How Patrón VP Adrian Parker Uses AR/VR, Bounces Back from Failure and Hires the Best Talent

Adrian Parker, VP Marketing for Patrón Tequila and Grey Goose Vodka

There’s no one way to describe Adrian Parker. As the VP of Marketing for Patrón Tequila and Grey Goose Vodka, he leads the brand and digital experience for both liquor brands by day, and makes music videos with his family by night. His high energy and creative spirit are contagious and have contributed to making Patrón the most talked-about spirit brand in the world, after stints at brands like Intuit and Kate Spade. Parker recently shared his perspective on AR/VR, consumer-driven marketing, taking risks and what you can learn just by failing.

Tell us about your current role and why you chose to join your current company.

Adrian Parker: When my kids (ages 5, 4 and 1) ask me what I do at work I simply say: I make sure smart people get the tools, talent, funding, and support they need to do the best work of their careers. ... This comes to life in three made-up words: visioneering—creating value by profitably mobilizing culture, technology and consumers around a vision without being a jerk; productization—consumers don't care about PowerPoint slides so we translate ideas, “ahas,” surprises and learnings into consumer offerings like apps, e-services, IoT, AR/VR and campaigns; and followship—building and leading an adaptive team that serves the shareowners who own our business by delighting the consumers who own our brands.

What current developments in marketing are most inspiring to you?

Instead of using awareness and impression figures as a surrogate for desire we can really get to know consumers.

Two things make me smile, and they are somewhat related. The first is consumer-powered interactions. For so long, the relationships between products and people were like a bad arranged marriage with high barriers, stifled competition and distribution controls. Today's consumer has more power than ever, so instead of owning a relationship, marketers actually own a responsibility to deliver. Divorce can happen at any time.

Secondly, we have access to a very beneficial byproduct of this empowered consumer: data. Instead of using awareness and impression figures as a surrogate for desire, we can really get to know consumers. This marriage model impacts luxury brands by bringing us closer to the consumer, physically and mentally.

What are you working on now that is innovative?

Innovation in the spirits industry is typically demonstrated through the liquid or the packaging, so I'm amped about opportunities to use modern technology to tell and sell handcrafted stories. There are 1,200 other tequila brands in the world, but less than 1 percent of them make tequila using a small-batch process like Patrón's. We continue to use mixed reality (AR/VR) to educate bartenders and consumers on this around the world. ... Through over 30,000 VR kits globally, thousands of people have virtually visited the birthplace of ultra-premium tequila.

For both Grey Goose and Patrón, we remain bullish on the role of ecommerce and eservices to transform the spirit's value chain. We're also building the world's smartest drink recommendation engine by connecting drink discovery and cocktail creation into one platform [called] Cocktail Lab. With integrations across Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter and more than 350,000 users, we're just getting started. More to come on both fronts this year!

Tell us about the big learning moments you’ve had along your career path. Did you have any notable mentors?

Before joining Bacardi and Patrón, I held leadership positions at Intuit, Kate Spade, Foot Locker, RadioShack and owned a marketing agency. I’ve had my share of experiences as a CFO—chief failure officer—that robbed me of both my ego (and my hair). I launched a line of ESPN fleece hoodies at Foot Locker that my own mother wouldn’t even buy. I ran my own marketing agency for four years right into the ground. I started an online music video site two years before YouTube was founded, and I ran one of the first Myspace pages for fashion retailer Liz Claiborne. We know how those bets turned out.

I’ve learned that for me the best way to overcome adversity is by going through it, not avoiding it.

I've learned that for me the best way to overcome adversity is by going through it, not avoiding it. For the last decade, I've created roles, strategies and opportunities that didn't exist before and been blessed with amazing leaders, teams and partners. Yesterday's failures and flops have actually become the building blocks for my roles successfully leading to transformation.

How do you pick and develop the talent on your team? How do you ensure there is collaboration?

We have some of the brightest folks I’ve ever met. It’s like ‘The Avengers’ of marketing.

From events, social media, influencers and technology to ecommerce and AI, we've built a team around the consumer journey, so essentially our roles evolve at the speed of organizational need. ... Over the last year as I've taken on dual leadership roles and expanded the team, it's been a timely reminder of key talent and collaboration principles I've come to appreciate:

  • Hire your tutor. Find the person you can learn from and who will take the team farther than you can alone.

  • Check references and capabilities. Don't assume everyone who "does digital" actually knows how.

  • Use your turn signal. Good leaders enable good followers by plotting, communicating and demonstrating the path forward. Don't hire people who don't use their blinker.

  • Don't make dysfunction a pet. Fix or kill the issues quickly lest they breed.

  • Fight the gravity of "good enough." There's always a plausible reason something can't be done, but resist the status quo at all costs.

What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?

Trust. It's the least measurable yet most important factor in successfully onboarding into a new role or organization to deliver against the CMO's outcomes. Everything else can be negotiated.

What advice would you give to marketers who are just starting their careers?

  • Never make a principle out of someone else's experiences. Blogs, bookshelves, keynotes and conferences are full of timeless wisdom that expired. Some of the smartest marketers I know aren't even on social media.

  • Take risks and enjoy the journey of learning yourself, your career and your purpose.

  • Doubt, uncertainty and even frustration are fuel for creativity if you point them in the right direction.

  • Ignore the illusion of effortless success, especially in marketing. ... Find somewhere you can learn, someone who will teach you and something to do that makes you a bit uncomfortable. Being inexperienced doesn't make you unqualified.

  • Learn fast; don't wait to be discovered. The job you love likely hasn't been invented yet, but you don't need permission to start a business, brand or platform of your own.

The Fun Questions

  • Favorite place to vacation?  Cabo, Mexico. At this point we should have just bought the frigging time share.

  • If you were a superhero, what would your special skill be? Turbo speed-reading. I go through several each month.

  • Name something that most people don't know about you. I can't swim, shuffle cards, play golf or tell left from right.

  • If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be? Actor. I grew up in theater. Now I just act like I know marketing.

  • What's the best thing you've read/listened to/watched recently? I've bought 30+ copies of Patty Azzarello's "Move" and "Rise" books for friends and peers.