In early November, the annual Belgian Marketing Awards were again presented (in three categories). Who were the winners? How do they approach their marketing strategy? And what place do consumer insights and data occupy in that strategy? Why not just ask them? Today: Alken-Maes, Belgian Marketing Company of the Year 2022.

Why exactly Alken-Maes got the award in the first place, is actually for two reasons, says Sarah De Corte, Senior Brand Manager Cristal. “The first is that we have really started to focus at Alken-Maes, in this case on Desperados and on the relaunch of Cristal. In the past, we used to do a little bit of everything, thereby creating less impact. All departments of the company know what our priorities are now, so everyone can rally behind them. A second reason is how we took on the relaunch of Cristal, with a strategy, that is based on three insights: the ‘human aspect,’ which is very important to Gen Y, ‘innovation,’ and ‘taste and quality.'”

“All those aspects are also very much connected to the brand’s DNA”, says Consumer & Creativity Intelligence & Innovation Expert Liana Ganescu. “They are real. “Being Local”, for example, is a claim that a lot of beer brands make, but for us it’s really true. It also makes for a very effective story, because we also recently won a Silver Effie for the re-launch of Cristal.”

Belgian pub owners

So what is exactly behind these three insights that the company uses? “The human aspect is about everything that makes us authentic,” says Sarah. “Many beer brands often feature “the master brewer”, but we want to pull that much broader. For example, our hop suppliers are Belgian farmers, our truck drivers are local people, we feature Belgian pub owners and Belgian beer drinkers too. Everything exudes that local feeling. Innovation ties in with this. Together with our local people, we want to take care of our planet. By buying as many local ingredients as possible, by working with 100% green electricity, by making beer with respect for people and nature, and so on. And quality and taste are of course our passions, they are woven throughout the whole chain. But here too, everything hooks back together: for example, we can guarantee that high quality by working with short chains and not transporting hops from the other side of the world to Belgium.”

As befits a modern company, Alken-Maes uses as much data as possible to back up its strategy. “We are very data-driven,” says Liana. “We do primary research, desk research, we have a business intelligence department that processes retail data, but also shopping data, penetration data, … All those departments also work together. That is the big challenge today, I think: there is a lot of data available, but how do you make it work together in a meaningful way?”

Taste sensation

Sometimes market research even yields insights that surprise the brewing company itself. “Take the ‘taste and quality’ component, for example,” Sarah says. “We knew that taste was important to our customers, but even we underestimated how important it is. It turned out that many consumers missed flavor in lager. Many people find lager refreshing and easy and fun to drink, but often it is not a real taste sensation. In response we launched Cristal Xtra, an unfiltered beer made from three grains: barley, wheat and rye.”

Walk the talk

To conclude, how do our interlocutors see the world of marketing and consumer insights change in the coming years? What are the trends? “The more the world becomes digital, the greater the need for authenticity for brands,” says Sarah. “To come across as credible, you will actually have to do what you preach. Walk the talk, in other words.”

“I think many companies will also have to have the discipline to say less, but create more impact,” Liana believes. “There are a tremendous number of messages being sent into the world, standing out among them has really become a challenge. That also means we have to be innovative in our channels. Where Generation Z is, we must be too. Data can help with that, in fact.”

“Finally, I also think that a purpose-driven way of working is simply inevitable in the future,” Sarah adds. “There are so many things coming at us: climate change, inflation concerns, crises, … That also brings a lot of polarization. How do you deal with that as a company? Just do nothing and hope for the best? Or help evolve in a positive way? We chose for the second path.”

More info about the Belgian Marketing Awards via