Beer branding, the battle for market share

Branding as a way to clear out the clutter

 

Beer branding has never been keener. Marketers in every beverage category are struggling to create even the thinnest shred of product differentiation in a mind-numbing field of brands.

It’s time to take stock as beverage brand managers grapple to identify and claim a distinctive spot in the minds of beverage consumers. Have we crossed the line into a marketing paradox? Where competitive brands’ attempts to be different are all starting to look the same? Branding beer is actually out of control.

Beer branding

The Beer Market

But suds advertising and promotion provides a ready opportunity to examine the possibility of “pseudo-differentiation.”

Because beer branding has never had so many brands.

The competition is fierce and the choices seem endless. To the consumer, the selection is almost overwhelming. There are imports, domestics, light beers, low-carb formulas. There are upscale brands, budget brands, the burgeoning flavored malt beverage category, and so on. Each commercial break or trip to the beer aisle unveils a raft of choices the beer consumer has never even heard of. Much less developed any preference for.

Beer branding to steal the market share

Such a splintered scenario must be a marketer’s nightmare. Stealing share in such an environment requires noticing that beer purchasers often are looking beyond quenching their thirst. They also are seeking to use their choice of a beer brand to express a facet of their own identities. This being the case, marketers should segment the marketplace to better define the terrain where they do battle. (Read a case study on Fat Tire here.)

Beer branding overlaps. But brands also are distinct and give consumers the opportunity to connect with different brands in different situations. For example, sometimes a beer drinker might be in a frugal frame of mind and purchase a mass-marketed domestic beer. At other times, the same consumer might see him or herself as an aficionado. Therefore, they’d be willing to fork over the bigger bucks for a micro-brew or an imported choice.

What consumers buy

At still other times, buyers will identify with “personality” attributes displayed purposefully by the brand itself and then they… they… they… do what? Fact is, we don’t know what consumers do when motivated by identity with a brand. That’s because consumers have a hard time locking in on a single brew with which to identify. So many brands and sub-brands say relatively the same things to the same target in the same manner. This spells trouble for those in beer branding. The consumer’s earnest search for a brand with which to identify leaves him or her faced with a maze of brews. Brews whose only distinguishing feature is that they are the choice for people who like to party, like sports, have fun with friends, date attractive people, listen to rock music. You know the rest of the prototype.

For consumers, the ads all seem to blend into one faceless and funny joke. They remember the joke, they remember the characters, but they simply can’t remember—let alone connect to—the brand. So, what do they buy? A huge market share prize awaits the marketers who find a way to separate from the pack and create positioning beer drinkers can settle on.

What makes great beer branding

The need to build a unique, “ownable” connection with the consumer is why the hallmark of great beer branding, as we all know, is being different and better. We all know that we should look at not just the message of the brand but the way in which it is communicated. If you want to steal share you need to be seen by consumers not only as distinctive, different and better, but also as the brand meant for them. Who wins when consumers continue to be confused over which brand is “theirs?”

The answer is as obvious as it is distasteful to brands whose mission is to steal share. When beer drinkers fail in their attempts to see themselves in a brand’s personality, many will in effect allow other beer drinkers help them make the choice. They default to the perceived market leader. Pop the top on another “King of Beers.” Clearly, not every one loses when supposed brand differentiation in reality degrades into brand homogenization.

 Read our Beer Market Study here

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