In the drinks industry, there’s a problem. People tend to spend more time in the office than in the market. It's quite counterintuitive for an industry that prides itself in being a people business. That creates an echo chamber that provides biased feedback while building the brand.
Most of the people I speak to, (small or big brands) don't feel comfortable visiting the on-trade to sell.
There is a tendency to over-focusing on the internal aspect of brand building. Creating the brand, perfecting the liquid, the look of the bottle, and the marketing stuff. There’s so much effort in these aspects that people think their brand is so great that will sell alone. When it doesn’t happen, there’s a cold shower effect.
Very few people working in the industry understand the importance of cracking sales and distribution.
Last week, in one of my LinkedIn posts someone asked me a question. Why didn’t I mention “the brand” as one of the top 3 factors to win in the market? It’s simple: the brand has become a given. It’s like trying to get hired for a job because you can use emails, work with MS Office or speak English as a second language. Those things are not mentioned anymore in CVs. They were often enough 20 years ago. Not anymore. Two decades ago, it was also enough for a brand to be cool, do great marketing and have a great liquid. Now they need to master sales and distribution.
A strong brand is necessary but not enough to get listed, displayed in a back bar, or get picked up from a shelf.
The future of drinks industry insights is sitting at the bar.
Selling a product is hard. You’ll get more doors on your face and negative answers than you can imagine. But that's not a good enough reason to give that task to someone else in your team.
Founders hire a salesperson that “knows the market and has contacts”. Marketing teams delegate selling to their sales colleagues.
It’s not by running focus groups and talking with influencers that you understand the market. They will give you a biased answer. It’s not by speaking to people that think like you that you make a bullet-proof brand. It’s by getting a “no” to your sell-in story and a "so what" to your brand story. It’s by talking to bartenders. Observing consumer behaviors.
Great brands are not built in the echo chamber. By talking to your colleagues and inner circle, you will get the answers you wanna hear not what you need to hear.
I've heard marketing colleagues complaining they hadn't been "invited" by sales to a market visit.
Bars are not dangerous places where you can only enter after a SWAT sales team has cleared them. Bar owners are normal people. If they act too cool, you're in the wrong place or you don't have the answers to argue back.
So what's the best way to gather insights effectively? I don't have a silver bullet but here are 5 tips to consider:
Tip #1: Spend more time in the market
Spending time in-house is important but it's a given. If you don't understand the market, you will pile up pallets of bottles in your warehouse. Spend time in the streets, and understand the needs of distributors, sales reps, and bar owners. It's an ecosystem and you need to master the levers to make it work smoothly. You can't delegate sales. You need to be in the streets every single week not just when you have time. It's like going to the gym. If you don't make time for it, you will never get there (that's me).
Tip #2: Speak to the bar and wait staff.
Bartenders are busy but they are still human. Talk to them. Off-peak hours are the best for this. Go there on a slow afternoon or early evening. Have a drink and observe how the staff recommends brands. Ask them questions and observe non-verbal actions. What can you do to make their job easier? Make your brand part of that journey.