How spirits brands can connect with the 'Modern Bartender' - Nidal Ramini, head of brand advocacy, Brown-Forman - Industry Comment

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Nidal Ramini, the head of brand advocacy at Brown-Forman's northern Europe division, takes a closer look at the relationship between drinks companies and the hugely-important on-premise channel.

Nidal Ramini is head of brand advocacy for Brown-Forman northern Europe

Nidal Ramini is head of brand advocacy for Brown-Forman northern Europe

At this year's Tales of the Cocktail event in Edinburgh, founder Ann Tuennerman told just-drinks: "A bartender doesn't need another branded T-shirt or another pair of sunglasses. If you give someone an education, or take them to a distillery, that's something that stays with them for their career. Companies are really investing in people, and bartenders are very responsive to it."

Tuennerman makes a great point: While all bartenders love a bit of 'merch', clearly that alone will give the brand neither the distribution that it needs, nor the loyalty that it craves. Tuennerman argues that we have to educate. But, is that enough? Or, perhaps the better question is: What does that entail?

In-depth masterclasses and tastings delivered by well-respected brand ambassadors are commonplace, as are (in most cases) warts-and-all insights into the history and production of a brand. By simply delivering these to the trade, will a brand win the hearts and minds of the bartender? Take the golden goose of the bar world: The Brand Trip; an all-expenses-paid journey to a brand's home place. Does it deliver loyalty?

To be frank, no, it doesn't.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? A brand spends money on training and education, on trips and experiences – the resources spent at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans every year are eye-watering – and yet, when it comes to a bartender choosing brand partners, it would seem that a lot of this is forgotten: "Thanks for the party, but I think I'm going to go with them instead."

What can a drinks company do, then, to secure not just physical availability of its brands via bar-back and cocktail listings, but mental availability - that magic moment when a bartender automatically defaults to a brand when recommending a drink?

To gain this kind of relationship with bartenders, brands are thinking more strategically about their advocacy programmes and that starts by defining who their target is.

The 'Modern Bartender' is someone we at the Brown-Forman advocacy team define as a bartender who takes what they do seriously; they read the trade press, they go to events, they comment on bartender forums and on social media and - via social media - they're globally-connected. They're not necessarily at the top of the trade, but they definitely have aspirations to be.

Once we've defined our target, we need to gain an insight into what their motivations are, not just in relation to a particular brand, but their career goals and aspirations, and how they're going to get there. We believe these people want to be known for creating the best drinks and experiences in their own unique way and are looking for brands that share their values and can help them on their career journey.

What all this means is that brands need to make a difficult decision: The brand is not the hero of the campaign or activation – the bartender is. Alongside education and engagement - the classic cornerstones of brand advocacy - a brand needs to add inspiration. The saying goes: "Teach me and I'll forget, tell me and I may remember but involve me and I'll learn". Align this thought with your insight, and you have an advocacy strategy that is globally relevant.

The 'Modern Bartender' wants to be inspired; they don't want to just be told about your brand, they want to know that you actually stand for what you say you stand for. We've already seen industry trailblazers picking up this particular ball and running with it. Last year, P(OUR) was established by Alex Kratena, Ryan Chetiyawardana, Jim Meehan, Simone Caporale, Monica Berg, Joerg Meyer and Xavier Padovani – global bar community heavy-weights who sought to unite the industry through a series of knowledge-sharing symposiums.

Brand owners have realised this too, Pernod Ricard has launched 'The Magnificent Seven', a programme offering bartenders the opportunity to learn about Pernod's portfolio through a day-long series of master classes.

As for Brown-Forman, our 'Scandal Water - A History of Punch' is our candidate. Earlier this year, Woodford Reserve set out on a road trip along the west coast of the US with the team from London bar The Punch Room in The London Edition hotel. Along the way, the team visited Los Angeles, San Francisco and the home of Woodford Reserve, Louisville, Kentucky. The Punch Room's Davide Segat and Andy Shannon, alongside brand ambassador Tom Vernon, educated bartenders on the history of punch as a cocktail and the inspiration for The Punch Room bar. They then went on to host three bar takeovers. These events gave Vernon, Shannon and Segat the chance to mentor US bartenders and share their wealth of knowledge and experience of the bar trade.

Our activation symbolises a different approach: Woodford Reserve was the facilitator, and not the star of the show.

Of course, all of this still costs money and brand trips will still happen. But now, they're more likely to be more multi-faceted than they used to be.

Nothing will change the fact we all still love a party! The moral of our story is that, in 2017, the old 'dates and distillation' style of brand education is over. Compelling, inspirational content is key.

Sectors: Spirits, The on-trade

Companies: Brown-Forman

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