“A hard-earned thirst” gets a revival

VB announced last week that it was returning the alcohol content of their beer back to the original strength of 4.9%. A few years ago they reduced it to 4.6%. I’m not a beer drinker and the import of this seemingly minor reduction was lost on me, and so was the rationale behind the decision to return it to the magical 4.9.

There was lots of talk by the VB spokesman about the investment they were making in the “brand” by doing this and how the millions (yep millions) of dollars that this would cost the brewer was necessary to regain the 7% marketshare they had lost since they made the fateful reduction to save millions in excise duty.

For many years, VB was famous as the “big, strong beer” for a “hard-earned thirst”. A tagline that resonated with core customers who saw the switch to 4.6 as breaking the promise that was at the heart of the sentiment.

Customer feeling apparently cheated presented letters to the brewer along the following lines:

“I have been forced to drink former ‘lesser’ beers … and am now only drinking red wine as none of them taste like the former VB product (which used to be a ‘real’ beer).”

So will Carlton and United Brewery taking on board the calls of their customers lead to a stampede back to the beer they once loved? Can you take it back and recapture what you have inadvertently or advertently squandered?

How much of the lost custom was the result of the broken promise and how much due to the small, but growing marketshare of boutique brews?

I will leave it to commentators on the beer industry to unravel that one.

But what I do know to be true is this: When you break a promise seen to be fundamental to your organisation or your product there are always consequences, and they are nearly always negative.

Breaking the promise might have seemed like a good decision that would improve the profitability of VB. I will lay money down that this looks somewhat different in hindsight with millions lost in sales, further millions lost in costs and millions more to be lost in future sales due to keeping the price down despite the increase in alcohol content.

A few months ago I wrote about “the ripple effect“. I can’t think of a better recent example of where it could and should have been employed. Who doesn’t think that a pebble in that particular pond wouldn’t have raised a warning flag about the strength of customer feelings about the formulation of the beer they loved.

The question now is will those customers who went to XXXX or switched to red wine come back? Loyalty is a hard thing to regain. Sure you might come back and try again, but once you have lost confidence in something (or someone) it’s never quite the same is it –#keepyourpromises.

Michel is an independent adviser and advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan

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