What marketing science tells us about how to really grow brands

Many marketers have been allured by the hype of digital media properties promising to grow brands with precision targeting capabilities. In reality it’s hard to name any big brands that have been built in this way, or that haven’t just used digital media initially and then invested in other channels to help take their brand to the next level. Most econometric models (with powerful statistical validity) show the drivers of brand growth and long term sales is broadcast media to mass markets.

Many marketers have also been misled into focussing on only improving attitudinal perceptions of their brand. Older market research companies churn out trackers with countless metrics around warmth, personality, and the like (but offer clients little insight into which are the most important, or why they are seemingly static, or how to move them). Yet the most rudimentary analysis shows in reality the strongest correlations with market share are not brands that are thought of as the best, but brands that are thought of the most.

More and more marketing science – especially that of industry authority Byron Sharp – shows that to really grow your brand it needs to be easier to access in consumer memory, in more buying situations and for more consumers. Not just physically but also mentally. This involves building more than just brand awareness or positive attitudes towards your brand. Rather it is more important to create associations, refresh salience and build new memories so you’re the brand consumers choose to buy in a given situation, context or need state (“How to Grow Brands”, Sharpe).

Applying this to the Spirits category during and post Lockdown

The building blocks of mental availability are “category entry points” – a combination of when, why and with who we are drinking in this case.

During lockdown on-trade alcohol consumption was suspended. Off-trade consumption however boomed. The pandemic has caused significant behaviour changes. Recovery is causing even more. During these times brands need to know the most common (and least common) entry points in the spirits category – and where their brand is strong or weak compared to their competitors to identify and plan responses to new opportunities and threats.

When do we reach for what?

Watching TV is by far the most popular activity for consuming spirits. Consuming wine and beer while watching TV is just as common. Drinking spirits before or after dinner is popular, but not as common as drinking wine during dinner.

Source: Trajectory, 2020

Who are we drinking with the most?

During lockdown a quarter of drinking has been done alone (and nearly half of this has been done in front of the TV). Drinking with a partner is very common, especially at dinner, but on average less units are consumed per occasion than when drinking with others or even when drinking alone.

While occasions where we’ve been drinking with others – a mini house party, a household dinner party, or BBQs – are among the least common at this time, these are still the occasions when we drink the most. However, when we assess overall volume (by multiplying the average units consumed by the frequency of the occasion) little and often accounts for far more consumption than drinking a lot but less often.

Source: Trajectory, 2020


Why we reach for what?

Consumer needs, their reasons for drinking, can be grouped into four. Needs around good quality and good taste, including exciting flavours and refreshing; needs around cost and value; psychological/introverted needs such as comfort or reward; and social/extroverted needs such fun, cool, popular.

Taste and quality need states are highest for all alcohol categories, among which a need for exciting flavours is higher among spirits than beer or wine.

Interestingly in the spirits category the more psychological/introverted needs are higher than sociable needs, compared to beer and wine categories where needs are more mixed. At the same time, need for good value is much less a priority for spirits. We are much less worried about cost when we’re treating ourselves, than when we’re with others – drinking solely for pleasure rather than as an aspect of sociability. This suggests more scope for premium branding and pricing in this category in relation to treating oneself.

Source: Trajectory, 2020


The popular entry points to the Spirits category…

Combining needs states and contexts gives us 150 potential category entry points.

Source: Trajectory, 2020

Of these 150 category entry points this heat map identifies the most popular as:

  1. Refreshing drink whilst watching TV
  2. Easy to drink in front of the TV
  3. Exciting flavours whilst watching TV
  4. Fun to drink whilst watching TV
  5. An uplifting drink to watch with TV
  6. A nostalgic drink for watching TV with
  7. A refreshing after dinner drink
  8. A comforting drink to have in front of the TV
  9. High quality drink to watch TV with
  10. Exciting flavours to drink after dinner
  11. A good value drink to have in front of the TV
  12. A comforting after dinner drink
  13. Something easy to drink after dinner
  14. A refreshing drink at a virtual social meet/dinner
  15. A refreshing aperitif


The Spirit category’s big challenges…

Comparing the most popular drinking occasions to the occasions where spirits have a higher presence than other alcohol categories, identifies a massive white space – there are no popular activities where spirits have the highest market share (even controlling for the higher unit consumption during some activities and occasions).

Priorities for filling this massive white space should be:

1) The top left quad – increasing the associations of popular drinking activities with spirits – Watching TV (competing with beer) and eating (competing with wine)

2) The bottom right quad with comms that pushes the popularity of these currently niche activities where spirits are the drink of choice (Aperitifs, House parties, Home Entertainment activities like gaming, reading, etc)

3) The bottom left: Less popular occasions where spirits have little market share should be deprioritised until there’s movement from the other two quads

What we know about the how needs states vary by context can help inform tactics for the above priorities; Popular drinking contexts of watching TV where spirits are behind other categories, brands should show how they can respond to consumer need states for taste, easy drink and quality. To improve spirit popularity at lunch and dinner brands need to associate this occasion with their taste, quality, and value.

Applying this to your brand…

We’re able to measures how mentally available your brands are against each Category Entry Points. Some brands will do well in some particular situations, some will do well in many situations. Some will do well with a few consumers; some will do well with many consumers.

Our analysis can pinpoint your brand’s performance on actionable metrics:

Mental Market Share: Of all the Category Entry Points in purchasing Alcohol FMCG, what proportion is your brand associated with?

Mental penetration: What proportion of potential customers link your brand to at least one Category Entry Points

Network size: What is the average number of Category Entry Points consumer associates with your brand

We can help you use these metrics to:

Devise a strategy to increase mental availability – by developing new category entry point campaigns and planning your media extend reach and increase mental penetration – as the covid-19 crisis continues and beyond.

Build a business case to support this strategy – we will analyse mental availability metrics against sales to prove the relationship between mental availability and revenue. We will also then forecast the impact that increasing mental availability will potentially have on sales, giving you the figures and language needed to justify investment

For more information on involving your brand in this research contact patrick@trajectorypartnership.com


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