Providing comfort in challenging times
As businesses and their brands face unprecedented challenges in the face of the COVID pandemic, we are sharing our new insights on how brands can refocus, enhance, or optimize for the marketplace we are eager to see return.
This article is based on data and findings from our new Brand Intimacy COVID Study, conducted with 3,000 consumers in late summer 2020 revealing how leading brands are affected by the pandemic.
The beverages industry has an average Brand Intimacy Quotient of 32.2, below the cross-industry average of 38.1. Performance has improved, and the industry average is up 9.5 percent compared to our previous study. This suggests that beverages are a source of indulgence and comfort and remain a key part of our lives during the pandemic. Consumers have connected with beverage brands more than in previous years, although there is opportunity for greater improvement.
COVID has greatly impacted how consumers purchase and bond with beverages brands. Non-alcoholic brands are seeing more decline, like Coca-Cola, whose sales plummeted 28 percent in the second quarter as coronavirus lockdowns affected consumption.1 Alcohol brands are generally showing an increase in sales, with the number of people buying alcohol to take home rising 27 percent during the week ending April 11, compared to a year ago.2
Coca-Cola remains in first place in the industry, and Jack Daniel’s takes second place, improving its standing. Consumer preference for Tropicana and Budweiser has decreased. Beverages perform better with men than women and with consumers over 35 years old versus those under 35 years old. The rise of Jack Daniel’s mirrors the increase in spirits usage and purchase throughout the pandemic.3
The beverages industry has improved its performance in the earliest stage of Brand Intimacy, sharing, by 23 percent. This suggests that, during the pandemic, more consumers were emotionally connecting to beverage brands than in our previous study. In fact, the percentage of customers in some form of intimacy with beverage brands has grown 16 percent. Bonding and fusing scores have remained the same.
The beverages industry ranks 20 percent higher than the cross-industry average of all brands in our study for consumers willing to pay 20 percent more for their products. This highlights that consumers value beverage brands highly and are willing to pay more for their favorite beverages.
Perhaps one of the internet’s best quarantine moments came early on from the actor Stanley Tucci and his Negroni mixing tutorial. This homemade moment became a meme and spawned competing tutorials and talk show parodies. Its success came as validation of how many of us were coping (or hoping to) while at home. At the opposite end of the pandemic, Ryan Reynolds Aviation Gin’s back-to-school spot called out what many parents were feeling or dreading.
In addition to our Brand Intimacy findings, which center on how consumers feel about their brand relationships, we are also looking at how brands themselves have behaved and communicated during the pandemic. We have captured a language analysis from company websites and outbound social, focusing on 5 brands and encompassing 519,056 words.
This chart presents a comparison of how leading brands are communicating about COVID on their websites and social. We are able to see the number of appearances of key themes for each brand and the relative differences based on the other themes reviewed (e.g., Heineken speaks 11.5 times more about drinking responsibly than its competition).
We see a range of themes and approaches, with each brand having its own focus and emphasis. Coca-Cola speaks to redirecting manufacturing, such as using plastic materials to create face shields. Pepsi addresses continuing to support communities in times of trouble. Budweiser highlights helping the beleaguered hospitality industry and providing emergency water to those in need. Heineken showcases its new protocols and speaks as an industry leader on the importance of drinking responsibly. Jack Daniel’s offers tips on hosting virtual events and highlights enjoying a drink at home.
Beverage brands are trying to determine how to adjust their advertising and communications. Few have yet produced advertising specific to life during the pandemic. Pepsi’s CEO noted that 80 percent of respondents to a survey want brands to revise the tone or style of their advertising during the pandemic.4
Anheuser-Busch, parent company of Budweiser (among others), ran an ad of its famed Clydesdales running in different parts of the country, including the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. The message, “Together we will run again and emerge stronger than before,” is currently one of the few commercials in the beverages industry referencing COVID.
It is important to keep in mind that a brand’s tactics or communications are just a small signal of a brand’s intent and do not directly indicate how a brand creates greater intimacy.
Building and maintaining strong emotional connections with users is a core tenet of Brand Intimacy and is also a key principle for navigating our challenging times. The pandemic and the economic aftershocks will require brands to navigate in new and more carefully considered ways.
As we return to “normal” life, it will be interesting to see whether our consumption of, and connection to, beverage brands changes. Intimate beverage brands, those built on a foundation of emotional bonding, should find a way to reference what we have all been through together and how they have reliably comforted us through this difficult crisis. For brands that are synonymous with parties and social gatherings, finding new ways to relate and inspire to deepen customer connections will be a major challenge.
Read our detailed methodology here, and review the sources cited in this article here. Our Amazon best-selling book is available at all your favorite booksellers. Additionally, MBLM offers Custom Dashboards providing extensive data for brands included in its annual Brand Intimacy Study. To learn more about our Agency, Lab, and Platform, visit mblm.com.
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