Connecting with consumers

27 October, 2014

When connecting with consumers brands must lean into change, writes DI guest writer Nick Vale, global head of planning at Maxus.

The relationship between consumers and drinks brands is changing like never before. New drinking occasions are arising and people’s attitudes to alcohol are being revised. However, while the changes present new challenges for alcohol brands, they also offer plenty of new opportunities, but to succeed brands must be prepared to ‘lean into change’ and accept that a new approach to consumer engagement is necessary. To help beer and spirits brands better understand this changing market, Maxus undertook an in-depth research study of consumer attitudes to alcohol across global markets and came up with five important lessons that brands need to take on board.

Get social
Drinking has always been a social activity and consumers have always shared information, but now with social media, this exchange is super powered. Social media presents a genuine opportunity to put the brand at the centre of the drinking experience, but it needs to be relevant. Heineken’s Where Next app used real time social media feeds to show the location of the most exciting destinations at any particular moment. More brands can help consumers enhance shareable moments and events. In a world where nothing is basic anymore, providing products and services that enhance themed get-togethers or dinner-parties could be a huge opportunity.

It’s technical
Technology is changing everything and consumers are receptive to its use in the moment of consumption or purchase, particularly where it helps educate and inform choice. There are many possibilities to use digital innovation in the off-trade to impart product knowledge and stories.  Motion-activated screens on shelf can identify consumers’ age and sex, and deliver appropriate content. Taste profiling technology can make personal recommendations. Meanwhile Carlsberg is introducing Bluetooth beer mats to push promotions, and Budweiser has chipped cups to link drinkers to Facebook. The only limit to the success of such tech innovations will be the patience of consumers.

Recommendation matters
Drinkers look for explicit or implicit endorsement about the brands they choose – the ‘I’ll have what she’s drinking’ factor. With social media gaining in credibility, recommendation is also slipping from the sphere of the expert to ‘people like me’. Bacardi has linked with Jamie Oliver’s Drinks Tube platform to slip branded content under the consumer’s nose, but amateur video bloggers can also have great influence. As well as partnering with these reviewers, brands can be smarter about nudging consumers’ brand choices with strategies like contextual content or placing messaging around consumer-created imagery or brand discussions. In future, brands could build code that tags consumer generated brand imagery and imparts stories and knowledge within that image.

Anytime, anyplace, anywhere
People are receptive to different messages at different times and in different places, depending on their need state. Brands need to be flexible enough to cover these bases. A brand such as Smirnoff has to appeal as a desirable drink for clubbers, as well as being first choice at-home drinkers who want to mix their own cocktails. Consequently its marketing plays in both spaces with experiential events such as Nightlife Exchange sitting alongside initiatives like ‘The Ultimate House Party’ where consumers compiled Spotify playlists to win a party at home. Brands shouldn’t be boxed in, but must strive to complement different consumption occasions.

Welcome to our world
As well as coming up with big ideas that can straddle on and off trade, and on and offline, brands need to put the consumer at the centre of the equation. The days of brands blasting compliant consumers with their slogans are over. Today’s empowered and connected consumer has a comeback line and wants to be involved in a genuine dialogue. Glenmorangie recognised this by asking drinkers to help it ‘crowd manage’ marketing for its new Taghta whisky. Craft brewer Thornbridge teamed up with Waitrose to find the UK’s best home brewed beer, which it then produced and rolled out through the store. Such initiatives show how brands can break down the barriers between brand and consumer that inhibit genuine engagement. Those who manage it are the ones that will prosper.

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