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Strengthen Your Marketing Channels in 2015

Strengthen Your Marketing Channels in 2015

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A consequence and perk of being a blogger is that you often get solicited by public relations and marketing people. Because my blog is  written about whatever I feel like writing about, I try to respectfully decline invitations and story pitches. This week, though, I was invited to a marketing event that I just couldn’t turn down. It involved a major liquor company and the sampling of specialty cocktails, kind of like a wine tasting but with hard stuff. I was in.

The event was sponsored by Intercontinental Hotels and Bacardi, and the publicized goal was to choose a signature specialty cocktail that will be showcased in the hotels next year. It was held at Bacardi headquarters, not far from my office.

The hotel chain’s goal was fairly clear to me from the outset. It wants people to know that when you visit one of its hotels, you will have an experienced bartender mixing your drinks. They actually call them “mixologists,” though I’m not sure this will catch on. If you pay attention to the liquor business, you will know that some categories are floundering, but one bright spot is the specialty cocktail. These are the $20 drinks that my wife and her friends like to order when we go out, while the husbands are quite content with a Scotch on the rocks or a rum and Coke for less than half the price. Specialty drinks are a major profit center, and it makes perfect sense that the liquor company and the hotel chain want to promote them.

When I spoke with one of the Bacardi guys, it made even more sense. He was very forthcoming, saying that Bacardi sells a product that they don’t have a lot of control over when it is consumed. For example, they sell rum that some people drown with 12 ounces of Coca-Cola. (Though perfect for my unsophisticated palate, this has a tendency to commoditize their product, I imagine.) Bacardi wants the bartenders at the ground zero of cocktail sales to be on their side so that when a guy or gal bellies up to the bar and asks for a recommendation, the bartender mixes a concoction that has a Bacardi-owned spirit in it.

What Bacardi is doing actually fits with my main marketing theme for 2015. While I proffered that 2014 was the year that we needed to crank up our content, the upcoming year should be all about strengthening our marketing channels. From a communications standpoint, we need to ensure that our messages flows through our channels to our audience. We may already have a great message, but we need to make sure our channels are working for us, whether we are talking about advertising, promotions, publicity, or some new and different social medium.

Bacardi and its channel partner are all in. Together, they have developed a program to add to the experience of selling cocktails. In fact, they have turned it into a big, fun thing, involving bartenders (err, mixologists) having an event in Miami, taking lots of pictures, promoting it on social media, and getting their product creatively pushed through the channel.

For 2015, you have to define your channels, from both the marketing and communications perspectives. Are your messages being pushed to your audience in the best way possible, frequently and consistently? Are your channel partners so strong and so tied-into your brand that your message will always go through to your audience? Developing effective channels should be part of your strategy for next year and the foreseeable future. Let’s drink to it!

Let me know if you are interested in bolstering your communications or marketing channels in the upcoming year.  I would love to learn more.


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  1. Hi John,

    Ahh, the marketing of spirits. Still one of my favorites! From fine wines to fine spirits, I feel I have a respectable palate. I just submitted a branding recommendation to winemaker La Crema for a complex new Pinot Noir label launching soon, and I certainly hope they pick my great idea. However, with cocktails, I’m just not willing to do the work. You see, with fine wine and spirits someone else has done all the work. I just need to drink it. If a cocktail has more than 2 ingredients, I’ll probably forget how to make it. Plus, if I order a Martini or a Manhattan, or a Rum ‘N Coke, and I don’t go through the hassle of spelling out exactly what I mean by that moniker to a bartender, I mean mixologist, then I end up with swill.

    For decades now, I was perfectly happy ordering a Rum ‘n Coke and I refused to let anyone cheapen the joy of that flavor with snobbiness. If you think about it correctly, you’d be challenged to come up with a mixer as sophisticated as the unique, modern, bubbly, elaborate and exotic cola nut and spice ingredients of this beverage. This modern creation is universally popular for a reason. It tastes great. Only bartenders, excuse me I mean mixologists, try to shame you into another cocktail that I universally call The Upsell. There is a time for a rare savory Scotch, I just find more time for a Rum ‘N Coke.

    Some time ago, I also went to a Bacardi rum tasting to try a smattering of fancy schmancy rum cocktails. My general opinion was that rum ruined the taste of the wonderful fresh fruit juices and delicate flavors of the premium mixers. But afterward I stepped up my game a bit from a Rum ‘N Coke to Shellback spiced rum (delicious, less expensive than Bacardi Spiced or Captain Morgan) mixed with Diet Coke with Splenda. How sophisticated! The result: more flavor, perhaps less lethal. Not a good result for Bacardi though, which I pretty much abandoned when I was about 19.

    I know distillers must support their channels by finding creative ways to them make more money. So they push new premium cocktail recipes that a bartender can make a killing on. If you believe in any 80/20 rule in marketing, which I do, I’d give 80% of marketing is Distribution. That’s “Place” for the 4P marketing academics. Bacardi knows where their bread is buttered, but they have missed nearly every opportunity to get there through myopia, nepotism and arrogance. Captain Morgan told me that 15 years ago in a dream, and based on my experience when I lived in Miami, that crazy pirate was right.

    A couple of weeks ago, CNBC reporter Melissa Lee had a premium bourbon distiller on her Fast Money show, which also happened to fall on her birthday. The distiller took full tactical advantage by gracefully mixing a “NEW!” bourbon cocktail on live TV and coined it the “Melissa Lee.” It made my mouth water as I watched the cast members sip these out of aperitif crystal glasses. Of course, your local bartender will not know what this is and I doubt even the erudite Melisa Lee will remember the four ingredients. But that isn’t the point. Distillers know, that in their critical relationships with their trade channels, they must at least appear to be trying like hell to create new, popular, premium priced drinks. That’s just good (not excellent) branding. And who knows? Maybe the next hyper-popular Martini, Manhattan, Cosmo or Moscow Mule will be the Melissa Lee. That’s great for all bartenders, and just so-so for some distillers.

    Lately, I’ve noticed more people ordering Captain Morgan & Diet Coke by calling it a “Skinny Pirate.” Now that’s excellent branding, albeit way too late. More importantly, Captain Morgan’s marketing team didn’t think of it. Had Captain Morgan legally branded “Skinny Pirate” back in the ’90’s with the growing preference for spiced rum, they could have made millions more in sales. So what is Captain Morgan doing now? They are fighting the market by attempting to brand the “Captain & Colaaar.” Arrr! I don’t get it! It is peg-leg lame, phonetically misspelled and smells like a marketing department trying to redeem itself rather than just go with an existing winner.

    Captain Morgan should care less if you want Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke, and they should make dead sure there is a clear tie to their iconic brand that discourages any substitutes. But you NEVER fight the market, especially one trying to give you a free gift worth millions! I confess, for the sake of brevity, I now simply order a Skinny Pirate when I go to happy hour (sorry Shellback). I will never order a Captain & Colaaar though. No one else will either and it shows how out of touch they are with today’s snooty mixologists and even their youngest customers.

    Many bars simply use the cheapest spiced rum with the cheapest cola for this cocktail, so distillers like Bacardi, Captain Morgan and all other players must try to defend their brand without irritating channel partners. Afterall, cheap substitutes ruined the integrity, and the fabulous price premiums, of the Martini, Manhattan and nearly every other once-great cocktail. And brand experts like me remember that only Coca Cola was the true brand winner with the popularity of the Rum ‘n Coke. To this day and despite some costly efforts, no one orders a rum and Pepsi, or a Bacardi & Coke or any other variant in a way that matters. It’s just way too late for that.

    Distillers, especially Bacardi gigante, can achieve meaningful ROI with their channel promo efforts but only when they take advantage of full-cycle marketing that precisely positions their brand among all their constituents. And that still consists of product superiority, savvy channel placement, price justification and brilliant promotion, all synergistically combined. Otherwise these “VIP” cocktail promotions are just fun little get togethers with a built in memory eraser.

    All the best,

    George Macedo


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