Posted on | February 25, 2013
Written by | Robert Haynes-Peterson
Back in the day, we did cardboard, and that was great,” says Josh Hayes, senior brand manager of Pernod Ricard’s recently launched Malibu Red. The rum-tequila blend is designed to expand the Malibu brand name into the social nightlife scene. “Certainly we still do cardboard, but it has to come to life. If you’re not engaging your customer online before, during and after the store, then you don’t have a good program.”
Such is the state of point-of-sale (POS) marketing in the digital era. You’ll still find plenty of shelf-talkers, table talkers and bottle neckers—maybe even more than ever—but both retailers and marketers are realizing not everyone is swayed by a random “92.” These days, video displays, large-scale themes and interactive opportunities are more common in sprawling retail venues than vineyard maps or posters. At the same time, small shops find access to branded shelf talkers a mouse-click away. And increased diversity in retail and on-site venues—from the aforementioned mega-stores to dog-friendly artisanal salons—means that the traditional flow of printed collateral from supplier to distributor to shelves must be re-thought.
Hi- vs. Lo-Tech = New vs. Old School
The Malibu Red campaign “dresses up” traditional elements, like stand-ups and sweepstakes, and draws consumers deeper into the branded experience with multi-media offerings (Ne-Yo’s custom single “Burnin’ Up” was written specifically for the liquor). Some locations have in-store digital projection that allow smartphone interaction; and bars feature touchscreen games.
Malibu isn’t the only brand touting hi-tech POS collateral off-premise. For the holiday season, Bacardi launched a themed pole topper display featuring an LED screen video of a bartender crafting cocktails. The company also promoted its year-old Oakheart iteration last fall via a barrel display invoking the barrel-aging technique used on the product. And their current “Get Some Game” campaign ties Bacardi in to the current NBA season, replete with in-store backboard and autographed basketball.
Not everyone buys into elaborate, real estate-hungry displays, however. Shelf talkers—often referred to as “silent salesmen”—nd case stacks remain the bread and butter of many small and medium-sized retailers. One thing that has not changed: floor space is still precious. “We all have only so many end caps,” says Paul Zagardo, owner of Path Liquors, located on New York’s Long Island in a very competitive area, representing a broad demographic cross-section of customers. He is not a fan of supplied materials. “Point of sale is really important. The more it looks personalized, the more value it has, but it’s extra work.” Zagardo says. “I use a lot of my own, signing ‘Paul’s Picks’ if it’s something over the top. Customizing shows the personal approach, and gives the shop credibility.”
How a store handles its POS has become a means of self-definition—a continually rotating esxpression of what a store finds important. Many stores catering to upscale or niche markets not only eschew pre-printed bottle neckers and shelf talkers, but also make a concerted effort to develop their own unique POS look. Yet others are able to surf the Web and take advantage of scores of winery and importer websites that offer “Trade Tools” areas where shelf talkers can be printed in-house faster than you can say “Et voilá!”
For specialty liquor labels, POS is a small, but important piece of the puzzle. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” says Nicole Portwood, brand manager for Tito’s Handmade Vodka. The Texas-based distillery prides itself on a sort of outside-the-norm approach to crafting vodka, but the emphasis is on what’s inside the bottle rather than outside it, according to Portwood. “We’re never going to compete with the big boys, and we’re not going to try. We don’t want to have something that looks bigger than we are, and then have it
Visual Noise to Some, Marketing Music to Others
But what happens when so many marketing messages vie for space in stores that do not have a stadium-size playing field? It can get busy out there. A recent walk around Lowery’s Liquor & Wine Company in Queens, NY showed a somewhat haphazard approach to POS pieces and distribution. One display window was dominated by oversized Jack Daniel’s bottles, another by a Bulldog Gin display highlighting the botanicals used in the gin, along with two tall beakers filled with plastic lemons. A third, however, still boasted its Halloween display for Jaegermeister months after the holiday.
Inside, the large and well-stocked store included a few lingering value-added gift-pack displays from the holiday season, and it was hard to turn in any direction without seeing hand-written discount signs for various wine labels. Sparsely distributed tasting notes and scores (only 90 or above) on wines appeared to be a mix of PDF printouts and supplied laminated pieces. Collars—the sort consisting of small booklets on elastic bands around bottle necks—were predominantly found on bourbon and whiskey bottles. A small basket of minis rotates every week or two promoting popular brands and new expressions.
Yet there is method amid the madness-at-first-glance. Shelf talkers at Lowery’s often direct customers to additional product or information behind the counter. Handmade signage guides customers to older expressions of a displayed whisky, warehoused inventory and alternate bottle sizes. Hard-to-categorize beverages, like Thailand’s Monsoon Valley Wines, are provided extra signage (“Thai wines for Thai food”), presumably to assist customers who may not even know to ask why these wines are found alongside Asian sakés and plum wines, rather than amongst other Shirazes and Pinot Noirs. And in the big picture, while the visual effect at Lowery’s might be seen as chaos in a small boutique, the multifarious stimuli are not scaring or baffling many shoppers in Queens.
The biggest issue facing spirits marketers (and, to a lesser extent, wine and beer) these days, however, may not be as simple as hi-tech flash vs lo-tech cardboard. POS was and always will be about engaging customers at the moment of purchase; but strategies with this intent depend in large part on shoppers accepting marketing messages in general. “Customers are the most fickle beings on Earth,” according to Zagardo. “I’ve been in this several decades now, and seen it back when you could construct a concrete monument for a bottle, because the brand didn’t change. Now, the customer is brutally fickle. Take the flavored rums: a flavor will be hot for 45 days. The old rule used to be that you looked at sales reports and saw you were selling two bottles one week, then four, then eight. So the next week I should get 12 bottles, right? Wrong! They’re on to the new flavor, and it happens very, very quickly. Bacardi gets it. You have to be able to move on your in-store marketing quickly, you have to adjust quantitiesquickly so we don’t kill a trend.”
Of course, there is definitely still a place for a well-conceived and constructed “paper collateral”—bottle neckers, shelf talkers and table tents. The important thing is to understand how the retail landscape has changed, according to Gary Clayton, VP and director of marketing at Pasternak Wine Imports, which carries labels from Cave de Lugny, Los Vascos, Valdo and more. “In the past, it was one size fits all,” says Clayton. “That still happens, but the market is so dynamic these days. One of the macro changes in the industry is a shift from establishing national POS programs to more targeted, customer-focused programming.”
As an example, the importer recently worked with Whole Foods in California on a cross-merchandising promotion with the chain’s fish counters. Where legal, the in-store materials allowed customers to receive a dollar off seafood purchases when they also bought a bottle of Cave de Lugny Chardonnay. “Part of the objective was to create multiple displays and merchandise sets, both in the wine department and outside of it in the seafood department,” says Clayton. Pasternak conducted a similar promotion with HEB stores in Texas, offering consumers $2 off store flowers with a purchase of Valdo Prosecco, an ideal Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day tie-in.
Clayton says the trick to a successful POS program is to make it simple and functional: “It has to be easily accessible and simple in its approach. Everyone throughout the chain has to understand what’s going on, from distributors to store managers, to the people stocking the shelves in multiple departments.” In turn, attractive, well-placed collateral—whether it’s as grand as a lifesize Captain Morgan or as small as a Chardonnay neck hanger—generates added value, not just for the wine brand in question, but for the store identity as a whole.