We are spirits in a digital world

We are spirits in a digital world

Winning spirits brands will employ digital strategies and platforms that can encapsulate the consumer experience and enhance that experience by fusing digital and physical moments. 

Spirit brands and marketing consumer emotion

Spirits brands are all about emotion: have you ever tried to distinguish between two vodkas or two whiskeys on the basis of product alone? Okay, it’s probably more common for the latter! Nevertheless the most dominant brands of spirits in the world have built their position on the basis of emotional differentiation. Such emotional benefits are very difficult to convey solely through traditional media.  As a consequence, probably no brand of spirits ever succeeded without a very strong footprint in the on-trade, precisely where the experience take place, even if in some markets the bulk of the business occurs in the off-trade. As a matter of fact, when a spirits brand becomes associated with a great consumer experience in the on-trade, it creates positive word of mouth, particularly among the strategic target audience of young adults. It allows the brand to assume or retain its presence in the hype, otherwise known as the consumers’ “mental shelf”.

Digital marketing to arouse emotion at scale

A big question for spirits brands is how to arouse emotion at scale by means of local consumer engagement driven by parties or event sponsorship. PR is obviously an initial answer. Digital marketing is the true answer. For example, let’s say Brand Z organizes a hype party with some celebrities in a trendy club in Ibiza. During the night, a happy few in the club can “like” the event on a dedicated Facebook page shared by the brand and the club, thereby creating both brand content and brand audience on social media. Audience boosters such as Twitter and Instagram can also be utilized to expand the event and brand footprint by way of consumers physically present at the event. Now, let’s scale that approach: an international brand will have a permanent international party program with nearly 365/365 parties, a worldwide footprint through fan communities, permanent consumer engagement, and international fuelling of the brand. Let’s scale that even further: a permanent party, in different trendy places in the world, across time zones, with digital participation possible at each location. DJ’s in Sao Paulo play for Paris, and the next set is played from Moscow and heard in NYC. This is an example of the opportunity embodied in a trend called digital/physical fusion. This trend is key to spirits brands holding onto their young consumers.

Driving growth for beverages brands

Curiously, few brands manage their social media footprint at scale: Johnnie Walker, the number one spirit in the world, obviously has its Global Facebook page. All well and good, but there are twice as many fans of the Johnnie Walker Brazil page than of other global pages. The same is true for Absolut vodka. Moreover, those pages are very much “one way”, i.e. very little fan interaction, engagement, commentary, and so forth. Where is the emotion? Spirits brands could definitely drive more growth by eliciting consumer engagement via social media. They host the physical events at which consumers have (often positive) experiences that they are happy to share and to relive. International spirits brands can drive emotion at a global scale by means of digital media and thereby further enrich the consumer experience at that scale, all the while accelerating their growth by feeding their brand content and appeal.

Driving profit for FMCGs with Generation Y and digital communication

The example of spirits brands can serve to inspire other global FMCG businesses, particularly in recruiting future loyal Generation-Y consumers. Generation-Y’s preferred medium is definitely the web. There, brands cannot afford just to have one-way-only communication with beautiful videos that talk only about themselves. Generation-Y demands interaction, reactivity, and transparency. They use the web to check the extent to which the brand promise is walking the talk. On the other hand, most FMCG brands have no integrated retail network by means of which they can fully deliver a brand experience (in contrast to fashion brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch for example). Such brands therefore need to elicit comparable brand experiences at the consumer level, and facilitate their communication to the broader audience in order to drive growth and profitability.

Winning brands will employ digital strategies and platforms that can encapsulate the consumer experience and enhance that experience by fusing digital and physical moments. At a more strategic level, this also means having a crystal clear view not only of the brand’s technical benefits, but more importantly of the emotional benefits or brand ideal*  that will translate into consumer experiences.

Using Digital to convey, demonstrate, and deliver the brand ideal is probably a new concept for most FMCG brands, but it requires first of all that they begin by defining such an ideal!

* See Brand Ideal definition and power in Grow, by Jim Stengel, Virgin Books.