e-brands are a new ballgame

Drinks manufacturers need to find ways to target Internet audiences more effectively, but integration of online and offline branding is also essential.

Datamonitor’s latest report, eVolution in Alcoholic Drinks Marketing, identifies features necessary to give alcoholic drinks brands a successful online presence.

It reveals that drinks manufacturers have launched websites with enthusiasm, but many have neglected to make best use of their online presence by matching their websites to their audience.

In relatively developed Internet markets, such as the UK, there are almost equal proportions of 18-24 and 25-34 year-old consumers.

Datamonitor’s figures dispel the idea that most of the online audience is under 24. This misconception needs to be realised by manufacturers if they are to maximise the potential of the Web.

Internet penetration is developing so rapidly that many of the gender and age disparities that currently exist will be addressed. The UK audience is forecast to grow by 16 per cent a year over the next four years. Not only will the absolute number of online consumers grow, but the spread will be broader. Manufacturers will be able to use technology to tailor their Web presence to different target audiences.

The composition of online audiences currently differs from conventional ones. This implies that the e-brand should be presented differently to the brand to target the online audience more effectively.

Understanding the differences between offline and online audiences enables drink brands to present different promotions and messages, while maintaining core brand values. Kronenbourg uses a dual branding approach, with offline marketing that is relatively generic, albeit with a male bias, and an online presence which is aimed solely at men, featuring games encouraging visitors to rate female models.

But if differences between the e-brand and brand are too great, consumers will be confused. As Internet use increases, markets will converge, which means it will be difficult to separate brand messages in the long term.

Marketers need to treat their brand’s online presence as they would any other method of marketing, avoiding confusion between the messages sent out through different media, and maintaining core brand values. Enthusiasm for the Internet, coupled with misconceptions about online audiences, has created misguided e-brand promotion.

The Internet is unique in that no other major form of marketing is consumer-led. Non-brand content, such as music and sports, drives traffic and encourages repeat visits.

Datamonitor’s research shows most non-brand content on drink brand websites is not fully supporting the brand and its values. Many have content that does not link to the brand and can overshadow it.

One of the most effective ways to drive visits to websites is “viral marketing”, using free gifts, such as games, jokes and pictures, which consumers pass on – virus-like – to friends. This is very effective for raising brand awareness because the communications come from friends, rather than manufacturers.

A game, Virtual Grouse Hunt, achieved great success for whisky brand Johnnie Walker in driving traffic to its website. It was originally an on-trade promotion but later achieved cult status after it was posted on the Internet without Johnnie Walker’s knowledge. The brand’s marketers then made it available through the official website. The game generated coverage on German national media and the weekly number of visitors to the site rose from about 10,000 to 100,000.

Integration is the most important aspect of e-brand drinks promotion. Online campaigns need support from complete online activity, such as banner ads, reciprocal links and affiliations, direct e-mail and content sponsorship.

Online and offline media can be mutually supportive. Offline media can drive traffic to the website, on top of other marketing objectives. In turn, the website can raise awareness of offline campaigns.

Sponsorship is the best example of this synergy. The website boosts interest in sponsorship activities; the offline activity can, in turn, drive additional traffic to the website for news and information.

Both the website and each offline medium have an independent brand communication role but, as integration increases, the level of consumer interaction with the campaign also increases, thus achieving greater brand identification. This kind of integration is most effective if the online audience is close enough in profile to enable e-brand and brand to communicate the same message.

The absolute number of consumers with Internet access is important because the higher the total penetration, the more effective a website is for linking different aspects of a campaign.

As the Net develops and technology allows different pages to be shown to different target groups, the role of the website as the centre of an integrated campaign will become increasingly important.

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