Energy drink mania has taken over Gen-Y and youth culture over the last few years. From Red Bull starting the craze and their smart marketing into youth culture to Monster and then Lil Jon's Crunk Juice and everything in between, playing on the fact that kids love extreme has been a major selling point for the drinks.
A few hours south is an energy drink company built in the grass roots action sports arena that is focused on building brand awareness as well as a long term brand recognition program for their consumers. DNA Energy Drink is a small team of motivated individuals in South Florida making big strides into personalizing their experience not only with consumers at events, but also the stores that carry their products. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Geoff Armstrong, the VP of Marketing, on Youth Marketing, the Action Sports Scene and how the economy was hitting their operation. (The following has been edited to make it an easy read, but no context has been changed)
Greg: You guys target the Extreme Sports Market, which has a very large Gen-Y and Youth Following, do you see that as your target consumer as well?
Geoff: Our roots are in the action/extreme sports but were finding that the demographics of energy drink "drinkers" has changed over the past couple years. It used to be just the teens or young crowd but now I see guys on my fathers softball team in their late 50's drinking them as well so that's not our only focus. Our roots will always be in the action sports so that is a high priority. The youth tend to be very loyal once they accept a brand and as you know, its tougher to get an older person who's set in their ways to try something new then someone in their teens.
Greg: Does DNA give away free samples at events? How do you get feedback from these types of promotions?
Geoff: Yes, we only do events if we can sample. For feedback, our field reps get people's opinions/feedback when they taste the drink if they can, depending on the event. We also use our sales data in each area to see if doing the events equates to direct sales increases at the area accounts.
Greg: Have you seen any return from sponsoring events, as it relates to the youth demographic?
Geoff: Yes. We have pretty deep ties into the action sports community so we have a good grasp on what works and what doesn't. We have pretty strict guidelines for "sponsoring" or holding an event and will not do that unless our objectives are met. There are many companies though that think just having their banner up or logo on a flyer will sell product on its own. Considering how small our budgets are compared to the red bulls and monsters, our numbers in 7 eleven and circle K are solid. We feel this is a direct result of our grass roots marketing efforts. Nobody is going to buy a DNA unless they have heard about it or more importantly have tried it. There are too many drinks in the coolers for that to happen without leading people to DNA.
Greg: The Internet plays a large role in youth culture, how does DNA reach out to kids online and does DNA have any policies on how you do that? From reading blogs to monitoring twitter or other sites to video promotion and so on.
Geoff: We are currently working on making a very hard push with internet this year. We have the myspace, etc stuff but as a small company the first 2 years many of us were wearing many different hats and time had to be split for different projects. We now have someone who is going to attack it hard. We are not nationally distributed yet, and we are only in a few key states so our efforts have been concentrated on those regions. I feel the internet piece is very tricky too. The Myspace's and stuff are sort of played out. Again, its a very important piece to the puzzle but we want to focus our efforts in the streets more then anything else. That's were the brand awareness and loyalty are made.
Greg: With the economy the way it is, what is DNA going to do in '09 to build brand strength and grow market share?
Geoff: Our philosophy from day 1 is being grass roots and will always be so, no matter how large DNA becomes. Many of our large competitors have lost sight of this and many others do not realize the importance of it, especially in this economic crisis. We do not agree to sponsor events and then just drop product or some T shirts and expect that to sell our product. Our reps are very educated on our product and are at every single event we do to educate and meet the kids/people along with sampling the product. This goes a long way for our customers and accounts and shows we care.
On the corporate level, with the 7 elevens and such, we are working programs with them to help drive business to their stores. They are hurting as is everyone else right now. We have already done successful athlete tours/campaigns with Circle K and 7 Eleven in Florida and California and both have told us we are the ONLY brand to do this with them. We also have a program that launches this next week that will put us next to monster in the coolers at 7 eleven and almost be a dollar cheaper. We are giving the chains the same profit margins as our competitors but at a better value for their customers.
We have beaten many of the odds in just these few short years we have been going and we will continue to stay on course. We are always brainstorming to come up with stuff nobody has done or put our own twist on things. Its hard to reinvent the wheel but we want to make our own path. Sometimes you have to follow certain paths but we are always looking beyond that. With the economy the way it is, people will have every penny under the microscope. We will continue with our grass roots marketing efforts to forge long term relationships as well as value pricing for our customers.
I love what DNA is doing as far as branding their culture. I think they need to get into the online and mobile spaces fast as kids are picking these things up. It could also be a great way to interact and get better feedback at events. Having a kid text in his favorite flavor during the taste test to get a free video download of one of their riders or something. This would get them the feedback, promote their athletes and build a database that can be broken down by region.
Geoff is another to admit that Myspace has lost a step, and although we know that, then brand needs to take the time to realize what they are doing online and what their kids/consumers are doing online. DNA is very authentic and takes a great route to personalization, and the great thing is that there are tools out there to help them continue to be personal, open up communication and grow their brand!
What do you think about DNA, the energy drink scene and how marketing can play in the action sports world?