Unleashing the Power of Social Media

Building Brand Loyalty

Even if you don’t use social media, we can all agree that it’s a part of modern culture that’s here to stay. The liquor industry, recognizing that social media allows businesses to be influencers, is adopting this emerging form of communication and incorporating it into the brand experience. The ability to speak directly to an audience provides a powerful marketing tool in the right hands. So, how can you turn Facebook and Twitter likes and Instagram followers into brand advocacy and sales?

Cherie and Nanci Ashton (Photo courtesy of Main Avenue Cold Beer & Liquor Store)

Social media has changed some aspects of marketing from that of a broadcast model to one of participation. Anyone with a smartphone can be exposed to a marketing campaign, but social media allows them to contribute to it with comments, testimony and visual content. However, this unprecedented level of engagement comes at a cost. Businesses are under more scrutiny than ever before, and Alberta’s responsible advertising laws mean that social media can be tricky for the liquor industry. Liquor Retailer spoke to some of its social media innovators, who have shared their insights:

Bringing a Small-town Feel to a Global Audience

Cherie Petersen manages the Main Avenue Cold Beer & Liquor Store in Sundre. Her preferred social media platforms are Twitter and Instagram, and she favours a spontaneous, organic approach to social media over a strict schedule of updates. Engagement is important to Main Avenue’s strategy, and Petersen’s secret is to achieve a fine balance between marketing speak and her own warmth and personality, “We’re a family-run store and we have personalities, so customers can enjoy that small-town feel.”

I tell my followers about what I’m drinking that night, along with cocktail recipes and other ways I’m using things.

Petersen sees social media as an extension of the atmosphere and culture built in her store, continuing the interaction she has with customers long after they’ve left. Having a knack for the personal touch is key to this: “I want people to enjoy alcohol in the way I do, so I tell my followers about what I’m drinking that night, along with cocktail recipes and other ways I’m using things.”

Sharing other content is another important initiative for Petersen. Rather than retweet something that has been shared thousands of times, she will try to unearth something different to distinguish Main Avenue and add value for her followers. “I find from my personal perspective that I want to know what people are thinking and doing. I don’t want to see a bunch of retweets.”

A freewheeling approach is something that works well for her, but for others like Ed Fong of Edmonton’s deVine Wines & Spirits, setting out a long-term plan is a must.

Photo courtesy of deVine Wine & Spirits

Can Planning Help Build an Audience?

Fong is aware of the potential of social media, but wants to fully understand what return he could expect for any investment. He has been carefully laying out the groundwork for a while. “We’re leading in creating a very shoppable website. Our priority has been building an online store far before our competition, and we achieved that.”

Fong has also been establishing an audience through deVine’s newsletter, and thinks that its content—sharing new arrivals of beers, spirits and wines and special promotions like its recent Bordeaux Futures campaign—could be the basis for a social media audience, along with feature articles on producers and advice on wine pairings. Public relations has also played a part, and Fong has made a real effort to let his customers know about deVine’s support for the local women’s shelter and the Zebra Child Protection Centre. “Our philosophy has always been one that we would not put up a website, newsletter or a social media account until we’re 105% sure that it’s ready, it’s usable and that it adds value.”

How Can You Manage Negative Comments?

Petersen and Fong both realize that social media’s not just about promotion. It’s a powerful tool for handling customer complaints, and with some skill, you can flip a potentially bad PR scenario into an example of exemplary customer service. How can they do this?

Petersen has a technique to take the heat out of any online complaint. She describes, “I would not handle it on social media—I’d contact that person directly if I could. I don’t want to be part of a negative social media culture.”

With some skill, you can flip a potentially bad PR scenario into an example of exemplary customer service.

It’s hard to control a social media discussion where other people are contributing, so making the conversation private can help take the intensity out of any situation. The negative language used to amplify a public complaint can quickly dissipate when the customer realizes they’re dealing with someone who is not only listening to them, but also wants to make things right.

Photo courtesy of deVine Wine & Spirits

An Extension of Current Marketing Techniques

Social media has blurred the lines of communication. Taking a deep dive can really open up its practical applications, and provides a lot of possibilities for nurturing brand advocacy and increasing sales. Traditional marketing techniques, such as recognizing differences between ‘likes’ and ‘wants’, are a key to this. The former is associated with long-term desire, but the latter is immediate and driven by a gut feeling. “I want to enjoy a glass of 12-year-old single malt whiskey tonight” is a perfect example, and illustrates how social media can be used to generate and channel such a desire.

Stimulating your customer’s curiosity, evoking positive subconscious memories like nostalgia and promoting a sense of familiarity and belonging are also tools for the savvy social marketer. For example, Petersen’s long-term plan is to develop her number of followers and increase their personal investment in Main Avenue’s brand by allowing them to see more of what happens behind the scenes at her liquor store. This may involve some work, and you have to be confident on a return for your investment. As Fong says, “The idea is intriguing—there’s lots of flexibility, but what’s my payback? I may have thousands of followers and likes, but what does that mean for my bottom line?”

With marketing and sales, measuring key performance indicators allows you to fine tune your strategy, and respond to trends and customer demands quickly. Many liquor retailers see social media as a new aspect of their marketing plans that has great potential to build brand loyalty.

Maybe it’s time for you to join Facebook, Twitter or Instagram after all!