There may be few products more reduced to commodity status than mass-produced beer. (As Monty Python almost said, “Why is mass-produced beer like making love in a canoe? They’re both f*cking close to water.” The Python troupe, in the wonderful Hollywood Bowl rendition of their famous “Australian Philosophers Drinking Song,” were actually lampooning American beer, but I think the line holds up.)
Still, this doesn’t prevent the big beer companies from constantly trying to introduce new elements they hope will boost their brand’s share of market by a percentage point or two. Who can blame them? Gain even one-tenth of a percentage point in new market share in Canada and you’ve boosted your revenues by some $90 million.
And so we have seen refinements of almost every sort imaginable. Ice beer, dry beer, lime-infused beer, beer in tall cans, cans that tell you when the beer is cold — countless such iterations have come and gone. You know one brewery has tripped onto something that’s working when all the rest pile on.
The latest is Molson Coors Canada’s microcarbonated lager.
Not being a beer drinker, I was first made aware of the advent of this wondrous new beverage when one of my teenage sons — also not (yet) a beer drinker, I hasten to add — pointed to a huge billboard advertising the new stuff and asked me what microcarbonated meant. I told him I was pretty sure it was nothing more than a typical beer company marketing gimmick. But his follow-on questions about why a company would spend what was obviously a lot of money telling people about a new product feature that doubtless lived more convincingly in a headline than it would on the taste buds of beer drinkers got me thinking, too.
So I looked at the website for the new beer, looked at a dozen or so online taste tests of it and polled beer-drinking friends and acquaintances who had tried the stuff. The consensus was that whatever microcarbination was supposed to do, the product was indistinguishable from good old Molson Canadian, the brewery’s flagship product.
So, what was Molson thinking?
The company’s stated objective was to create a premium beer brand but the marketing jury is still very much out on that one.
Here’s my view.
Their tagline, “The world’s only microcarbonated lager” is the kind of powerful unique selling proposition that business schools tell you every product needs. What every USP needs, though, is a genuine value proposition that consumers will buy into again and again. And this new product seems to be lacking that. While many of the folks I polled admitted they bought the beer because they had seen the advertising materials, or when they saw its shiny and distinctive new labelling in the beer store — another consistent beer company marketing tactic is to mix up the labelling and even the packaging every now and again — they probably wouldn’t buy it again because it didn’t deliver on its advertised promise of being something new and different.
There are a few sharp lessons here for technology companies.
- It’s not what you say your product delivers that matters; it’s what your customers get out of it.
- It’s not your brand promise that establishes how the marketplace will see you; it’s how well and consistently you deliver on that promise.
- And it’s not your latest feature that will win the day; it’s the benefit, if any, that that feature delivers to your customers that will create a sustainable competitive differentiation.
Bottom line: Microcarbonated beer may have delivered a powerful marketing line for Molson, one that other beer companies may well emulate in their relentless quest for the tiniest improvement in market share. But unless the promise it conveys actually pans out by way of delivering some kind of value to consumers — and every indication is that it isn’t — it will end up as just one more mushy marketing line on the slag-heap of bad marketing campaigns.