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The influential power of the on-premise is stronger than it’s ever been, not just in driving trial but equity too.
The shift from on- to off-premise consumption is well documented, a feature of many maturing markets, and a structural shift that isn’t going anywhere other than in the same direction for the foreseeable future.
This doesn’t dilute the power of the on-premise, on the contrary it reinforces it. As post-pandemic bar visits become scarcer and the trend accelerates, those occasions are more cherished, more valued and so more is demanded from them. It’s a premiumising market and that’s also well known.  Less means more.
CGA Nielsen’s recent reporting of survey findings that show the importance of the on-premise for stimulating trial of new brands corroborates this point. Consumers frequently remind us in our conversations with them that they tried this or that brand in a bar first, based on a bartender recommendation, a nice display, a trusted friend’s suggestion, a nice looking serve, a deal, and so on. This is just as true now as it’s ever been, perhaps more so, as the mind-set for the on-premise visit becomes more ambitious, more open, more curious among an ever more discerning consumer audience. That can seem counter intuitive in economic austerity when safety often comes first, but it seems that once you’ve decided to go out, you’ve left the safety zone and want a little adventure. And never before have brand innovation ideas had the opportunity to spread so quickly, good ones like wild fire, with digital comm’s and premiumising high street retail offers up and down the country.
The missing link perhaps in the CGA Nielsen piece is the importance not just of trial, but brand association and equity building. Where and how that new brand is first experienced by the consumer is absolutely critical in setting the tone for positioning and subsequent adoption. Targeted distribution, across the bar communication, serve strategy have to sit in sync with the external digital comm’s that wrap around them. This sounds obvious but too often it doesn’t play out as new brands chase early volume over equity and the first experience of them is sub-standard meaning the brand is playing catch-up from then on.
So, as the on-premise’s physical ‘share’ diminishes, it grows in mental ‘value’. Share of throat vs. share of voice are pulling in opposite directions. Barfly’s nous and skill at navigating the on-premise from both sides of the bar, trade and consumers, increasingly takes us in to shopping aisles in stores and on line these days as we tease out where drinks fit into consumers’ lives not just within silo channels. It’s why right now we are working on cross-channel ethnographic studies that are rooted in genuine purchase and consumption moments, in situ, wherever they may be. We are understanding the links between channels, and crucially the gaps between them, in terms of behaviours.
What counts here is influence: what’s driving this or that behaviour, who’s pioneering it, and what/where are the different groups of leaders and followers learning from. This gives insight to where the market is heading not just what’s happening now. And when it comes to influence, the on-premise remains the critical territory in which to win.
This article was written by Matt Coles, Strategy Director.