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An alcoholic beverage company who owns multiple vodka brands wanted to create a strategy to strengthen each brand while limiting cannibalization across brands. At the time of this project, vodka was one of the most popular spirits consumed. It had evolved into a high-end luxury that comes in a variety of flavors, and 150 SKUs were being launched annually. Within this category, and for vodka in particular, a brand’s strengths are essential to the brand image more than the product attributes. So, it was key to understand the imagery of the brands and how each brand’s unique image manifests in different users, occasions, needs and behaviors. 

C+R’s team started with a foundational exploration to hear from consumers firsthand about what type of vodka they consume and why. We wanted a deep dive understanding of consumers’ motivations for consumption, purchasing habits and drivers, and how their ultimate brand choice fit with their core needs. We also used this phase to explore brand perceptions and personality. Moreover, we looked to consumers to help us understand how all of this changes when consuming on-premise (bars & restaurants) versus off-premise (private homes).

Using the insights from the qualitative phase, we designed a large-scale quantitative study to quantify what we learned. The depth of the qualitative also allowed us to design a survey that spoke to consumers in their language. Beyond understanding the vodka marketplace within the larger alcohol category, the study was designed to create segmentation attitudes toward brand choice in order to identify unique segments. We were then able to align each of the client’s brands to its own unique segment in order to optimize their strategy overall and across brands.
 

Problem

The category presents many challenges. Alcohol consumption, specifically vodka, presents the challenge of understanding all possible occasions across myriad brands and varieties. Additionally, vodka drinkers often drink other categories, so we also had to understand “why vodka” overall in order to understand why a particular type of vodka is chosen. In order to deliver what was needed, we had to see the forest – alcohol in general, and specifically the vodka marketplace, from the trees - each brand and variety. 

Further, the client wanted to understand consumers’ attitudes and perceptions not just to when vodka is chosen over another spirit, but also reasons for brand choice within various occasions (type of drink, on- vs off-premise, etc.). As you can see, this research was going to cover a lot! 
 

Result

The research team discovered the core role of vodka as well as how its role changes depending on the type of vodka chosen, as well as the importance of popularity and being on trend for this product.

Consumers choose vodka in general because it’s versatile. Because of its flavor, or lack thereof, it can be consumed in many ways, often taking on the flavor of its mixers. This could make the category more of a commodity, but it has moved in the other direction thanks to all the flavors and brand personalities that exist. 

Despite the growth of flavored vodka, unflavored vodka is still chosen often. We were able to uncover why and when someone chooses flavored versus unflavored vodka. Additionally, we profiled how very different these sub-categories are from who uses them, how they’re used and the needs they fulfill.  

Another key factor in the vodka marketplace is price tier. We found that price doesn’t always indicate quality. But there are some key differences in how and why vodka is consumed depending on the price tier.

Finally, popularity is a key driver in brand choice. We were able to uncover what drove popularity in the category to help our client focus on the underlying drivers with the end goal of making their brands more popular in such a fragmented category.

Using segmentation, we identified six consumer segments and assigned them value based on their size and spend. We then aligned each one with the client’s five brands. This allowed for directed strategy around what to communicate, who to communicate to, where to reach new and current users and in the end, how to grow each brand. And we were able to tailor a plan for brand growth for each brand, without cannibalizing the others in the portfolio.

As you can see, the category is very deep and multifaceted. Despite the size and fragmentation of the category, in the end, the client successfully gained insights on how consumers view the category as a whole, as well as where their brands fit into the vodka marketplace and how they can win by targeting specific brands to specific segments. 
 

Solution

C+R conducted a multi-phase online qualitative study followed by a large-scale quantitative segmentation study. In projects like this, there is a lot of work involved and a lot of information captured. We were able to bring the marketplace and segments to life in a digestible manner for the client. Moreover, we worked with the client to allow them to truly meet and know the segments so the vast amount of work wouldn’t be done in vain or lost as new topics took center stage.

We did this by presenting the results to several large groups. Each brand group got their own presentation, in which we presented the overall category landscape, and then dove deep into the brand of most interest to that group. Next, we presented the segments to the crowd, and did a work-session to identify the best segments for each brand and ideate on subsequent strategies. 

As part of this, we literally brought the segments to life. We hosted a moderated consumer panel with consumers who represented each segment. They all arrived with a bottle of their favorite vodka – as a prop, not to drink! And each person was spot on with their “persona”. It really helped to differentiate among the segments and bring each segment to life for the client. To further drive home the segments, we followed up with speed dating. Each brand group sat down with each key segment for their brand. In this small-group situation, they could ask the consumer questions about their vodka preferences and usage.

The clients walked away with a strong understanding of each segment, which one their brand would go after, how they would connect with that segment, and a ton of easy to digest data in the form of PowerPoint slides, infographics, mood boards and one-pagers describing each segment. 
 

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