Bottoms up: Lockdown lessons for an inverted marketing world

Andy Gaunt

Andy is the GM of Fever-Tree Australia and New Zealand and has worked with the brand in this market since 2015. Gaunt has more than 20 years of beverage experience in the premium space. Prior to this role, Gaunt was director of his brand consultancy and Asia-Pacific brand management agency, Source Consulting Solutions. Gaunt worked at Diageo for many years where he was central to the development of Diageo’s premiumisation strategies, working with the UK business in global marketing and market development where he headed up the APAC luxury spirits portfolio.

If you happen to work in the world of mixed beverages, you might feel like the coronavirus has ripped your proverbial tablecloth away.  

I have no doubt that’s how the hard-working hospitality staff of Australia must have felt in recent months. With licensed venues only just resuming trade, their relief at heading back to work will be palpable.  

For our team at Fever-Tree, the doors of licensed venues swinging open is a very welcome sight too. And fortunately, while our tablecloth was yanked away, just about all the glasses and candlesticks are still standing. 

One of the biggest challenges brands like ours have faced over the past few months is how to market to customers when their needs and expectations have evolved so rapidly. In the mixed beverages space, there’s been a strong temptation to slash marketing spend. Many are choosing to do so, but there are good reasons for premium product retailers to go on the offensive. 

In recent years, there has been a clear shift in consumer trends. Fever-Tree and other premium beverage brands have recognised the emergence of the discerning drinker. More Australians are focusing on the quality of their tipple as they drink at home and when out and about.  

Our recent enforced isolation has exacerbated this at-home premium trend, with people more willing to treat themselves to a glass of something comforting. Purchases of mixed beverages from grocery shoppers also partially offset the closing of pubs and clubs, in the same way alcohol brands saw a spike in liquor store sales as the realities of home confinement set in.  

Despite this, the shutdown of retail trade hit brands hard. The ongoing effects of the coronavirus also mean that events of scale are still some months off - and that’s a challenge for many businesses like ours that rely on them to market products and woo new customers. We’re certainly not out of the woods yet.  

Which leaves us with a few stark options in a marketing sense; park the events until they can be put on as before, but lose partnership opportunities and momentum with brand advocates; or find an alternative that simply may not gain the same level of traction.  

Ultimately, we chose the latter, adjusting our core strategy by re-allocating resources towards new opportunities. This saw the transformation of last year’s inaugural Australian Gin & Tonic festival into a world-first virtual event, held on World Gin Day, 13 June 2020.

It was not a decision made with certainty. Would people really go for a digital G&T festival from their lounge room? Dressed in their trackies? In the dead of winter? After careful assessment of customer values, we decided they might.  

In the end it was vindicated by the festival and associated G&T packs selling out in days. And it demonstrated clearly that the appetite for premium products was very much there despite the hardships of isolation. The key to success was bringing the experience to the consumer in a way they could easily enjoy from the comfort of home.  

From a marketing perspective, we discovered that during the short-term downturn, it paid to focus on the brand’s core value proposition. In Fever-Tree’s case it was the premium nature of the products and the settings in which they are shared and enjoyed. While a digital recreation can never replace a sunny afternoon down by the water, it can give people a treat to look forward to and a chance to spoil themselves with friends or family.  

On a tactical level, there was also a need to go where the people are - and that is increasingly online. Making a shift towards digital events has proved an effective way of keeping connected with our audience and strengthening a growing brand presence.  

It’s also an opportunity to remain top of mind and relevant to consumers for the time when in-venue retail bounces back. And it allowed us to appeal to brand new customer segments and capture market share from competitors who have pulled on plug on their marketing.  

Although no two crises are the same, there’s a glut of evidence that supports marketing investment when the going gets tough. A meta study compiled by Silver Bulletshowed that companies increasing ad spend by up to 20 per cent saw an average share gain of 0.5 per cent and those that increased beyond the 20 per cent threshold recording average gains of 0.9 per cent.  

By contrast, after the GFC, companies that reduced ad spend saw sales drop by between 20 per cent and 30 per cent over the following two years, according to marketing guru, Les Binet.

No-one has a crystal ball of course. But in times of turmoil, being mindful of new consumer priorities and adapting when appropriate is better than sitting on your hands. An excess share of voice when ad inventory costs are low and competitors are at sixes and sevens also has obvious advantages.  

It’s the brands that pivot their marketing, and show bravery and resilience, that will have their dinner settings in order when the coronavirus is behind us and it’s time to replace that tablecloth.

Tags: digital marketing, virtual events, event marketing, marketing strategy

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