The new - and not so new - trends Fever-Tree's marketing chief is navigating

Head of marketing for mixer brand talks through the consistency of activation strategy with changing market dynamics

Caroline Wood
Caroline Wood

The Covid-19 pandemic brought on many changes in consumer behaviour, but not all are here to stay. Indeed, for several marketers, the new normal is starting to look suspiciously like the old one.

This has certainly been the case for Caroline Wood, who landed the role of head of marketing in Australia for London-based mixers maker, Fever-Tree back, in late 2019. Wood expected to spearhead a procession of face-to-face activations, but like many other marketers, found her plans quickly usurped by social distancing and lockdowns. So Wood and her team turned to virtual events to help meet her targets – with surprising success.

“All of the online events we did through Covid have been totally sold out,” Wood tells CMO. “They are a lot of work in terms of sending out packs to people, but people loved it.”

Despite that success, as consumers have emerged from lockdowns and begun to learn to live with the virus, Wood says virtual events are not part of her plan for 2022.

“We all thought they would be, but there is a real thirst from consumers and distillers to be ‘present’,” she says. “Everyone is still fed up with what’s happened, and it is amazing to be onsite at a festival and talking to people - it feels completely normal. It is fun to do the virtual stuff, but it’s a lot of work. I am not sure we would sell the tickets so swiftly now as we have in the past.”

For Wood, the resurgence of physical events leaves little time for other forms of engagement anyway, with multiple events happening in the spirits industry around the country on any given weekend.

“With all the events that were cancelled or postponed, everything has been shifted, so the calendar is packed,” she says. “The last few years have been quite Sydney-based for Fever-Tree, so we are getting out on premises. We are trying to spread our wings and activate as much as we can around the country.”

One aspect of the strategy that has changed, however, is Wood’s preference for working with event and venue partners, rather than having the brand do most of the heavy lifting.

“If you are working with existing infrastructure, it is easier to postpone or shift things,” she says. “Also, with on-premises events having suffered so badly in the past couple of years, the more we can do to support them, the better.”

A different market mix

Another change in recent years here to stay is the explosion in boutique alcohol distillers in Australia, including in Fever-Tree’s core market of gin. Wood says this trend was noted well before Covid took hold, with her team calculating the number of Australian distillers has jumped from less than 40 to more than 400. Each represents a potential partner for the company’s tonic.

“I get emails from new distilleries all the time,” Wood says. “It is a really important channel for us, and a very competitive one, because local Australian [mixer] brands throw a lot at these distilleries. We have to always try to find a way to support them in their growth. We have supported some of these brands, like Manly Spirits or Never Never, since they launched.

“The challenge we have is resources and having enough time to visit and spend time with them. But it is a big part of our strategy as it is incredibly important.”

One advantage Fever-Tree offers is its international reach, which Wood says is proving appealing to those distillers that have global aspirations.

“We can help them in terms of contacts in the UK or the US and so forth,” Wood says. “And then a lot of those gin brands are launching into whiskeys, for example, and expanding their portfolios.”

Wood says Fever-Tree Australia is responding to this by launching its own range extensions, including gingers and flavoured sodas, and a new distillers’ cola in July.

“We are best known as a tonic brand, and a lot of people don’t know the full breadth of our portfolio,” Wood says. “We are all set up to move with the direction consumers take, and that is really a big focus for me, to educate consumers on what we have and what’s available.

“Australians are becoming much savvier in terms of what they want to drink, and people have really brought into upscaling their drink and making sure they show off the gin my using a good mixer.”

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