By  on November 3, 2010

“How do you change at the speed of culture?” asked Jill Beraud, the one-time chief marketing officer of Victoria’s Secret, who is currently the chief marketing officer and president of joint ventures, PepsiCo Beverages Americas.

Well, it’s simple. Use the Internet, more specifically, use social media.

From Twitter and Facebook to blogs and YouTube — every company is trying to figure out how to harness the power of social media to reach more customers, and to make more money.

“If you want to engage consumers, you can’t just talk at them. You have to have a two-way dialogue,” she said, explaining that the old strategy of sponsoring a celebrity to sell your product “doesn’t work anymore.”

Social media tools “enable us to engage our consumers in real and meaningful ways, and most importantly, in ways that are meaningful to them,” she added.

Under Beraud’s charge, Pepsi has become one of the few corporations at the forefront of social media marketing with such programs as the Pepsi Refresh Project and the SoBe Lifewater Squamata series.

The Refresh campaign donates $20 million a year to ideas that will have a “positive” impact on society. The ideas are submitted on the project’s Web site. People then vote for the best one on the company site or via Facebook. Pepsi encourages those who submit to also publicize their ideas on Twitter.

At first glance, it may seem odd for a company like Pepsi to expend so much time and money on a project that doesn’t directly impact sales of its beverages.

“Our intent was to empower people to change their world,” she said, noting to fund such an undertaking, Pepsi’s marketing budget needed to be pruned.

“I basically had to cancel one of the biggest marketing initiatives that Pepsi has done in the last 23 years,” she said. “I had to go cancel advertising on the Super Bowl. Believe me, many people wanted to see me fired, but with great risk comes great rewards.”

This “democratized creativity,” as she called it, “turbocharged” the “culture of doing good,” and “yes, it even helped us sell more product.”

For Squamata, (the word for the genus lizard, which refers to SoBe’s lizard logo), Beraud tapped artists like Cause, Banksy, Shepard Fairey and L.A. designer Darren Romanelli to design products, such as boardshorts, T-shirts, skateboards and hats, which they gave away at events throughout the summer. Customers could find out where to grab the free loot by following the program on Twitter.

Word of the program was spread by blogs and Twitter — even celebrities like Fallout Boy’s Pete Wentz tweeted about it to his 2 million followers.

“You know, you can’t buy this kind of media. It truly is earned,” Beraud said, underlining that “not a dime” was spent on public relations.

The Squamata initiative helped drive SoBe Lifewater’s sales up 52 percent this year.

What’s behind many of Beraud’s projects are the principles of “democratizing creativity,” “co-creating,” making the “inaccessible, accessible” and “customization.”

At Victoria’s Secret, Beraud helped to make something she calls “taboo,” namely, “sexy lingerie,” accessible to everyone.

She said that it is part of her drive to “build iconic brands,” while “impacting” and “creating culture.”

Staying “relevant” is about “engagement,” she said. “Simply put: Don’t sponsor, borrow or mimic culture — create your own cultural currency and consumers will follow.”

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