University challenge

Stout is not the pint 18-year-olds usually reach for. So Guinness set out to win over students with a highly targeted trial and research method. Jo-Anne Walker follows the steps it took to catch and keep hold of these elusive consumers

For those people who don’t understand the Guinness ads, don’t despair. If you are not aged between 18 and 25 – Guinness’ current target audience – you are probably not meant to understand the man with the Guinness can.

Over the past eight years, Guinness has made a concerted effort to attract younger drinkers. Research found that when people start drinking at 18, Guinness is not what they automatically reach for. It is seen as an acquired taste and something to move on when you are much older, say, 30.

Marketing controller for stout Jon Eggleton says a significant part of the marketing budget is spent on research “firstly to find out what the consumers want and then to evaluate our advertising activity”.

All the research is externally bought in and Millward Brown provides constant data on advertising awareness.

But recently Guinness discovered a promotional tool which not only enabled it to gain trial of its product among younger drinkers but also allowed it to research these trialists’ potential buying power.

The Student Welcome Pack is a sampling and research vehicle aimed at the 16 to 25-year-old age group. It was established six years ago and is distributed annually by Reaction UK to about 600,000 students at colleges, polytechnics and universities.

The research programme which follows the distribution is conducted for the benefit of those brands on offer in the pack. The research establishes the general profile of the students and their buying habits and also an individual response to all the welcome pack brands.

Eggleton says that in 1987, 36 per cent of Guinness volume was drunk by people under the age of 34. That figure has grown to 54 per cent but Guinness wants to catch drinkers much earlier.

Says Eggleton: “We have a number of initiatives on the go to encourage younger drinkers and the most obvious one is our TV advertising. We know that students are future important influencers among their peers and are at a life stage where they are making decisions that might stay with them for life.

“We want these consumers to try Draught Guinness and for us the Student Welcome Pack proved to be a hard-nosed trial and research mechanism. We wanted something that would encourage trial of the product but we also wanted something where the cost of the research would not negate the actual programme.”

Guinness did not expect Draught Guinness to be in the drinks repertoire of students receiving welcome packs and were therefore keen to research areas such as brand awareness, recall, trial and subsequent purchase.

A regular size can of Draught Guinness was placed in 400,000 packs in September last year. Last October and November, quantitative market res-earch was carried out by Student Welcome Pack appointees Market Research Solutions among 1,000 students who had received the pack and a control group of students who had not received the pack.

Managing director of Reaction UK Donna Spriggs says the pack is left with the students for a fortnight. Besides the controlled research carried out by Market Research Solutions, enclosed in each pack is a questionnaire which asks about lifestyles and product preferences. The questionnaire offers incentives and the response is usually about ten per cent.

Says Spriggs: “This is quite a high response. But you are dealing with people who are probably being asked for their opinions for the first time in their life – and they are being treated like consumers. Students also spend the first two weeks at college filling in forms, so completing another one is not a problem.”

One thing that Reaction UK has discovered through years of researching the student market is that students are a completely different breed today than they were ten years ago.

“Ten years ago, students saw college as the last opportunity to have no responsibilities and to have a good time. Today, there are much fewer differences between the types of people who are students. They seem to be a lot more responsible, they are certainly a lot more socially aware and are planning for the future,” says Spriggs.

In fact, she says, as consumers, students are mirroring the rest of society more and more closely. Their research shows that most students shop at Sainbury’s, closely followed by Tesco, which is pretty much what the average consumer does.

Guinness was certainly impressed with the way students reacted to the brand. After the first two weeks, 51 per cent of all those who received the product had tried it and a further 13 per cent who had not tried it said they intended to. Significantly for Guinness, of the 51 per cent a key 45 per cent were 18 to 19-year-olds.

In terms of repeat purchase, 37.9 per cent of those who tried the drink said they would buy Draught Guinness again and of this figure 30.9 per cent were in the 18-to-19 age group.

Although Guinness has been pleased with the results of this research, it is now doing an evaluation of the cost of the trial. Distributing 400,000 cans of Draught Guinness is not cheap.

Eggleton says: “We need to work out what the lifetime value of that potential customer is, versus the cost of getting that customer in the first place. We were impressed with the welcome pack because it is one of the few trial mechanisms that has built-in research. Getting trial is fairly easy, but it is very difficult evaluating the results afterwards.”

Says Spriggs: “The Student Welcome Pack was an ideal research tool for Guinness because it allowed it to target exactly what had, up until then, been an elusive bunch of people.

“One of Guinness’ main problems was that it was not getting people to try its product from the first available opportunity. Once it had missed that chance, it had to wait until consumers had reached an age where they had ‘grown into’ the drink.

“What so many marketers don’t seem to understand yet is how important it is to influence consumers at an early age. Students are the consumers of the future. Many clients say students aren’t their target market, but they should be.

“Part of our job is to educate clients as to who students actually are, what they are doing, how they behave and how they purchase. Then you can tell what kind of consumers these people will turn out to be.”

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