The wine & spirit repertoire in India is astonishingly limited given our population and the prospective market size, some blame it on regressive liquor policies, some on advertising restrictions so on and so forth. One such factor that impedes growth is lack of “awareness” about the drinks category both amongst consumers & professionals and this is one hurdle that not many brands cross.
Brands have tried to enter India in lure of the demographic dividend only to be disappointed with no offtakes and gone back, some have tried multiple times too. We agree that wading through policies is a tough ask, however, most manage to do that to find place on shelves, but ultimately lie unsold! The reason, no push from the salesman and no pull from the customer due to lack of knowledge. It all ends with stocks being liquidated with some crazy scheme and BOGO offers and the business drops curtains.
Liquor behemoths like Diageo and Bacardi are ahead of the curve on their awareness game through surrogacy and below the line initiatives including education but if you are an upcoming brand then the following is something you need to budget for and not go via the discounting route to make space for yourself in the market.
Influence the thought leaders:
Thought leaders in this context are people at the point of sale be it retail or restaurants who are involved in decision making on listing the category or the brand and selling the brand to the consumer. How can one engage with them to create awareness and top of mind recall?
Masterclasses: Brands need to wake up and start master classes on categories whilst weaving the brand in. The idea is to instil confidence in customer facing associates through knowledge and thus empowering them to pass the same on to their customers. Several brands incentivize the front liners further with sales linked cash and vouchers but with a hyperopic view it is better to make then genuinely believe in the brand and be loyalists via experiences than monetary benefits.
Site visits: The more the front liners know about you the better and thus the requirement of making them more confident by showcasing your manufacturing facility and educate them about the process. Create unforgettable experiences for your ambassadors around it, make them believe in you. It is also a good idea to target future thought leaders in hospitality and beverage institutes.
Competition and community building: Lastly competitions initiated by the brand help the brand or category get broad visibility via bartenders or sommeliers who educate and influence their own circles. Please remember, do not make this a “Brand Exercise” only but let the core be community building as this initiative will take time to gain foot. This community you build will be your equity in the long term.
Break Ice with the consumer:
The customers are the key, some are irrational in their buying behaviours, some want to play it safe with known brands and are loyal, some love the freebies, some fall for the packaging and there are many other factors to consider with them at the heart of it. As new brand or category, it is important to break ice with the customer & bring the liquid to the lips at least once.
Curated Experiences: Create experiences that match your brand ethos. A sun downer on a yacht or a dessert & night cap evening perhaps, make it easier and some aspirational for your consumer to associate with your brand. Involve your partners in both off and on-premise for these activities to create that sense of ownership.
Sampling opportunities: Sampling is the holy grail of wine and spirit marketing and eventually sales. Grab every sampling opportunity that comes your way or create ones that help you directly talk to your consumers. Cocktail promos, DIY evenings, drink master classes etc. This is very much required for in the early phase of the product life cycle.
Collaboration: Collaborate with brands which share a similar consumer profile and find ways of engaging with them through symbiotic relationships online or offline. I also see ‘Influencer’ associations based on number of followers but not relevance, that would be ok if you were selling an FMCG item and using that collaboration as a megaphone, but premium drink brands need thought leaders who people believe in and seek advise from. Remember you are a lifestyle product and people want to engage with you, you will have the choice.
Last words, when planning for a brand especially imports, it is good to have a 5-year horizon to gain some foot in the market organically as most brands fizzle out after the couple of consignments.