Consumer spirits advertising has always been among the most iconic. However, the most important marketing battles begin on the business level. Namely, brands need to win the affections of the distributor network, retailers and key influencers (otherwise known as bartenders) in order to succeed.
These groups dictate the fate of any brand, be it Scotch or sipping tequila. Therefore, they are often understandably overwhelmed with both choices and messaging.
Simply put, “There is just as much noise and distraction marketing in business-to-business in the spirits world as there is in business-to-consumer,” said Kirk Gaither, vice president, marketing, Infinium Spirits.
This scenario presents a substantial marketing challenge for scrappy upstarts as well as established brands that can easily slip out of style.
Former Adweek spirits reporter and Marketing Director for the global B-to-B agencygyro Kenneth Hein asked four veteran spirits executives to share their tricks of the trade. Here is what they had to say:
1. Sell Alongside Them. “Selling is about relationships, right? Nothing could be truer when it comes to spirits distributors,” said Gerard Schweitzer, co-founder of Leblon Cachaça. One of the keys to establishing this relationship is making the lives of spirits distributors easier. “Meet them in accounts and help them sell their book. I often get to know a particular week’s demands and help them sell other products with them in accounts. Actions speak louder than words. Once they see you actually in the field helping them and selling with them, you become one of them. You’ll know you succeeded when they invite you out to make the rounds of their favorite haunts with them … Those will quickly become the good old days.”
2. Start Spreading the News. So many outstanding and interesting things are happening for your brand, but too often it isn’t communicated. Shout it to the world! “This business is all about momentum … or the perception of momentum,” said Courtney Reum, CEO and co-founder of VeeV acai spirit. “They [people] are inundated with information these days, so don’t expect them to keep up with your business.” That’s why you must trumpet your press wins and other accolades in person and online on a perpetual basis.
3. Spotlight Your Rock Stars. The fast-growing Four Roses knows a thing or two about grassroots marketing. To hit its distributor, retail and influencer targets in a memorable way, Four Roses calls upon its Master Distiller Jim Rutledge and Brand Ambassador Al Young to appear in focus and secondary markets as often as possible, said Patrick Stewart, director of sales and marketing, Four Roses Bourbon. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a real rock star such as Carlos Santana in your corner. Santana is actively involved in his Casa Noble brand, offering limited-edition signed guitars and conga drums to distributors. Crystal Head Vodka, meanwhile, has the benefit of owner and real-life Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd regularly making appearances on behalf of the brand.
4. Create a Memorable Story and Then Tell It. Fernet-Branca, a bitter Italian amaro liqueur, has worked hard to build a reputation as the bartender’s “secret handshake.” Its goal is to activate the bartender community in unique ways. For example, its Fernet-Branca “Challenge Coins” are available to bartenders only in limited supply. The legend goes that if you are out with a group of bartender friends for an after-shift drink, it is “coins down.” This means the bartender who is the last to put his or her coin in, or, worse yet, gets caught without a coin, has to buy the round of drinks.
5. Give Them Something They’ll Actually Keep. When it comes to promotional products (aka “swag”), the bar doesn’t get any higher than in the spirits category. That’s why when you hit on the right item, it speaks volumes. VeeV, for example, uses the seeds of the acai berry once it harvests them to create sustainability bracelets. “They [the bracelets] are cool, unique and non-branded pieces that help tell the story of VeeV,” said VeeV’s Reum. Sticking with the bracelet theme, the company also gives out VeeV-branded Fit Bits (similar to the Nike+ FuelBand) to distributors and bartenders who commit to certain case goals. Reum said: “It’s a good way to stay top of mind, or, in this case, top of wrist.”
So there you have it. While the glory goes to the glossy print ads in fashion magazines and late-night TV ads, it is street-level tactics like the ones shared above that can make all the difference when it comes to the most important thing of all: moving cases.
Kenneth Hein is the global marketing director at gyro.
Follow him @kennethhein