WHERE’S THE THIRST?
There was a time when each new generation of legal drinkers signalled a fresh opportunity; marketers looked at loyal older customers living ever longer lives, then looked at the arrivals broadening the market still further, and rubbed their hands with glee. Lately, however, hand-rubbing has turned to hand-wringing as Generation X clubbers gave way to binge-drinking millennials, too focussed with quantity to care about, or pay for, quality. Surely things couldn’t get worse?
As it turns out, they could: Generation Z (the young bucks, born after 2000) are reaching adulthood with no interest in binge-drinking and very little interest in drinking, full stop. Their attitude to boozing feels a little as though alcohol is following tobacco’s path: higher taxes, restricted advertising, social stigmatisation, and a consequent loss of relevance. Consumption levels are down to 1979 levels by volume and a recent Demos research report showed that one person out of five among the newest generation of legal drinkers say they don’t want to drink at all.
This is a serious challenge to marketers, although while meeting it, they must remember not to focus so hard on this one stubborn market that they forget about everyone else. This may be a return to an old-fashioned form of market segmentation - by age rather than class or, heaven forbid, gender. But instead of focusing on the digits - lets look broader and focus on the generational differences, as these will be vital to appealing to your target market, whoever they are.
LETS GO BACK A FEW YEARS
The rave-culture of the 90s and its ban by the authorities transitioned the buzz-seeking youth towards alcohol and booze brands who welcomed them with open arms. More promotions, more happy hours, more sponsorship and cheaper alcohol - no wonder that the volumes boomed and the drinking loads became socially acceptable.
The year of peak booze - 9.4 litres of pure alcohol per person per year - was 2004; that was Generation X and some Millennials. Both groups are clearly drinking less. But they are doing so in different ways. The cocktail-crazy Gen X-ers are now at a different life stage, and the alcohol rush is not what they seek. A glass of wine at home around a meal with family or friends or the occasional pint at the pub after work is still liked, but the thirst is not the same.
The millennials - who once judged a bottle by its percentage proof - are now thirty somethings with families and responsibilities… and a few Facebook “memories” they wish they could eradicate. As a matter of fact - a recent Heineken study demonstrated that 75% of Millennials actively try to limit the amount of alcohol they consume on their nights out. They have learned from their mistakes; they want quality now, not quantity. The “craft-everything” and associated moustached-connoisseurship - that’s them. And with craft comes the high-ticket item, which, luckily, prohibits the binge-drinking.
Lastly comes Generation Z. While their drinking pattern can not be objectively stated yet due to legal age, their general interest in alcohol appears to be very different from their predecessors. For them there is no “cool” attached to falling over drunk in front of their peers. Quite the opposite in fact – moderation or total alcohol avoidance is the new norm and tipsiness – let alone drunkenness - is seen as unhealthy and vile.
PUSH THE TROLLEY OR ADD TO CART?
When it comes to shopping patterns - older drinkers are the ones with most brand loyalty. With so many more labels on the market than they grew up with, they tend to stick with what they know and acquired memories over the years. This relative disinterest in trying new products may make them seem hard to engage with. And as our colleague and partner from TPN Retail Solutions, Justin Stephenson, MD, adds “Retailers’ ‘clean floor’ policies and limited opportunities for brands, are doing little to create inspiring environments that would engage and excite these shoppers”.
But don’t be fooled - Gen X are also pragmatic and smart - they research, evaluate and compare before buying, making sure that they get the best price. Sensitive to discounts, and coupons they would give something a go, if the deal is sweet enough. And they’re easy to reach - they read papers, listen to the radio, watch TV and more importantly – still love going shopping. With all that in mind - a price promotion and sampling stand are likely to be more effective than a flashy ad or viral video.
The following generation - Millennials - is notoriously the most self-absorbed generation ever. With them, it’s all about the individual; they might like the chance to be first with a new flavour or a new experience, but ultimately, it’s all about them. Little or not interested by traditional media, they are online, and pay more attention to influencers than to ad stunts. According to TapBuy, 84% of them explain that user generated content had an influence on the products they purchased. So when it comes to what’s cool, they want guidance - from the right sources. And the fit is even better when those brands aren’t seen as mainstream, have a sense of authenticity and are socially relevant and acceptable within their peer group. But when it comes to shopping - they like attention and want to be pampered - personalised offers, customised products, exclusive experiences - they want the full monty for the price of their loyalty. And, like everything else - the purchasing of alcohol is rushed. As our colleague and partner from TPN Retail Solutions, Justin Stephenson, MD, adds “Millennial shopping missions for alcohol are relatively straight forward. This generation is on the go and has a pre planned mission for buying specific labels rather than taking the time to browse and explore the category. They aren’t store dwellers which means they aren’t going to spend a lot of time exploring or de-selecting brands to make their brand choice.” So to ensure your brand captures their intention in store, you must have first made a significant impression pre-shop and gotten your brand onto their repertoire list.
Generation Z is something else altogether. Being more realistic and optimistic than their parents, with a tendency to think “we” rather than “me” they already expect brands to have a higher purpose, and take genuine stances on societal issues such as gender & racial equality, sustainability, education, etc. To address them the brands will need to shift the focus of their promotional speech from their own heritage or expertise to the very specific benefit they can offer to each individual, while positively contributing to the world. And to make it even more complicated - Gen Z are hard to reach and have a miniscule attention span; they multi-task across 5 screens and value more the seamless nature of a shopping experience rather than the variety of choice. 63% of Gen Z-ers polled in a recent Ernst & Young study said that they shopped online because it “saves time”. But all is not negative with gen Z - as digital natives, born with a device in one hand, if they like something – the world will know it… quickly! Snapped, Instagrammed and shared by just about everyone with just about everyone.
So hang around - for the moment these teens and young adults have no or very limited disposable income and no or very limited interest in booze - but within the next 5 years they will become the fastest-growing generation in both - workplace and marketplace and will reshape the retail space - how can you make your brand relevant to them?
STORYTELLING CROSSES ALL BOUNDARIES
Having looked at the intricacies of each generation lets also look at the bigger picture. Consumers today are asking WHY: why do you want to sell this to me, and why should I buy?
Increasingly, they want brands that can capture their imagination and break social and cultural rules (on top of the usual category codes). They may differ in how they access the story – in print, on social media or even out there in the world – but without the ability to inspire belief in that story, a brand has nothing.
And when it comes to this belief - cohesion across all points of contact with the consumer is key to build trust and loyalty. In that sense, Kraken Black Spiced Rum is a great example of a brand delivering on experience and building their entire universe without resorting to traditional advertising. The category redefining bottle design laid the foundation of the brand's tale of adventure. Its dynamic activity on social media and community based websites engaged the conversation with consumers by telling the story of the Beast and established a solid fan base. Its now famous outdoor murals painted and sculpted by tattooed street artists took the brand to the outside world. And lastly, its large yet subdued activation support through various ‘Release the Kraken’ parties organised in all independent locations, with a very ‘community-based’ communication through social media and Word Of Mouth - brought the brand experience to life on point of consumption.
That’s also where a gin like Portobello Road No. 171 has done so well. The genuine passion of three gin lovers for a drink that too many forgot, pushed these entrepreneurs to open the Ginstitute and share their knowledge with the world. Initially created as the house gin for the masterclasses during which the three instructors introduce the apprentices to the noble spirit, the distilling process and secret cocktail recipes, the Portobello Road brand got phenomenal traction and became a serious contender on the London craft gin market. The genuine passion for the product, beautifully crafted and elegant packaging and award winning flavours - this is a brand you can understand, a product to believe in and a considered personality many of us can relate to.
DON’T LET THE PACKAGE GET FORGOTTEN…
To live on shelf and attract the eye of those increasingly alcohol-frigid drinkers, there must be a wow factor, but not just for its own sake. And given the visibility challenge in store, packaging that signifies uniqueness and authenticity is a significant marker to help standout.
Take Thatchers Orchard Cut Gin, a product launched last year that has a label that is actually a piece of wood. Attention-grabbing, tactile, memorable and fitting the story of a cider orchard - it takes the brand on a new journey, without it feeling disjointed. If drinking is in danger of becoming terminally uncool, then the secret is reinvention: a re-birth of the cool.
Another example of a brand successfully leveraging its pack is Van Dyck. The brand recently ran a promotion, where they added a little container with Cardamom, Pink Pepper and Juniper Berries to the neck of its bottles to allow everyone to customise their gin or vodka by adding botanicals to their own mixes. Again, the story is intact but by cleverly leveraging the packaging, the experience built around it is cannily different and undoubtedly relevant to individualistic Millennials.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST
It is worth keeping in mind that while consumers reconsider their drinking patterns due to health considerations, their subconscious attraction to the edgy and quasi-subversive nature of alcohol, keeps them thirsty for daring, provocative designs. And that’s something that the soft drinks market has been successfully leveraging in the past year, cleverly applying the traditional visual codes of sprits to tonics, colas and other booze-free refreshments.
The Bonds example designed by our team at Hornall Anderson is the perfect illustration. Taking a leaf out of the exciting gin category, its skull illustration comprised of the botanicals creates a new sophisticated savoury tipple to appeal to the adventurous consumer looking for a taste alternative to sugary soft drinks with a bold personality and beautifully exciting packaging they can show off to visitors.
In a world with non-drinking bars and morning ‘raves’ for all those fresh-faced teetotallers and sobered-up Millennials, drinks brands need to fight to stay relevant, cool and memorable. Consumers will increasingly expect “better marketing” from booze labels and those offering more engaging, personable experiences, with a deeper story and an even higher purpose will be winning consumers hearts and wallets. And that’s more than possible. After all, those healthy youngsters, isolated with their phones, want interaction beyond the emoji. The same goes for their predecessors, who - after having tried a number of bottles and reduced their selection to a few names - crave for some genuine attention in return. All are avid for an actual dialogue, be part of some immersive story and live a palpable experience. To deliver this, brands just need to better know what’s going through their consumers’ heads. After all, if you don’t know who you’re talking to, you can hardly complain when they don’t listen.
Authored by Evgueni Spiridonov, Ev for short, Client Service Director in our London studio. If you'd like to know more, please contact him on 07833 444 123