Wayne Hartunian

A "Spirited" Approach to Innovation

For Wayne Hartunian, there is no room for marketing mediocrity in the luxury spirits industry.

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Lauren LoFrisco
Bruce Taub
6 Minutes


Wayne Hartunian has driven creative marketing strategies and solutions in the alcohol beverage business over the course of an impressive career as a senior executive and consultant.  He currently is a strategic advisor of both domestic and foreign alcoholic beverages companies either as an interim CMO or consultant focusing on high-growth brands and categories.  At Pernod Ricard, where he held senior marketing positions for eleven years, he led U.S. Marketing for several major brands such as Jameson Irish Whiskey, The Glenlivet, Martell Cognac and several emerging craft brands.  We sat down recently with Wayne to talk about the industry and his innovative approach to luxury brand marketing.

Many people must be curious what it is like to work in the alcohol beverage business.  As a consumer, there seems to be an endless number of brands in the typical liquor store.  Yet, it must not be easy to launch and build a beverage brand.  Tell me about what it takes to succeed as a marketer in this industry.

As a marketing leader, and having worked at some of the top companies and managed some of the most successful brands in the industry, I would say that the most important attribute is having a challenge the status quo and innovation first mindset.  Personally, I have found that diversity of experience, and in my case working across consumer packaged goods sectors and companies such as Unilever, Campbell Soup Company and Pernod Ricard has been a significant advantage in developing this mindset.  

Can you share a little more about some of the company and brand experiences that helped you instill this mindset?  

I started out at one of the largest and most successful global classic CPG companies, Unilever, which is an incredible place to be trained in marketing strategy and principles.  After that, I spent most of my time as VP Marketing at Pernod Ricard, the #2 global Spirits & Wine company, I added to my classical CPG knowledge base with experience from one of the most highly lifestyle and image-driven industries.  Both are some of the most progressive companies in their industries, and I was able to develop a strong framework of strategic rigor, strategic insights and strategic best practices.  The large, progressive companies are known for these strengths.   Interestingly, I have also been the Interim CMO for mid-sized companies and consulted for several start-ups.  There is an entirely different set of challenges presented when managing these young brands coming out of entrepreneurial, start-up ventures.  Having experience in both worlds, I problem-solve from the perspective of a global brands leader and a nimble marketer.  Some of the key benefits of working in a start-up environment are learning how to be extremely agile and resourceful with a critical, relentless focus on ROI.

Brands have such loyal followings today.  Are there any that stand out for you?  

For several years, I led the U.S. marketing for one of the most successful brands in the alcoholic beverages industry, Jameson, growing it nearly 4x in size from a small under-the-radar brand to a major player. A challenge to the status quo and innovation first mindset was key in developing a new strategic approach which in turn significantly accelerated the Jameson volume momentum and brand equity performance setting it up for long-term healthy growth.  At Spirits Investment Partnership, as the Interim CMO, I helped shape another high-performing standout brand, Heaven's Door Whiskey, which is co-created with Bob Dylan.  It has quickly become one of the most successful new brands to launch in the very dynamic super-premium whiskey category.  I’ve stocked my CMO “toolkit” with strategic best practices that were deployed for these brands and now I am developing very unique new brands from scratch in high-potential growth segments where challenging the status quo and an innovation first mindset is critical for success.

What does it take to be a spirits brand success in the digital marketing arena?

Given the strong engagement of consumers with brands in this industry and their growing desire to learn more about the backstories, heritage, production process, etc. there is an enormous opportunity for digital marketing to be leveraged to facilitate building bonds with consumers.  As a CMO setting the digital strategy, it’s critical to be out ahead of the pack thinking of opportunities and aggressively testing and learning.  Established and new brands have brought me in to develop and execute a Digital Marketing Transformation Roadmap and strategic best practices. The alcoholic beverages industry has been witness to the strong new opportunities presented from the fast rate of change in ecommerce and the accelerating strategic and tactical innovation.  I am very passionate about this and have been fortunate to have been invited twice recently to be a guest speaker at a NYU Graduate Business School Digital Marketing Class presenting on the topic of Digital Marketing Transformation & Strategic Best Practices (with an emphasis on ecommerce) in the Alcoholic Beverage Industry.

How do you see the Alcoholic Beverage industry evolving and with what kinds of opportunities?   

For the past several years, the spirits sector has consistently been one of the top performing CPG categories in terms of growth.  This growth is due to a very strong and growing consumer dynamic of exploration and discovery within categories and across categories.  This in turn has been driving a lot of long-term experimentation, trading up, trading sideways, etc.  Clearly challenging the status quo and innovation is critical to fueling this momentum and I can see nothing but great potential and opportunities looking forward over the long-term!

Engaging Consumers

It's critically important for a marketing leader to challenge the status quo and have an 'innovation-first' mindset.

As a marketer, there is nothing more exciting and fulfilling than when you are engaging consumers in a highly dynamic, evolving industry where they are eager to learn more about your brands and ultimately become advocates.

I am the type of marketer who is just compelled to challenge the status quo and adopt an innovation-first mindset for new, challenger and leading brands as I know this is critical for success.