Tasting Tequila: How Patrón Uses AI and VR to Create Unforgettable Customer Experiences

When distilled down to its simplest form, marketing has always been about creating customer experiences. Our jobs as marketers is to use emotional intelligence to create a memory or impression for the consumer, so when they’re purchasing, ordering, or commenting, our brand is top of mind.

At Patrón Spirits, we have a 70 percent share of the premium tequila market in the U.S., the very category we created almost 30 years ago. So our challenge isn’t overall awareness, but rather how to keep our fans and customers excited and engaged with our products, while reinforcing why they chose us in the first place.

One of the ways we’re doing that is by using virtual reality (VR) to connect emotionally with our customers. VR lets us raise what you might call our “brand EQ” by telling an authentic story that creates an indelible experience for people who engage with us through different online channels.

Experience means everything.

If we could, we would bring all of our customers to our distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, where they could walk through agave fields, talk to our staff, watch people hand-chop each piece of agave, and hand-sign bottles of Patrón. That experience would showcase just how much this is a hand-crafted, laborious process that less than one percent of Tequila brands in the world actually use. Since we can’t bring millions of customers to our hacienda, VR lets us share our Mexican distillery experience with the world.

When we started our VR project more than two years ago, our challenge was to create immersive experiences that make customers feel like they are in Jalisco. We’re able to do this, at scale, with VR, and we’re able to go beyond VR, with 2-D versions on YouTube, Facebook and online. Since we launched the campaign, we’ve reached more than one million viewers.

We have an enterprise version of the same video we used for our VR experience that our sales team can use when it meets with wholesalers, retailers, bar owners, and other resellers of our product. We’ve got 200 VR kits, localized for use worldwide, that our sales force and distributors can use before or after a meeting, a tasting, or a demo at a local bar. Letting people experience the actual production process is a powerful tool when you’re having a business conversation.

Our VR experience has legs. We took that one piece of content, and replicated it over two years to millions of people in different countries, for both consumer and business audiences. Virtual reality let us take our biggest asset — our hacienda — and transform it from our least scalable asset (a specific geographic location) into a powerful emotional bridge between our brand and our customers.

Alexa, How do I make a Tequila Sunrise?

In addition to VR, we’re deploying an Artificial Intelligence (AI) application through Amazon’s Alexa, that lets people interact with a virtual bartender. We took that same physical experience you would have interacting with your bartender, and translated it with voice-enabled machine learning technology. Our virtual bartender can share all of our handcrafted drink recipes, and also connect you directly with retail options for buying Patrón.

The opportunity for connecting with customers via voice-enabled platforms is significant. By 2020, half of all searches are going to be done by voice. Our customers have already had more than 100,000 voice interactions with Alexa, and now we’re expanding to Microsoft Cortana and Google Home. We’re also preparing our content, and our customers, for this shift, by optimizing our most valuable content for voice search.

The unsung hero that is enabling us to use VR and AI for marketing at scale is, of course, the smartphone. In the same way the printing press revolutionized society because it democratized knowledge, the mobile phone is really the lynchpin for VR and AI content. The phone is the canvas for all of this, and making sure we’re thinking about that as a core part of the customer experience is a priority for us here at Patrón.

Investing in the future.

Using VR and AI is going to quickly become a foundation for experience marketing. We’re also experimenting with augmented reality (AR), which will be going mainstream in a matter of months, and my team is on the forefront of translating emerging tech into competitive advantage. The challenge for marketers is to understand how to apply the technology for their brands, and their customers. For the Patrón hacienda campaign, we could have done a custom film with Netflix or Hulu, or some other immersive experience. But for us, VR made sense. It was a story about tequila, and not technology. We succeeded and scaled by taking an agnostic approach. It’s important not be tied to a specific technology or device. My challenge to other marketers is to start with the problem you want to solve, and build a platform that is future-proofed to accommodate new technologies.

Virtual reality experiences are “interpreted” by a user as an actual experience, not just a video to view or an ad to read. So, for Patrón, there are now more than a million people worldwide who actually have a memory of going to the hacienda —  even though they never physically went there. And now, too, thousands of people have interacted with a virtual Patrón bartender, who actually wasn’t a real person, but a creation driven by robust data processing tools to simulate a real-world interaction.

All of this means marketing is not about driving a specific outcome every time, but about creating a memory that lasts. By far, one of our biggest challenges is creating engaging, memorable experiences that reinforce each consumer’s connection with our brand. VR and AI are helping us to conquer this challenge and to create more meaningful customer interactions. For those willing to make the investment and overcome the uncertainty, these technologies undoubtedly will allow other brands to do the same.

Adrian Parker is vice president of marketing at Patrón Spirits. He was a participant in The Future of Experiences, an Adobe Think Tank program held in Cannes, France. You can learn more about Think Tank by Adobe here.

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