By Patrick Culhane3/31/2023

Four steps for using creativity to drive business growth

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How did AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, drive significant sales growth and move to the top for Cannes Lions awards, the world’s most respected benchmark for creative excellence? In short, by harnessing creativity as a driver of business growth, according to Marcel Marcondes, AB InBev’s global chief marketing officer.

At the most recent ANA Masters of Marketing conference, Marcondes shared AB InBev’s journey from a company that grew inorganically through acquisitions to one that is growing organically by building creativity into their processes.

“Companies win with creativity when it becomes a real system — ways of working, mindset,” Marcondes told the audience. “What we do here is systemize creativity.”  

It’s worth sharing how Marcondes defines a creative brand. Simply put, being a creative brand is built on understanding what is good for people and good for the brand.

“We need to understand what our brand stands for, and we need to understand what people care about. And whenever there is a clear problem to be addressed in that intersection, this is when we act,” he said. “If we just talk about what we stand for, we’re talking to ourselves; if we just talk about what people care about, we’re chasing culture — and sometimes brands step into places that they don’t belong when they do that. The intersection is the key.”

Here are Marcondes’ four steps to business growth as a creative brand.

1. Create Creativity

Build an understanding of both your brand and your consumer into your organization’s training program. At the very least this should be everyone involved in your marketing process. Ideally, that should be as many people as possible. AB InBev created a Marketing Academy with 4,500 learners across 60 brands and 25 countries. Consider the use of online learning platforms, training sessions, and knowledge-sharing collaboration spaces for knowledge sharing.

2. Cement Creativity

Develop a process to ensure ongoing learning and creative thinking. Whenever possible, use as many existing processes as possible and build creative thinking into them. Make identifying and finding solutions to the brand/people intersection part of goal setting, personal reviews, team meetings, and company show-and-tells. If you feel you still need more, you can mirror AB InBev’s approach and establish creative labs as specific opportunities for cross-team ideation. To maintain momentum, ensure someone takes ownership of supporting the setup and ongoing usage of the process you develop.

3. Collaborate with Creative People

Do you have partners that can help inspire creativity? This was an important point from Marcondes, who explained that AB InBev looked at their agency partnerships and found that a key way to “elevate our creativity was to elevate the level of relationship we have with our partners because … this is a 50/50 responsibility between client and agencies … because greatness only comes with trust.” Consider your agency partnership that exists — or that you need to set up — as essential to accelerating growth through brand creativity. (See a video clip from Marcondes’ talk)

These collaborations are how two AB InBev brands found their brand/people intersections — Michelob Ultra by supporting female athletes with their Save It, See It campaign and Michelob Pure Gold by helping farmers become organic through the brand’s Contract for Change (see video case study).

4. Celebrate Creativity

Marcondes believes that when you always have clarity on the problem, you create award-winning work. In 2016, he gave his marketing team a five-year challenge to being the most awarded organization for annual Cannes Lions wins. He wasn’t seeking fame. Rather, Marcondes saw that the brands that won Cannes Lions awards also had noticeable growth in sales and market share. At the start of Marcondes’ challenge, AB InBev won six Cannes Lions awards. In 2021 they won 40 awards — the most for any one company. As one example, Corona’s campaign to remove plastics from the world’s waters was a 2022 Cannes Lion winner (see video case study).  

The results? Marcondes said his challenge to his team translated into five years of continual sales and volume growth, establishing Michelob Ultra as the fastest-growing core brand in the U.S. and Corona as the fastest-growing brand globally.

Ready to Partner on Creativity?

At Brunner, we have been fortunate to build award-winning creative work for YellaWood, a maker of pressure treated pine, by identifying their brand/people intersection as a movement for five-star backyards. Watch our creative work for YellaWood.

Reach out if you would like to know more about how you can let creativity drive your business growth. Contact Patrick Culhane, Brunner’s director of business strategy and development, at 412.995.9532 or [email protected].

Patrick Culhane, director of business strategy and development and a UK native, has 21 years of agency experience in account management, planning, and development. He has a BA in Marketing and the Psychology of Communication from De Montfort University and a Diploma in Direct Marketing from The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing. Patrick advocates for diversity marketing as a growth source for brands and co-presented at the Atlanta Business Chronicle and Brunner co-sponsored event, “Growth Through Diversity.” He’s a proud juror at the 2023 ANA REGGIE Awards.