Marketing You Liquor Store

Do your Research First

In the liquor industry, marketing has changed dramatically in the past five or so years. Small businesses used to simply place an ad in the yellow pages, put up signs, and then wait for customers to flow through the door.

However, today’s marketing is a quagmire of Google rankings, social media, blogging, e-newsletters and big data analytics. How on earth can a retailer make any sense of it?

Effective marketing in our new, digital world involves three stages: research, strategy and execution. Here’s how it works.




You need market research to make good decisions about marketing, and there are lots of ways to get it:

Demographic Research Would you like to know things like the gender, age, income level, and education level of the communities surrounding your store?  It’s free and easily accessible through several municipal websites. For example, the website has community profiles online for every neighbourhood in that city.

Consumer Spending Habits Are you looking for new locations to add stores, and therefore want to know where the heaviest concentrations of alcoholic beverage consumers are? This data costs (approximately $2,000 – 5,000 depending on the number of communities you want examined), but is available to purchase through Environics Canada. Environics uses Statistics Canada data to correlate community demographics to spending habits of those demographics, revealing alcohol purchases by community.

Customer Tracking If you’re trying to improve an existing store, why not ask everyone who comes to your till what other products they would like to see, and then keep a running list? Also, ask your regular customers why they prefer your store, so you can understand your key strength as a business (which is critical for determining your vision).

Trend Research Want to know what liquor trends are hot? Google Trends is an excellent, free resource. Just visit and punch in various keywords—they can be brand names, or general terms like “microbrewery”—and Google will give you a trend graph showing upward, cyclical or downward trends for that term. You can then narrow it down to Canadian or Albertan data. You can also Google for the tutorial on how to use it!

Competitor Research If you’re trying to beat a specific competitor, there is a lot of data available. A tool called SEM Rush ( allows you to enter a domain name, and see how much traffic a given site is getting. This tool costs about $100/month for a subscription, but it will also give you a lot as a free user. It will tell you why any site is getting traffic by providing data such as a list of keywords on which a given site is ranking highly (e.g. #1 on “craft beer”). You can also compare your site size, traffic, and online spending to your top competitors. It’s extremely valuable information! This tool also has an online tutorial.




Strategy refers to making decisions to drive growth, and building these into a marketing plan. Here is a list of key marketing strategy decisions to be made:

Brand Vision After looking at your competitive standing, it’s crucial to uncover what it is that makes your business different from competitors, and distill (pun intended) one key message that says what makes you different. Is it that you’re the expert in local craft beer? Is it that you have the broadest selection of European wines? Based on what your clients say about you, and looking at competitors, you need to find that one key message, and make that your flagship differentiator. You’ll later use this to create a unified brand and imagery (such as photos and videos).

Targets Based on the data gathered, you can choose the right target communities—whether this is by geography, demographics, or spending habits. If you have something really special about your store (e.g. the largest selection of craft beer, changing weekly) don’t be afraid to market beyond your adjacent communities, especially if the data you gathered shows a good match for your offering elsewhere.

Products and Services Once you’ve decided what makes you different, you should look at your offerings and see if they are consistent with it. For example, if you’re the expert in craft beer, are all your staff living up to this expectation, or do they need training?

Pricing Make sure your pricing policy lines up with your message. If you’re a premium reseller, or expert, your price will usually be higher. But you can offer little “extras” like tasting seminars, and added service to create higher perceived value.

Promotional Mix Promotions will help you reach your sales targets. Most businesses will need a modern website ($5,000 – 20,000, depending on e-commerce capability), and social media (typically $1,000 – 4,000/month if handled professionally) most likely on Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to ask your website designer to add Google Analytics capability to your website so you can examine your traffic growth. The key to success with websites and social platforms is frequent updates to show your expertise and enthusiasm for what you do. Also, don’t ignore traditional media. Community newsletters offer a great media opportunity (ads run from $100 – 500). Ads on bus benches average $300 – 600/month, and can really create visibility in a given neighbourhood. And always get the biggest sign you can afford, or the landlord will allow; and if it’s old or damaged, replace it!




Once you have your plan ready, it’s time to execute. You can hire a marketing team, find individual contractors, or build your skills in-house, but be sure that you have someone coordinating efforts for consistency. The key is tenacity—ensuring you make a committed, concerted effort to roll out your entire plan and track its effectiveness, continually making adjustments. Remember, execution should involve no killing, unless you’re “killing it” on the marketing front.


Jacqueline Drew is the President of Tenato Strategy Inc., a Calgary-based marketing research and strategy firm, founded in 1996.

Photos courtesy of Gary Drew, Tenato Strategy Inc.