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Alan O'Neill: To build a global brand you must reach out to consumers

Oscar Wilde Water is following in the steps of other highly successful Irish firms, hoping to become the next big global success story. To do so it needs to displace other brands


Trailblazer: Kerrygold butter

Trailblazer: Kerrygold butter

Trailblazer: Kerrygold butter

There are a number of Irish iconic FMCG brands that have become a major success on the world stage. Guinness, Baileys and Kerrygold butter have been highly successful trailblazers that paved the way for others. The marketing and brand-building that got them there has of course been world-class. Each brand is very clear on its marketing messages and position within their sectors.

While the Irish connection may have helped at some early stage, I've no doubt each of these brands has achieved global stardom based on the merits of the products themselves.

To rely on the diaspora to drive scale is a risky strategy. How then can brands like Oscar Wilde Water become a global success story?

The Challenge

As a commodity product, I'm sure there are literally thousands of water brands around the world. Consequently, even premium waters like Oscar Wilde Water will find themselves working on low margins in such a competitive marketplace. When margins are tight, finding sufficient funds to spend on marketing in the early days can be a real issue. When you're up against global brands that are well established from years of big marketing budgets, that's tough.

That challenge shows itself with getting listings with distributors in the first place. There are long lines of premium water companies already vying for space with global distributors. Why should any one suddenly start selling Oscar Wilde Water?

After all, they are like supermarkets with limited 'shelf space' in their product portfolios. For Oscar Wilde Water to be a success, it will have to displace other brands.

The second challenge is to build familiarity of the brand with consumers. Understandably all of the effort so far has been to get the product listed with distributors.

That 'push' activity is typical of startups. However, the company will also have to consider some 'pull' activity very soon. This is about reaching out to consumers to educate them so that they ask for the brand in a restaurant or pub.

Brand-Building Tips

1 'Push' marketing activity. Noel Toolan, a marketer with many years' experience of global FMCG brands (such as Procter & Gamble and Baileys), shared his views. "The first step is to build a strong narrative for the brand. There is a great story to be told around the Oscar Wilde connection. But who is the end customer? If this is not clearly defined and communicated, the distributors will see no reason to complicate their own world with another commodity product" he said.

John Hegarty and Rory McLoughney already have a great pipeline of distributors lined up around the world for Oscar Wilde Water. They are probably now at a point of being able to pick and choose the ones that best fit with their long-term strategy and can add value to the brand.

2 'Pull' marketing activity. When negotiating with distributors, Oscar Wilde Water might do what other global brands do. Perhaps they could insist that as part of the agreement, each distributor allocates and spends a certain per cent of sales revenue on consumer marketing activity. Imagine a utopian scenario where consumers asked for a bottle of Oscar Wilde Water by name? For example, how many of us still talk about 'Hoovering' the carpet? The Hoover name has become synonymous with vacuum cleaners, as has Google with search engines and Powerpoint with presentation software.

Last Orders

Last week we talked about Killowen Farm yogurt driving volume and cash by doing 'own-label' for some retailers. Oscar Wilde too may have an opportunity to bottle water for other brands. Also, if enough of the right distributors can be secured for the premium water, that will drive volume and cash into the business. All of that will help to develop a rhythm in the business and build operational expertise in these early years.

But there is another significant opportunity that they are already on to - and that's to develop 'craft tonic water'. When Oscar Wilde's name is mentioned, water is probably the last thing we think of. Let's face it, he was better known for 'uisce beatha' than just 'uisce'.

But the tonic story is a powerful one. There is great potential for a great narrative that links the Oscar Wilde with authentic Irish artesian water and flavoured craft tonics. The water gives it honesty and a narrative that is second to none.

There is another brand of tonic water that started out just 13 years ago. It has developed a global reputation for quality and flavour in a very short space of time.

Arguably, it has outmanoeuvred Schweppes, the long-established global brand. If the explosion in the gin market is real and here to stay, then there is great hope and potential for Oscar Wilde Tonic Waters too. I'll look forward to the day when consumers naturally ask for a "Gin and Wilde".

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