How Jäger can Become Meister Once More

In the lucrative alcoholic beverages industry, there are hundreds of big players, but few as evocative as the herbal liqueur brand Jägermeister.

Well-known in its three largest markets (the United States, the United Kingdom, and its native Germany), Jägermeister has been around since the 1930s. In recent years, it has been performing well, showing growth of 16% from all sales of the product and jumping from a rank of seventh to third best-selling spirit brand in the UK. But due to new competitors and a changing consumer market, Jägermeister might benefit from employing new brand strategies to stay relevant, in addition to revising some current tactics. Let’s have a look at the current standing of the privately-held brand and propose some strategies that will maximise the brand’s potential.

“The door swings open and in walks a man. He is a tall, swarthy Bavarian gamekeeper clad in a well-worn wax jacket, carrying a flintlock gun, and speaking fluent English but with a heavy accent. His parentage is uncertain. Occasionally encountered in rough moorland taverns on bleak winter nights, he would challenge all and sundry to a drinking competition of legendary consumption, before disappearing into the icy night as quickly and mysteriously as he arrived, leaving a swathe of drunken peasants in his wake. I would be friends with him, but cautious of his rugged individualism and unfathomable mind.”

Meet Jägermeister. At least, this is one consumer’s poetically crafted personification of the brand. The question becomes, though, does this imagery still ring true for consumers of the brand today? Keeping this in mind, we will begin to examine the 80-year-old Jägermeister brand’s consumer evolution over its lifecycle and how it compares to current competitors.

In 1935, avid hunter Curt Mast produced the alcoholic beverage we know today as Jägermeister to share with his hunting companions. Moving away from its huntsman-inspired conception, this brand has taken on more modern-day associations in recent years, mostly related to the social aspect of drinking alcoholic beverages. In today’s culture, a more commonly known brand personification is something like this: “Jägermeister would be… shooting the gun and the wink as he walked into a room. Everyone would know him – he is social, funny, and usually the drunk one at the end of the night. I would be friends with him, but just party friends.”

After surveying 37 people, a pretty clear brand image came to life. As evidenced by the tag cloud below, Jägermeister evokes strong associations with a popular way to drink it, known as the Jägerbomb, which is a shot of Jägermeister dropped into a glass filled with the energy drink Red Bull. Other popular associations were product qualities like “syrup” and “licorice,” which could refer to the dark colouring of the drink and the characteristic anise flavouring of the drink. Many other phrases mentioned were related to drinking culture, such as “fun” or “college” or “shots.” Few people associated Jägermeister with its origins, either geographic (Germany) or historic (hunting). 

 

Brand Authenticity

Competitor Fireball’s implementation of a consumer-focused marketing strategy shows how consumer roles have changed in the past decade. Savvy consumers are becoming sceptical; how can consumers determine which brands are genuine and which are merely selling to them? The concept of authenticity has always been inherent in brands but recently has become an extremely marketable quality. Growing numbers of brands are realising the advantages of authentic branding, which ultimately lead to increased consumer connection. We will analyse Jägermeister’s brand authenticity using Beverland’s seven habits of authenticity. Below is a web diagram showing Jägermeister’s scores in each aspect.

 

 

Looking at this model, Jägermeister ranks quite highly in a few different habits of brand authenticity. Two habits it clearly exemplifies is being an “artisanal amateur” and “loving the doing.” Highlighting craft traditions and emphasising quality throughout a meticulous production process are aspects of creating this authentic image. Jägermeister’s website has videos showcasing the production process and history behind the trademarked logo, lettering, and bottle design. Obviously, brand owners have given much consideration to the production and quality of their product. The brand also exemplifies “sticking to your roots,” evidenced in frequent references to its German heritage, and even in its name and the typeface used. It also has retained and still uses its original recipe for the drink. Based on these scores, Jägermeister appears to have a fairly strong sense of brand authenticity, which can help consumers more readily trust its marketing communications.

 

Brand Architecture

Mast-Jägermeister SE remains a privately-held company today, with a very limited product range. Throughout its introduction and growth phase from the 1930s until the 1960s, the company boasted a wide-ranging product offering of flavoured schnapps and other liqueurs but gradually trimmed down their brand portfolio over time. Up until 2012, only two products constituted Mast-Jägermeister’s complete brand mix: Schlehenfeuer (a fruit liqueur) and Jägermeister. Now, Mast-Jägermeister’s brand portfolio focuses most of its resources on Jägermeister’s branded house.

The first recent brand extension to come from Jägermeister was introduced in 2012. Jägermeister Raw and Jägermeister Ginger Lime are two ready-to-drink (RTD) Jägermeister products. Currently, these products are available only within Australia and New Zealand. These RTD products don’t seem to be showing significant sales, as they have not been introduced into any other markets. A year later in October 2013, the company introduced Jägermeister’s first-ever seasonal brand extension, Jägermeister Spice. With a lower alcohol content and cinnamon and vanilla flavouring, Jägermeister Spice is Jägermeister’s more subtle little sister aimed at recruiting new audiences, potentially females. Despite being described as “not a totally hideous new Jäger nightmare,” this latest line extension was received fairly well. Based on its positive reception in trial markets in the United States and Germany, it was released in the UK market in October 2014. Perhaps this is the company’s response to the hearty welcome its competitor Fireball has received. Concerningly for Jägermeister though, apart from one person in my interviews, none had ever tried Jägermeister Spice, largely due to lack of product awareness.

 

Secondary Brand Associations

The term “Jägerbomb” has become nearly synonymous with Jägermeister, as evidenced by the tag cloud. More than 60% of my interviewees drank Jägermeister in the form of a Jägerbomb. This is no trend to ignore – as of 2012, 90 percent of Jägermeister sales were sold as part of a Jägerbomb However, Jägermeister has recently attempted to raise the appeal of drinking a Jägermeister shot by itself, which comes as a surprising shift in its sales strategy. “At some point Jägerbombs won’t be as fashionable as they are now so we want to drive growth of the brand away from that, as well as moving it into new, less high tempo, drinking occasions,” concluded a Jägermeister’s marketing manager. Concern over waning drinking trends is valid, as is the idea of evolving the brand to suit more mellow drinking situations. However, brands have become a two-way relationship, and consumers now hold the power to create brand meaning. So by not addressing (and appreciating) what appears to be a large majority of their current consumer market, Jägermeister may very well be alienating their customer base.

Other secondary brand associations include rock music in Europe, the United States, and Australia. Jägermeister has sponsored over a hundred rock bands and has also been associated with heavy metal bands Metallica and Mötley Crüe. Former brand associations from the 1970s included European motor racing teams and the German football team, the Bundesliga. However, during my interviews, none of the respondents recalled Jägermeister’s involvement with the music scene or sporting events, perhaps due to the niche market of heavy metal and rock music or even simply consumer inattention to event sponsors.

 

Suggested Brand Strategies

Before delving into new strategies, Jägermeister should re-evaluate its current efforts. Recently, Jägermeister has had to deal with “passing off,” the act of serving customers a copycat product under the pretense of the Jägermeister brand name. The brand’s response has been quite fierce, announcing swift legal action. While the liquor market overall shows a slight decrease in sales, the herbal liqueur category is actually doing well, which has liqueur competitors complaining that Jägermeister should be more open to sharing the spotlight. While brand owners should undoubtedly monitor the situation, dedicating massive efforts to squashing copycats can portray the brand as desperate and nervous. Consumers are connected to the brand – whether they actually enjoy Jägermeister or not, they do recognise and respect its inimitable taste. Jägermeister needs to remain confident and let its consumers rally for the brand.

In terms of new brand strategies, Jägermeister should be rethinking their budget allocations in general. Liquor brands top the charts in advertising spending within the food and drinks category. Jägermeister reportedly will launch a multi-million pound campaign in December 2014 around major UK cities and on the London Underground network. This “Give It a Shot” campaign will use the new strategy of selling Jägermeister as standalone shots, an approach whose shortcomings we have previously discussed. But in looking at Fireball’s example of social media and “grassroots” advertising, it clearly has worked well with younger consumer markets in the specialty liqueur market. Jägermeister doesn’t need to compete with big liquor brands and instead should focus on its niche market. Additionally, a large percentage of the market is completely unaware of Jägermeister’s current sports sponsorships and involvement in the music scene, so further research should be done to determine if expenditures in these segments provide satisfactory returns. Jägermeister should be wary of spreading itself too thin over the sports and music industries. Sponsorships may still be a viable option, but perhaps brand owners need to think more strategically about which events to sponsor. By shifting their marketing spend from traditional advertising and sponsorships to social media, the brand will undoubtedly be able to funnel more resources into other brand strategy improvements, such as focusing on brand extensions.

The brand owners cleverly employed a product development strategy with Jägermeister Spice, which has great potential for success. Offering a flavour that appeals to a larger breadth of its customer base, it remains familiar and accessible to consumers due to the Jägermeister brand name. The main issue is low product awareness, so brand owners should focus on getting the word (and product) out there. They might consider employing a strategy similar to Fireball’s by recruiting brand ambassadors to promote the product in bars. They can focus on targeting areas that currently show a strong consumer base for Jägermeister, perhaps university towns. By not marginalising its current customer base with a radical shift in Jägermeister’s sales strategy, Jägermeister can retain its younger market as well as attract new consumers with Jägermeister Spice. As for Jägermeister, considering the possibility of the Jägerbomb trend disappearing, brand owners should discuss shifting the brand to a cash cow status, which often occurs when a brand is stagnant or even in decline. Pending the success of Jägermeister Spice, the brand owners can then evaluate if future brand extensions are needed.

Lastly, Jägermeister needs to fully embrace the ways in which consumers interact with the brand. Obviously, attempts have been made via social media outlets and with low-key app efforts, but users remain highly disengaged. Adam Rosen, the vice president of marketing at Jägermeister’s U.S. distribution company, noted that “from our conversations with Jägermeister consumers, we know new flavours and unique experiences allow them opportunities to bond with their friends.” Jägermeister is missing out on a mammoth opportunity by dancing around this idea, but not actively capitalising on it. There is a widespread cultural endorsement of social drinking, which my interviews further validated. One of the most alluring things of Jägermeister was drinking it with friends. Brand owners need to invest in this idea by allowing consumers to create meaningful, lasting relationships with the brand. Looking back on Jägermeister’s authentic brand habits, one area in which it could improve was storytelling. Not only sharing Jägermeister’s brand stories but also allowing consumers to share theirs as well will help improve Jägermeister’s overall brand authenticity.

In conclusion, it seems a very real possibility that trends like the Jägerbomb may die out eventually, but humans’ need for social interaction will always exist, and if the brand can respond appropriately and swiftly, so will Jägermeister.

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