It’s an understatement to say the pandemic took us all by surprise. I remember the first few weeks feeling a little like an extended snow day. I was suddenly relieved of many day-to-day activities, there was a definite air of uncertainty, and we were all waiting to see how bad this would be before we made any definite plans. But as a business owner you can’t float in that space of uncertainty for too long or you will definitely sink. We knew we needed a plan and it needed to be flexible.
Luckily for us we’d already begun shifting more of our marketing attention toward growing our direct to consumer business. For years most of our revenue had come from distribution into grocery stores and specialty retailers, but most of those stores were now shut down and everyone’s shopping habits shifted to online.
Once we all settled into pandemic lockdown and accepted that we were going to be here for a while, we saw a significant uptick in sales of our cocktail bitters. People were making cocktails at home, having Zoom happy hours, and soothing themselves with midday daiquiris. Many of us embraced these not so healthy choices. We were all coping.
As the pandemic wore on and we were still isolating without an obvious end in sight, sales of Bitters & Soda began to tick up. Some consumers were realizing they couldn’t continue with those midday daiquiris forever, but they still wanted something to fill that space. The space of shifting from work to home life even though you were still in the same place. The space of taking a moment for yourself. The space of having something indulgent because we were all still coping.
But we found ourselves split with how to talk to these two groups of customers, the ones who were making cocktails and the ones who weren’t. If we put out content discussing the virtues of classic cocktails, craft bourbon, and small-batch bitters would we alienate the customers who came to us because we made a craft zero alcohol beverage? If we spent a lot of time discussing the benefits of drinking less or not at all, would be alienate the customers who were still making Old Fashioneds at home? How do you market a company that sits firmly on both sides of the fence? Were we supporting indulgence and not so healthy choices or were we a healthy beverage brand helping people to stop drinking?
We took advantage of what felt like a slightly slower pace of business and started talking to our customers. We found out that many of the same people who were buying our cocktail bitters were also buying our Bitters & Soda. We were selling to folks that were part of a growing number of American consumers that drink alcohol occasionally but also sometimes choose not to drink alcohol. However, these customers still demand a high quality beverage whether they are choosing alcohol or not.
So we stopped worrying about alienating “one group” of customers and doubled down on our tagline - Be Bitterly Honest. Which to me means be real, be a person, and acknowledge all the complexities that come with that. We talked about wanting to drink less, but struggling with choices. We talked about our favorite cocktail recipes and how they made us feel better after a particularly hard day. We talked about how hard it was to be stuck at home with our school age child and how grateful we were that we could do most of our work from home or in isolation. We talked about mixing our zero alcohol Bitters & Soda with a little vermouth for a low alcohol cocktail that let us indulge without overdoing it. We talked to our customers like real people who are not purely one thing or another. People who were sometimes indulgent and sometimes not. People who jump back and forth across the same fence that we straddle. People who were struggling and grateful at the same time. People like us. So here’s to a glass of whatever fits your mood and moment! May they always be changing.