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Nick Eve, communications expert, on successful drinks marketing

Published:  16 June, 2011

Continually shifting consumer behaviour is something every industry has to contend with. Keeping up with the consumer, or better still, aiming to outguess where the next trend will come from is probably what keeps most marketers awake at night. So when recent research findings came in that alcohol consumption in licensed premises is at an all time low, there already were quite a few clever drink's brands who had forecast this would be happening and were doing something about it.

The sluggish economy which is one of the reasons consumers are staying at home is only part of the cause for the shift. Consumers are becoming much choosier about their type of drink and its quality.

Shift by its nature opens up new avenues of opportunity. Consumers may not be going out as often as they were but this in turn has led to 'going out' being deemed more of a treat - therefore when they do go out they want quality, quirky, innovative. If they are going out for the evening it needs to be special.

So what is it that will truly engages today's consumer? Their mindset, and therefore behavioural patterns, have been seriously effected by the grim mix of economic downturn and natural disasters. People are tending towards 'the new normal' which is less about over spending, over indulging and over doing it and much more about quality, simplicity, authenticity.

This can translate through to enjoying the simpler things in life - more. Such as friends and family, socialising and spending quality time with loved ones. As such there is a 'treat yourself well' trend which brands can easily tap into.

This 'I deserve something nice' attitude goes hand in hand with kicking off shoes at the front door, a mental version of a hot towel.

Alcohol still represents the great 'unwind' - make it special and it offers comfort, a little affordable extravagance, something to bring friends together, to share.

Give it authenticity, underline its origin, if the brand has heritage play it up, take away anything gimmicky and it easily becomes premium.

Of course the biggest trend which everybody is jumping on currently is social media, which, despite the risk of deploying a social media strategy which has no core message, can be effective if well thought through.

It is vital however to first define what the big idea should be and then decide which is the best and most relevant channel to distribute the messaging. Not the other way around!

In the excitement of having so many ways of communicating with a target audience, there can be a tendency for a mad rush to get tweeting, have a Facebook fan page, start a blog and then try to cobble together a story or a message which, as a consequence, might turn out quite weak.

Those brands that are going for niche stories, the craft-brewed beers and the premium spirits with provenance have worked on story angles that highlight the human touch behind each brand. This is where social media really comes into its own - sharing a story. These emotional cues are the ones that resonate best with consumers' current mindsets.

Ciroc Vodka, by Diageo ran a New York based campaign together with rapper Sean Combs, called Safe Ride. Ciroc team members were handing out pre-paid gift cards which could be redeemed for taxi rides, a gesture straight from the brand's marketing heart. In one powerful campaign Ciroc Vodka showed they cared for their consumers' safety, they were being responsible and they were giving something back.

When Heineken hit 1 million likes on Facebook they celebrated by sending models out throughout Amsterdam, going from bar to bar giving guys hugs, 1 million in total - of course it was filmed, it is on YouTube and everyone had that warm fuzzy feeling.

Drinks marketers and brand managers who pump up their brand heritage, who go retro - think PepsiCo's 'throwback cans', who genuinely reach out with their consumer's happiness at the core of their campaigns are the ones who have really understood what the terms of engagement are about.

Nick Eve is chief executive of Pumphouse a specialist communications agency,