The alcohol industry is to a large extent driven by new product development and the effort to get consumers to try, and then upgrade to, new premium options. But should alcohol companies place more emphasis on customers who stick with their brand?
According to new research by media agency Maxus, most consumers, especially older ones, are less likely to experiment than to habitually drink one or two favourite alcohol brands. Almost two-thirds (62%) agree that they tend to buy their favourite brands at all times, with 66% of those aged over 35 displaying this habit compared to 55% of younger drinkers.
The Drinking Code report looks at 6,500 consumers across the UK, Australia, China, Germany, India and US. It finds that only 39% say they enjoy experimenting with different alcoholic drinks and mixes. However, under-35s are more likely to try different options.
Consumers’ wariness surprises Conor McQuaid, global business development director at Pernod Ricard, which owns brands including Jameson, Havana Club and Absolut Vodka. He says: “There is a desire manifested in the figures we see; innovation is relevant in the category and many sectors, and does provide an impetus for people to try different variants.”
The study suggests that an excess of choice means that experimentation in the more developed Western markets tends to stay within the confines of the familiar, whereas in
less developed markets, consumers are more inclined to go outside their comfort zone. It shows that the words used by people to describe mainstream brands indicates that it is habit, rather than loyalty, driving consumer choice in the West.
The challenge is for drinks products to use their brand equity to evolve, according to McQuaid, but to do it in a way that is “credible to the brand and gives a loyal consumer a reason to stay within the brand, and also gives new consumers a reason to re-evaluate it and place it in their repertoire”.
The report suggests that the reasons behind alcohol choice and consumption are changing and brands can no longer rely on awareness marketing. Instead, recommendation and discovery are key drivers of adoption. Nick Vale, global head of planning at Maxus, says: “Brands that were favourites in the past are no longer favourites today. A lot of the old rules of doing alcohol communications are changing quickly and there are brands that need to start to take a look at the way they have traditionally acted and revise that.”
He believes the challenge for companies is to think about how to stop telling consumers that they are a cool brand and ensure their communications ignite passion. Vale argues that for smaller or craft brands and breweries this passion runs through the company, but for a large-scale producer it might be more difficult.
It is certainly true of independent brewer BrewDog, which is on the fourth round of its Equity for Punks crowd funding scheme that has raised around £8m. BrewDog has also announced the launch of the BrewDog Bond whereby consumers lend the business money in return for 6.5% annual interest over four years.
Sarah Warman, senior projects, PR and digital manager at BrewDog, says: “We strive to shorten the distance between the people who make our beers and the people who drink them, engaging both ends of the equation. The 30,000 shareholders are as passionate about beer as we are, and our Equity for Punks model is about community and shared interests in craft beer.”
BrewDog continues its community engagement tactic when utilising social media. Each year the brand launches #MashTag, where it asks social media followers to vote on every element of a beer’s design, including style, hops, malt and the bottle label. BrewDog then launches the beer and people who took part in the voting can try the beer they had an active hand in making.
Warman says: “We mirror this concept with our virtual sister brewery, Beatnik, which is a similar format exclusively for our shareholders. They’re also invited to the brewery to help brew it, and they have exclusive access to buy the beer when it’s ready.”
Finding key passion points is the idea behind Pernod Ricard’s Jameson Cult Film Club, which creates events, activations and initiatives around Jameson whiskey and cinema. “You need to be credible in the world that [consumers] inhabit. This is less about marketing in clearly overt ways, such as traditional media, and more about being part of the day-to-day life of that consumer,” says McQuaid.
Maxus’s report finds that previous personal experience is the most important factor in determining alcohol choices across all countries and consumer types (50% of people say this), followed by recommendations from friends and family (34%).
Individuals are actively seeking the opinions of other consumers online. The study says that unknown online consumers are often perceived as being “like me” in the context of their personal alcohol experiences, desires, and understanding of needs within a given occasion. They are seen as a key and trusted source of advice.
McQuaid notes that encouraging recommendation is always something Pernod Ricard seeks to do, but it is “not easy” because it is expensive and time consuming. He says: “Done well and done right it can be powerful but one needs to be in it for the long haul because it’s not an inexpensive exercise.”
The report warns that consumers needs to be truly delighted by brands and products to share branded communications. Vale at Maxus believes that success in the future has to come from “a deep understanding of what audiences are doing now and the new [drinking] occasions being built by them”.
For example, Swedish cider brand Rekorderlig devised its Silver Skaters campaign from insight that the average time spent by 18- to 34-year-olds on social media each day is two hours and 26 minutes. It aims to promote the brand globally and features two ice skaters and their evangelical coach as they create a routine that is made to feel ‘undeniably Swedish’. Rather than a standard 30-second advert, the creative features 19 edits spanning 60, 30, 10 and five seconds delivered via Facebook and Instagram.
Clare Wright, UK marketing director at Rekorderlig, says: “In a competitive marketplace, bravery and a pioneering attitude is key to attracting new consumers, whether that is through advertising, new products or experiential.”
It is clear that many brands are trialling and launching creative ideas that cut through to consumers in order to influence choice at a social level, but as Vale says the future will lie in the way alcohol brands create extensions that allow them to exist in those moments in a credible way.
- The Masters of Marketing Awards deadline has been extended until 23 September. If you have executed a campaign that ignites loyalty among consumers enter the CRM and Loyalty category. More details can be found here.