8 Apr 2022
Cracking Some eCommerce Codes With Ryan Pershad
Ryan Pershad is the eCommerce head and Digital Leader at the Stoli Group for the United States. With a diverse experience in the technology sector for over a decade, Ryan oversees every aspect of Stoli’s digital growth, including digital marketing, websites, mobile applications, digital inventory management, and much more.
Apart from great wines and spirits, Stoli Group is also known for its marketing, PR, and varied use of technology. To figure out how they do it so efficiently, we had a word with Ryan, where he discussed some of the digital strategies used by Stoli to market their brands and increase eCommerce sales.
Tell us a little about yourself? How did you end up in this role?
Thanks for this opportunity. Stoli Group appreciates the opportunity to speak about what we are working on and what I am focusing on as a digital lead.
I have had an interesting career path up to this point. I spent the first half of my career working on technology in the Media and Advertising industries which really led me to understand what brands are doing to grow and what help they need to accomplish their goals, most of that experience being in a startup environment. I also spent some time in last-mile logistics and worked for a large alcohol retailer on the ground.
I think the combination of all these experiences was the perfect fit for Stoli in terms of where we are now. We are an organization that is agile, fast-moving, and we understand the digital component of the business needs to grow quickly and be incubated much like a start-up.
As an eCommerce leader for Stoli, what are your key responsibilities?
There are a couple of areas here:
– Our team is dynamic in the sense that we attack and give support at the same time. As our brands build their strategies for the future, we are an integral part of the brand building, marketing, and activation process. We help set the KPIs, assist in the determination of success, and at the same time do all we can to drive towards those goals.
– Technology is a big piece of the puzzle here as well; we are doing a lot around building the framework of tools that will help our colleagues be successful from making operations more efficient or to the production of data that can lead to actionable insight.
– Digital shelf management is huge for us as well as an ultra-premium portfolio, we are extremely concerned with the shopping experience both internally and externally for our consumers. As a result, we do a lot of work on the customer journey for our digital products like websites and mobile applications while simultaneously making sure that our products have best-in-class creativity and information surrounding them to provide an excellent experience for our consumers on external platforms.
How do you think Distributors and Suppliers can add value to the eCommerce space?
For me, it is about collaboration and consolidation. The value chain is disrupted heavily by regulation in the U.S. which is one of the largest markets for any beverage alcohol group. I think as an industry we need to work together to create better ways to reach the end, consumer or customer, whether an on-premise or off-premise account or an individual shopper. The proposed method of collaboration provides a level of scale that allows for proper brand building and a true path to success for each of our brands. Globally the value chain is more about the speed to market and how we can get to consumers as fast as possible based on more flexible rules and laws.
What makes Stoli unique when it comes to eCommerce/digital strategies?
We are building our digital strategy and a team from the foundation, so that gives us a unique opportunity to look ahead to an end goal that we can build towards without many blockers. We do not have any strategic debt to work through so there is a clean base for us to build on, which allows us to think about anything under the sun. I do not want to say too much but you will see some awesome activations coming from our brands in the near future. So, stay tuned. Another key pillar is our sustainability initiatives and the fact that they are a core pillar of our ethos. This allows us to build marketing and strategy with an end goal which can make a real difference in the world, and that is something that people can really rally behind.
How do you think eCommerce has transformed the business due to Covid19? What immediate decisions were taken by your team during the initial stage of the pandemic to make sure that the sales kept going through your eComm channel?
The world is different when it comes to business models and how we can attack specific markets, but it is clear to every firm in the industry that there is a need to meet the consumer in many new ways. When you look at the retail environment, for example, there are so many ways a consumer can purchase or engage with our products such as on-demand and shipping, click and collect, or traditional shelf offerings. We need to be able to meet all these consumer requirements.
One of the main strategies we implemented during COVID was simply to expand our partner base. As I mentioned before there are many ways in which a consumer can purchase our product, so we focused on forming new digital partnerships and increasing consumer access to our products through all the channels I mentioned previously. In addition, much more of our marketing has integration with e-commerce that allows us to reduce consumer friction in terms of product access.
How can eCommerce be an essential tool in optimizing businesses?
I think one of the best parts of e-commerce is that it can be used as a testing ground to learn and listen to. The data provided by digital channels allows us to rapidly iterate and understand what is working and what is not working as we build long-term plans. As an integrated team, we leave room to pivot and change based on consumer and customer feedback.
What’s your take on Blockchain, NFT, and other tech trends in the spirits industry? How do you think these techs can help brands like Stoli to grow digitally?
These technologies are extremely interesting. I think the fundamental basis of the blockchain was a route to the idea of ownership and when you look at the beverage alcohol industry, the consumer is looking for a stronger brand connection. It is important to the consumer because the choice of what to drink on a regular basis for responsible enjoyment or a celebratory occasion, or the view as an investment/asset class can be a long-term relationship. Long story short, 1-to-1 connection is paramount to us and as we plan for the future we are assessing how to grow and build those relationships in which these technologies are becoming increasingly important as a facilitator. This also fundamentally changes how we operate as a company, so it becomes a matter of digital agility to be able to handle the cryptocurrencies which come hand in hand with these technologies. This is something we are currently evaluating.
What’s your take on the rebranding of Stolichnaya to Stoli? How do you think this can benefit the brand?
I can appreciate this question, but I would like to reframe it a bit. I do not think it is about inherent benefits as much as it is about our day-to-day reality. Our founder Mr. Shefler bought the brand in 1997, moved production to Latvia in 2000, and was exiled from Russia in 2002. The brand and its ethos had a long journey to where we are today. As I spoke about our sustainability initiatives before, Mr. Shefler and our executive team have used our voice and place in the world to make a difference. We have fought for equal rights and used our commercial success to aid, with a specific focus for example on disenfranchised communities such as the LGBTQIA+ community where we are a staunch advocate–something that the Brand would have never done before Mr. Shefler and our team.
Stoli always uses unique technologies to leverage their advertising and marketing, for example using Haptic technology in their mobile ads. What are some of the upcoming unique strategies your team is working on?
There is a bit of secret sauce here, but I will comment as much as I can. I think two things I can speak to would be platforms and formats. We are energetically researching and adding new platforms to our toolkit as strategists and marketers. As we look to meet the consumer in the diverse ways that they shop, we are looking to understand the various places where they spend their time and attention. With platforms old and new we are attempting to understand the best way to connect with consumers given what is available to us on these platforms and how we can be as dynamic & innovative as possible.
What do you like the most about Stoli as a product? Which is your favorite Stoli cocktail?
I do not think I am drinking the cool-aid, but Stoli truly is the best in class. The longevity, the awards, and the size of the consumer base all speak for themselves. I know I already spoke about this, but in addition to being a great product, what the brand stands for is also critical and we are constantly driving to be more sustainable, more open, and more diverse.
Funny enough, this was a great fit for me, I am not a frequent drinker but when I do Vodka is my spirit of choice. My favorite cocktail is the Stoli Mule. When my family gets together our new tradition is a Mule station. We get our copper mugs and mix all the ingredients together (I may have swiped a mug or two from the POS closet) and then we enjoy it responsibly.
Interviewed By Tushar Anand, Writer, Beverage Trade Network