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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Perfecting premium

Trouble Maker co-founder Jonny Grum shares four golden rules for successful premium branding

Premiumisation is a huge trend in the drinks industry right now, and with good reason. The cost-of-living crisis might be putting pressure on consumers and their wallets, but perhaps surprisingly they’re not cutting back on the drinks they love.

Instead of trading down to cheaper brands to save money, people are still choosing to treat themselves to more expensive drinks. They’re just drinking less often. And that puts high-end brands in a great position to scale.

There’s a huge market opportunity to capitalise on here, but growing a premium brand isn’t easy. The answer isn’t to just outspend your competitors while chasing a bigger audience for your brand.

Premium brands have to think smart about scaling, and there are a few golden rules the winners are currently playing by.

  1. Forget exclusivity, think inclusivity

Building a premium brand in the past was all about that sense of exclusivity. They were cold, distant and aloof, positioned as icons that were only ever seen in the presence of the rich and famous – and therefore felt out of reach for most. It was a simple shortcut for quality and a simple way to justify the price point.

But those days are over. With premium brands now looking to scale, becoming accessible and inclusive to more people is key. That’s not to say there necessarily has to be a deeper purpose behind the brand, but building meaning and differentiation is paramount in the current consumer landscape. That said, premium brands do have to justify their higher price point and the role they play in people’s lives, now more than ever. Establishing or maintaining a premium positioning while dialling up accessibility can be a tricky tightrope to walk.

But it can be done. In fact, the brands winning in this space are those which are connecting with their consumers around lifestyle or mindset platforms instead. Giving people more reasons to believe in your brand can help build salience, it’s a process that can constantly evolve and be reframed in line with consumers’ attitudes, interests and beliefs.

  1. Appear in premium contexts

When it comes to media strategy, the science behind growing a brand doesn’t change. You need to reach as many of your target consumers as possible with your spend at an optimum frequency. However, aligning a brand with premium media spaces and environments is a great way to maintain that sense of desirability while driving incremental reach.

That might mean rebalancing your media mix if budget allows, to include more high impact digital out-of-home sites, or buying advertising against TV inventory  which is associated with luxury audiences. Or it could be looking at experimenting with media partnerships and innovative ad units. It might also mean striking premium partnership deals and collaborations, with prestigious events, venues or individuals, who will in turn help drive talkability for your brand that goes beyond the reach of your paid media.

To balance that, the best premium brands are also using more accessible and community-based channels, like social media and influencers, to get closer to their consumers. The very best consistently show they have their finger on the pulse of trending content styles, memes and talent. Outside of the drinks category, Hugo Boss activates consistently well in this space, one example of this being their collaboration with TikTok sensation Khaby Lame.

Gucci has also been an interesting brand to watch in relation to this. The fashion icon has tested various platforms and channels to reach new and younger audiences, from experiments in the metaverse, to playlist curation and brand collaborations. Constantly pushing the boundaries of new media and brand collaborations opens the fashion house to a wider audience base and makes them seem more approachable and attainable, while maintaining its premium image through consistently beautiful art direction at every touch-point.

  1. Provide premium experiences

With the pandemic behind us and the world opened up again, the ability to provide consumers with high-end experiences has proved a powerful tool for premium brands. Not only do they increase a brand’s desirability, but they enhance its value proposition.

Hendrick’s Gin, for example, has a very consistent above the line advertising strategy which continues to use fantastical Victoriana-like animated imagery, with plenty of cucumbers – to drive differentiation. However, they also have a rich history of scaling further by creating interesting, memorable drinking experiences which drive earned media and talkability. From a series of events under the banner of ‘Emporium of the Unusual’, to sponsoring the Oxford vs Cambridge Goat Race, to launching an airship in the shape of a giant flying cucumber dubbed ‘Hendrick’s Air’ (yes really).

These examples might sound eccentric, but the consumer drinking experience is always premium and how the brand shows up mirrors the tone of the above the line advertising. Put simply, these experiences allow Hendricks to stand out, to be different and make consumers want to come back to see what they’ll do next. They are experiences for the few that are amplified to the many through earned and paid media.

  1. Swap heritage for modern meaning

The stamp of heritage used to be crucial for premium brands but that’s less important now. Instead, successful premium brands are crafting a modern meaningfulness around mindsets, culture, purpose, authenticity and innovation. Brands that are known for one or more of these things are completely bypassing the need for heritage.

This provides an opportunity but also a challenge for premium brands that have been built on a foundation of heritage. If they don’t look at ways of reframing or attaching new codes of meaning then they face pressure from emerging players who can short-cut heritage and provenance by projecting any positioning they choose, whilst taking advantage of their lower price-point to steal share of wallet.

An interesting new player in the non-premium drinks space is Madri, the Molson Coors-owned beer brand launched in 2020. There’s no particular heritage or backstory to the brand – it’s brewed in the north of England. But they’ve created a brand world around the product which speaks to Spanish and Mediterranean culture – to sun, sea and good food. Madri is now one of the fastest growing beers in the UK as it’s been able to undercut the price points of more premium, imported beers and therefore scale distribution rapidly across the UK.

The commercial success of Madri shows how difficult it can be for premium drink brands to stand out, as well as underlining the importance of not standing still in the face of a challenging consumer climate. That doesn’t mean changing your brand’s identity every 12 months, but consistent innovation across channels, products, collaborations and activations can unlock new audiences, new occasions and drive more salience.

Building and growing a premium brand is all about giving consumers enough reasons to believe that a brand is worth the price. Ultimately, it’ll be the brands that follow the above rules which will come out top in the end.



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