Bottling a brand

From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, brands aspire to be at the heart of everyday living. Consumers are fickle creatures so companies constantly battle it out with campaigns and initiatives to grab people’s attention.

Coca-Cola, the world’s most universally recognised brand came top in Interbrand’s 2012 Best Brands list. The drinks manufacturer was also the highest rated beverage brand in Forbes’ 2012 World’s Most Powerful Brands list.

Coca-Cola has perfected the art of branding and raised the bar for competing beverage brands. This might explain why 12 other drinks made it into Interbrand’s 2012 Best Brands list and why Innocent Drinks, which is majority owned by Coca-Cola, is committing £14m to brand investment in 2013.

Why do consumers have such a strong connection with beverage brands? Drinks branding specialist, Global Brands’ marketing director, Simon Green believes it’s because "we [the drinks brand] put them [consumers] at the heart of what we’re doing".

Marketing a lifestyle: brand value and identity

Today’s supermarket drink shelves go beyond quenching thirst. There is something on offer for everyone from a bottle to share with a group of friends to an energy boost before going for a run. This means it’s more important than ever for a brand to have its own values and identity. "We think very carefully about our consumers, the drinking they do at specific occasions, what our brands are associated with and marketing them in the right way," explains Green.

One of the biggest audiences for Global Brands’ flavoured vodka brand, VK, is university students. Young people such as students like to enjoy alcoholic drinks whilst socialising, listening to music and gathering with friends. VK has become an established brand within the National Union of Students by building a longstanding relationship with LiveNation, one of the biggest music promoters in the UK. "We work with them in the different music environments and link that to on-pack and promotional platforms that our target audience are really interested in," he says.

Linking a drinks brand to the world of music and celebrity takes the brand from being a name on a bottle to offering a whole lifestyle that consumers can either aspire to be a part of or feel that they already are.

Green explains: "It becomes a brand that they can associate with having a good time as well as demonstrating that it’s relevant to them and we’re connecting with the things that they’re into".

Brand partnerships: celebrity culture in marketing

Soft drinks manufacturer, Pepsi, is a prime example of a drinks brand that uses music and celebrity culture to boost its profile. In April 2013 it launched a $50m partnership with female artist Beyoncé to promote its "Live for Now" campaign. Pepsi understands the partnership is about its consumers buying into a lifestyle that goes beyond opening a can of one of its fizzy drinks. For this reason the manufacturer is giving Beyoncé extensive creative control over the project and is offering funds to support her chosen creative products.

Green believes brand partnerships are intelligent way to connect with a target audience on multiple levels. The partnership between Global Brands’ Kick Energy soft drink and the new Tomb Raider computer game, for example, is an ideal match. The computer game manufacturer wants to talk to the same young and predominantly male audience that like energy drinks so both parties can gain an extra following and promote themselves to a wider target audience.

"Being able to put Lara Croft, the star of the Tomb Raider game on the front of the can, along with an on-pack promotion for consumers to win unique experiences and prizes means we can create something that’s really interesting and relevant to our target audience and with the gaming partner we can convey our message and theirs at the same time," explains Green.

Social media revolution: start a conversation

Thanks to social media, brand promotions and consequently brand names can remain prominent in consumer’s minds long after the bottles have been thrown away. But, Green argues, social media hasn’t revolutionised branding as such, it has given brands an all-direct platform to do what they were already doing: understanding and engaging with a target audience.

Social media also offers drink brands the chance to be part of the crowd and to start a conversation. Global Brands used the World Cup qualifier matches to engage with the consumer lifestyles of its alcopop drink, Hooch and tequila flavoured beer, Amigos by creating a place for them to interact.

"Using the phenomenon of second screen watching where people use their phone or tablet to interact with others whilst watching something like football we can include hashtag messaging to encourage people to interact with us," says Green.

Under pressure:a platform to address issues

The drinks industry can be perceived to be the cause of many public health-related problems so social media has also become an invaluable platform for brands to address these issues along with more fun and positive ones.

As senior vice president at Interbrand Design Forum, Bill Chidley said after the Interbrand Best Brand 2012 list was announced: "More than ever, consumer conversations are driving the images and perceptions of brands, which means food and beverage companies will have to focus more on understanding, engaging with consumers and even changing course if a product or practice proves to be unpopular."

An additional challenge for the sector is the number of new drinks brands that are always eager to steal the show. Green explains that "there are lots of competing drinks brands who are all trying to talk to a similar audience and are trying to persuade them to select their brand and not ours".

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Green is quick to point out that VK flavoured vodka, which is the strongest performer within its category is a fantastic example of how an audience can be encouraged to select one brand over another.

The VK ‘mix up your VKend’ campaign for example, allows consumers to buy into the idea of having an interesting weekend with unusual cocktail pitcher offerings in bars that would not be available at home. "It’s less about us zeroing in on what someone else is doing and more about making sure that we are incredibly focused on what it is that we’ve got to do to engage with consumers," he says.

Nothing but success: positive future for drinks brands

The key question is does investing in a drinks brand name pay off? "I hope so. It’s our job to make sure that they do," says Green.
Interbrand Design Forum’s Chidley believes the beverage brand space will continue to be an exciting and ground-breaking place.
Following the positive results for food and beverage brands in the Interbrand 2012 Best Brands list he said: "We expect to see more innovation in products, digital marketing, and social media, as well as agile marketing in developing countries as these [food and beverage] brands continue to grapple with thorny ethical issues, health concerns, and growth challenges that are unique to their sector."

Green is also positive about the future of drinks brands and even goes as far as to say that he sees "nothing but success" for the brands within the Global Brands’ portfolio. "In all seriousness, I think it will continue to be a competitive environment so we need to make sure that we continue to understand what consumers want and what the trade needs," he adds.