Aidan Thomson, the Growth Marketing Manager at Days, has a taste for product sampling

Days are a UK based beer company who offer alcohol free beer. They currently have two products, a Lager and a Pale Ale, both of which are 0.0% alcohol.

Aidan explained how their brand image, messaging and tone helps differentiate Days from the abundance of competition within the alcoholic drink sector. He also spoke about how the brand tries to “optimise everything for virality” and how, as a small company, they manage to use their on trade sales to boost their DTC sales.

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Andrew Veitch: Welcome to The Joy of Marketing with me, Andrew Veitch.

This time, I’m joined by Aidan Thomson, who’s the growth marketing manager at Days Brewing.

Welcome to the show.

Aidan Thomson: Thanks for having me, Andrew, looking forward to my, my podcast debut.

AV: So I know everybody’s brand is different, but there really is something very unusually different about your, your brewing brand, obviously, in that all of your beers are alcohol free.

So could you maybe just sort of talk through a little bit about the brand and your thinking?

AT: Yeah, definitely, definitely. I mean, it’s a good place to start that the big differentiator is that we are completely alcohol free. All our products, so we’ve got two, two beers at the moment, the lager and the Pale Ale which are both 0.0% alcohol.

But like you say, aside from that, the big differentiator is, is the brand, it’s our messaging, it’s our tone, and it’s also our internal team. To be honest, I think, a big thing for, for us being completely dedicated to alcohol free is that it allows us to speak in a very, very different way to the big brands, who, you know, a huge part of their business is still is still alcohol, they have alcohol free options, but then they’re there side by side with, with, with alcohol. So that kind of positioning allows us to be really honest with with what we’re communicating. It allows us to speak a lot more candidly, we can talk about hangovers, we can talk about not wanting to be on a hangover while you’ve got kids, or we can talk about alcohol and it’s link to mental health and that, that’s a big positioning for us and it allows us to have a lot more fun as well, which I think something that, yeah.

AV: And just so I understand the idea of it being called Days, is this because you sort of get days back because you’re not suffering from hangovers, as it were, when it was coming from?

AT: Yeah, I mean, to an extent. I think we’d probably flip that slightly away from the, the maybe the negative of a hangover, and it’s more about doing more with your days, having more time, having more opportunity, actually, yeah, giving, giving yourself more ability to actually do the things you love. And that can be you know, it could be anything. It could be running, cycling, it could be being super active, which I think something that our brand message of ‘beer for doing’ definitely communicates. But it doesn’t have to be it can be relaxing, it can be switching off reading, cooking, there’s, there’s so much time that that alcohol can take away from us. And, and it gives us great moments as well, don’t get me wrong, but it really is about yeah, doing, doing more with your days.

AV: Yeah, yeah, it’s very true. And I suppose just on a, on a sort of technical side. I mean, particularly in the UK market, alcohol advertising is very tightly regulated with really a large number of things that alcoholic brands wouldn’t be allowed to do.

But I guess obviously, you won’t be covered by all of that regulation, which will allow you to do a lot of things that the the alcohol based beers aren’t able to do.

AT: Yeah, for sure.

It’s funny, we definitely can can do more and don’t, don’t kind of collide with with as much legislation. But you’d be surprised that particularly digital on Facebook, kind of ads getting blocked because you’re mentioning alcohol. I think we once got told by, by Facebook that we needed to describe it as “a multi drink of goodness,” or it was the strangest description I’ve ever seen. And then we still run into barriers on what we’re not allowed to advertise just yet on TikTok because we are still bracketed into the into that alcohol category.

So we can definitely do more but I’d actually say it’s the offline side of things that we, life’s a lot easier we don’t require those as much licensing and things like that sampling is is a lot easier as a result.

AV: Yes and you know, I think one of the things that often surprises people who are new to marketing actually, is the amount of work that you have to do around regulation and in so many different things.

But yeah, just as you mentioned sampling there. That is interesting, because obviously sampling certainly used to be one of the classic marketing methods for food and drink products and particularly sort of supermarket based sampling was was traditionally one of the ways that a new brand would be introduced.

So what was your approach to sampling?

AT: It’s really interesting because I’m definitely feeling like there’s a somewhat renaissance of those more traditional techniques like, like sampling, as you mentioned, and for us, it’s, it’s hyper important. Like we are in what is now a very competitive market, there are a lot of really great alcohol free options out there and ultimately, we need consumers to taste the product.

But it goes back to A) knowing your consumers and B) knowing the moments that they’re going to drink alcohol free and making sure that your sampling is targeting those moments really well. Because that first taste is, taste is a huge factor in it, but so is when they’re drinking it. You know that beer needs to be ice cold. For us, we know that post, any form of physical exertion, like a trail run is a great moment to crack open, you know, a cold 0.0% beer. So we sample at the end of finish lines, we get to run events. We also know that people drink alcohol free when they’re engaging in meaningful conversations, so we look to partner with book clubs or office events and things like that.

AV: Do you know, I absolutely love that idea actually, of offering, offering the beer at the end of a run because you’re just associating it with health.

Um, believe it or not, the first Scottish marathon was sponsored by Tartan Special. Actually, at the end of the Marathon, we’re handing out cans of alcoholic beer, which is certainly something that I don’t think anyone would dream of doing nowadays.

AT: That’s not surprised me.

AV: But yes, I like that. So that’s have very, a very non traditional sampling strategy. So you’re not actually sampling, I mean, are you sort of sampling in shops or traditional sort of beer and wine off-licences’?

AT: We have done bits and pieces. So we’ve done trade shows, we’ve done craft beer festivals, things like that, like much more traditional to where we’re at, and, and you know, they have their benefits. But we’ve really found that, if you’re there at the moments that people are actually going to drink that product, like yeah, people do drink in bars, they do drink in pubs, but there’s, there’s occasions for alcohol free that are, where we really see our positioning where we really see beer for doing and the brand coming through and it allows us to be much more connected to the activation to, to everything we do.

And that’s kind of, for me, where like the growth piece of it comes in. And where I work really closely with, with brand is, you know, how do we, how do we blow it up? Like growth, for me, is, is well, we’re an amplifier of a message that’s already written or being written by brand and by other sides of the company and then we really think, well I really think about how, A) how can we blow it up and then B) how can we how can we close the loop? So how can we get in front of those people at the end of the trail run? Again, digitally, what, what can we do with CRM? What can we do on paid social retargeting? What can we do on on organic channels? Because half the battle is getting in front of them and getting them tasting the products and getting them loving it. The other half is then, you know, targeting them again, getting in front of them, being always front of mind. And that’s kind of on a mercenary level, how you how you close the loop and actually get purchases? Because that, you know, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re what we’re looking for.

AV: Yeah, well, actually, that’s probably a great thing to go into then so well, I mean, do you do you actually tend to gather email addresses when you’re doing sampling? Or is it more just just an awareness piece?

AT: It’s something we want to do more. It’s something we talked about, we talked about a lot, and I think we want to veer away from, there’s something almost that feels antiquated about just you know, can we have your email? Like we even that we want to do it in a in a different way. Like, can we do some like, a beer pong competition or something at a sampling event with alcohol free and we acquire emails through a competition there?

Or, you know, what, what activation can we do that brings people in, in a new and exciting way? And that’s also, you know, shared for virality. Can we get an influencer down to the trail run and you know, you get 30 minutes training plan with him if you win the competition? Thinking about how we can acquire those emails, but in a, in a more unique way that’s beyond, you know, can we have your email for a 10% discount code or something.

AV: Yeah, yes, that is that really is quite tired, isn’t it?

So then talking about online marketing, and obviously, all of us have experienced probably quite a lot of price inflation. In particular, I think, I guess in online marketing. So I mean, what what is working well for you, online?

AT: I think paid social continues to be a big, big part of our strategy, but we’re, you know, like, I think everyone in the DC space, especially post iOS 14, we have seen certain things change. We’ve seen the importance of creative I think a lot more, you can’t just put your ads on Facebook and, and see success straightaway. You need to work for it. You need to, you need to make creative that resonates with, with your consumers. And again, that goes back to knowing those moments and knowing your consumers really, really well – what are they actually saying?

I think something I see a lot with creative on paid social is it’s, it’s not designed or written in words that people are actually saying, like why? Why are people drinking alcohol free beer? There’s a quote I love from a video we made of a kind of young dad, he’s like, I just can’t cope being on a hangover with a little one anymore. Like that is a great piece of copy to put in paid social to, to design around because it’s authentic.

But aside from that, Andrew a big one we’re seeing is brand partnerships and closing the loop via email. So whenever we are getting down to the finish lines, then working with the the organisers or our partners to get, get in front of the audience, tell them a little bit more about the brand. But importantly, like post taste, they’ve tried the product, now we can really let them know about about the brand. And that’s, that’s where we’re seeing, seeing good success. And then, while the infamous TikTok is definitely an organic channel, still not not paid, but we’re we’re having a lot of fun there.

AV: Yes. Well, I mean, I have to say, I have really gotten into TikTok, myself, and I mean, I, I believe I actually am in one of the higher, higher growing demographics. And I think it’s sort of 45 plus demographic is actually really taking to TikTok so the idea that TikTok was purely purely for young people I think has really, you know, it’s definitely broaden out quite substantially I think.

AT: Yeah, definitely and I think you’ll find, well, over the last six months to a year, most marketing teams across the country scurrying trying to find someone that really understands the platform, understands the, you know, being native to it, who’s on it, how you win on it, but that demographic is changing on it. And it you know, it is a huge, huge platform at the moment, I think it’s almost a necessity to be on now.

AV: Yeah, I suppose it also goes back to understanding actually who your consumer really is in the first place, because, you know, if you’re going to be trying to, you know, find people in the right place, you know, use the right type of messaging, you know, you really do need to properly understand who actually is that you’re speaking to. And, I guess, I mean, you have a younger consumer than most beer drinkers?

AT: Yeah, I think I think we definitely do and I think that’s largely down to our brand messaging and our positioning and the idea of ‘beer for doing.’ But, but don’t get me wrong, we do, we do have kind of that 40 plus bracket as well.

I think we’ve got a really nice breakdown of male and female which is really good to see with a beer company and I think that again, is a testament to the kind of to the brand, its messaging, even its design, its, its look and feel and really kind of taking that back to TikTok like, we want to have some fun there as well. We want to be authentic, we don’t focus, much to the dismay of, of Mike and Duncan, our founders, we don’t overly focus on the product. Yes, we’re a beer company. But people on TikTok are not there to watch us talk about our brewing process, or the Lammermuir hills where we get our water from, they want to see you know us in the office having having some fun. They want to they want to relate to it. And that’s really where we take our narrative from on TikTok.

AV: That’s, that’s really interesting, actually, as there’s very, there’s very few brands when it’s actually the, the people who work in the brand who are on the TikTok. I mean normally it will either be somebody paid, and I suppose as we know, you know, the so called user-generated content, quite a large amount of the time, it’s not user’s that are generating it, is it? It’s people who’ve been who’ve been paid to do it.

But yeah, you can’t, I just don’t think you can quite, I think people do see through it. You know, the consumer is very, very smart. I think people can tell whether something has been made by a professional or whether it’s the real people behind the brands that are doing it.

AT: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We had to do a lot of learning in the beginning just to work out, you know how we even film on TikTok, Luke, our intern from Bath Uni who does a lot of the TikTok has called well, he certainly called me the youngest boomer he’s ever met because of my my TikTok, my TikTok skills.

But it’s interesting that you mentioned the team I guess because like even going back to what differentiates Days from from other brands, it always seemed so strange to say that a huge USP of your product is your internal team – like what does that mean? That sounds really odd but but genuinely when you’re a small team, starting out, like I think is one of the the most important pieces to work cross, across the whole team ,to work with each other, to trust each other, but also to have a laugh, and honestly, that’s what our TikTok has, has become. It’s like, it’s like 2022’s edition of The Office, our TikTok like, it’s just going through the day to day life of an office environment in a startup world, which people, which happens across the country and that’s what makes it makes it so relatable.

AV: I was just thinking while you were speaking about whether we should have TikTok’s of ‘Life in the Machine Labs office’, but I think, I think possibly not actually, you can have much more fun in the consumer brand.

But I guess, I guess the other way, you know, TikTok has been the huge online thing, but you know, I mean, the offline world is still still really important. I know, we’ve mentioned it briefly in sampling. But I mean, what, I mean are you, you know, using offline marketing channels, as well for, for customer recruitment?

AT: So we’ve tested a bit of bit of print stuff, with mixed results. But we’ve also done, we did a big out of home campaign in Shoreditch around, around Valentine’s Day, which was all about alcohol and its relationship with sex. So we had massive billboards saying, “beer for doing it,” “bottoms up,” “cheaper than oysters.” And it was great. And I think, you know, out of home is the hardest thing in the world to track. It’s a performance marketers nightmare. When you connect it to a campaign then, it works really, really well and it cuts through the noise in a way that a lot of things don’t you know? You see the same tube ad on in London that’s been there for five years.

And I think the interesting thing with, with out of home and with in person, or, or IRL marketing, in general is, it’s still online that blows up. So particularly with something like out of home or billboards, funnily enough, when you see them doing best is when someone picks it up on LinkedIn, and was like, amazing campaign from Days, and it’s suddenly got 5000 likes.

Or when you optimise everything for shareability. Like last night, we had a big sampling event. I was gonna hire a Zipcar to get all the beers there and then actually, we were like, no, let’s get pedal.me, we’ll get a bike trailer, we’ll load it all up with the cases of beer. We had this like three metre long bike trailer in Borough Market, cycling across half the city of London and we’ve made, you know, heaps of reels, heaps of Tiktok from that, for the same price that we would have hired, hired a Zipcar.

So it’s like, whenever you’re doing those offline pieces of marketing, what is it that you can do there to blow it up to optimise it for for virality? Wherever you are, how are people then going to get that online? Because that’s still how things cascade on the offline channels, certainly, and I think that’s really important when you’re, when you’re thinking about these things, it’s like cool. But actually, you know, someone takes a picture of this billboard in Shoreditch, are they going to talk about it? Are they going to put it on Instagram? Or are they going to put it on TikTok? Or are they going to put it on LinkedIn? And so it is really about closing that loop and that’s where I love working with brands, because they come up with these crazy ideas and then I’m like, ok, let’s, you know, let’s build this up.

AV: Yeah, and I guess also, I suppose what is unusual here, is you are doing two separate things, because you do have a business selling to on trade as well, don’t you? So you are doing some brand awareness for the on trade side of your business and then I guess the more traditional performance marketing for, you know, ecommerce, through your website?

I mean, do you find, do you find any problems with sort of any conflicts between that direct to consumer side and the, the on trade side?

AT: Honestly, no.

I think, again, we work really closely as a, as a result of being a tight knit team with our on and off trade national account managers. We see a lot of post purchase survey answers coming in, that you know, they first heard about Days in a pub, in a bar, in the grocery, and then they’ve come online to make that bigger, bigger order. So there is a real connection there. And, and it’s the on trade in particular, where we really hear what consumers are thinking about the alcohol free market, like that’s where the best research is, is done. And I, you know, I always want to get involved in sales blitz where we go out on the trade and we speak to bar managers. We actually learn what people are saying because again, it’s, it’s hyper relevant to everything in the online ecommerce space.

AV: Yeah. And I can actually see that it’s a very different occasion as well, isn’t it? Because the occasion where you’re going to buy from a direct to consumer site, that’s not going to be the occasion of going out with your friends. It’s two very different things.

Just to finish up. I guess one thing that’s quite unusual about you as a marketer, is you did actually start in hospitality, dealing, selling face to face. I guess with with with customers and now you’ve moved online.

So how have you found that transition?

AT: Yeah, so I worked, well I worked for my mom for years, who was caterer and then had a Cafe in Edinburgh. And there’s a few things in there like I think 1) working in hospitality is, is exceptionally hard and you develop a tough skin that you then take into an office and in high pressure environment, you’re kind of like, hey, you’ve never been shouted out by someone who’s Panini is 10 minutes late, or, or the pints seven quid and they don’t want to pay for it.

AV: Yeah, I mean, something, something I, if I see hospitality on a CV, when I’m recruiting, even if someone has just, you know, served tables while they were at uni. For me, that is always a strong positive, because I think there’s a real understanding of customer service in hospitality and it’s also incredibly hard work. So I always think if someone is good at dealing with people, and working very hard, that’s always a great, great thing to see on a CV.

AT: Yeah. And I think that’s it, isn’t it? It’s, it’s hard work. It gives you confidence, and it massively improves your communication. So that’s communication within the team, when you’re going into an environment or you’re going into employment, but it’s also communication outbound, I honestly, yeah.

Like, if you’re online, and you’re looking to help your your company grow, then the best way to do that is to get out and speak directly to your consumers. Like there’s a lot of data you can look at, you can get very lost in Google Analytics, or in ads manager. But when you’re out there speaking face to face with, with honest customers, that’s where you’ll learn the most, that’s where you’ll learn about your brand, but also about your space. And you can take all that, and you can take it online, and you can communicate it and I think like you say it gives you a grounding. And it gives an authenticity to what you’re doing and to and to what you’re saying that’s not always there with, with, with marketing. I think we, we all know that work in the space and when you see something that looks insincere or not authentic you, you flag it like it’s off putting. So I really think it’s super important. I think, whether it’s working in hospitality or whether it’s working in something like Field Sales, and really getting out there and, and pounding the streets day to day gives you an amazing grounding to then take things online into the digital sphere.

AV: Fantastic. Well, thank you very much. I’ve really enjoyed that conversation. Great to speak to someone else who made the move from hospitality into marketing as well. Although it’s back in the day for me, but yeah, thank you very much. And you know, I think it’s too, it’s a great reminder there that, that you know, marketing and actually selling to the person face to face. There are two very similar things.

So thank you very much Aidan.

AT: Absolutely. Thanks a lot, Andrew, really appreciate you having me on.

AV: One of the things that’s incredibly important in ecommerce marketing is to really understand your customer. Who customer actually is, not who you think they might be.

If you install machine labs we’ll enrich your database with 950 extra demographic variables covering everything from age, to income, to gender, to whether they’re rural or urban, whether or not have a garden, what type of pets they have, what their hobbies and interests are, the size of the household, education level, and several hundred more. This allows you to have hyper targeted messages to each consumer individually. You’ll also find things like product recommendation suddenly starts getting a lot more accurate, as you know much more about each individual customer.

Thank you very much for listening, and I’ll see you next time on The Joy of Marketing

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