Hitting The Top Shelf With Digital

Hitting the top shelf with digital spirits is a fascinating business centered on good times, but it’s also intellectually challenging in terms of working within the regulations governing alcohol marketing.

For all the excitement around the products, marketing of spirits is still quite traditional. It's easy to understood why -- some brands are hundreds of years old, which creates tension with the perpetual gravity of modern-day marketing toward youth. If we look back but three years, this traditionalism was patently evident in spirits brands’ approach to digital marketing. 

Until quite recently, digital communications for alcoholic beverages has taken an exclusively youthful and wild status as marked on annual marketing plans -- not a safe place for spirits brands to do much beyond the odd microsite and Facebook post.

Fast-forward three years and much has changed. The quality of the digital product is approaching the levels of other industries. The digital assets deployed have life beyond flat transpositions of above-the-line campaigns, and most digital media buys make visible sense. Essentially, the brand-level communications of spirits through digital are starting to rock. A few examples: Grey Goose is possibly best-in-class. The site is responsive, and presents an optimal user experience on all devices from smartphones to tablets to 27” iMacs, with gorgeous mouthwatering imagery.



Absolut has masterful SEO on Absolut Drinks. The drinks and attributes are tagged and hyperlinked, with URL stems and titles that say what they should while visitors can ‘like’ or share individual cocktails, which in turn generates backlinks to the drink's page.

But a big piece of the marketing puzzle is still missing...  the consumer.

The Internet -- still an informational medium at heart -- has search as its entry point, which is nearly exclusively Google. It turns out that people do certain spirits-related things at certain times en masse on Google.

What does this mean? Consumers’ digital behavior around spirits is visible, and to a large extent, predictable. Combined with social media data, site and app analytics, and paid media response rates, the opportunity presents itself for spirits brands to glean some potent insights, which should inform a strategic approach to digital marketing.

But how many spirits brands take action against these insights? According to eMarketer and L2 Think Tank, there’s not much positive evidence. Earned and owned media still focus around brand-level communications, and for advanced brands, where to buy.

Five keys to the top shelf

What are the practical implications?

1. Identify the peaks for your spirits brand and its category using the data sources mentioned. Understand the predictable cycles of interest for branded and generic mentions.

2. Paid digital media: have your agency optimize media spend around peak interest to ensure your paid media displays when it matters.

3. Earned media: look at your earned media and your brand activation calendar. Are there gaps in peak interest times to be filled -- or if it overlaps with a peak interest time, can you augment with paid media?

4. Owned media: content on your owned media properties, such as the Web site, must be relevant to various audience groups. Your site must present different content dependent upon:

  • The visitor’s location, and anything that might trigger a response -- e.g., a hot day and a home page with imagery of ice
  • Time of day and day of week
  • Whether the visitor has been to the site before: the user is probably cookied (can be recognized) from going through the age gate

5. Analyze the data. Peaks and troughs represent real-world behavior of real people. Creative thinking is as important as the mathematics in leveraging opportunities.

In summary, spirits brands have untapped opportunities to optimize and target media channels against observable consumer interest. The implementation can scale from a single program to entire campaigns, all with the objective of matching brand expression to the mindset of prospective customers.

A free white paper, “Spirit of Digital,” is available here.


1 comment about "Hitting The Top Shelf With Digital".
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  1. Katie Petrillo from Punchbowl, April 23, 2013 at 9:39 a.m.

    Really great article Paul. With an industry as vast as spirits, finding specific insights on consumers to zero in on can be difficult. We recently addressed the inherent role of spirits in celebrations & holidays, and the specific ways spirits brands can get in front of this market, like product information, social media & digital advertising. Feel free to check it out:

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