Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Unbottle the secret sauce of effective drinks experiential

Published:  10 February, 2020

Meredith O’Shaughnessy, creative strategist at Meredith Collective

Rewind 10 years and the novelty of a ‘pop-up shop’ may have been just enough to garner headlines and hashtags, but those days are long gone. Similarly today’s consumers are used to getting something for nothing - samples and new ‘freemium’ models of commerce mean that we are quite used to looking the gift horse in the mouth and promptly forgetting it! Many drinks brands are acutely aware of the consumer fatigue of been there, done that pop-ups, instead focusing on experience marketing as a foundation from which to build true fans.

With 74% of consumers more likely to purchase products that are promoted at live event and 70% more likely to become regular customers after finding a brand at an experiential marketing event, what does it take to turn the tired pop-up into a full blown share-worthy experience?

Zone in on a target

The first truth you have to accept in the new experience economy is that experiential is not mass market. It is a highly targeted approach that must speak to and zero in on an audience, on its terms.

For example, fashion designer Jonathan Anderson and e-commerce platform Clos 19 teamed up with Ruinart Champagne to create a pop-up hotel in Notting Hill, London. Open for only 10 nights, the one-room Hotel 1729 offered dinner, bed and breakfast and Ruinart champagne on tap. Anderson, Creative Director of luxury fashion brand Loewe, took inspiration from the House of Ruinart in Reims where he explored the vineyards and cellars. The goal was to take customers on that journey, telling the history of the brand throughout their time at the hotel. The experience was priced at £1200 for two guests but the lucky two were able to invite up to six guests for dinner to share the experience with them.

This luxurious, exclusive experience spoke to its audience of discerning, lux-seeking connoisseurs creating a buzz of exclusivity that reached beyond the small number of guests lucky enough to afford it!

Focus on the feels

Emotion marketing goes hand in hand with experiential - the very point of an experience is to elicit an emotion, whether surprise, humour, wonder, excitement, nostalgia or curiosity. Once you’ve honed in on your audience, the next question you want to ask is what do you want them to feel? For example, an established brand might want to turn the tables on existing conceptions with a counter-intuitive experience that invites both surprise and nostalgia.

For example Grey Goose turned the tables on its image as party fuel to take consumers back to its roots, opening the Grey Goose boulangerie, an artisan bakery serving bread made from the same wheat used to create its vodka. The award-winning concept used counterintuitive surprise to truly tell the brand’s story without reverting to tried and tested tastings:

“Rather than throwing yet another party, we set out to make the intrinsic story absolutely fundamental to the experience. And what could be more disruptive than a vodka brand opening a Boulangerie?”

Another brand turning well worn tropes to surprise is Brewdog, whose launch of its alcohol-free pub for dry January, Brewdog AFinspired headlines and generated buzz for its alcohol free beers. Not so dry, it offered a “Drink All You Can Jan” giving drinkers unlimited refills of its alcohol-free beers in all bars.

Pick the right partners

We’re quite used to the idea of drinks brands partnering with festivals or sporting events to drive association. Similarly there’s been an explosion of drinks brands partnering with restaurants in recent years to deliver pop-up eateries.

While there are clear benefits to such partnerships, drinks marketers should look further afield for inspirational partnerships. For example the at-first-glance odd pairing of Campari and Whirlpool at my pop-up experiential Dirty Laundry. Converting Whirlpool machines into large-scale cocktail shakers, serving specially designed drinks from detergent bottles, we bought together the two brands in a curious, surprising, incongruous experience that played on kitsch nostalgia. For Whirlpool the brand association with Campari-cool elevated them beyond white-goods reputation, while Campari shared centre-stage buzz around the inventive take on cocktail making.

Measure, learn, play

In any experiential campaign the first step is to define needs and measure against them. This should go beyond sales stats and it is certainly not bodies through the door. For example, consider how you measure the longevity of the experience’s digital footprint, levels of media engagement, the impact on business relationships and reputation.

For example, while experiential activations may physically last a matter of days or weeks, with the right strategy the impact they have on a brand should last far longer. The digital shadow an experience can cast will stretch further than a moment of tasting on the lips ever could. This is why it’s vitally important to ensure your experiential creates shareable moments, not just for the on-the-day posts but to make the most of trends such as Facebook Memories and ‘On this Day’ apps.

There are also ways to make waves beyond your customers. Invite media, invite business leads. A key result from Whirlpool’s experiential strategy was the introduction of the brand into John Lewis, following the brand’s reinvention from bland white-good to innovative, lifestyle brand. Though a very different product, the lesson for established drinks brands can still be learned.

Finally, make sure that you learn from the experience - and I don’t mean seeking to find mistakes! One of the most valuable lessons you can learn is from watching how your guests interact with the space and the product. Encourage them to get creative, note what they photograph and how they talk about the brand experience - in person and on social media.

Incorporating play into your experience is a valuable tool in this regard. For example, skincare brand St Ives’ ‘Mixing Bar’ in New York gave customers the chance to make their own bespoke face scrub. The popularity of certain ingredients led them to design and launch a new product - an unexpected outcome released from the immediate market research the event allowed for.

The lesson; let your audience experience your brand on their terms, trust their interaction and design experiences that give back way beyond bums on seats.