Low and no alcohol: 'Creating experiences is one of the most effective brand building methods'

By Liz Richardson, managing partner, HeyHuman

- Last updated on GMT

'Reputation is about more than a great product: it's about generating conversations around your product' Pic:getty/astarot
'Reputation is about more than a great product: it's about generating conversations around your product' Pic:getty/astarot

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People are more likely to purchase a product or service after they come across it in an exciting, engaging setting, writes Liz Richardson, managing partner at behavioural communications agency HeyHuman, in this guest article.

Nearly 5.2 million Brits have put a pause on drinking for Dry January this year. It’s bigger than ever, and major brands like Heineken and Pernod Ricard are rushing to fill the NOLO space as the market expands.

It’s not just millennials and Gen Z dropping alcohol, either - Drinkaware found that 66% of drinkers aged 45 to 64 are open to trying lower-strength​ alcoholic drinks. NOLO brands have a massive opening to use Dry January to drive awareness and sales of new, exciting low-alcohol products all year round.

To do this, experiential marketing could prove crucial

Naturally, it’s important for newly launched brands, or those that are driving awareness, to spread their communications and marketing budgets across various platforms: TV, print, social and so on.

But in order to make a genuine impact in such a crowded market, experiences can be among the most effective brand-building methods. It’s already tried and tested by names such as Fever Tree, who set up a Gin School at Gin Festival Junipalooza; and Caorunn, who created a Highland-themed space​ last year.

Generally, people are more likely to purchase a product or service after they come across it in an exciting, engaging setting. From sampling campaigns to immersive experiences like pop-up shops and sensory activities, there are so many unique options to showcase a new product to create a powerful and lasting memory. Alcohol brands are some of the best at creating such experiences, and there’s a lot that NOLO brands can learn from them. 

Take Hendrick’s. The premium gin brand has done fantastic work building credibility in the UK, engaging consumers directly with memorable experiences. Last year, such outings included a London townhouse experience set​, complete with goat-petting zoo and miniature cocktails; and a tasting pop-up​ inside a Shoreditch launderette.

Hendrick’s has become famous for delivering these experiences for over three years;  it’s been able to target a core audience while also reaching potential budding customers off the back of the recent gin boom. It understood that reputation is about more than just a great product: it’s about generating conversations around your product, via word of mouth, and hosting eye-catching, shareable events that translate across social media timelines and stories. 

It seems to have paid off, too - Hendrick’s’ experiences have produced tangible results, as sales grew to 1.3m nine-litre cases in 2018.

You need to make experiential work for your brand

It’s vital for brands to focus on creating a quality experience; great experiences linger long in the memory, but ill-advised or poorly-executed ones can harm your brand and alienate potential customers.

For new products in the NOLO arena, it’s vital to have your audience nailed down to a T ahead of the campaign.

Good strategy is essential, and most of it comes down to creating a context and environment where the people you are targeting will most naturally engage, whether that be time of day, location or scale of activity.

BrewDog's alcohol-free bar

For example, high footfall locations like busy railway stations are congested and noisy, meaning customers are more likely to pass you by.

Instead, brands could opt for smaller, more niche locations to target customers on their own turf.

Creating a space that’s specific to low-alcohol drinks can help brands to take ownership of their activations, as BrewDog did with its new alcohol-free bar​ in Shoreditch: an area teeming with craft beer enthusiasts and ultra-hip bars.

Timing is everything - don’t take the plunge too early

You could look at that Hendrick’s example and assume experiential is the only route to go down. But while this style of marketing has undeniable benefits for brand messaging and product reappraisal, you have to be sure of your timing.

There needs to be a certain level of familiarity and enough retail availability, otherwise your experiential activity could risk being wasted - customers are unlikely to engage with a brand they have never heard of or can’t buy in the shops.

Ideally, a newly launched brand will run out-of-home campaigns and television advertising two to three weeks before​ launch, and that should spark enough initial interest in the product to create a contextual bedrock for your experiences.

Liz Richardson high res
Liz Richardson

And if you are an established brand that seems to be piggybacking Dry January without an authentic story to tell, any associated experiential activity can easily fall flat and devalue future experiential campaigns. 

With all this in mind: choose your moment

With sales of NOLO beer increasing by 381% since 2017, brands have to respond in original ways to ensure their products sell all year round and avoid becoming a fleeting Dry January gimmick - this happens across FMCG with Veganuary. 

Bearing all the above in mind, Dry January packs unbridled potential for NOLO brands to stage experiential activity to promote new product launches and drive brand awareness. But it can't be a one off - it needs to be part of a larger, holistic plan that goes beyond the first 31 days of the year.

Low 2 No: Find the most exciting brands all in one place!

low2nobev london logo

With falling alcohol consumption, more mindful drinking and a trend towards premiumization, the stage is set for a bright future for the low and no drinks sector. 

The Low 2 No Bev Show is a brand new - and unique - dedicated trade event to give the sector its own voice. Held in London on June 17-18,​​ the show will cover everything from low-ABV beers, ciders, wines and spirits to premium soft drinks, cordials and mixers. Find out more here!

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