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||Today I'm speaking with Janine SIP, the director of digital experience at Sasak. Sazak has a very exciting digital story. They stood up a new digital center of excellence about two years ago. They've shown great results over those two years. They've expanded across many brands and they're showing fantastic results. I think it for the sea sweet this is a great example of alignment from the top down, giving the team the space that they need to show results and grow, challenging them holding them accountable. You're going to hear some fantastic stories from Janine. You know, in her role of director of digital experience, she plays in marketing, e Comm Technology. She's a cheap asset wrangler. She drinks consumer insights for breakfast. She's been in the space for over fifteen years. LOOKXOTICA, GSI RJ Reynolds, and she's not just speaking for herself, but she represents a really, really strong and nimble team over at Sasak. So at that let's hear from Janine. You're listening to sea sweet blueprint, the show for sea sweet leaders. Here we discuss nobdys approaches to organizational readiness and digital transformation. Let's start the show. Hey, Janine, thanks for joining me. You know, I'm really excited to talk with you today because what you and the whole team are doing at Sazak, I think, is a perfect example of that bridge between strategy and tactics and getting it done, and I think that's where the sea sweet can sometimes get frustrated, is they see things kind of falling down. They set the vision but then, you know, the team gets lost in it and it doesn't actually get done. So, you know, I'd love for you to kind of give the audience a little bit out of an overview of WHO sazarek is so they understand kind of how broad your portfolio is, and then we could talk a little bit about your journey, the whole team's journey, of standing up this this digital group. Perfect and thanks for having me, George. I'm excited to be here with you. So, yeah, to tell you a little bit about who Sazarek is just right off the bat. Sazarek is the largest distilled spirits producer in the US and the fifth largest in the world. We're an independent family owned company and while many people might not recognize the name Sazarek, that's because historically we've chosen to be under the radar and let the brands speak for themselves. So your listeners probably no fireball, southern comfort. Those are pretty well known brands. But Bourbon fans will know the beloved and award winning Bourbons in our portfolio like buffalo trays, even rare lanterns. So those that are serious about the Bourbon Hunt love those brands. But with over four hundred plus brands, there's definitely something that's sazarek produces that has come across your plate. You're your glass at some point. Is a tremendous portfolio and you know, I think it was what two years ago or so that you guys really started to put investment and effort into standing up a digital group almost from from nothing. And what I find interesting in these challenges is the journey that these groups go through as are standing up and what kind of air cover the executives give them, because when you're investing in a new area you want to give them the room to grow and form, but also you kind of need to see results along the way, otherwise you start losing faith in the journey. Right. So I'd love you to just kind of talk a little bit about just, you know, overarching what is that? That journey been like? It is been like flying the plane and building it at the same time. So I think your point about the vision and showing results is really well taken. The culture here at Sazaak is really about an entrepreneurial spirit, and so we pursue lots of ideas that have the potential to become big ideas. We place our bet strategically and one of the big bets was that we need to really get in the game a serious way with growing our digital expertise internally, and so, as part of a new team coming on, there's obviously a lot of learning the company, learning the industry, type of of work that needs to go on, and there were some really major projects that needed to kick off...
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||...right away to start a digital front foundation. There's a technology play that needs to come in immediately so you can set the foundation and that foundation is in place, but it definitely took a lot of work and while that was happening, some of those projects had to get super accelerated. One that's a really good example of Sazerak House, which is a destination, almost like a cocktail museum and distillery all in one in New Orleans and you know, the team had just come on and we needed to have a web presence stood up in a shop so that that occurred in like lightning speed time, like thirty days, which is kind of wild to think about standing up a Magento site from start to finish in that time frame, with photography and all of that. But things haven't really slowed down since that first launch and we've now got five brands using the adobe experience manager platform, which is that that foundation, and off of that all kinds of new initiatives have sprung up to build up a digital asset manager within that platform, to use the platform for marketing, for early marketing only sites and for ECOMMERCE sites, and to make them a hub. So if you were to go to the sazerakcom today, that's one of the big facelifts that we were able to do because without the digital team, a digital team in place to help guide things, the website had remained stagnant for about eight years. But beyond just websites, there's the fact that we kind of operate in a system in the spirits industry that had places some some rules and regulations on our ability to connect with consumers. So three tiered means that we are required to work through distributors and retailers, and even platforms like drizzly are actually part of that system. So it would became critical for us to establish relationships with consumers directly, and doing that digitally is part of what were we be gone working on and still have a lot of progress to make on that front. Huge Kudos to you in the whole team on not only getting the quick results but then also expanding across the portfolio. I feel like so many times when you look at other organizations, they'll have that success in one area, but maybe that success that brand was really easy to work with right, and then when they try to expand into the rest of the organization, you know they can't really get things gelling with the the other brands and they get lost in the tactics a little bit, I think, and I think you know, dealing with that three tier system and such a complex landscape just makes it that much harder and and that's why you should get that's more, much more Kudos on what you've all been able to accomplish there, because even like, I think, a reminder for the audiences. You know, as as a company like it's older than the government, right. You know that, and usually when you see old organizations like that you see a lot of bureaucracy. But I think the culture in the focus on outcomes there has as led to the opposite of that, where it's very lean and you're just getting stuff done. So I'd love you to talk a little bit about how did you expand into the other brand how do you get the trust of the brands? You know you're a new team, they're set in their ways of doing things for a long, long time. How do you win the trust to those brands? For sure I think it's there was a lot of enthusiasm and that organization because folks in brand marketing and and other teams were really trying to do digital as a part, as an extension of their, you know, fifteen other responsibilities as brand manager. So it was very a lot of enthusiasm to have folks that had experience in this area to help out, and so a lot of that wasn't really a problem because folks were excited. And beyond that there was some really significant projects that came to bear where folks could...
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||...see what the impact was going to be if we partnered together. So some of it was brand you know, really just pure relationship building, as any person would do when they're new to an organization, brand by brand, working through projects that will help demonstrate capabilities and that becomes sort of its own case study for other brands. But there have been a few significant ones that we knew that if we could improve the way we show up on we know that, like we're as as an organization, distribution is an area where we're really great. We can get product and we can get get done in volume, and so the way we show up on physical shelves is really important. The digital shelf over the last year has become wildly important and we weren't really taking care of that. So it was it's working within the system, but these are retailers and distributors that we all know and love and depending on the state you're in, you might be able to get products from those retailers online, and so working with them, the intent the team, that intivity was absolutely critical to making a big impact where we were able to re refresh our top brands with video content, bottle shots. We called it a plus content because it was really representing brands in the best possible light. So I think those kinds of winds kind of build on themselves. It's a bit of a snowball effect, or folks see, okay, if I can get the pieces of this puzzle to the team, they're going to take the ball and run and make all of this happen. And it was no little effort to get if this content syndicated across, you know, all of these different retailers and distributors, but it's made a massive impact to the business to have our presence upgraded there. That's great. Yeah, I guess it's. So you earn that trust of the brands by just by just doing the work right and things like digital digital shelf there. It's not always sexy either. You know, it's the equivalent of dusting off the bottles on the retail shelf. So you got to clean up some skews, you got to get better images and I feel like sometimes, you know, when someone's standing up a center of excellence or digital group like this, you can sometimes get too focused on these big decks and presentations or it's like here's the future digital, here's what we're going to do for you and here's our process and here's how you're going to you know, how you're going to bow to our process, which is never a good thing. And you know, I think you know, you guys did a bit of that, like here's who we are, here's where we're going. But then it seemed like you just started getting stuff done. So and that built that trust. But but then once you've earned that trust, I think, is there then a deluge of all the brands saying, oh my gosh, do more for us, do more for us, and then how do you not get drowned within that, that waterfall of requests and partnership requests and less prioritization? That's that's the major it's a major theme here because there's four hundred plus brands. We're not working with every single one of those brands at the same level. So we've got to prioritize where we're able to spend our time. And some of it might be we're going to help you with establishing standards, will establish process and government and will support you working directly with a partner that's in our pre vetted set to get this done. And some of it is like this is a really big, important initiative, so we're going to work together with you to do that and sometimes we're developing the process. We don't have the process off the shelf to take and to say this is how we're going to do it. It's a lot of learning in the trenches while we're trying to those it's truly that analogy of flying and building the plane. But I think the great thing was that some of those early wins helped folks to understand that, you know, we were here to support them and to make sure that this happens, and that's been really a major theme because...
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||...when you've got a fast growing organization there's always going to be a lot of projects and we are not a large team. So having to prioritize, having to balance execution and strategy and being able to respond to those business needs has been really important. I would say one great example of that was we you know, I think folks that have have worked any commerce for a while we'll have these preconceived notions about what you need to have in order to move forward, like you have to have this and that, and you have to have, I mean analytics, and there are some pretty foundational things, but if you can kind of skinny down what needs to happen to that core work. Then that's what allowed things like Sadurick House to get taken to take off. And this time last year, while we were working on building some of these platforms and enhancing them, it wasn't necessarily a place where we could take the time to get to the perfect state, but we were just focused on the core pieces and we're able to double ECOMMERCE business. That is something that became bit and we're going to we're on the we're on target to double again this year, but it's just because there's so much opportunity and we didn't let great, you know being perfect, stop us from moving forward and getting those quick wins. And Yeah, doubling ECOMMERCE business will definitely get people off your backs and give you a little bit of room to work right. That is great. But that being said, if that, if that pattern continues, then then it's going to be okay, well, do that and do more right with the same resources that you have. And so so if you've gone through this initial phase of you know, introduce yourself to the brands, you know, partner with them, get some quick wins, gets get some of that done and then put in place some prioritization frameworks. Now you pull yourself back out of the tactics and what's it about next? You know there's a I know there's a very long vision there, and you know how do you pull yourself now out of the tactics and think about what's next? Well, that there is a pivot that comes. When it's getting things done, getting them out the door, you also have to make sure that you're managing the change of that that action, that activity, is also causing some fundamental changes the way that we do that. We come to market online the way like. Once you establish that this is the direction and you've started to put that out in the world, you've now got to be prepared to maintain it and optimize it. So there's a that's where, at some point in the process you have to kind of pivot and say, all right, we're getting things out the door, but we also have to make sure that this is a line to our longer term strategies and that it's not going to create more of pain for us down the road because we did it a certain way and that that does take some time and some learnings. It's a part of our process to always go have a reflection on how the initiative launch went. Where the opportunities to learn and we're soliciting feedback from all people parties who were involved in it. So it's the continuous improvement that helps us to make fewer mistakes as we go forward. But yeah, there's there are a ton of brands and it can become overwhelming. So there is a point where you hit a wall and you know, fast growth companies know that that's going to happen from time to time and I think that's where you can just get even tighter with your prioritization and making sure that you're working on the right things and doing them in the right order. Yeah, and I think what's what I also helps you in that situation is that that culture. It's a culture where you can be a bit vulnerable and you can be honest, right, and you don't need to be just talking a big game and because, like you said, a lot of these processes you need to create I think a lot of people might think. You know, I hate it when people say they're an expert in, you know, digital or ECOMMERCE, because it changes so rapidly and and then...
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||...industries are so different. You know, I don't think you're going to take a I love playbooks more than anyone, but I don't think you're going to take your playbook for like ECOM selling laptops to ECOM, you know, selling BEVALC. Yeah, some of it it, some of it will work, but you're going to have to Reado a whole hell of a lot and you have to tell people like hey, none of us know. We you know, we have expertise, but we don't know what we're doing with this and we're all going to figure it out together. And I'm curious, you know, how as the culture kind of allowed you to do that, and then how have you kind of, you know, worked through that to all figure it out together? I think that's because of the fact that we had folks across all aspects of the business trying to fill gaps in digital strategy or execution. They understand where their strengths are and sometimes it's not in this area, and we understand that we might not be experts in how you get the best formula for a product and bring it to market on a shell, that that's not our our lane, but we've worked really closely together to understand where there's areas that you know this folks who worked in this industry for a long time can help bring us along and where we can help bring them along in terms of these are some things that have been successful in the past that we also think will be helpful in this case. And we've had to also check ourselves as well. Like you said, what you've done before may have worked great back when I was working at an organization that sold sunglasses, but this is a regulated industry and the rules are different and you have to figure out how to win within that set of rules. So I think a good point about you know, to answer your question about what's next, is that we've put our best foot forward in a lot of ways and made a lot of wins, but I think the next step stage for us is about getting more of a testing culture filtered through our activities and with the brands as well, so that we're understanding that we put our best foot forward, we collaborated and we've reflected and learned from it, but now let's test, let's put variations out, and that's, you know, what a lot of books would say. Our table stakes for any digital marketing, but with the speed and the volume of activities that we've taken on. It's not had the prominence that we want it to have as our organization matures in this space. Yeah, that makes sense and and I think a nuance of BEV ALP to is you historically haven't been able to be very close with your with your customers, you know, by law right, there's there's the tears between you and and so how do you you know, in this landscape, how do you get closer to the customer? How do you meet them at the experiences that they want? How do you think about that? Well, that's where we look at it. As merchandise is one area that is legal in all states and we have raving fans for some of these brands and there's no better way of demonstrating your brand love than to put that brand on your shirt, to where that brand, to promote it in other ways and on your coffee Mug with the hat on your head. That's been an area where ecommercials recognized early as an opportunity to get closer to our consumers because we're able to at that point you're getting data, you're getting feedback with their credit card swipe about what they're interested in, and social has played a huge part in that strategy, and social has gotten significantly better over time in terms of the data that's being collected, how it's being used and just the quality of the content that's going out. So, as you see, like the metrics for social and Seo and all of these things continue to change. That to your point about being experts, we're always...
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||...learning as well. I'm not going to be the person to say I have expertise in every single area that we're doing today, but it doesn't matter, because what matters is the willingness to learn, the effort behind it and keep in the measurement to keep getting better. So, yeah, getting closer consumers is an absolute priority and we're found that digital is one way between building a social following campaigns that are running and targeting different types of audiences and just the ability to engage with them in a store or physical location like some of our distilleries. All of that information is ultimately making itself a picture of who are consumerism what they want. That makes sense. Yeah, truly engaging with them, I feel like a naive point of view and in stepping into digital and ECOM in this space would be, you know, let's put our product out there. Yeah, and they can buy it directly from us. But how many people are going to go to fireballcom and just buy a bottle of fireball right? They they're engaging with content out there and they're engaging with the merchandise and that, I think that's just a great example of meeting you know, not having an ego about it and just meeting them where they want to be met, right, and engaging them where they want to engage. that. That makes a lot of sense and I also I'm curious. Now, how do you bridge I know that you've, Sizz wacks, been investing in these physical spaces. Right, there's the sazerack house, there's there's the distilleries. You know, how do you bridge the gap between physical and digital and how do you approach that? That is also part of what we have discovered. Is a an opportunity area for us. We are bridging that by meeting the consumer expectation that today, what you see in a physical gift shop. Consumers have every expectation that those products will be available for them online or that they should be able to get those product ship to their home. Were through the pandemic. Initiated curbside pick up for several of our home places and that that's very common that restaurants and many other industries have had to adapt to. But it was one where you wouldn't you mentioned how old the company is and how long things that operated in different ways. It wasn't an easy lift to make something like that happen. But we're organizationally, all on the same page and understanding that it's really important that we're not going to have visitors at every one of our home places from all geographies. So what are the other ways that we can bring that excellent experience that folks are having when they visit our our distilleries or home places and bring that together online? So the teams work together, the teams are strategizing together. We're looking at it as a business and yes, it's important to have each business unit getting the credit and the results for their activities, but at the end of the day we're trying to satisfy consumer need and desire that's going to make our brand successful. So that's the approach that everyone's taking with it and it's been so well received it we can't even explain how how enthusiastic folks have been to partner on this. Man, I it's unfortunate that I feel like it's rare that you hear how aligned different parts of an organization are, like you're saying it in and I almost feel like I need to remind you of how because you're in it such a great culture of, you know, all being aligned on the same outcomes and driving towards those, and I feel like that that can sometimes be rare. Maybe that's a good tech time to poke into. If you seem happy with what you guys are doing, and I feel like right now a lot of people are. They're going through the the soul searching existential journey of what am I doing with my career? And I happy in my job. You know what does make you really happy about what you're doing? It's the sweet spot of where I like to be. I've always been passionate about finding digital means of...
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||...connecting with consumers and understanding what makes them tick. Like some of the classes that I loved the most in college and rolls that I've had over my career, the sweet spot was where I was able to dive into consumer insights and also work with the technology that makes some of that happen and it's ebbed and flowed like from time to time. Which side of that fence I'm sitting on and my more consumer insights and digital experience and user experience, or am I tech platform and coding and enhancements? But that's what keeps things interesting for me and I like to be challenged in to learn in new areas all around that sphere. So being able to do this in a space where there's so much opportunity and there's no defined right way of doing it. We can create our own path and our own destiny. It's very exciting and it's a great place to be. That's great. Executives around the world, please listen to that. You find someone super power, put him in the right roll, give them the space to move forward and give them challenges. You know, I think everyone will be happy with that. And on the flip side, you know, when we talk about quote unquote, digital transformation and even just the word digital, there can sometimes be a lot of nonsense out there, a lout of, you know, just lingo and be ass and and who knows what out there. Right, and I'm sure you sat through all sorts of software demos and gone a plenty of conferences and interacted with other people in this space. I'm I'm curious, you know, what gets your goat as far as what's kind of just nonsense out there within this space. It really is that you have to have this, you have to have the five thousand tech stack list in order to be successful, and there's some core pieces that need to be in place. But a lot of what is being sold or promoted as the silver a bullet for X Y Z, pain point for opportunity that you're trying to take advantage of. Some of it really just does come down to good fundamentals, and so if we were trying to have every single shiny object out there, we would definitely not have been able to grow and build. At the same time, it just creates a burden of overhead that kind of can suffocate you because you've got all of this stuff to maintain. So in the beginning it's important as to appreciate the leanness and make the most of that by doing the core fundamentals right. That makes a lot of sense. Lots of shiny new paint brushes aren't going to make you an amazing artist. Right. I've tried. Oh, trust me, I with golf. I keep thinking that new golf clubs will make me better Golfer and surprise, surprise, they didn't. They do not. But I love the journey that you've gone on so over the last two years. Just to brack of this last two years, this is there's been this stand up phase, quick wins within even thirty days to get some some great digital experiences out. There's been then really engaging with the brands, earning their trust, then kind of absorbing that deluge of requests and putting in place the right continual prioritization to know that you know their requests aren't going into a black box and you aren't ignoring them there you're focusing on the right things and here's why. And now you're pushing that forward into test and learn and scale. I think that that's a heck of a journey and, you know, I hope you and the entire sazrack team really look back with a lot of accomplishment, because that's and no, by the way, sneaking in digital shelf and analytics and all sorts of stuff along the way. That's just fantastic. It is. It really has been an entire team effort and, like I said, it's not a large team, so it's been amazing to see we've been able to accomplish in this very short time frame. That's great. I think it could sometimes be easy to forget, you know, how much can get done with with what size team and what size investment when you get lost in it. So thanks, Jenny, and I'm glad you know, happy that you share that with me and with...
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||...the audience and excited to talk with you about it. Thanks so much for coming on. Glad to be here. Thanks so much, George. Technology should serve vision, not set it at intivity. We design clear blueprints for organizational readiness and digital transformation that allow companies to chart new past. Then we drive the implementation of those plans with our client partners in service of growth. Find out more at www that intevitycom. You've been listening to see sweet blueprint. If you like what you've heard, be sure to hit subscribe wherever you get your podcast to make sure you never miss a new episode. And why you're there. We'd love it if you could leave a rating. Just give us however many stars you think you deserve. Until next time, .