This article is part of our 2016 hot beverages digital report

We are bombarded with choice every day. But with consumers typically shopping on autopilot, becoming ’stickier’ in their minds is increasingly difficult for brands.

Nick Ward, head of creative strategy, Cubo

Nick joined Cubo in 2007, working his way through the creative department to become head of creative strategy, leading the thinking across all agency accounts. He’s worked with numerous clients across spirits, travel and higher education, including Chivas Regal, Absolut, Beefeater, SeaWorld Parks, Sol Hotels and De Montfort and Kingston Universities.

Nick was the brains behind Cubo’s proprietary planning tool, Headspace, and his work has been integral in helping to make Cubo’s clients’ brands stickier – in people’s minds, in the media and in culture at large. He is a frequent commentator on the science of marketing and branding, with a particular interest in applying contemporary theory creatively in the real world.

Consumers usually shop to address a specific need or situation –  for example, the tea they buy for their hippy sister’s visit could be quite different to the tea to impress their in-laws. For each situation or need, the brands that spring to mind may be quite different. Trying to be the default choice against every occasion and need is almost impossible. However, there are ways to pilot the autopilot. 


Fame, stand-out creativity and salient signposting can all make hot beverage brands stickier. However, recent thinking from the likes of Professor Byron Sharp and Baroness Susan Greenfield has begun to show the more underlying, covert ways brands get stuck in consumers’ minds. To better understand this, we recently pioneered a research and planning tool – Headspace, which identified key reasons and situations that bring a cup of tea to mind, to which brands can connect themselves.

The research into the black tea category revealed that ‘to relax’ was the biggest cue, closely followed by ‘to drink with breakfast’ and ‘to drink with family and friends’. However, uniquely to the category, brands performed relatively consistently across all cues. This is probably because tea isn’t a polarising product and can be enjoyed by anyone at any time. At face value many cues seemed obvious, but surprising to us was the lack of association that many brands had with them.

‘Me time’

Given the consistent performance, it is no surprise that success in the tea category is typically driven by mainstream, entertainment-orientated campaigns that include multiple cues, coupled with salient brand assets – like characters and product shape – and persuasive price-led promotions in-store. This doesn’t mean that only the big brands will thrive; we found that any brand associating itself with providing “me time” on a daily basis can succeed.

The key is to stop thinking just about what your brand evokes and start delivering campaigns that address the needs and situations that evoke your brand as well.

By building frequent links to the cues, hot beverage brands can reinforce their position in consumers’ minds. From Headspace, the best way to do this seems to be to adopt creative showmanship. Take Yorkshire Tea’s Brewtopia campaign – it’s entertainment-led but with implicit connections to key cues – it touches on being a daily breakfast drink and something to share with friends and family.

Of course, showmanship is just one of the ways that brands can resonate with consumers. Brands now have the tools to identify where the opportunities for greater stickiness lie. The challenge will be whether brands are brave enough to adjust their creatives to target the one cue that will deliver growth until it resonates with consumers.

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