strong sense of pushing the reset button. This year it marked my second anniversary as UK marketing director, and writing this column has caused me to reflect on how much has changed in that relatively short period of time.

I am really looking forward to the coming year. It will be the first full period that we will have had our new marketing structure in place and fully staffed. It is designed to support new ways of working and improve our capabilities in emerging communication channels.

We will also be increasing our overall marketing investment to a level that will drive growth. This is a huge vote of confidence in our UK business, and means we now have the right people with the right capabilities in the right team structure to meet ambitious commercial challenges. This means our focus can turn to delivery and unlocking the potential of the team we have assembled over the past six months.

Responsible enjoyment

"Dance more, drink slow" is a simple, if counterintuitive, strapline for a cider and beer business, and something we were very excited to launch in January. Referred to as #DMDS in the critical social-networking domain, "Dance more, drink slow" is a global Heineken campaign that aims to make drinking in moderation an aspiration for young adults. It is an important part of our culture of "doing the right things right", and the belief that the responsible enjoyment of alcohol, perhaps in a great pub or club, is worth campaigning for.

The first half of 2014 will bring an unprecedented period of innovation and new product development in our UK business.

In the UK, we activated this campaign with a television commercial called "Sunrise", which is currently airing as I write. Globally, we have collaborated with DJ Armin van Buuren to create unique content that builds on our long-term "Enjoy Heineken responsibly" campaign. The sales and marketing of alcohol in the UK is very successfully self-regulated and, as professional communicators, we have a great opportunity – and a responsibility – to influence positive behaviours and patterns of consumption.

The first half of 2014 will bring an unprecedented period of innovation and new product development in our UK business. We already derive more than 11% of our revenue from products that are less than three years old, but that pipeline needs constantly filling. I cannot say too much about what we are about to launch at present, but expect to see new cider offerings and developments in our beer portfolio.

Successful launch

So, my time has been dominated by signing off new products recently; both the drinks themselves and the launch plans and KPIs that go with them. I have also been making sure that our entire business is aligned and behind our delivery plans – from warehouse worker to receptionist, from brand manager to telephone account manager. I have about 2000 colleagues in our UK business and I am always happy to invest time in getting our internal communication right, which we know is a key precursor to a successful launch.

Of course, the majority of my time is focused on our business and brand, but we are also increasing our efforts to fight for the cider and beer categories more generally. There have been some interesting developments in our industry-wide "Let there be beer" campaign that will come to fruition in the coming months.

The start of the year is also annual-appraisal season for all of us, and I have met up with our management team and my leadership team agreeing development priorities, personal KPIs and reviewing the past year. Our UK business forms the biggest part of our Western European region, and is always of great significance to stakeholders given the proximity of the London-based investor community and the bellwether nature of the market. Therefore, January found us hosting colleagues from around the wider Heineken business and for me, of course, meant trips to Amsterdam.

This year is a special one as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the creation of our business, recalling when Gerard Adriaan Heineken founded his first brewery in 1864. Our aim is to pass on that legacy for another 150 years, and I don’t think I have ever been so excited or personally motivated by an upcoming commercial year.