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  • Writer's pictureKhalid Williams

Brand (un)Awareness: how the biggest budgets and most creative campaigns still miss the mark

There isn’t a gap between beverage producers and their customers. It’s a chasm that threatens to become a valley of disinterest.

Brand ambassadors are integral to brands becoming icons, but they do their work with existing products. They shed light on how demographics truly behave in this eternal frontier of experience-driven lifestyles and find exciting ways to leverage impression-driven social media. Progress has been made, but there is still far to go.

I love brand ambassadors. I am one. I hope to represent of brands that matter to me for the entirety of my career. I am also aware of the limitations of these positions because they are so outward-facing. A brand decides on their target audience and hires an ambassador to speak in a language that group can understand.

The big joke is that those in boardrooms that make decisions spend the majority of their time with others in offices who track sales are the ones that are giving the information instead of taking it from the boots (or driving loafers, more accurately) on the ground.

More is to be learned by a rep’s feedback than their activation numbers. More is gained by immersing a marketing department in the customer experience than by making assumptions and attempting to immerse the ambassador.

It’s a hard thing to acknowledge that your brand with 100 awards and years of dominance or youthful exuberance busting out of the gate is almost certainly leaving opportunities on the table when it comes to interaction and activation. My belief is that but for a very few, there are large and lucrative opportunities to interact in a genuine and impactful way that are being missed.

The needling question remains: where and why are brands in the adult beverage space failing to make meaningful connections?

Case in point: I got a gig trying to activate a rum from Central America. The expression in question had every bell and whistle – whiskey barrels, solera method, solid age statements, and a wealth of information on every raw material used and a deep respect for the land of origin. It also had a retail price north of $40 and had to be priced at $15 on brown spirit menus.

Our goal was to get accounts to share the rock-star status given to single-malt Scotch and small-batch bourbon to aged rum, and get the Constitution State sipping on large-rocked pours of some of the best molasses distilled spirits in the world. Quite the tall order (translation: not bloody likely). We had a large tasting budget, and many appreciative dark-spirit aficionados quaffed on Rum Old Fashioneds, a la yours truly. They raved about how rich and beautiful the product was – the nose, the spice, the chew, the finish all got their own ticker tape parade of praise.

When we tracked these same folks and what they purchased, a different story was told indeed. At the point of actually making a decision to part with their hard-earned dollars, they went back to what they knew. Many friends were gained with the gratis beverage offerings, but sales were lame at best.

The product was far too expensive to be utilized in tiki-style cocktails (which, as an aside, will fly off the service bar this warm season. Book it. Get your koriko mugs now.) It was too elegant for Cuba Libres. It was meant to be drank on the rocks or in stirred cocktails, like our favorite bourbons and enjoyed Scotches. One catch: It wasn’t bourbon and it wasn’t Scotch and samplers were apt to tell me as much.

Imagine my chagrin when I learned that the company had at least five other expressions, most of which under $20, all of them best in category. These would have obviously been more in line with the market and could have opened up a world of possibilities, all resulting in the brand becoming an institution on backbars and merchandised end caps.

I mentioned this to my brand managers, who did not take kindly to having their entire purpose for being questioned. I was basically told to shut up and sell.

Fast forward three years and I am hard-pressed to find this brand on the shelves in the state. Opportunity missed. Customers essentially ignored. Brand dilapidated.

The goal of a brand is to increase awareness by way of brand ambassadors. Maybe the real goal is to leverage our loyal customers into increasing our awareness of what they truly want, need and appreciate.

Big boss men and women: your brand ambassadors should be in your meetings. They should be the focus. They will inform your algorithmic data, not the other way around. Those of us in the trenches have a treasure trove of information that we are ready and willing to share. Lend us your ears (and your budgets).

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