I’ve been guilty myself. For a long time, I’ve been thinking that the only way to build brands in on-trade was to focus on the top bars in a city. I dug deeper and understood what needed to change to win.
In this issue, I’ll guide you through my process to a focused approach to hunting. This approach is valid for:
small premium brands (VC-funded)
small premium brands (bootstrapping)
premium brands (in a wide company portfolio, on a low budget)
Why was I wrong? I wanted to be in the best bars in town, tout-court. That was a lousy brief. I didn’t realize that the best bars in town ≠ the best bars for my brand in town. I was thinking top-down from my corporate ivory tower. I decided to change my approach and build brands bottom-up. What’s the problem with the city’s best bars:
They’re used to big budgets from big brands
They’re more inclined to build their brand than yours
They’re on every brand’s and every distributor’s hunting list
They've more friends with drinks brands than space on the back bar
If you need a car but have little money, what would you do? Pop up daily in a Ferrari dealership or rather go straight to buy a better car for your needs?
Stop thinking like a big brand. You don’t have their budgets, time, teams, and share of mind of distributors and customers. Don’t get me wrong. A big brand is not better, they only have more bandwidth to absorb mistakes and inefficiencies. A luxury you cannot afford.
The old way of segmenting outlets like a pyramid is misleading. It makes us think that building brands is a top-down exercise. Building brands is not drip-coffee. That used to be true, in a time when information was scarce and only big brands were running the show with ads.
In reality, there are a lot of bars that will never make it to become part of the world’s best bars. Still, they are incredible venues that are great to build brands with a good sell-out. They are willing to help you as they need to associate with brands like yours to help them build their image.
Lower-tier bars want to show their consumers that they’ve curated a great list of premium drinks. to convey they are legit. They’ll give much more space to your brand, making room for it on their back bars and mentioning it on menus.
A top bar is unwilling to showcase you. They want to keep an “unbranded” experience. Consumers go there for their brand, not because they list yours. Within their walls, their brand is actually stronger than yours and they don't want to compromise it.
What are the 2 main things to do:
Manage your expectations when approaching top bars.
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