Why Coopers Brewery is overhauling its brand positioning

National marketing manager explains the cultural, market and creative thinking behind the new strategic brand positioning

A significant restructure of Coopers Brewery bringing marketing, distribution and sales together with the brewery team has provided the foundations for the family-owned company to invest in a brand repositioning effort aimed at recruiting new consumers.

The fresh strategic direction has been encapsulated under the ‘Forever original’ tagline and aims to shine the spotlight on Coopers’ 159-year old heritage in the craft beer trade, as well as its originality and Australian credentials. The brand repositioning work is the first done in partnership with The Royals since Coopers switched agencies from KWP last year.

The first cab off the rank is an out-of-home campaign nationally featuring a distinctive design and bold use of Coopers bottles and cans, along with headlines such as ‘Forever Original since 1862’, ‘Always roll your own way’ and ‘Crafting since the 60s. 1862 to be exact’. This will be followed a 12-month program of work refreshing key assets including brand voice and design, content creation, social and digital executions, point-of-sale and more.

Coopers Brewery national marketing manager, Kate Dowd, told CMO the business has always pursued its staunchly independent stance, rather than focusing on being family owned. Yet a disconnect between one brand position built in South Australia, and parallel positioning outside of South Australia, made it challenging to exude one clear personality in market.

“We have a real story to tell that is an authentic and longstanding,” she said. “In part, this journey has been about making sure we are being clear on what we stand for and pushing our role as ‘silverback’ of the craft within our category and industry.”  

Another motivator was Coopers’ share of market. Having continually sat at fifth or sixth position for some time, the business saw significant lift during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and is keen to build on this nationally. Dowd attributed this to its brand health, longstanding brand resilience and the loyalty of existing customers.

“When people have the choice, they often choose us; where we have traditionally struggled is with the on-trade and dominance of larger players there,” she said.  

With all brands having had an opportunity during COVID to pause and think about where growth will come from long term, Dowd said Coopers had also spent the past year “having some difficult conversations about what we want to happen and exploring that bigger context of what is working and what’s not”.

A further silver lining to 2020 was the rise of the ‘shop local, buy local’ sentiment, which Australian brands such as Coopers benefits from. “We recognise it’s important to talk to who you are at your core. We are an ales business, everything we do is leading from an ales platform,” Dowd said.  

A further trigger was the move away from KWP to The Royals after 20 years, which presented fresh opportunity to explore Coopers' brand position in market.

But arguably the biggest change making the brand repositioning possible culturally was the decision to merge Coopers’ premium beverages business (incorporating sales, marketing and distribution) with its brewery business. The merger took place during the height of the COVID lockdown and saw Dowd join as part of the change management process.

“We had to get sales and marketing to live and breathe the brewery. That was an enormous change,” Dowd said. “This is the first time we have been fully integrated as a business in 150 years, therefore we’ve moved to aligned objectives across sales, marketing and our brewery. We had to restructure the business to achieve that.

“Culturally, the other part of this process is making sure the passion craft brewers have for the brand and beer is well socialised by everyone who joins the business, as opposed to just being a distribution business. Every day, we have this change we want to see.”

To achieve this, marketing needed to steer strategic objectives by working cross-functionally with other parts of the group. Dowd used the analogy of marketing sitting at the front of the boat as a way of describing what it takes to deliver a unified brand direction and growth approach.

“As marketers, we have to lead and navigate, and we need to know how to navigate,” Dowd said. “That’s a lot to do with social channels and fostering constant connection with consumers around what is going on around your brand. Without marketing there, others simply aren’t as aligned.

“The digital space is not something this company has proactively tried to manage. Social listening has only really started to be incorporated in all our conversations, whether that’s with a brewer or the sales guys. We’re helping steer the ship by talking about trends happening and how we have to consider these. It’s ensuring the business recognises it’s not just about the hops or paddock, it must be a broader conversation around what makes good beer for consumers.”

The program of work

Coopers' brand repositioning has been 18 months in the making. To kick things off, the business engaged more than 20 focus groups of 15-20 people to understand its current position and where the gaps existed. Focus groups were skewed heavily towards the east coast and included both metro and regional consumers.

“We don’t have a lot of data on our consumer – we weren’t a business that had constant two-way dialogue with consumers,” Dowd explained. “We did quantitative research on eight ideas, narrowed these to four, then took those to focus groups across the east coast. We got down to two then one idea, which we ended up tweaking as a result of those consumer insights. Our innovation wasn’t quite right but it was an easy pivot to get that right.”  

Several pillars are driving Coopers' marketing strategy. The first is the concept of brand mastery and using history, education and the story around being a longstanding contributor to the craft beer space to inform content and creative. The second pillar is music, and in this vein, Coopers has been supporting the ‘Live, loud and local’ program supporting homegrown music in partnership with Live Nation Entertainment and Touring for the last 18 months.

“This talks to originality in music but also allows Coopers to elevate its own originality with the craft beer category. It’s a good way of connecting with the trade as well,” Dowd said.

The third pillar is to be champions of Aussie originals. To do this, it’s planning series two of its ‘Original Series’ DIY beer brews initiative and promotion.

In terms of the brand campaign, the first step is an out-of-home campaign now in market and running until the end of April via billboards, street furniture and ambient display around bottle shops. Another piece will be the content series looking at Aussie Originals, which kicks off mid-year, then there’s also new product development aimed at giving the brand further connection into its pillar of originality. The first of these launches in April.

The key objective is to recruit new consumers to the brand nationally. “We’re aiming at a demographic we haven’t gone directly after in the past - the 28–38-year-old male - and we’re taking a more gender-neutral approach than we have delivered conceptually in the past,” Dowd said. “We need to fill the funnel, but once consumers are in they’re usually sticky. But we have to recruit.

“At the same time, retaining loyalists and giving them enough love so they remain as engaged as ever is key. We’ll do that by continuing to launch products in 440ml size, limited edition runs as reasons to keep engaged. So it’s about recruitment but also keeping the Coopers story alive with our loyalists.”

Coopers is hoping to attain total reach of 5.2 million consumers through its media campaign through more than 2700 creative assets.

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