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How do I market my drinks business?

The success of your drinks business requires a well-balanced blend of great taste, colour and provenance of the liquid - and how well you set up and deliver your marketing.

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The success of your drinks business requires a well-balanced blend of  great  taste, colour and provenance of the liquid - and how well you set up and deliver your marketing.

A customer’s selection is driven by a host of mostly unconscious factors - chiefly influenced by marketing. It’s in that moment of decision that you’d know (if you were watching) how effective your marketing has been.

Of course, the taste, colour and provenance of your product are important. But it’s easy to give them too much attention and not to put enough energy and direction into marketing.

Where to start with marketing my drinks business

You start with the customer. The first question to ask is, who is going to buy what you’re making, and why?

You probably have some idea of what your typical customer looks like, based either on those who already buy your product, or from your intuition.

It’s worth remembering your current customers may be different from your future customers. Those buying right now are responding to your branding, your drink’s availability and its price. Changing any of these could shift your customer base. Making that change should be deliberate, with a view to extending your market.

If you have a current customer base (A), this is where you should begin, rather than focusing solely on your future “ideal” customers (B). You can learn a lot from the customers already responding to your branding, availability and price point. Changing any one of these will shift your customer base, so it’s important to transition from A to B using deliberate, incremental changes that you can measure and learn from, with a view to extending your market.

If your product is yet to reach the market, who do you expect to buy it, and when? No drink has universal appeal (even if their marketing implies otherwise).

It pays to create a marketing persona or two - a description of your typical or ideal customer. Capture characteristics such as gender, age, income, interests and aspirations. Where do they buy, when and why?

Armed with a clearer picture of the person you envisage consuming your drink, you’re better placed to focus your marketing attention on them. You have a better idea of where to reach them and what messages they’re more likely to notice.

Branding for your drinks business

Branding isn’t about a logo, a colour palette, typography and graphics. It’s about emotions.

That said, a logo, colour palette, typography and graphics have a big part to play. But emotions are at the heart of branding, because your customers buy based on how they feel about a product. All those other elements help to reinforce those emotions.

Branding also helps your product to stand out when lined up against a host of similar drinks. This means standing out visually when the products are lined up in a row. And standing out in their thinking when someone asks: ‘What do you want to drink?’

What words do you want associated with your brand? There’s a huge choice: fun, relaxed, energetic, sophisticated, affordable, quirky and exclusive are just a few. Your brand can’t be all of these - choose a couple to focus on.

Consider trademarking key characteristics of your brand. This helps protect against it being copied by others. Names and logos are the most commonly trademarked items, although it can extend to sounds, colours and shapes. The shape of the Coca-Cola bottle has been trademarked for over 40 years.

Mr Black - a case study in drinks marketing

We’re taking two worlds of distinctive drinks experience, blending them into a premium liquid to be enjoyed in bars, restaurants and at home. That was the challenge designer Tom Baker and award-winning distiller Phiip Moore set themselves as they launched Mr Black - a cold brew coffee liqueur in 2013.

Their blend of a premium-priced liquid crafted with modern coffee brewing techniques, with eye-catching packaging and design, excited aficionados of both coffee and cocktail cultures. It became the fastest growing brand in the global coffee liqueur category.

In 2015 Mr Black became part of the Distill Ventures accelerator programme and was acquired by Diageo in 2022.

A marketing plan for your drinks business

With your ideal customer persona and your branding in place, you can put together a marketing plan.

This plan sets out how you're going to get the message about your brand in front of the right people at the right time, and what action you want them to take.

This plan is based around the journey that you want to guide your customers along. For a new brand, this means making them aware of your product, getting them interested in it, encouraging them to try it and, ultimately, having them come back for more.

There are so many different ways to make people aware of your drinks product. These include (in no particular order):

  • Giving away samples at events.
  • Vouchers and special offers.
  • Partnering with established brands.
  • Social media campaigns.
  • Website.
  • Email campaigns.
  • Advertising - online or in print.

Your choice will depend on your budget and your target market. What’s important is that each marketing step you take is part of a joined-up plan, where you can see how your brand message is presented to the right people, over and over, in different ways.

If you want Jim or Sal to choose your drink, rather than one they’ve bought many times before, the choice needs to be comfortable and easy to make.

Know the rules about marketing your drinks business

To avoid falling foul of regulators and rule-makers, it pays to be compliant from the very start of your drinks business.

All drinks made for sale must comply with the rules around food hygiene preparation. Even making home-made lemonade to sell from your front gate requires a food hygiene certificate. Your marketing can’t make unsubstantiated claims about the quality or benefits of your drink - even the front gate lemonade should comply with these.

It’s important to be aware of the laws around what you can and can’t claim as attributes of your drink, particularly when you want to promote it as being good for some aspect of health. The Food Standards Agency has many guidelines around ingredients, safety, labelling, marketing messages and health claims.

When your drinks have even a hint of alcoholic content you also need to be aware of the additional rules around marketing these, along with all the tax implications.

Seedlip - a case study in drinks marketing

Appalled by his experience of a sugary non-alcoholic cocktail in an upscale London restaurant, Ben Branson turned his experimental distilling into the pursuit of a sophisticated non-alcoholic spirit.

He committed to a premium liquid, launching with a thousand hand-made bottles in Selfridges, London, in 2015. Today Seedlip is on the shelves of the world’s best bars, restaurants and retailers, worldwide.  

In 2016 Ben brought his non-alcoholic revolution into the Distill Ventures programme. Less than four years later, Diageo bought a majority stake in the brand.

How Distill Ventures helps market drinks businesses

We exist because our founders understood the frustration of drinks innovators and entrepreneurs who lacked the resources to build. We help those bringing fresh excitement to the drinks market get access to funding, support and industry expertise.

This combination of finance and mentoring has helped over a dozen drinks brands achieve market recognition, allowing them to compete with established global names.

We work with founders who’ve lovingly crafted brilliant liquids that they know will appeal to a much wider market - and who are bold enough to reach for that market.

If that sounds like you, we may be able to help your business get the resources it needs to grow. Find out more by getting in touch with us today.