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Are consumers loyal to spirits brands?

As consumers are continually encouraged to experiment with drinks and try new things, two leading bartenders debate whether brand loyalty is a thing of the past.

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How loyal are consumers to their favourite spirits brands?

As cocktail culture advances and expands across the globe, and spirits brands become ever more innovative and experimental, consumers are spoiled for choice in the industry.

While most have a favourite couple of categories, it is questionable whether in this day and age consumers opt for the same brands again and again.

However, as drinkers become more savvy and educated, many request specific spirits to add to their mixers at bars.

The dilemma forces us to ask the question: how big a role does brand loyalty play in consumers’ choice at the bar?

Debating the issue are two esteemed bartenders: Sophie Bratt, assistant bar manager at London’s Oxo Tower; and James Connolly,  bar manager of Perth’s Enrique’s School For Bullfighting.

What do you think? Follow the debate and leave your comment below.

Sophie Bratt – assistant bar manager, Oxo Tower, London

Sophie-Bratt“Customers are open to suggestions and are happy to try something new”

Customers may be aware of the leading brands but they are also malleable and open to being introduced to the next big thing and a new experience.

The big brands of our industry are obviously well-known names not far from the tips of our customers’ tongues, but all this really means is that some clever marketing has been successful at getting them noticed.

The increase in artisanal products available has given customers more choice and freedom than they’ve ever had before. As such, I think you can pitch any product to a customer, even if it’s a brand they are not familiar with, and they will be willing to try it.

Brand loyalty is almost non-existent now. Gone, I believe, are the days of a customer opting for a different drink altogether when their preferred brand is not stocked in a bar. They no longer settle for a standard vodka and coke if their beloved Bacardi is unavailable; nowadays they’ll just choose a different rum.

While the customer is certainly more informed about the products they buy, some will still order brands by name mainly out of habit or when put on the spot, and not because they are being loyal. Who among us has gone to a bar, ordered a gin and tonic and blanked when asked what gin we would like, often resulting in a quick scan of the back bar for the green-bottled safe option?

I find the customers who frequent my bar are open to suggestions from bartenders and are happy to try something new, often asking for more information about each suggestion. After all, every day is a school day and as bartenders, I think it’s our job to inform customers of new products that may be of interest to them. I’ve noticed a growing trend in consumers becoming more interested in the origin of the products they drink, how it is made and what it is made from, rather than who makes it.

We should be really engaging customers to become excited about alternative products that are out there, rather than encouraging them to stick with the names they know.

James Connolly – bar manager, Enrique’s School For Bullfighting, Perth

James-Connolly“In Australia, some customers have an incredible amount of ‘brand loyalty'”

I find clientele can be incredibly picky about brands, even when offered a better quality product for a lesser price – they still won’t want to drink it.

I’m sure we’ve all had customers leave our bars because we don’t stock brand X, Y, or Z; I guess if that’s what they like then that’s what they like.

There are customers out there who will always drink top shelf products, but sometimes there are products available that can be a third of the price that I would rather drink (and not just because I am a tight arse).

In Australia, some customers have an incredible amount of brand loyalty so “Dave” will only drink a certain brand and that will be the only thing he will ever drink.

Some guests are very well educated and know exactly what they want and why they want it, whereas others will stare at the back bar until they see something they recognise and pick that.

I think the tough thing for customers is knowing which one to choose. Liquor companies have huge budgets to spend on marketing, promotions, fancy packaging and advertising. Packaging can play a big role – we can all recognise a certain blue bottled gin that is in almost every bar, lounge, off-license, duty free and drinks cabinet in the world.

It can definitely make or break a brand sometimes, however I have found brands that have amazing bottles but the end product disappointingly isn’t up to scratch.

The environment can be a huge factor as well. For example, if you go somewhere fancy you may be inclined drink something fancier, but generally speaking, one of your preferred brands.

However, if you were to go to your local boozer, you’re going to look like a right clown if you start asking for brand Z that comes in a frosty bottle designed by a famous French fashion house.

All in all, the style and calibre of a venue would certainly play a big part on how picky customers are about brands.

Smokers don’t change their brand every time they go to the newsagent, so why should drinkers?

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