Zehnder Communications, Inc.

Liquor Industry Marketing Strategy: Mix Up the Perfect Marketing Cocktail for Your Brand

A good cocktail starts with quality ingredients -- and advertisers in the spirits and liquor industry know that the same rule applies when it comes to marketing. In our 10+ years as an agency working in the alcohol industry, we've learned that there are three basic ingredients required to create a successful marketing campaign. When combined in just the right ratios, these marketing efforts can boost sales on an enormous scale — as we saw for ourselves when we helped take a cinnamon whisky brand’s sales numbers from $1.9 million to $131 million in only three years. Keep reading to learn how we did it, and what steps your liquor brand can take to achieve similar success.



We’ve learned that the best campaigns are crafted before the creative process even begins. Research builds the base of a solid brand strategy and informs every marketing decision you make along the way. We’re so passionate about this issue that we’ve built our own in-house R&A department — and we’ve heard from clients that it’s made all the difference when deciding on concepts and measuring ROI.

To kick off research efforts, begin by looking at the industry as a whole to see where your brand stands. Who are your biggest competitors? What industry trends and seasonal activities will impact sales? What other marketing strategies are working — or not working — for similar companies? By taking a step back to see your industry as a whole, you’ll be able to identify spots where your product can succeed. Resources like the 4A’s, Mintel, Sysomos, and Cubeyou, for example, allow you to access industry insights and uncover details on buying behavior, media consumption, demographic data, and brand sentiment.

Developing key performance indicators (KPIs) is crucial to measuring success. Identify quantifiable metrics that represent steps toward achieving your goals — such as total sales, number of social media followers, amount of media mentions, or market share percentage — and collect baseline data so that you can accurately measure progress once the campaign kicks off.

Once you’ve solidified where you are (by conducting industry research), where you’ve been (by collecting baseline information), and where you’re going (by setting goals and KPIs), you can begin the important process of developing personas. Personas help you craft a clear image of your target audience.

For example, Zehnder helped launch a cinnamon whisky brand targeted to consumers eager to sample something new. Given the whisky’s fiery hot flavor and cinnamon kick, we crafted a message that was bold and daring — perfect for the brand’s target audience of males ages 21-30. Building off the “tastes like heaven, burns like hell” tagline, we encouraged consumers to embrace the product’s fiery, cinnamon flavor and take a shot. Every social media post, video, illustration, and printed piece reinforced a “badass” message that was targeted to our detailed persona — a young male who liked to take shots with his friends. How did we know we got the marketing message right? We carefully tracked the brand’s online performance and spoke with informants like bartenders and liquor shop owners to see how consumers responded. Once we knew we were on the right track, we continually refined our marketing efforts to appease the persona we got to know more and more as the campaign continued.

Persona development can be as simple as a brainstorming session among key team members or as rigorous as a multi-level assessment from research and analytics staff. Each persona should include, at minimum, basic desires and demographic information. At Zehnder, our R&A department relies on advanced degrees in psychology, analytics, and statistics, as well as tools like SurveyGizmo, Hubspot, and Smart Insights to develop in-depth personas that we refine based on client feedback. We also speak with informants like bartenders and sales team members to learn more about who is (and isn’t) buying the product.



The liquor industry is highly competitive, with three brands accounting for 40% of worldwide market share. Beer companies are particularly challenged to stand out to consumers today, as wine and spirits grow in popularity and the boom of craft beers increase the number of drinks consumers have to choose from. In order to stand out, alcohol brands today have to think — and act — differently. And we’ve found that standing out often means stepping into bars and meeting consumers face to face. Even in the digital age, nothing compares to personal interaction; one recent study found that face-to-face interactions were 34 times more successful at generating action than email requests.

Get your brand on the ground by sending a team of brand ambassadors to the most popular and relevant bars in your target markets. These spokespeople will establish relationships with bartenders, buy drinks for bar goers, and introduce consumers to your product in new and exciting ways. Watch your sales and brand awareness levels increase as these in-person efforts pay off.

Brand ambassador efforts were a major component of our campaign for the cinnamon whisky brand listed above. Zehnder began grassroots marketing efforts for the brand on a small, targeted scale by deploying a handful of staff members to key bars in target markets. On the ground, our ambassadors “activated” the product by buying shots for consumers, befriending bartenders, and connecting with local influencers over social media. The funny thing? These leading marketers didn’t look like marketers at all. Dressed in plain clothes, void of promotional products, and standing in line like any other bargoer, you’d never guess they were out to promote a product. This authentic, down-to-earth approach was the perfect way to go about building trust with our target audience. In just a few short years, our brand ambassador team grew to include nearly 25 members spread across more than 20 states.



Given that alcohol consumption levels peak among consumers ages 25-30, and that 88% of adults ages 18-29 use Facebook — it's crucial that liquor brands put digital efforts at the top of their marketing lists. A mobile-friendly website and active social media channels are must-haves. Keep users engaged with your product through fresh blog content, email blasts, social media giveaways, and influencer campaigns. Users today consume media across dozens of digital channels. Make sure your brand is on the most important ones, and delivering a message that’s fit for its platform.

We’ve seen firsthand how digital marketing can make a huge difference for liquor brands, especially in our marketing efforts for the cinnamon whisky brand mentioned above. Starting with social media, we slowly built a league of fans who didn’t just follow along — they liked, shared, and commented back. Our social media team developed content that was provocative and sparked conversation — boosting our posts to the top of people’s feeds and encouraging users to take action. In only four years, we helped the brand gain nearly 900,000 likes on Facebook, 88,000+ followers on Twitter, and 53,000+ followers on Instagram — an 85,000% growth rate. We also built a mobile-friendly, dynamic website with recipes and fresh content for users to enjoy. Regular email blasts, paid digital media, and search engine optimization efforts boosted online traffic and expanded our reach. As our digital campaign gained momentum, we took advantage of our active audience creating a branded mobile app. The app connected friends through a game that mixed components of truth or dare, never have I ever, and kings. The digital experience allowed consumers to engage with their favorite whisky brand in a whole new way and had more than 7,000 downloads by the end of 2016.



Mixing it all together. Once you have the three parts of your marketing mix ready, see how they all work together to create something powerful. With bar goers and bartenders on your side, an impressive online presence, and insights to help you stay strategic, you'll be well placed to successfully promote your product. Need some help refining your recipe? Get in touch and we'll be happy to serve you. Contact Client Development Manager Laura Gould at 504-962-3704 or for more information.

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