How Far Ahead Can Your Brand See?

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What if consumer habits changed over time, and then very quickly… what would you do?

How long have you heard the saying, “don’t drink and drive?” I remember when it first became more and more pervasive. I’m The Olds. For many, they grew up knowing to never drink and drive. From that to thinking about drinking in moderation. From that to a healthier lifestyle. And here we are. We don’t think about it, but the alcohol brands have had to struggle to innovate and grow their business, against all odds. Recently, Ad Age published a very interesting article titled, Alcohol Marketers Face Sobering Times As Moderation Trend Grows. It’s not just the messaging that alcohol (outside of moderation) is bad, but there are other factors at play:

“While Dry January only lasts 31 days, there are signs that a more sweeping and permanent moderation movement is taking root among millennials. The generational shift is forcing bars, restaurants and alcohol brands to adapt. More low- and no-alcohol products are in development, and some, like Heineken’s new no-alcohol 0.0 beer, are already hitting store shelves. Drinking establishments, meanwhile, are adding fancier non-alcoholic cocktails, or mocktails, to their menus as they look to keep their drink revenues flowing.”

This shift comes with problems too.

Mocktails or no-alcohol beers are competing with water. Beverages, as a category, is also struggling as people shift their tastes away from sugary or carbonated drinks to water. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many alcoholic brands are exploring cannabis-infused products, but these will take years to bring to market (and even more time to achieve mass consumer adoption). The alcohol brands have been faced with legislation for decades (for obvious reasons), and let’s not kid ourselves, we’re not heading into dry county. Still, these larger (and even craft) manufacturers need to face a reality: maybe after all of these years, the negative and moderation messages are sinking in and it’s becoming generational. If Dry January does create a more “sweeping and permanent moderation movement,” as the article suggests, what are these brands to do?

What would you do?

Do the beer companies suddenly have to compete with the soda companies for the water business? Do the craft beer manufacturers have to embrace that they will always be a small business? Do we have no empathy for these businesses that have made millions/billions of dollars over the years, and now find themselves searching for new markets to maintain sales levels? I found myself wondering, “how far ahead can brands see?” Is it fair to say that the trend was less people drinking alcohol? (and they should have known?) These brands have not rested. They have brought new brands to market, created different levels of accessibility for premium brands, and played it well with the more casual drinker. When I was in the agency business, I would marvel at the brands, marketing and stories that these companies would bring to market. Regardless of how you feel about alcohol, it’s hard not to not admire the marketing prowess and the desire that they know how to create in the consumer’s mind. 

Foresight is becoming ever-more important.

That’s the real lesson from this article… and the shift in this industry. Maybe it’s the shift in your industry as well? Maybe competition is no longer about another company selling a similar product or service? Maybe the entire industry is frail and subject to complete obliteration if you’re only looking at what your own brand is doing in the marketplace? That’s a scary question. But it is the reality? As smart audio continues to catch attention and grab marketshare, what’s an app like Shazam to do? If every piece of audio can be spoken to (What album is this on? What is the name of this song? Who produced it? Is there a live version?) and the answers are there (always), is that a failure in the quality of Shazam, or an entire need that has been changed and, subsequently, pulls the rug out from underneath a bunch of businesses? How far ahead do we need our brands to see? Is there even that type of vision?

How far ahead can we see what is disrupting our industry?