Branding on the brain

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Beer Brand Trademark Brand management

Strong brands guarantee quality and ultimately good profit. Pete Brown looks at the ethos surrounding them and why, more than ever, pubs need them....

Strong brands guarantee quality and ultimately good profit. Pete Brown looks at the ethos surrounding them and why, more than ever, pubs need them.

If you've ever scratched your head and wondered what to do with a box of tatty bunting and one-wash-and-they're-gone T-shirts, or silently cringed as promotions girls desperately try to convince your regulars to drink some lurid new sugar-filled concoction, or wanted to hurl your cat through the TV screen as yet another inane commercial that insults your intelligence appears, you might find this hard to swallow. But believe it or not, there's a lot more to the idea of brand marketing than the whiff of bovine waste matter emanating from a gaggle of guys in flashy suits.

Last month, business consultancy Deloitte asked shoppers what they would do if their preferred beer brand was out of stock in the supermarket.

Wouldn't they simply buy another brand - whichever had the deepest discount?

Well, the survey shows about half would. But 20% would leave and return to the store later, and 23% would go to another store. Nearly half of all beer drinkers believe the right brand is more important than the best price.

In pubs and bars the role of branding in people's choice of drink is even greater.

But many in the licensed trade see brands as a mixture of dark arts and emperor's new birthday suits, perpetrated by guys with very little underneath their layered haircuts.

It's true that brand marketing does have its fair share of idiots. And it's also true the branding world doesn't do itself many favours, filling the air with a cloud of jargon that - if you make the effort to penetrate it - seems to say nothing or, at best, states the bleeding obvious.

Strange power can be harnessed

Brands are hard to pin down precisely and clearly. But this is the point. The most valuable bit of a brand is not the logo or the slogan, it's what people collectively feel, think or believe about it.

The fact this can't be written down easily means it is hard to copy. Even where products are near-identical, brands can be unique. And this strange power can be harnessed to transform your business.

"A brand is basically a clear and consistent promise,"​ says Maurice Breen, marketing director of Magners.

This guarantee of consistency is where brands began. In 1876, Bass Ale became the world's first ever trademarked brand in the fight to stop unscrupulous copycats passing off their (sometimes fatal) beer as Bass. Once pure yeast strains were isolated and maintained, brewers could promise every bottle of their beer would taste the same as the last, and big brands conquered the beer world.

But why is that still important today, when - if anything - there's too much consistency in drinks?

"If there's one product that needs strong brands more than ever, it's cask beer,"​ says Steve Curzon of Adnams. "Only a small minority of drinkers feel confident choosing from a range of obscure beers they've never heard of. A well-known brand gives people a greater degree of confidence."

This is more important to pubs since the Beer Orders.

When the likes of Whitbread, Courage and Bass were names that signified pubs as well as beers, tied estates benefited directly from the millions being invested in the beer brands. Now, outside the name brand chains, when potential customers are choosing where to drink they use various methods to decide whether a pub is worth visiting or not.

"You never hear anyone asking where there's a good Foster's pub,"​ says Curzon. "You do with cask. The cask beer they stock says a lot about what the pub will be like in other respects. When you see a great brand on the bar, your impression of the whole pub goes up."

This is why Adnams has invested so much in its brand campaign. Building on the beer's roots in Southwold, Suffolk, the beautifully illustrated "Beer from the Coast" campaign has been a huge success.

"There's an aspirational quality about the coast, this whole ethos about a refreshing take on life. We think it sums up the ideal cask beer moment better than anything else: good times, relaxing, savouring, with friends. It's about everyday escapism. We had nothing like the budget of some of our bigger competitors, but we got the same level of cut-through as they did."

And Curzon insists the campaign is as much for the trade as for the drinker. "Cask beer is the one thing pubs can offer that supermarkets can't. We treat everything we put into pubs with the same care and attention as our main ads.

"Retailers are sick and tired of getting buckets of paper to promote a brand that just repeat the same slogan or pump clip design ad nauseum. If you put a great idea on to drip mats and postcards, people get more involved with it. Our beer mats get framed and mounted on the walls. People play with them and try to fit them all together."

Beer from the Coast is not just a slogan, it's an idea. This distinction is what separates great brands from gimmicky marketing and sales promotions. And ideas can come from anywhere.

"People often ask me if I'm the marketing genius who came up with the idea of serving Magners over ice," says Breen. "I wish I was, but the idea actually came from our drinkers. Years ago the pubs in Tipperary didn't have fridges. People took it on themselves to pour Magners over a glass of ice to cool it down. All we did was take that and run with it. The ritual comes from the drinker."

Ritual is an important part of any drinking occasion. This one was simple and appealing enough not only to launch a new brand around, but to rescue the entire cider market from the image of teenagers drinking two-litre plastic bottles on park benches.

Key qualities for customers

Adnams and Magners are very different brands, but there are common elements to their success. Both are rooted in the place they come from: Adnams and Southwold; Magners and Southern Ireland. The men responsible for either brand talk constantly about heritage, provenance and authenticity - qualities drinkers find important.

"Brands create emotional ties as well as rational ones,"​ says Breen, "Drink is something you consume in public, so the brand you choose acts as a badge, even if it's not ostentatious. You're with people, you want to be part of the group and sometimes you want to stand out from the group."

"Brands tap into people's aspirations," agrees James Crampton of SABMiller. "A brand is a reflection of your personality. It helps to show who you are."

Crampton's brand, Peroni, is currently proving just how much you can do with provenance and heritage. When SABMiller acquired it, the company felt Peroni had the potential to be much more than the beer you get in pizza restaurants. The beer is only ever brewed in Rome and Padua, a provenance that evokes names such as Prada and Versace.

Italy is synonymous with high fashion - so why not make Italian beer another fashion icon? Peroni relaunched at an exclusive Sloane Street store, with just one bottle of beer on a plinth in the middle of the floor.

The stunt gained nationwide recognition and paved the way for ads featuring icons of Italian design. This summer, a global campaign paid homage to La Dolce Vita, the film that first put Italian style on the map.

Whatever purists may think about the right way to sell beer, sales have increased by an incredible 32% in the year since the relaunch.

Peroni's success points to the ultimate reason anyone in the pub trade should care passionately about brands. A great brand becomes an object of desire.

And when people really want something, they will pay more for it. "Brands add real value and they justify a price premium,"​ says Breen.

"I can't remember how many times I've heard people say there is no margin in beer,"​ says Curzon. But, he says, if you focus and take care, you can build strong brands.

"Unbelievably, in this country we have small-scale, beautifully craf

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