I’ll get right to the point: in two decades of reading branding handbooks and observing marketers’ branding efforts, my conclusion is there ain’t no science to branding.
As The New York Times reported in an exposé a few weeks ago, the Coca-Cola Co. decided to quietly marshall its own cadre of experts to tout the benefits of exercise over abstinence or restraint as the solution to obesity.
We have new categories getting started, counters to those new categories, and established brands starting to really flex.
It may be hard to imagine how, just a few short years ago, even to an informed readership like BevNET’s, kombucha was just a curiosity. And while it would be premature to deem kombucha as a mainstream beverage, things are changing.
Probably like me, you’ve been too busy tending to your own beverage affairs to invest much time following that entangled soap opera involving the feuding co-founders of AriZona Iced Tea.
The segment certainly is becoming tantalizingly visible even to the beverage conglomerates. Some of the investment in Health-Ade, after all, came from the Coca-Cola Co. via its stake in the First Beverage fund; also, there have long been rumblings that kombucha-like probiotic brand KeVita has dallied with PepsiCo’s incubation arm in Southern California.
Some of the most highly touted “innovations” of recent years so far have failed to reach ignition, though it’s still early days. Rather, many of the more successful brands of recent years seem to defy common notions of what’s innovative.
Enhanced water. The segment carries quite a bit of resonance among beverage people because of the heady run of Vitaminwater in the early 2000s, and the outsize sum that Coca-Cola ultimately paid to buy it in 2007. Then things kind of went flat.
Proliferating independent coffee shops and efforts by the likes of McDonald’s to upgrade their coffee offerings are stimulating consumers to rethink their views about old man Joe, and stirring an abundance of new activity in the ready to drink coffee category.
Within the world of small startups, my ideal is the two-person shop, where you get the healthy push and pull of competing viewpoints but still keep the overhead miniscule. And if you look out on the field of entrepreneurial brands, two-person partnerships are legion.
For the past couple of years, stoked in part by the rich observations served up at the winter edition of BevNET Live, I’ve inaugurated a new year by offering some resolutions that beverage entrepreneurs might be wise to consider. I make no claim of infallibility in proffering them, and it’s easy enough to think of successful beverage companies that violated each precept (I can’t think of any that violated all the rules, and you’re welcome to aspire to be the first!).
As those of you who’ve learned to skip right over them will know, I often start my columns with an amusing or revealing anecdote, or even sometimes a mordant joke. You won’t get that this month, because that certainly isn’t appropriate when the topic of the column is the killer in our midst: Energy drinks.
A few years ago, when high-end bottled water got slammed with the twin effects of a deep recession and an environmental backlash, many of us called it the perfect storm. A sector that was riding high suddenly was in an impossible situation: only fairly affluent consumers could afford those brands any more, and within that social stratum it suddenly had become unfashionable to be spotted carrying around plastic bottles containing water shipped from halfway around the world.
As I write this column, summer is easing off and soon it will be time to stow the t-shirts away. (At least it will be for those of you for whom t-shirts don’t qualify yet as year-round “business casual” attire.) So I thought it might be fun to riff on t-shirts, given their inextricable role in the beverage business. After all, folks’ reception to t-shirts can be a great gauge of brand health, particularly in image-driven categories like beer and energy drinks.