2020 was pretty rough for most major soft drink brands.
No events, no parties, no festivals, and no large venues operating meant no major sales.
The struggle was real.
Coca-Cola definitely noticed. That’s why the soda giant hit the brakes on over 200 of its brands including Odwalla, Zico, and even the cult classic Tab.
Not to mention, new direct-to-consumer brands have started creeping into the mainstream soft drink market just as they have in cosmetics, personal care, pets, and countless other industries – giving long-time industry dominators a run for their money.
Classic soft drink brands have their work cut out for them keeping up in this competitive space. Newbies, meanwhile, need to carve out their own space if they want to succeed long-term without getting swamped or bought out.
Here’s the good news for everyone. Social media gives soft drink brands all the tools they need to connect with the right audiences. Here’s how.
Soft drink brands need to first think about their goals for social media in general and each individual platform as well.
Are you trying to reach new suppliers, investors, or customers?
Twitter is useful for keeping up moment-to-moment conversations. Instagram and TikTok, meanwhile, are better for promoting stunning and engaging visual content.
What type of content is best for each audience? How about each audience segment?
Spend time analysing your customer and market data to figure out who your audience is on each platform and what works with them. Study your competitors too so you can develop your own social niche – no one likes seeing the same posts constantly.
Then use the tips and examples below to wow your audience.
When energy drinks exploded onto the unbelievably saturated soft drink scene 20 years ago or so, brands understood the importance of marketing themselves as lifestyle brands.
Although the “extreme” lifestyle associated with drinks like Monster Energy has turned into a trope at this point, the lifestyle marketing principle still stands.
Red Bull and Monster Energy are both super involved in the world of alternative sports like skateboarding, BMX, snowboarding, surfing, and so much more.
You don’t have to dig deep on the Monster Energy Instagram page to find relevant content:
Red Bull also takes its reputation as a lifestyle brand seriously. In fact, the energy drink company has a dedicated page for every sport associated with its brand:
The Red Bull Adventure page is filled with content for sports and activities that don’t really fit into any other page’s content – like skydiving, rock climbing, and wakeboarding:
Both Red Bull and Monster Energy also understand the value of sponsoring athletes for exposure across their target audiences.
The extreme sports lifestyle demographic is pretty saturated now – at least as far as soft drink brands go – but the point is that you should dig into your audience’s lifestyle, whatever it may be.
Stay-at-home moms, vinyl junkies, book lovers, students – you have so many options.
What you choose depends on your audience. Study the pages they follow, their hobbies, their jobs, their sense of humour, their interests, their goals, and anything else to figure out how you can fit into their lives beyond soft drinks.
It’s not the 80s anymore. People are conscious about everything they put into their bodies today. Unfortunately for soft drink brands, your product is often considered among the worst offenders.
Lots of people just don’t want to drink 33 grams of sugar – regardless of how all-natural it is. For soft drinks, they prefer low-sugar varieties with functional ingredients and other flavours.
Others, meanwhile, are fine with some pure cane sugar as a treat – but they’d still like to know that you’re only using the best ingredients.
See why understanding your audience is so important?
Simply Orange knows that juice drinks are loaded with sugar no matter how pure the ingredients are. That’s why they posted this video to promote their low-sugar lemonade:
Instagram is an ideal social media platform for soft drink brands in 2021 because it’s loaded with highly sensory features – and Instagram releases new tools all the time.
Case in point: Instagram Reels.
With Instagram Reels, you can really drive home the sensory experience associated with your product via video and audio content like pouring, drinking, bubbling, brewing, and more.
Reels are cool because you can also add the usual stickers like you would with Stories – questions, polls, music, and other stuff to really drive home the engagement.
Plus, you can save Reels to your device and upload them elsewhere like TikTok and Twitter (who recently released stories themselves).
Monster Energy knew exactly what they were doing here. Their classic can got the white-glove service before you hear that familiar crack as the can opens and foam rolls over the top:
You already collect so much data on your customers – why keep it all to yourself?
Share the wealth! Consumer tech and software companies understand the value of sharing data with their audience via engaging visualisations. Think about how excited you are to see your Spotify wrap at the end of each year.
Social media is the perfect place for soft drink brands to do the same thing. You might not have the tools or resources to share granular info (plus it might be a little creepy coming from a soft drink brand) but you can share higher-level data.
Use your sales figures to find patterns across U.S. states, European countries, or general cultural regions. When you find something interesting, transform the data into visualisations like maps, graphs, and charts to share.
That’s exactly what Gatorade did here with this map breaking down the favourite flavour of each US state:
It’s fun, interesting, and totally not at all creepy.
When people think of brand contests, soft drink companies are probably the first things that come to mind. (Well, at least Millennials and up.)
Long before the internet consumed our lives, Coca-Cola and Pepsi ran contests where you could accumulate points or win prizes via soda caps.
Who says the fun has to end? Contests and giveaways are still some of the best ways to build your social media audiences while boosting sales, branding, and engagement.
Go back to point number one on this list where we talk about developing your lifestyle. Your lifestyle branding can help dictate what types of contests your audience would like.
Artwork, photography, video production, baking – hobbies are all great places to start brainstorming for a contest. Maybe a recipe contest for using your product!
User-generated content (UGC) is so useful – for multiple reasons.
First, it engages your audience and gives them a reason to interact with your soft drink company online. But that’s not all. UGC campaigns also give you an unlimited supply of images and content for your social media profiles.
Instead of running yourself ragged coming up with fresh ideas every week, let your customers take the reins.
Coca-Cola has really set the standard here for everyone to follow. Remember the share a Coke campaign? It’s still alive and well on social media – and the first thing Coca-Cola mentions in their Instagram bio.
If we click on the hashtag, we see an endless stream of high-quality photos:
Coke’s hashtag campaign is super general but they’re a massive company – they can get away with generic.
Think about your audience’s lifestyle as you pick your hashtag campaign. Make sure it’s actionable and includes your brand’s name.
All types of video are great but video series is even better. If you hadn’t noticed, lots of brands are transforming themselves into media companies that publish original content.
One-off promotional videos aren’t enough anymore. Instead, pick a topic and create different episodes as a series. These videos shouldn’t even really mention your brand. They should focus on the entertainment or educational value instead.
Red Bull treats itself like a TV channel on YouTube:
The energy drink brand also has an entire playlist titled “How Was It Made?” where they break down the secrets and mechanics behind some unbelievable stuff:
Pick a topic where you won’t run out of ideas after a few episodes. An iced tea brand, for example, could run a season on tea farming, diving into a different type of tea, location, or process in each episode.
Here’s another place where energy drink companies truly excel. Brands like Red Bull and Monster Energy understand the importance of brand ambassadors for reaching their target markets.
Not only can they help you reach new audiences, but ambassadors also help keep your brand on the top of people’s minds. Half of the struggle is getting people to try your drink – the other half is reminding them you exist every time they’re thirsty.
That’s also why Coca-Cola spends billions on billboards, advertisements, and sponsorships: to edge out competition and keep attention.
Your relationship with ambassadors should be a win-win: They wear your gear and promote your content. You share their events and accomplishments on your social media profiles.
Red Bull knows how the game works. They have a series of Story highlights set up on Instagram for various brand ambassador athletes or affiliates:
The Stories aren’t all promotional and salesy or cringe either. They’re conversational and fun:
Your lifestyle branding focuses on action. Your values branding, however, focuses on emotions and feelings.
Doubling down on this point will make customers associate those same emotions with your brand. And in a market as crowded as soft drinks, you want to do everything you can to build a holistic brand: physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.
Coffee brands are all about the feels – and totally different feels for each one.
Think about it.
Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, despite selling almost the exact same products, trigger wildly different feelings and styles in our minds, right? The same is true on their social media profiles.
Dunkin’ Donuts values fun and some silliness too. Their social media presence reflects this:
Starbucks, on the other hand, values togetherness, support, and compassion. (Not to say that Dunkin’ doesn’t! Those just aren’t their central values.)
You just gotta love Kool-Aid too. They’ve totally embraced the personification of their brand – the Kool-Aid Man – and keep him along with his energetic personality the key focus of each social media account.
He’s funny and he’s totally embraced the absurdist humour Millennials and Gen Z absolutely love:
(Read the second comment for an extra laugh.)
I wonder if there was an incident on Twitter involving someone blocking the Kool-Aid Man.
On TikTok, the Kool-Aid Man has his own account too:
Of course, the Kool-Aid Man also has his own Twitter account and whoever manages it has a pretty fun job:
It’s ingenious. Everyone wants The Kool-Aid Man in their tweet replies and Kool-Aid clearly doesn’t have to worry about any social media faux pas.
With so many choices available, customers have no reason to line the pockets of brands doing more harm than good in the world.
In fact, a whopping 71% say they would rather spend money with brands that share their personal values. That’s a pretty tall order for brands when we consider how polarised social issues and politics have become.
But there is one issue every soft drink brand should uphold: sustainability.
People aren’t oblivious to the serious impact that bottled beverages, cans, straws, and disposable cups have on the environment. They’ve seen the pictures of the huge garbage island floating around the ocean – and they probably assume half of it contains plastic drink cups.
Consumers also aren’t buying the “everyone needs to do their part” individualism anymore. No matter how efficiently consumers cut back on waste, they’re still only responding to the irresponsibility of brands and their manufacturers.
The heat is really on soft drink brands (and companies in other industries, of course) to uphold sustainability and ethics.
Starbucks has a set of Story highlights explaining their efforts to reduce straws, manufacture more eco-friendly cups, use greener energy, and promote reusable cups. They also encourage customers to use their special sticker set:
Likewise, the Flint water crisis exposed consumers around the world to the fragility of potable water access. They also now know drinking water access is a daily struggle for people in many African and Asian countries.
Well, they also realise that soft drink companies require lots of water to produce their products.
Don’t wait for your brand to become the next scandal or cancel target. Be proactive: Show your customers how you’re doing your part to maintain sustainable packaging and water access.
If you’re giving back by sponsoring clean water projects, even better!
When it comes to soft drink recipes, not all press is good press.
Have you seen the video floating around where someone boils macaroni in blue Gatorade for mac and cheese? While everyone wants an organically viral video, this one doesn’t exactly make you want to run out and buy a Gatorade.
You can, however, share interesting and tasty recipes on your own page.
Even something like blue Gatorade would work well in recipes for things like fruit punch, sangria, and other adult libations.
Silk has a whole set of Story highlights promoting various recipes like curry, soups, lattes, and more:
They’re super engaging too:
Not every piece of content has to belong to a broader campaign.
High Brew Coffee knows how you’re supposed to use social media: for socialising. The High Brew Coffee account likes to caption photos and tag partners or affiliates with copy that sounds like something a close friend would write.
This post congratulates musician Halsey on her recent book publication:
You could do the same for non-famous customers too.
But when it comes to amplifying customer stories, nothing beats the success that fell into Ocean Spray’s lap last year.
Over summer as folks around the world were feeling burned out and run down amid the pandemic and social unrest, a wholesome TikTok went viral.
Nathan Apodaca, aka doggface208, interrupted our doomscrolling with a TikTok of himself skateboarding while lip-synching Dreams by Fleetwood Mac and sipping some Ocean Spray cranberry juice.
Needless to say, Ocean Spray was pretty thrilled and jumped on the opportunity to enlist Nathan as an impromptu influencer.
Not only did Ocean Spray gift Nathan a brand-new truck loaded with his favourite drink, but they also brought him back for their new year’s post to thank him for brightening our lives during a dark year:
The soft drink market is consistently crowded with brands competing for attention. Spend time studying your competition so you can nail down a strategy for differentiating yourself. The internet has enough repeat content already – no need to beat the same themes to death.
Next, understand your audience. Figure out how they spend their time, what they do for work, their hobbies, and their aspirations.
Once you figure these things out, you can develop a long-term social media plan for your soft drink brand in 2021 to connect and succeed.
As an Associate Strategy Director I am responsible for leading the development and execution of organic and paid social media and content strategies for our clients at Kubbco.
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