The Trusting Marketer

Many marketers are wishy-washy. Don’t count Jack Daniel’s marketing head Carmen D’Ascendis among them. His mandate to employees: Have a point of view.

D’Ascendis says that the reason that Jack Daniel’s is so successful in digital media is that it doesn’t just jump on the next big thing without fully thinking it through. Some of that has to do with age-gating, of course, but D’Ascendis said that it also has to do with thinking carefully about the best way to reach consumers.

“Carmen is not routine,” said Lottie Chestnut, associate global marketing director at Jack Daniel’s, who reports to D’Ascendis. “He’s very open to the world and fascinated by disconnects and also with patterns, and he introduces things that may not have a connection to what’s in focus, and because of that, you see how things may complement and work.”

The Jack Daniel’s marketing head had no intention in being a marketer. In fact, he has a graduate degree in real estate. He couldn’t find a job after business school and landed at Brown-Forman as a merchandiser in 1991. His responsibility was going to liquor stores to dust bottles and set up displays.

In 1999, D’Ascendis landed his first marketing gig, heading up all marketing for Jack Daniel’s in Germany. He moved around for the next 13 years, doing brand management and marketing for Jack Daniel’s in Scandinavia and Japan as well. Today, after almost 21 years with the company, D’Ascendis says spending all that time overseas was really helpful in getting him to where he is.

“When a person speaks Japanese, not English, you’ve got to trust they are doing their job,” D’Ascendis said. “Those experiences of being in an environment I’m not comfortable with have helped me with managing agencies and their creative ideas. It’s taught me to let go and give up the reins.”

D’Ascendis’ proudest achievement thus far is the re-launch of the Jack Daniel’s website last year. Before that, the Jack Daniel’s website was somewhat of a ghost town. D’Ascedis had his team and agency rethink the entire approach to the site, which basically just had product details on it. Today, the Jack Daniel’s website tells the stories that differentiate the brand through branded content in the form of text and video. The content is shared across social media platforms to drive traffic back to the site. Site traffic is up 60 percent since the redesign.

Another noteworthy achievement is Jack Daniel’s engagement levels on Facebook. According to eMarketer, Jack Daniel’s ranks second for how engaged its fans are on Facebook out of the 15 top alcohol brands worldwide. And it’s not surprising, considering the company began to consciously change how it approached Facebook two years ago, the lynchpin of its social strategy. Instead of pushing product photos or asking people what their favorite Jack Daniel’s cocktail is, the brand now focuses on appealing to a sentiment that it knows fans share. For example, when Marshall Amplifier (the instrument that allows us to hear rock ‘n’ roll music) creator Jim Marshall passed away, Jack Daniel’s posted an image with a caption. With the brand’s ties to rock music, the post wasn’t about Jack Daniel’s or partying or drinking. It was a common interest among Jack fans. It was shared, commented on and liked for weeks. As of April 2011, Jack Daniel’s had just over a million Facebook fans. Today it has almost 3.9 million fans on Facebook.

Now Jack Daniel’s is attempting to have the same levels of success on Twitter. Jack Daniel’s was one of the first alcohol brands to test out Twitter’s age-gating.

“What makes him a successful marketer is that he’s able to trust his employees and his agencies,” said Wade Devers, executive creative director at Arnold Worldwide, Jack Daniel’s agency of record. “A lot of [clients] pretend collaboration, but they make all the decisions. He understands the way it should work. All ideas are equal, and all are equally dismissive. Not all his ideas are great, and not all of mine are great either. If he does not like what I am saying, he will tell me and vice versa. At the end of the day, our goals are the same.“

For D’Ascendis, it’s about trusting people to make the right decision.

“I don’t always want to make the decision,” he said. “I want the people under me to make decisions too. I’m a firm believer that there are no problems, only solutions, so I often times ask people for their recommendations on how to fix something. We are paying them, after all.”

Image via Shutterstock

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