Going for the Gut: MillerCoors Is Perfecting “HX”

What if, when a company marketed a product to you, they did it based on who you really are rather than what demographic you fit in? That’s the idea behind MillerCoors’ new HX marketing group. HX, which stands for “human experience,” aims to take people out of boxes and address them as individual people with individual needs and desires, rather than demographics.“HX is where we drop the jargon. They’re not targets, they’re not demos. They’re people,” says Ben Feeney, Director of Foresight and Design at MillerCoors, a Chicago Ideas Week sponsor. This means evolving their approach to be more inclusive, and making sure all beer drinkers—even those that don’t fit the usual profile—feel that MillerCoors’ marketing is relevant to them.  That strategy led Feeney and his team to what he calls an “inside-out“ approach, rather than one that starts “outside” with broad-based demographics and works “in” to how the campaign is perceived on an individual level. Instead of focusing on what overall drinking experience their core customers want and trying to provide it, campaigns focus on what drives individuals in their daily lives and incorporates drinking experiences into that.

HX initiatives are future-focused and center on overall human understanding; one example of the HX team’s efforts is the way they’ve changed how their marketing team thinks about women as consumers. The HX initiative, which was first put into action via their Coors Light brand, took “beer marketing out of the frat house and into the hands of adults of both genders,” as DigiDay reporter Shareen Pathak put it. The project also caught the eye of Advertising Age and the ARF David Ogilvy Awards, which honored the company with a New Audiences award.

What they found was that the new Coors Light ads not only attracted women, but attracted everyone. It turned out that MillerCoors’ core demographic had been evolving with them. While macho messages of fun nights partying might resonate with some, a message of an individual pursuing what drives them and rewarding himself or herself with a cold beer resonates with just about everybody. As Feeney points out, “people ebb and flow in and out of their own personal identity,” so brands that take a human-first approach can also insure they don’t lose consumers as they grow out of a certain demographic as well.

“Big beer, historically, had not put enough focus and relevance on understanding consumers on a one-to-one level,” says Feeney. “What had we missed as an industry? What could we do as a company?” Feeney’s team is on a mission to future-proof marketing at MillerCoors—no matter what the future looks like, marketing efforts with an “inside out” approach will always appeal to consumers. The team’s work expands across disciplines but remains human-led: They even teach an internal course called “Give the Gift of Empathy,” where marketers are encouraged to go beyond appealing to just consumers’ heads and hearts, but to internalize what consumers are thinking and feeling. Feeney explains that the best marketing efforts “make you feel so much that it hits you at your gut, and then it hits your feet, and you want to take action.”

Jennifer Boudinot is a freelance writer and entrepreneur focused on the changing workplace, disruptive business practices and cocktails—yes, cocktails. She's also a book editor and a best-selling ghostwriter.

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