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One of the more cutthroat sectors in the drinks industry is the vodka category. In recent years, the cocktail boom in markets such as the US has prompted the launches of new vodkas on an almost weekly basis. With so many brands around, James Boulton, creative director of branding development specialists Claessens International, gives his opinon on how you can make your brand stand out from the crowd.

Most drinks brands can trade on a number of different factors to differentiate themselves from their competitors, ranging from taste and quality, though to gender, age preference or convenience. However, this isn’t the case with vodka.

Although brand owners and connoisseurs of the spirit will talk of the nuances of flavours between different products due to varying distillation methods and the water used, this can be very difficult for the general consumer to detect. So, to the man on the street there is little to separate vodka brands in terms of taste.

Meanwhile, the sheer versatility of the spirit – it is non-gender specific, can be consumed at home or in a bar, and can be enjoyed straight, with mixers or in cocktails – means that its market is vast. This has resulted in the plethora of vodka brands on the market today. The challenge for each of these brands is how to stand out in an increasingly crowded space.

The lack of variety and large number of offerings mean that vodka brands need to interact with consumers far more in a visual sense from the shelf than arguably any other product. This places particular emphasis on the brand positioning of the bottle shape and label.

However, if a vodka brand is all looks and no substance, it may appear in the short term to be a novelty purchase; its popularity won’t have any longevity. This means it’s vital for a brand not only to have a strong visual impact, but also that its look and feel engages with consumers on a deeper level and communicates the story of the brand.

To really stand out, a vodka brand must have a truly engaging and complementary look and message. It must have a compelling and original brand proposition that is supported by an appropriate, yet striking visual presence.

An added problem in the vodka market is that too many brands try to deliver similar messages, which often focuses around the purity of the spirit. This results in a large number having a similar look and feel. Another issue is that some brands simply rely on a fancy or in-vogue bottle, with little or no message. This can be an expensive mistake, as such a brand will need to keep reinventing itself to keep up with the latest fad.

There are many ways to develop a successful vodka brand, but whatever the overall approach, it’s always vital to build in charisma to engage with the consumer and capture their imagination at the point of purchase. A particularly effective method is to instill provenance into a brand, which reassures consumers by conveying a sense of heritage.

Established brands frequently use this tactic, such as Stolichnaya, which draws on its Russian heritage. However, relatively young brands can also use provenance to create their own sense of history. One such brand, Russian Standard, conveys heritage through association with the historic city of St Petersburg where it is distilled, thereby differentiating itself from other vodkas on the market.

Having achieved a strong brand proposition along with a complimentary look and feel that successfully engages consumers, it’s vital not to stand still. Continual development of a vodka brand is essential to keep it current as the consumer evolves and to maintain its market differentiation. For comparatively little investment, compared to other elements of the beverage marketing mix, strategic and gradual evolution of a brand ensures longevity and relevance, keeping it constantly connected to the consumer and ahead of the field. It also provides a focus and consistency for brand communications going forward.

For more information on Claessens International, click here.


Sectors: Spirits

Companies: Stolichnaya

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