He is speaking to The Drum from the brand’s central London operation, having joined a year-and-a-half ago with a mission to shake it up and develop its marketing team into the best in the UK, he explains.
The brand is proud of its affinity with the Champions League, and Van Der Linden, an enthusiastic Dutchman and former Excelsior FC player, says he still believes that there is much that can be done to fully leverage the opportunity that the sponsorship delivers for Heineken UK.
“What it does is give the brand relevance and it gives us a fantastic platform to activate the brand in on-and-off–trade,” he explains, highlighting a second-screen game called Star Player, which allowed viewers of a match to respond, anticipate and react to moments within a game in real-time, as one example of how the partnership has been leveraged.
In his time heading up the London team, he has restructured the marketing department of around 95, which has included centralising the consumer marketing team in one place, rather than across the UK including an Edinburgh hub and some working from home, to be closer to its London-based media and creative agencies. This has also included the hiring of social media specialists to bolster its online activities. However, some marketing roles, such as customer marketing and new product development roles do continue to be based in Edinburgh as well. He explains that his ambition to become the best marketing team in the UK is already on track, which he has been able to see within the business results, market share and increase brand health and reputation of Heineken UK and its product range. He has also created dedicated category development teams working with retailers to develop their own customer strategy, activation teams of on-trade and off-trade, while he has blurred the lines between the sales teams, trade marketing and brand marketing teams.“Now it is very clear that for the on-trade and the off-trade we have an activation team that produce and implement those promotional activation teams. It is crystal clear who does what and who is responsible for what. We have rewritten all job descriptions and at a micro level we have rewritten our process blueprints, which is part of a massive change,” he continues.
Van der Linden explains that he wants to make his brands famous in four areas - Category development, Brand building, Innovation and Perfect execution. The latter has seen the company reviewing its processes and ways of working, which included the need to ‘centralise’ its thinking. “We were probably spending 40 per cent strategising, 40 per cent planning and 20 per cent execution and I want to spend 20 per cent on strategising, 20 per cent on planning and 60 per cent in execution,” he continues. “The changes mean that we have centralised all strategic thinking. That's a big change, within my marketing department we now have a marketing, strategy and planning unit with all the portfolio strategy, brand strategy, activation strategy, consumer and market insight is all centralised within that strategic team, which functions as my right hand and as a right hand for the UK management team. We have one version of the truth when it comes to market understanding, market share understanding, consumer insights, category insights and shopper insights.”His strategy, entitled ‘Evolve’ has also included splitting the marketing of beer and cider brands within the company for the first time too. “They [cider and beer] are different categories, with different investment levels, with different innovation levels, with different growth levels and you need to treat them differently from a managerial point of view. In August of this year, he then introduced a marketing charter to help facilitate the mission of Heineken. "Our mission is to deliver day-in, day-out perfect cider and beer brand experiences. In summary, our job is to bring a smile to people's face. If you do that, and our customers feel we are more passionate than anyone else about quality and our brands then you will get a massive turnaround. This gives context to what our innovation team does with Desperados or Foster's Radler, with a different flavour or taste, served well in a perfect pint with the ritual skimming to hopefully bring a smile to faces."
The flavoured cider category, according to trade consultants CGA Strategy, has grown by 80 per cent over the last year, with a large amount due to the warm British weather in recent months. With that growth in mind, Van Der Linden has been responsible for rolling out new innovations such as Strongbow Dark Fruit, Bulmers Cider Bold Black Cherry, Bulmers Cider Pressed Red Grape and low alcohol lager Foster’s Radler in May. With the new innovations, Bulmers’ also saw its largest marketing investment of £10m earlier this year, including a £3m media spend, which led the brand to reach combined on-and-off trade sales of £229m, seeing it reach second place in the total cider category sales, behind Strongbow. Meanwhile, a £6m media campaign to develop the Desperado's brand is also planned for next year. “I had a few brands that went from three per cent growth to 30 per cent growth. When you get it right, in a market like this, you don't get that, but also where I thought that this instant reward principle would be less in really mature markets, we're definitely getting some instant reward across the Bulmers flavours, Radler, especially on Strongbow Dark Fruit,” he explains, referring to his previous role as marketing director of Heineken’s Nigerian breweries for three-and-a-half years. According to Van Der Linden, upon his arrival less than two years ago, Heineken UK was “one of the poorer performing Heineken companies in digital and social media”, but has made “a massive acceleration” during the course of this year. With the ambition and drive that he is putting behind the UK team, as he aims to reach the ambition of having the best marketing team in the UK, it’s likely we’ll see the digital side of things drive much further ahead in the process.