Space is limited when it comes to getting a message across to your customer. Whether a billboard, a print ad or product packaging, there is limited area for a brand to get across what is most important. A brand must think of this space the same way it would its single-minded proposition. Information should be direct, uncluttered and, above all else, important. Many companies get some of this right but rarely all of it. Maybe they have an important message but the design and layout makes the message difficult to understand.
Or, in the case of Sierra Nevada, it is just off a bit in the “important” department.
I recently picked up a case of Sierra Nevada’s Ruthless Rye, the purchase primarily driven by the news that it was opening a brewery in nearby Asheville. Later, I was outside, beer in my hand, when I began reading the label and noticed two pieces of information Sierra Nevada had added to the label in a rather pronounced way; “purest ingredients” and “ finest quality.”
The problem with these additions is that they are a waste of precious space, especially when considering the microbrew drinker. Let me explain. Microbrew drinkers are the absolute worst in terms of brand loyalty. In research we have conducted for the beer industry, microbrew drinkers want to experience “new” and evaluate it against others they have tasted. Whereas a Bud drinker only drinks Bud, a microbrew drinker will ask, “What do you have?” For this reason, messaging in the microbrew market is very critical because it has two hurdles not just one: create preference and change the habits of the customer.
Which brings me back to Sierra Nevada. Its bottle was essentially its best chance to affect me. It was its opportunity to tell me the one thing that would make me covet the brand so deeply that I would become a repeat customer. In terms of relevance, “purest ingredient” and “ finest quality” are relevant, but not when the microbrew customer already assumes that about most microbrews.
The thing about a marketing message is that, for the positive to be valuable, its negative must also be believed. For example, if your message is best customer service, the customer must believe that the competition has poor customer service. Otherwise, there is no impetus to switch. This is the crux of “purest ingredients” and “finest quality.” For a microbrew drinker, the assumption is already that they have bought a high degree of ingredients and overall quality just by paying the premium. The proposition adds no value for the consumer to switch or be loyal to that brand.
There are messages wherever we look, to the point of overstimulation. For that reason, we block most of them out. The language, layout, and perspective that a brand brings is so important because perfecting it is the only way to break through. Sierra Nevada isn’t the only beer with this fault – the big American lagers chasing Budweiser, especially Miller, have the same problem – but it should assume that customers already believe it uses the purest ingredients and has great quality. Instead, it should utilize that space to say something that sets it distinctly apart from the competition.