Should Alcohol Brands Quit Social Media?

— Jarred Du Plessis 

Do alcohol brands require social media presence when engaging with customers? From a consumer PR perspective, the gut reaction would be to agree with this statement. However, over the past month UK pub chain Weatherspoon’s and an assortment of spirits brands have made the decision to close their social media accounts. Reasons cited for this were that social media does not have an impact on the bottom line, and merely feeds an addiction of always being online.

WE’s Brands in Motion study found that in the UK, US and China, the alcoholic beverage category scored as a survivor – signaling that brands within this category need to work quickly to identify and act on the drivers affecting their forward motion. Interestingly, UK respondents showed the most scepticism for the category with the lowest average emotional and rational responses of any surveyed market. To add to this, respondents in the UK expressed the most displeasure with their experience with companies in this category, with 73% of respondents describing their general experience with these brands as “completely miserable” – the highest percentage score out of all three markets. To counter the scepticism, 72% of UK respondents revealed they had no need for alcoholic beverage companies, but 82% absolutely planned to purchase.

Due to the poor scores this category has in the UK, alcohol brands should be rethinking their customer touch points, and start evaluating their marketing spend and channel strategy in order to shift from the survivor category, and evolve into a mover.

And, with the UK just last month announcing updates to its Code of Practice to strengthen the standards of responsible marketing coming into effect next spring, alcohol brands must ensure that future campaigns and content abide by these stricter rules.

So, with myriad factors to consider, what do alcohol brands need to think about when formulating a digital strategy?

Get to know your audience

At the end of the day, it is all about knowing the audience you are engaging with – find out their habits, hobbies and unique demographics to ensure you are speaking their language and adding value to their ideals. A recent YouGov report focusing on beer and cider in the UK revealed that millennial drinkers (aged 18 – 34) showcase significant spending power; where 62% of them are male, 24% are parents, 41% identify themselves as single, and collectively the group relaxes by drinking with friends.

Hobbies of this group include playing computer games (45%), exercising (40%), and playing a sport (24%). Their drinking habits were described as catching up with friends (35%) when purchasing alcohol from the shops; and for after work drinks, a regular night out, going to a live event or catching up with friends when drinking out. Lastly, it was revealed that this audience group is best engaged via bus stops, podcasts, Facebook and Snapchat.

Adhering to insights such as the above could do alcohol brands a world of good when seeking to improve their experience.

Pub vs. home drinkers

Recent figures from the British Beer & Pub Association show that sales of beer in shops now outperform sales in pubs. This opens up an opportunity for alcohol brands to understand the key difference between home drinkers and pub drinkers. YouGov revealed that home drinkers are mostly women between 35 – 44, are likely to have children, tend to have less disposable income, define themselves as introverted, and are often disengaged with media, except for radio. Pub drinkers, on the other hand, are mostly over the age of 55, are male, and are likely to be retired or single. They do not tend to have financial concerns, are not overly troubled about routines, and are very engaged with the world at large – being more likely to notice advertising. 

Ensuring the above audiences are referenced when refining content and channel strategies will help alcohol brands ensure they remain agile – appealing to unique traits, and adopting differing content and messages to suit each audience.

Channel strategy – less can be more

We live in a world where the consumer is bombarded with endless messages, causing fatigue and sometimes frustration. Alcohol brands need to tread carefully when deciding which channels are used for which message, and more importantly – which audience. Consolidation of key channels, where messages are streamlined and spend is targeted at engaged audiences, could just be the silver bullet for winning the battle over the fatigued consumer.

A great example of a brand doing this is Diageo, which constantly looks for innovative ways to reach consumers via emerging platforms and technologies. Its recent virtual reality (VR) series “Decisions: Party’s Over” was designed to show consumers the dangers of binge drinking by immersing viewers into four characters’ perspectives. One character, Steph, throws a leaving party for her friend Greg, however his reckless drinking ends in a fatal case of food poisoning. Another character, Jasmine, is sexually assaulted by a fellow party goer, Luke.  With this firsthand, immersive experience, Diageo manages to strike the balance between compelling content and informative, responsible messaging that leaves a lasting impression on consumers.

Consumer PR in the alcohol brand category will be an interesting sector to watch in the months to come, where we’ll likely see more brands consolidating efforts to support their bottom line. Ultimately, the communication strategy for alcohol brands should be to remain agile and stay true to their audiences – adapting with them, and meeting them where they are at. This may just be the recipe for success when alcohol brands are looking to evolve from the survivor to the mover category…