Heineken: At every touchpoint and sensory experience we consider design
Mark van Iterson
Global Director of Integrated Design
This year Heineken ranked eighth globally in The BrandZ™ Brand Contribution list, attesting to the Dutch brewer’s formidable street credibility amongst consumers. Graham Sturt, Creative Director of VBAT design agency, sat down with Mark van Iterson, Global Director of Integrated Design at Heineken, to talk about how the Dutch brewer balances its unique heritage with its progressive approach to building its brand.
Heineken is the second most valuable brand in the Netherlands (after Shell) and the second most valuable beer brand globally (after Budweiser). What do you attribute this success to?
Our focus. Our company name is Heineken, our brand name is Heineken, our whole focus is on Heineken. Heineken is our priority and has been for 150 years. Over the years we have been very consistent in our vision, how we innovate, and how we build our brand.
Looking at the BrandZ™ global Top 15 for brand contribution you see four luxury brands, four fashion brands, and two beverage makers alongside Pampers, Fedex, and PayPal. What do you think these brands have in common?
I’d say we all understand the added value of brand building, of creating emotion and experiences – on top of the functional features of our products. It sounds simple, but it’s not. These brands understand how to bring value in a way that people are willing to pay for it.
Why such strong representation of beer?
Beer is a very emotional category and so much a part of people’s daily lives. It’s about friendship and family, about going out and meeting new people. These are very human emotions with strong associations and values attached to them, and beer is part of that. It’s why my job is so interesting.
What role does design play in creating experience and emotion?
It’s crucial. At Heineken we define design in the broadest sense of the word. Every touchpoint in point of sale or consumption, every sensory experience – visual, tactile, the sound of opening a bottle – we consider design. I oversee an integrated design department that designs every point of the consumer journey.
How does Heineken use design to differentiate itself from other beer brands?
In the basis, it’s about our visual iconic essence: The green bottle, red star and wordmark with smiling “e”-s. We are very careful with these iconic assets, but we are also not afraid to be playful and bold, to stay newsworthy and relevant. Since we launched City Editions in 2014, we’ve regularly designed limited editions, enforcing our involvement in UEFA Champions League, F1, James Bond and the Rugby World Cup, but also for local events like the Sint Martin regatta or orange celebrations in the Netherlands. These are great example of design driving engagement. They give us immediate scale, make us unique, and put our brand into millions of hands.
How do you balance the heritage of your brand with the future of your brand?
That’s a real balancing act. Heineken is a progressive brand. For us, heritage is a springboard for creativity and innovation. Heritage makes us understand where we come from, and ensures that we stay true to who we are.
What are you doing to raise the emotional value of your brand?
A large part of what we do is designed to add emotional value. This has always been the case at Heineken. When Gerard Adriaan Heineken decided to use green bottles instead of brown ones like everyone else, he understood that if you want to sell premium beer you better stand out – literally. The green bottle shows naturalness, status, and connoisseurship. It’s the DNA of our brand and always has been.
The global shift towards health and wellness has put the entire beer category under pressure. Are we witnessing a radical category culture shift?
There are two things happening, and both are good. One is premiumization and the shift towards more conscious consumption and openness for new propositions, which is good for us because consumers appreciate value and quality. The second is that zero and low-alcohol is growing significantly. Heineken 0.0 has become the biggest zero alcohol beer in Europe. The beauty of 0.0 is that it is a healthy alternative for alcohol – and it’s completely natural, not sweetened, and low in calories.
Today, consumers expect their brands to take a stand and have a purpose. How are you managing this at Heineken?
We have defined that quite clearly for ourselves. The purpose of our brand is to bring people together over beer. That is about inclusiveness and diversity. We often say here: We see differences in people as a reason to party, not as a reason to fight. But we do sell alcohol, and here we have a big responsibility. We have very explicit communication and activities to promote responsible consumption and never drinking and driving. We have chosen to use the power and tone of voice of the brand to influence people’s behaviour. We invest 10% of all media money in “Enjoy Heineken Responsibly” and “When you drive, never drink” campaigns. It’s a positive approach to making moderation and not drinking and driving cool. If we get it right, consumers appreciate our brand even more.