The marketing strategies used in the drinks industry have started answering authenticity, sustainability and wellness trends. But which techniques are truly leading the way? db finds out.
In 2024, the global drinks industry is expected to generate a value addition of €223.80 billion, according to the Digital Agency Network (DAN) and categories like craft, non-alcoholic variants and health-centric offerings have started driving trends.
Findings have already identified that health and sustainability are leading the charge, with a noticeable turn towards “functional beverages” that purportedly promise more than simply being thirst-quenching, but also claim to enhance wellness.
As the drill down into the sector by the DAN finds, one example can be seen from the rise of kombucha, with its gut-friendly probiotics, or indeed the popularity of energy drinks infused with natural, plant-based ingredients.
Delving deeper, when it comes to sustainability, the findings show that consumers are now looking for drinks brands that champion eco-friendly initiatives and this could be from products with minimal packaging, recyclable materials, or commitments to reducing the business’s carbon footprint.
According to the DAN, successful beverage marketing begins with a crystal-clear understanding of your target demographic. Or rather, being able to pinpoint who a drinks product’s audience is and what it is that they value above all.
It highlighted how, in the past, surveys and focus groups were the stalwarts of market research that offered up insights directly from the consumer, but since the advent of social media analytics and sentiment analysis, now drinks companies can now listen in on consumer conversations about products, competitors, and the industry. Additionally, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) can identify patterns and preferences too.
One example that the deep dive into marketing outlined was to flag how Coca-Cola’s use of AI had been used to analyse social media data and customer feedback which, in turn, led to the creation of the business launching the new flavour Cherry Sprite.
The findings also revealed the importance of any drinks marketeer creating a brand image, personality and voice that would differentiate it from the competition. For instance, Red Bull, a brand that has deftly moved beyond its energy drink origins to become closely linked to extreme sports and adventure, uses a marketing strategy based on events and has, in so many ways, crafted an image that’s all about pushing limits and embracing the extraordinary.
The agency network also observed how drinks marketing needed to also go one step further in identifying their brand’s unique selling point (USP), whether that is via its flavour, its health benefits, or eco-friendly approach. The core message was that the goal should be to pinpoint and leverage USPs.
The network also highlighted how drinks marketeers should never underestimate the power of packaging because it is often the first interaction a consumer has with a product. This, it laboured, showed how effective packaging goes beyond aesthetics because it communicates a drinks brand’s message and values at a glance.
According to the DAN, innovations in biodegradable materials, like algae or cornstarch water bottles are now taking significant steps towards sustainability, offering eco-friendly alternatives to traditional plastic. It highlighted that, similarly, smart packaging, such as bottles that show the perfect drinking temperature or labels that share ingredient journeys via apps, are also shaking up the sector.
One simple example given was Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke campaign, which used personalised bottles with names upon them to effectively invite people to share a Coke with someone special. In essence, it showed that by tapping into the power of personalisation and the joy of sharing, Coca-Cola could create a viral sensation, globally. One that boosted sales and social media engagement.
Understanding how drinks brands can use influencers via marketing partnerships is now also becoming a strategic route for many. According to the findings, this process starts with setting clear, measurable goals for boosting brand awareness, engagement, or direct sales. Then, from there, brands either work with an influencer marketing agency or track the reach and impressions of influencer posts, or the more telling engagement rates such as likes, comments, shares to determine conversion rates.
The DAN outlined how platforms like Google Analytics now enable drinks brand owners to trace website traffic and sales back to specific influencer campaigns. Alternatively, by using unique promo codes and affiliate links, these can also add another layer of tracking. For drinks brands, success is described by the findings as “the sustained buzz and brand affinity that keeps consumers coming back for more”.
Ultimately, engaging, informative content is invaluable in establishing any drinks brand as a thought leader and trusted source in the drinks industry. As the DAN identified, whether it’s through blogs, videos, or infographics, quality content can always elevate a drinks brand’s visibility and appeal. Especially via those that describe the drinks brand’s heritage, craft, and journey and invites more consumers to feel attachment to a story that transcends the drink itself. Added to this, the findings showed that educational content also stirs up significant engagement, especially when it demystifies the product or celebrates its uniqueness. For instance, wine brands have found success with content that walks consumers through tasting notes, the winemaking process, or how to pair their favourite bottle with dishes. Why? Because, according to the drinks marketeers, this type of content not only informs but also empowers consumers, elevating their experience from mere consumption to connoisseurship.
However, one thing did not fade into history: advertising. As the network highlighted, when it comes to the world of drinks, the most successful brands are those that “blend the rich flavours of traditional and digital media, creating a marketing mix that’s both refreshing and robust”. Why has this not gone out of fashion? Because this approach reportedly “allows brands to reach a broader audience, catering to the diverse palates of consumers across the spectrum. While maximising visibility, this strategy also boosts consumer engagement, proving that in the world of beverage marketing, the most effective campaigns are those that can blend the best of both worlds to create something truly memorable”.
One example given looked at the “Heineken 0.0 #NowYouCan” campaign which was launched to promote Heineken 0.0, the beer giant’s non-alcoholic variant to consumers looking for a beer experience without alcohol, whether for health reasons, driving, or any other situation where alcohol might not be appropriate. The campaign used a mix of traditional advertising methods, such as billboards and television advertising alongside digital marketing such as social media advertising and influencer partnerships and its messaging focused on the freedom and inclusivity offered by Heineken 0.0, allowing consumers to enjoy a beer taste “anytime, anywhere.”
In addition, blogs and videos are also amplified as an effective way for drinks companies to boost their brand’s narrative in greater detail, highlighting products, and establishing a more personal connection with the target audience, playing a crucial role in storytelling and brand promotion. One example of this is Diageo’s stout brand Guinness. Through its video campaigns, such as the “Made of More” series, the company shares inspiring stories of human spirit and resilience that resonate far beyond the audience of beer enthusiasts. Owing to this, these videos, the DAN pointed out illustrate how videos that are “rich in narrative and emotion, transcend traditional advertising, turning each pint into a story worth telling and sharing”.
The guidance shared in the detailed look at the sector by the DAN set out to show that, by stepping into the drinks industry’s challenging environment, businesses needed a strong marketing plan. Each marketing manager needs to know its audience, make the drinks brand stand out, use digital marketing tools effectively, and create content that grabs attention. After all, it added: “Success here is more than just selling drinks…success here is about aiming for the top”.