Dan Fox
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How not to position beer brands: Will Anheuser-Busch keep struggling?

Dan Fox questions the approach the world’s largest brewer is taking with its leading beer brands as it seeks to differentiate them from each other.

inbev-logo-470x220Not long ago, Anheuser-Busch InBev “top brass” presented its global marketing seminar in China. Beer Marketers Insights quoted an attendee’s notes on the global brand-positioning efforts for three of ABI’s worldwide mega-brands:

(Note: Outside the U.S., Corona is marketed by ABI.)

(Note: Outside the U.S., Corona is marketed by ABI.)

Sounds sort of reasonable, right? Targeting different brands… differently. So, what sort of “different need-states” that drive growth has A-B identified? They continued:

There is no record of how the financial analysts reacted. Chances are, they were satisfied that the world’s largest brewer had so carefully differentiated its big brands. No one appears to have raised a key criticism: “Can simply invoking these need-states really differentiate beer brands?”

By themselves, need-states have no marketing value

The fact is, these need-states could apply to any beer. Arguably to every beer. None of them is at all distinctive. They simply don’t “belong” to any one brand. Want proof?

Each of the three featured ABI brands can, and in fact already does, lay claim to a need-state supposedly assigned to one of the others.

Budweiser just spent a fortune promoting “Bud + Burgers,” when the “food and savor” need-state was assigned to Stella.

Corona features the “relaxation and bonding” territory that Budweiser was to represent.

While Stella Artois pretty much hits all three need-states in one commercial.

“Owning” a need-state by way of simple assertion is film-flam. Maybe stock-market analysts unschooled in positioning will fall for it, but savvy marketers know better.

To lay claim to a need-state, a beer must offer a relevant difference

The entire purpose of marketing is to cause people to choose one brand over others. To accomplish this, a beer brand must highlight a distinctive difference in its product, one compelling enough to interest those other drinkers. A real difference in the beer’s ingredients, its brewing processes, its taste profile, its source, its brewing recipe. Something real to offer beer drinkers a reason to believe, and a reason to switch.

Anheuser-Busch should already know this. After all, its hottest brand by far over the past few years focuses on the need-state surrounding physical fitness… linked to a beer that celebrates its low calories and carbohydrates.

Now, that’s a need-state effectively claimed by a brand focusing on its relevant point of distinctiveness.

Coming soon

Before long, Bud Light–the faltering AB brand desperately in need of a powerful positioning–will unveil advertising from its newest ad agency. Reviewers will ask themselves: Is it funny? Is it memorable? Does it feature beautiful locations? Fun parties? Are there celebrities? Cool music? Hipness?

But the most telling top-line critique of Bud Light’s new work will lie in the answer to one far more important question…

Do the ads highlight a provocative difference in the beer?

The answer to that question will reveal what Anheuser-Busch really knows about positioning.

Pay attention, stock-market analysts. You might learn something.

One Response to “How not to position beer brands: Will Anheuser-Busch keep struggling?”

  1. Andrew Holland says:

    Dan Fox’s assumptions about City analysts are wide of the mark – we are a heartily cynical bunch! We may listen politely to what companies tell us, but we can spot bullsh*t when we are fed it. Drinks companies have been burbling on about consumer need states for several years, pioneered by Diageo. We all know, as consumers and observers of human nature, that most consumers don’t distinguish between similar brands in a category; that they can’t taste the difference; and that one brand is entirely substitutional for another. Of course, the job of the marketer is to try to change that reality, and no doubt they think that if they tell us often enough that they have, then it becomes true. But with few exceptions, which vary from country to country, even the biggest brands fail to achieve “must-stock” status. We judge companies on their financial performance, not their marketing flannel.

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