Taking marketing lessons from a brewer

This post is sponsored by King Content.

In the early 2000s, the UK brewing industry was very close to my heart. Not just for the wonderful beers it produced, but also because I was part of the marketing team at one of the country’s biggest brewers. It was centuries old and had a great product, which was mainly the beer in the cans, kegs and bottles we sold.

At that time, our marketing was 100 per cent traditional – brand-led TV, outdoor, print and trade campaigns – and our content was kind of one-dimensional. Same same lah, as they’d say in Singapore.

Despite our huge spend on ATL activities, our brands were coming under more and more pressure in the market every day. New players were entering such as ones that required a slice of lime to be added, the youth were making alcopop sales boom and consumers were becoming increasingly wooed by ever cheaper wine deals. Beer was under pressure.

As a marketing team in a crowded market, we needed to create compelling reasons for people to choose our beers. How could we protect and grow our market position? How could we differentiate ourselves from our competitors and still make money?

How to stand out from the crowd?

Answers poured in from around the business, if you pardon the pun. “Increase ATL and do more TV ads!” shouted brands. “Reduce ATL and our cost price!” screamed sales. “Let us brew another type of beer and keep our overtime!” yelled production.

So we took a good, hard look at ourselves and asked two questions. Firstly, how could we get more consumers to choose our brands? Secondly, how are we connecting with those that actually gave us POs and paid our overheads i.e. the trade buyers that made our beers available for sale?

As it turned out, we’d taken our focus off this second audience, and our engagement with the trade was at a real low.

Our sales people were talking to their buyers about our latest TV campaign, our huge media spend, swanky in-outlet displays and discounts for mega volumes. PR was talking about our new bottle designs and the need for responsible drinking. In other words, they were having the same conversations as our competitors, albeit about different brands.

The result? Everything came down to price. Whichever brand offered the cheapest beer won – not a good place to be. We realised we needed to refocus on this important, albeit less sexy audience.

Serving up new conversations

We had to create new conversations with our trade customers and reposition ourselves as more than just a traditional old English brewer.

Our response?

We created a team called Category Development whose role was to better understand the beer, wine and spirit category as a whole. Its job was to create new insights about shopper and consumer behaviour, and ultimately to act as a partner with brands and sales to better engage with our audience. Focus on the category, not our brands.

No other brewer had this approach, and it created quite a stir internally. Sales didn’t want to talk about the competition; brands didn’t want sales to talk about the competition. Internal education was needed, so we ran workshops to show the new ecosystem we were building and the benefits to brands and sales alike.

New research was commissioned to understand how people bought and consumed beer, wine and spirits, looking at how people interacted with adjacent categories such as soft drinks, snacks and food. What were the barriers that people faced when buying beer? How were their needs and desires not being met?

Refreshing our audience

Category Development stopped looking at our brands in isolation and created Beer Insights, which contained monthly reports on category and consumer trends, advice on optimum display merchandising, views of industry leaders and unexpected content from people such as health professionals, chefs and master brewers that made the beers everyone enjoyed.

Our presentations didn’t include any ATL brand messages. Sure, they were supported by our brewery, but pulled together by an external, impartial editor. Articles, advertorials and inserts for trade publications followed, and the team hosted events where master brewers talked about the qualities of all beers and how to pair them with foods.

Buyers, their marketing teams and the trade press embraced the approach. Category Development had become a purveyor of new content, making us the go-to point for industry trends.

Our content had become refreshing, just like our beers.

The author of the article is Richard Jones, strategy and development, King Content.