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Juliana Kagwa on Marketing in the Digital Age

Viewpoints with Brenda is back for its second season, with episodes to be released bi-monthly starting today, 8 April 2022. To kick off the season, I speak to Juliana Kagwa, one of the most dynamic business development executives in East Africa.

Juliana Kagwa is the Director of Corporate Relations at Uganda Breweries Limited, a subsidiary of Diageo in Uganda. She has had quite the career, having risen through the ranks at  Diageo, from a graduate trainee to her current role in management. Juliana has over 15 years’ experience in marketing, strategy and innovation in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG)  sector. More recently, Juliana has taken on the Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs function at Uganda Breweries Limited.

Juliana speaks about how a customer-centric approach has informed marketing strategies at Uganda Breweries Limited over the years,  the evolution of marketing throughout her career, the role that the digital age has played in enhancing marketing strategies and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Juliana also speaks about her favourite campaigns and innovations, from the Smirnoff Nightlife Experience to Uganda Waragi Pineapple, and gives excellent career tips for people who would want to follow a similar career path. 

Listen here: Apple | Google | Spotify


**The transcript below has been generated through software, and may contain errors. Viewpoints with Brenda is designed to be heard. We strongly recommend that you listen to the episode for context and speech emphasis before quoting the text below in print.

BN: My guest today is Juliana Kagwa, the Director of Corporate Relations at Uganda Breweries Limited, a subsidiary of Diageo in Uganda. Juliana is a dynamic business development executive, with a wealth of experience acquired over the last 15 years and more from various leadership roles in fast moving consumer goods companies, ranging from marketing, strategy, commercial and innovation. More recently, Juliana has taken on the public policy and regulatory affairs function of Uganda Breweries Limited. Juliana started her career at Diageo as a graduate management trainee and has worked in various marketing roles in Uganda and Kenya, including a brief stint as Country Manager for Heineken. She was previously the marketing and innovations director at Uganda Breweries Limited responsible for ensuring profitable and sustainable growth of the focus brands in the UBL portfolio. To her name are brand innovations like the famous Uganda Waragi flavours, and new formats, like a 330 milliliter Bell Lager. 

So Juliana, welcome to the podcast. 

JK (01:24): Thank you for hosting. And thank you for having me. 

BN (01:28): You’ve had quite an interesting career in marketing, given that your university degree was in something completely different. So how and why marketing? 

JK (01:38): Now I used to answer that question way back when I was still rising through the ranks. I used to say it was the camera, lights and action in the marketing arena. However, now that I’ve had the benefit of hindsight, I think what attracted me to marketing as a career or as a profession, was two things. The aspect around brands and brand building and how majestic and glorious some of this brand heritage was. So I’ll call it the storytelling aspect. And people – I’ve always enjoyed, and essentially thrived on being with engaging and associating with people. I’m a people person summarily. So it was two things, the people and the brands – that storytelling aspect, I love a good story. 

BN (02:33): In your work with brand image, how do you articulate and create a brand image for a brand as big as UBL across different languages and cultures, especially in a country as diverse as ours? 

JK (02:47): That’s a good one. And again, it’ll go back to that two-pronged approach where, first, it’s about the story, the story of the brand.  Uganda Breweries has such a powerful story of prominence, of heritage. It is one of those brands that has stood the test of time, 75 years and counting. That’s kind of been one of the pillars or one of the pivotal aspects of what we were using, and have been using to build the brand in consumers minds, in customers minds and more importantly, with some of our other stakeholders, like the government, the farmers we work with. Just demonstrating to them that we’ve stood the test of time, we’ve been there with them for them and plan to be here for another 100 years or so. So there’s that aspect of building a brand; really telling and imparting a powerful story. There’s also the aspect of the people and organizations, companies, corporates, whatever you want to call them, are nothing if it’s not about the people who work within them, the people who they produce, whether it’s goods or services for, it’s all about the human aspect. So that particular angle as well. Just getting into the mind of our customers, our consumers, our stakeholders, what’s in it for them, and also makes sense for us, I think has been part of and still is very much part of how we build and how we plan to extend Uganda Breweries Limited for another 100 prosperous years. 

BN (04:23): Over the years, the marketing ecosystem has evolved rapidly, and has brought a lot of opportunities for innovation. How have you seen this change in your career in the fast-moving consumer goods sector? 

JK (04:36): I started as a graduate management trainee in Uganda Breweries Limited in the early 2000s. And I’ll tell you something. We didn’t have half as much access to consumer information as we do now, simply because of the transformation of the digital era that we find ourselves in. The biggest change that I have witnessed over my marketing career is the ease with which we can access consumers, we can understand them, we can unpack insights, it’s almost a finger touch away. Because everybody now has got some kind of gadget. If it’s not a phone, it’s a tablet. It’s a laptop. Basically, you can unpack a consumer using algorithms.  We know where you are, what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, what you enjoy. We know what you’re consuming, where you consume it. It’s very interesting times because we’re that much more powerful as marketeers simply because of the amount of information that we’re now able to mine, to even just garner, just how much we’re able to get into our consumers’ minds. 

Back when we started off marketing and we were, you know, a handful of people in the marketing fraternity. It was a very manual process. You want consumer insights, you get three or four loyals (we’d call them brand loyals), put them in a room like some kind of pressure thinking tank and start grilling them; “you wake up at five in the morning – what do you do? Which places do you frequent? Where do you shop? Where does your wife go for her hair”? Just really trying to get into the mind of a consumer. And now you don’t have to do that. All that stuff is readily available simply by tapping into whichever applications that our consumers are using frequently. The digital transformation has empowered the marketing fraternity from more than what it used to be. 

BN  (06:29): That’s interesting. And have you found that it’s been harder to protect and defend brand, equity and reputation in this age of digital transformation, particularly with the impact of social media and everybody being able to say whatever they want at the touch of a button on our phones?

JK  (06:46): 1,000%. It’s that much more difficult to hold the attention of consumers to get their interest before you even get their acceptance, just peaking their interest is a whole different ballgame. Because just the same way we have an increased amount of knowledge and access to information about our consumers, they have just as much information and access to product services, a rainbow, a plethora of choices. And so it’s that much more difficult to stand out and grab and hold attention over any given particular or consumer. So yes, it’s 1000 times more challenging. With every benefit of the digital transformation or the digital era comes a challenge. On the other hand, so it’s an opportunity challenge flip flop. 

BN (07:35): Yeah, everybody says social media is double pronged. Yeah, good and bad. How do you stay authentic as UBL and meaningful with consumers, because you have all this information, but you still want to relate to your consumers? 

JK  (07:49): I think it’s ingrained or enshrined in some of the values of our business. At Uganda Breweries Limited, one of our values, aside from the being proud of what we do, being the best at what we do, we also are very passionate about customers and consumers. Essentially, what that means is that in everything we do, we put consumers first. That means we spend a disproportionate amount of time and money understanding mining, consumer insights, mining data, to get solid and almost solid proof and substantial substantiated insights before we make any kind of consumer decision.  

Good example is Uganda Waragi. We had a list long of variants, of options and directions we could have taken, we could have chosen. There were things that were so incredible that there was I think, at some point there was Mulondo on the table as a flavor even. And it took us about two to three years. I mean, you guys just see the grand launches and the product on the shelf and the magnificent events. And you’re like, these guys just woke up yesterday and decided we must do [Uganda Waragi] Coconut. That thing took us up to three or four years of planning. [Uganda Waragi] Pineapple took us another solid two to three years. And so I guess what I’m saying is that we do not make a decision that’s consumer facing without taking a really good look at our data, and ensuring that we’ve got solid and substantiated insights to guide us. So very consumer-centric business across the board. 

BN (09:25): Did the pandemic in any way have an impact on your marketing strategies? 

JK (09:29): Oh, yes. I don’t know anybody that wasn’t impacted by the pandemic and our industry more than others. Because as you know, for Uganda we endured the longest lockdown in the world as an industry, as the alcohol industry because the bars were closed all the way from March 2020. Was it? Up until just January this year? It’s about two solid years of our main on-trade outlets, our channel the biggest channel, which is the bars being closed to consumers. That forced us to think out of the box, age old saying “necessity is the mother of invention”. We found ourselves spending time and money on building a whole new route to market because the biggest channel was close to us. And so we started leveraging e-commerce, we kicked off partnerships with the Jumia with Kikuubo Online with Safe Boda even, who prior to the pandemic were only transporting passengers. They also found themselves evolving into a goods delivery service. So we started a direct home delivery service, which we didn’t have really up and running before that. We started getting creative with our off-trade channel. If we can’t be in the bars, what are we doing in supermarkets? What are we doing in the petrol forecourts. It forced us to think out of the box and really innovate in that space. And some of the innovations I’m proud to say are still very much alive. They’ve got a home delivery service now fully fledged called Party Central. And so you can order goods from Uganda Breweries Limited from the comfort of your living room, you don’t have to get out, get into your car. Some of the services we’re offering now at the supermarkets, and you’re able to pay online ahead of getting your products. It opened a whole new world of how do we get our products to our consumers, a route to market?. It just really helped us innovate in that space. 

BN (11:25): What would you say has been your favorite innovation or favorite marketing campaign to date? 

JK (11:31): Oh my, there’s so many. I mean, there’s brands that I love. I’ll start with one of my favorite campaigns and then I’ll talk about one of my favorite innovations. 

A campaign that stands out for me to date would be the Smirnoff Nightlife experience. Back in I think early 2010s there, brand Smirnoff globally was struggling. I think we’d lost a bit of relevance and meaningfulness, our consumers had so many options. I think that’s the time brands like Absolut started taking shape or taking roots in the vodka category. Grey Goose, Belvedere, some of those anyway. Those Polish vodkas were taking center stage, and yet Smirnoff since like, I think 19th century, those 1800s thereabouts, was the international cocktail mixer drink. Smirnoff, they say, started the cocktail revolution across the world. Losing numbers in volume, losing relevance and meaningfulness, our equity was declining. We started a campaign called the Smirnoff Nightlife – how do we take the nightlife back. There were all sorts of things that we started to leverage. 

There was a very popular flash mob type thing. And so we started doing flash mobs using Smirnoff as lead for that, and just taking over the nightlife across East Africa. I started that campaign when I was in Nairobi, Kenya, working as a brand manager there. And when I came back to Uganda as marketing manager, I was still running the campaign, I suppose it was within the same period. And so just transforming Uganda nightlife using some of the young and upcoming artists at the time. I think some people even exploded in around the Smirnoff Nightlife. We used to do events across the calendar year.  But there was the one big extravaganza which we used to block off the street between Silk nightclub way back then and Ange Noir way back then I think it hadn’t evolved into Guvnor. And there was a whole street bash along that road. Anybody worth their salt between the ages of 20 to 35, was on that street in Kampala. That’s one of the ones that I really remember because I think I used to be a brand manager. I was also, I was a reveller, you know, when you’re doing something that you enjoy, even more than the consumers. So that’s one campaign I really enjoyed and yeah, I’m just waiting for the brand teams of these days to bring it back. I’m ready.  

And then my favorite innovations. I’m very passionate about brand Uganda Waragi. I love Uganda Waragi. And you’re thinking I’m going to say Coco, but no, Coconut was not really my favorite of all the variants. Because we launched Coffee, Coffee didn’t do as well. So we stopped that story right there. And that’s the thing with innovation. There’s a lot of trial and error and try and fail. We withdrew Coffee from the market.  We hit Uganda with Coconut we never looked back. Remember the campaign Go Loco for Coco. I think it was a runaway success up to now. I mean, I see Uganda Waragi Coconut everywhere I go. There’s not an event there’s not a bar that doesn’t have it on the shelf.  

Then we launched Pineapple. Now Pineapple – that was my personal favorite. I eat almost half to a full pineapple daily. Pineapple is one of those things that for me, it resonates with Uganda. It’s one of the most prevalent fruits we have and just tastes so awesome. II have never eaten a pineapple anywhere else in the world that tastes like a Ugandan pineapple. A lot of times my Kenyan colleagues interrogate us: “are you sure you are not injecting sugar into those things?” It was very personal when we finally brought Uganda Waragi Pineapple to life and to the shelf. And I remember the campaign used campaign line was Hello Sunshine, because it was almost just taking all of the sunshine and the joy and the happiness of Uganda as it is. Uganda Waragi is one of our flagship brands, and putting it in a bottle. So I felt like we’re packaging sunshine into a variant of Uganda Waragi. Without a doubt, hands down for me, Uganda Waragi Pineapple is one of the ones that I’ll take away with me. 

BN (15:44): All the brands you’ve mentioned have been so visible over the years, as I told you about, I think the Smirnoff one in particular when I was at University or maybe just finished. There was this thing you guys used to do at – it’s now Kampala Legends. There was a huge thing for Smirnoff I remember one night, I think it was a white and red thing. I can’t remember the name. 

JK (16:05): Absolutely. Yes, I was there. I even have pictures to prove it. So yeah, that was Smirnoff taking over the nightlife. 

BN (16:14): So you mentioned earlier in the conversation that you started off as a graduate trainee at Diageo, and now you’re a whole director. And obviously, this isn’t this can’t have been an easy journey. So what would you say have been the most important lessons that you’ve picked along the way that would help somebody younger, who would want to follow in the same path?

JK (16:35): The lessons by the way Brenda are like a million. For purposes of this conversation, let me narrow them down to about three lessons.  

The first one is you start with the end in mind – being very clear on what your goal and purpose is. It is very difficult to work or perform at any job or role if you cannot see where you’re going. I’ve seen it with my peers, I’ve seen it now with people that work with me or for me. It’s very easy to get disillusioned. If you’re not very clear from the start where you want to go. It’s that much harder to bring your A-game. That’s something that I learned from one of the first books I read earlier on in my career “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steve Covey. One of the first of seven habits, he says, start with the end in mind, be very clear of your goal and purpose. It doesn’t have to be a one day I’m going to be the president of Uganda. Purpose doesn’t have to be some long, elaborate statement about how you’re going to change the face of the earth and impact global warming. It’s nothing as glorious as that. It’s just to understand what drives me what motivates and incentivizes me to bring my A-Game. If it’s your family, what is it you want for your family and you start working towards that? All the gurus talk about vision boards. Personally, I don’t think you have to have a physical vision board, it helps. But at least have your vision in your mind. Before you can start to serve the vision of your business, whether it’s a personal business, or an organization that you work for, you need to have your personal vision as Brenda or Juliana. That’s the first thing I’d say. So sit down, spend some time some people it takes them weeks to landed some people it takes them two days, some people 24 hours. In 10 to 15 years, 20 years, this is the model human being that I need to be. That’s the first one.  

The second one is to also, I think, to a certain extent, understand or manage expectations around career paths and how they move and which direction they take. People think that growth in careers is linear. A lot of times it’s I start as a management trainee, I move up to this and I move to the ranks. And if I started as a tea girl, then one time I’ll do coffee, then I moved around and then do sandwiches. Life is not linear. Life is full of bumps and turns and the road you go left you go right, there’s staircases there’s gray areas. It’s just to manage one’s expectations around that. And to maybe even take from people who have gone before you. 

I don’t know anybody who’s had a linear career, all the greats all the people we look up to and aspire to be, all the women in leadership right now. There’s no one person who has had a linear progression of their career. It’s to be ready to go up to go down to go backwards to go forwards. Take a pay cut. I’ve taken pay cuts in my career so far. Sometimes if I really want and I see that this role or next career move is going to help me get to my end goal, but they can’t afford me or they can’t pay me as much as I’m used to. What if I close my eyes to this fact? Because the money will come. If you’re doing what you love, the money will come. I truly believe that. And so yeah, for me, it’s just to understand that careers move in any which way and to be flexible, malleable. Train yourself to be resilient, to weather storms. A lot of times that people give up its not even so much about the money sometimes. People are just like, okay, fine. There’s no, the money here is not enough, I’m passionate about this thing, what do I do? I need to pay bills. Or I have the world’s worst boss, off I go. And for me I have always said to people, you will never pick your boss. The only thing you’ll ever lucky in life to do is maybe pick your team. But the people above you, you’ll never pick those ones. You won’t be so lucky as to go into a voting box. We don’t vote for CEOs and presidents of companies. Those people have earned their stripes, so it’s not a political opportunity so to speak. So it is to say, how resilient am I and how much do I believe in my vision that I mentioned earlier to withstand whatever I’m going through right now in my career. The highs, the lows, the good, the bad, the ugly. And to understand that it can oscillate but I will stay on course. So that is my second one.   

My third and last one would be I think prioritization. A lot of times and of course I can speak now because I’ve been through it for a while now. I have the benefit of hindsight but a lot of things I definitely see that I could have done better. And so I would say the third and most important one is to strike that balance between your work and your life. Work again, it’s not like you’re working for an invisible shareholder somewhere, some of us are. But there are people even doing their own businesses, it must not consume you. You’ve got to think about family, you’ve got to think about yourself. 

When we say work-life balance, people immediately go to family. That statement is not work-family balance could have been that its work-life balance, there’s so many aspects to life. There’s not just the social, there’s the health, there’s the mental, there’s the physiological well-being there’s so much encompassed in that word life. What quality of life or you having, in tandem with growing your career with growing your business with making that money with chasing that paper. Everybody’s chasing the paper, but some people are living more fulfilled lives. You don’t want to get into the evening of your years, you’re now cruising towards retirement, you’re full of regrets. I could have spent more time with my friends, I could have spent more time with my family, I really should have attended the other cousin’s baptism. So those are the kind of things that people then end up successful people what we see on the surface as successful, end up being very miserable people. So for me, that would be my third lesson is to just strike that balance, chase that paper, but chase that life, chase that life as well. 

BN  21:10: Wow, thank you. I mean, I’m picking from this. But I agree with you on being ready to take a leap. Like I personally left everything in Uganda to move all the way to Kuwait. And I mean, it’s working. So. I agree with career is not linear. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes and just make that leap. Whatever the LEAP might be. Thank you so much Juliana, I really enjoyed this conversation. You will come back some memories that were buried. 

JK  (23:22): I’m glad I did. I’m glad I did.

BN (23:25): Yeah, thank you so much. I mean, you’ve had quite the career. You’re admired by so many people. I didn’t say this at the beginning. But I was in Namagunga when you are my Social Graces Minister and I always looked up to you. A long, long time ago, so it’s you know, it’s just amazing to have you on the other end of the microphone and just listen to your words of wisdom. And I really appreciate it.

JK (23:51): Thank you. Thank you, Brenda, thank you for the opportunity, always a pleasure to impart whatever little knowledge and learnings I’ve picked along the way. It’s empowering for you just as much as it is for me by the way to recount some of these memories. 

BN (24:04): Thank you so much Juliana, 

JK (24:06): You are welcome.

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