Reluctantly, you wake up and begin to understand that the need to stay proactive is probably more important now than it ever was before. Indeed, its time to get back on the treadmill. Time, to begin the task of figuring out just what its going to take to sustain your competitive advantage and reinvent your brand to ensure that it stays at the bleeding edge of its field. So where to start?
One place to start is to look at the brands that consistently get it right.
The alcoholic drinks industry is undoubtedly a mature market and has seen a marked evolution in terms of brand association, with products continually being re-launched amid a flurry of whistles and bells. While most organizations are keen to stress that the brands they represent still retain their core values, some have repositioned themselves in a drive to attract a premium price for a value-added sell. Either way, in the midst of such turbulence the communication of brand strategies to targeted consumers is inevitably the difference between failure and success.
Clearly, the advent of new media has a major role to play here and smarter brands such as Absolut are already setting the pace. In fact the first thing that hits you about the Absolut brand is clarity of vision.
When asked where she sees the brand in 5-years’ time Eva Kempe-Forsberg, VP Marketing at Absolut Vodka, says, “Absolut will be the most attractive brand on the global vodka market.” She goes on to cite the key qualities that consumers will associate with the product: “smart, stylish, creative and witty.”
To achieve this continual top-of-mind brand awareness, Kempe-Forsberg and her team are constantly looking at ways to differentiate the proposition and improve communication. One area where they have excelled at pioneering is on the web.
“In 1996, Absolut launched the first version of the experimental sites where Kevin Kelly displayed a vision of ideas and art of the future. The competitors had, at that time, very general websites targeting a broad audience. Absolut decided to focus on the early adopters among Internet users by making a creative and cutting-edge website,” she explains.
As the web user demographic shifted, so did Absolut. “Absolut has always aimed to be on the forefront in all sorts of communication, but in recent years the Internet has made it possible to communicate and interact with everybody. Therefore we decided that the new site must take care of the overall target group of Absolut and not only those who are looking for cutting-edge experiences on the web.”
The site was created by a Swedish web agency, with a team of between 3-8 people on the project for 12-months. “The brief to the agency was to create a website with an appealing content for all target groups and to stress the quality aspect. The website also had to follow our overall communications platform. The latest online tracking showed that people who have visited our website have a stronger relationship with the brand compared to non-visitors in the target group, so we believe that absolut.com gives the consumer a creative experience as well as information on the Absolut brand.”
The Absolut site is testimony to the Internet’s power as a global communications medium. Last year, Absolut.com was recognized by the FAB Awards (food and beverage awards), winning the best New Media award in the alcoholic beverage category. It was also awarded overall winner of New Media. In addition, the film Absolut Passion (in the Truth-section of the site) won a silver lion at the 2001 Cannes International Advertising Festival.
Despite such accolades however, when Absolut is asked to rate its Internet proposition the response is suitably modest: “We are not the ones who judge our own website. We listen to the comments from our visitors. On absolut.com there is a Contact functionality from which visitors can send us their comments and questions. We receive a number of comments each day [mostly] on the design and the composition. So far the feedback has been very positive.”
In emphasizing the importance of sustaining the momentum and in continuing to embrace new marketing opportunities, Kempe-Forsberg says that her priorities going forward are “to constantly develop the brand and the communication – although keep continuity.” Indeed, all are vital elements of any branding strategy if one is to sustain a competitive edge. The problem with leading the field is that everyone else has you bang in their sites.
But even despite the competition, Absolut has set a high-level for success. When asked to use one word to illustrate her interpretation of the brand, Kempe-Forsberg says simply, “Perfection.”
Success is a marathon, certainly not a sprint and the existence of a vision, a dream or a goal will be lost on even the strongest of strategies if the communication structures that are driving it forward are not distinctly aligned. Whether you’re using new media or more traditional marketing channels, consistency and continuity are key. Consumers have long memories and they need to be assured that the brand values that are attracting them toward a product today will still be there tomorrow.