As per the company, while there has been a shift to digital channels from more traditional advertising, however, the opportunity to connect in terms of activations in social gatherings, is endemic to the human spirit
With an aim to connect with consumers by remaining relevant, Polish vodka brand Belvedere has launched a new brand platform ‘Made With Nature’ to capture the essence of Belvedere’s origin story, In an exclusive conversation with BrandWagon Online, Rodney Williams, president and CEO, Belvedere Vodka, and Sophia Sinha, head, marketing, Moet Hennessy India, talks about the new ‘Made with Nature’ platform along with the global development, growth, and vision of the brand. (Edited excerpts)
The biggest problem with liquor brands is to find the right way to advertise. In India, liquor brands can’t advertise directly and have to take the surrogate route. Thus, how unique the concept has to be when it comes to advertising?
Rodney Williams: Yes, it is quite a challenge and yet it’s a big opportunity for us as well. In the case of Belvedere we’ve created vodkas that have a sense of taste and character, because it’s always been au natural. Hence, we want our consumers to enjoy it by savoring it, not just by drinking it in volume. I believe this is in line with what the government authorities would want from consumers too. Further, we’re seeing this trend globally where the younger generations– the millennials, the older Gen Z– are interested in drinking less for drinking better.
How do you position your brand? What is the conversation you drive for your consumer?
Rodney Williams: Our positioning revolves around what is authentic and true for the brand itself and relevant for the consumers. The fact that Belvedere is just artisanal water and rye is something I believe is quite relevant as natural and organic products assure a level of care in terms of quality that resonates with the consumer. This brings us back to the idea around which Belvedere was first launched, which was, whole character in taste from natural expressions of rye in vodka. Interestingly, Poland was one of the first countries to regulate vodka the way France or Italy regulate wine. Hence, our products have no additives, no added sugar, no emulsifiers for rounding, which are very common in most places in the world. When consumers understand what the origins of the product is, I think it gives them a whole nother level of appreciation. Having said this, we understand that our brand is a social brand meant for fun, conviviality and connection with others, and not a health brand. Our brand position centres around the idea of being natural.
What are your plans regarding the ‘Made with Nature’ platform?
Rodney Williams: We have launched a holistic 360 degree platform designed to cover all of our touch points with consumers. With this platform we aim to put across an evocative imagery based projection of messages around being made in nature while the messages continue to position the brand as fun and engaging on a large scale. Inspired from the 600 year ago Polish vodka making tradition, we will be launching our newest innovation Heritage 176.
Drinking is all about socialisation. So when the pandemic hit and the socialisation came to halt, how did you go about ensuring that you continue to talk to your consumer and the consumer continues to drink Belvedere?
Rodney Williams: On the one hand, during times of crisis or difficulty, consumers across our categories, really retreat to quality, they go back to the brands they know and they can trust will deliver good value for the money. We benefited from that. In retail, and in places where we could sell through e-commerce and e-retail, that’s been a boon for us. Another thing that has helped us is that consumers, because they were at home, had more time to experiment with making cocktails on their own. For a long time, people were surprisingly quite intimidated by this. We have over 150 recipes for Belvedere vodka that were well trafficked during the pandemic. As a result of this, we’ve discovered that people are much more open and excited about drinking at home where pre-pandemic they may not have found the confidence or the need to do so.
In a market like India, what are your plans in terms of expanding the vodka footprint?
Sophia Sinha: While the vodka industry in India degrew in 2020, the premium segment performed better, comparatively. Innovation, new flavors and craftsmanship are attracting the younger generation, especially women, who are currently driving demand for vodka in India. When the pandemic hit India in 2020, we saw a nationwide lockdown, especially in the alcohol industry, wherein the sales went dry for 3 months, impacting business across companies. However, it also gave birth to a completely new channel of at home consumption, which we now term as the ‘home premise’. Consumers could no longer step out to meet friends over drinks and experience brands in restaurants anymore, which gave companies something to think about and create entire new strategies to target consumers and new consumption occasions within the comfort and safety of their homes.
This gave rise to demand for premium products, including vodkas, which also meant that not being able to go out and spend money or travel and purchase duty free alcohol from the airport duty free, left target consumers with a larger disposable income in hand to be able to upgrade on the quality of alcohol they were drinking as opposed to pre pandemic.
How much importance do you give to the digital medium while planning your marketing strategies?
Rodney Williams: We are very data driven, but we certainly recognise the usage occasions that are most promising for us. And those are the situations where consumers are really interested in craft spirits. What we’re seeing with the four demographic of millennials, and Gen Z is, that they’re digital natives and consume information digitally. So yes, there has been a shift to digital channels from more traditional advertising, however, the opportunity to connect in terms of activations in social gatherings, is endemic to the human spirit.
How do you see the next year unfolding for the overall market in terms of consumption? What next can we expect from Belvedere vodka?
Rodney Williams: Due to the pandemic, people have gained a greater sense of desire to connect in meaningful ways. So for us, that’s an invitation to continue to create and be innovative around the liquid as we’re doing with Heritage 176. So you can expect more innovations in that area. We’re also very looking forward to creating additional flavors and flavor profiles in a natural way. Further, we’ll be doing more in terms of sustainability.