Welcome to my new series of features exploring the non–production elements of taking a whisky to market as there is a lot more to it than ‘just’ distilling, ageing, blending, bottling and selling. A hell of a lot more to be honest. From understanding the global consumer needs, to naming, packaging design and beyond, I’m going to explain to you the non–production elements of how and why whisky products are made.
Before I begin, I just want to explain to you why I’m qualified to explain this part of the whisky category to you. My background is in branding, and specifically brand strategy which means I work with distillers, blenders, bottlers and startups to help them understand the market they are operating in, the consumers / customers they are targeting, developing liquid briefs for blenders, working to create the best messaging and packaging design for the products and setting the strategy for them to position their products in the hearts and minds of the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
So, now that’s out the way, let me tell you about the driving forces behind the creation of near enough every product in the whisky industry.
Typically, the ‘core range’ of a brand – notionally the 10, 12, 15, 18, 21, 25 Year Olds – are set in stone and rarely deviate from the existing tried and tested blueprint. That is not to say that they are generic, but they are solid and ever–present for a reason; they work, consumers love them and the brand has planned for their production and bottling for years, although sometimes sentimentality on the part of the brand owners plays a part.
There is of course the old fashioned way of looking at inventories and creating a whisky based on what’s in stock at a given age statement, but more often than not that is not the case nowadays when it comes to limited editions as most marketing functions in big brands such as Diageo, Chivas, IDL and Edrington, who are incredibly capable and know how to create products that people want to buy, will be leading the charge to create new releases that are different, compelling, get talked about and get bought.
But when limited editions, or range extensions are released, then a lot more thought goes into each release than you would probably think, or sometimes more than it looks. It all starts with research. Lots and lots of research and in depth consumer and market understanding, but how is this done?
Data can be sourced in a variety of ways; social media research to see what whisky–loving people are talking about and demanding from brands, wider category research to understand and define trends that are present in the marketplace or speaking with consumers the world over to ascertain their understanding, needs and wants from any given brand.
With all of this customer and market data, insights are drawn to understand what is needed in terms of limited edition releases, in which parts of the world and for what type of consumer.
Then the real fun begins; workshopping with hundreds of Post–Its, Sharpies, core team members that can be from the company’s brand team and its creative partners which are usually design agencies. These are amongst the most interesting stages of the process as this is when we, as marketeers, are able to flex our creative juices, think about all the possible expressions that would fit with the brand’s signature flavour profile and brand DNA, and come up with solutions as to what could be.
When it comes to deciding territories in which to launch a product, this can be done in a couple of ways; starting out to create something compelling for a specific country or region such as Asia, or responding to where consumer data tells us that there is a demand for something new from a brand that already has traction in the region in order to provide new news for them.
Once you’ve gotten through the process these ‘blue sky’ ideas and solutions are usually pared back to fit with production realities, the speed and capabilities of the bottling line mostly, and the willingness to invest in label and glass development.
There are several rounds of this kind of ideation and concept creation until there are solid options based on consumer and market input that could work commercially. These then get worked up to bring the concept to life with elements including, but not limited to: Draft concept title; think codename
One liner to explain the idea briefly to senior stakeholders
Concept narrative that tells the story of the release; what it is, why it is being developed and who it is for
Why it works; a statement detailing why the core team believes it will work
Launch strategy; an outline of how to take the new product to market
Timeline; how long it will take to create, market and get into stores / bars around the world
Territories; where the product will be launched and where it will be sold
From here, each gets developed and thought–through to narrow down the options to around three that will definitely work and are the strongest for consumer engagement and to build brand traction in the market, which are then put forward for further development with the distilling and blending team, but we will discuss that next time.
Many samples may be considered
The fun starts – keeping the focus group happy