As you can see, taking a whisky to market is not a quick process, it actually takes around two years for most to go from idea to bottle and on to shelf, as the previous stages will have shown. One of the more creative phases within the process of taking a whisky to market happens next; packaging design.
If any of you are under any illusions about the importance of packaging design, think about this; aside from whisky shows how often do you get to try the product in the bottle before buying it?
How often do you buy a new whisky on reputation or the look of the bottle, or the story being told on the packaging?
I bet it’s a lot more than you think, and that’s because of a really intricate design process that ensures the brand, and specific product is brought to life in the most effective and visually-disruptive way to grab your attention either when in store or browsing online.
Bernard Gormley, founding partner, Nude Brand Creation explains why creating brands and packaging takes time, saying that, 'A master blender or distiller uses great care and time to create exceptional liquids, aged for many years in selected casks and then the brand team will activate the best way to market.
'We think spirit brands are special. Every spirit is, literally and figuratively, the distilled essence of a place, of its unique climate, of its geography, of a specific culture and it’s people that go to making a brand totally individual.
'The brand you create should be every bit as complex, subtle, and as distinctive as the product itself.
'We must inhale brands. Roll them around the palate, give them time to fill our senses.
'That being the case, the brand should be as complex, subtle, and as distinctive as the product.
'Our contention is that you need to treat your brand in exactly the same way you treat your product with care, time and with reverence,' adds Gormley.
Packaging design is, in my opinion, the primary tool with which brands get to connect and make the first sell of their product, the liquid will get you the second sell if it’s good enough but shoppers and whisky drinkers need to be enticed, wooed, convinced by what information is available to them as they scan the shelves.
That’s where the bottle and secondary packaging, that’s the tube, tin, box, come in.
'It’s so competitive, way more competitive than any other part of retail, the normal rules do not apply.
'A milkshake might have 10 competitive brands on the shelves around it, a whisky might have 500, and most of them will be in a generic glass bottle with the same plain stopper so that little paper label really becomes very important.
Every spirit is, literally and figuratively, the distilled essence of a place, of its unique climate
'The most important thing is to stand out and stand for something', notes Ivan Bell, founder of the benchmark-setting drinks packaging design agency.
Once the strategic phase is complete, designers are brought in for briefing sessions and kick off workshops to define the creative brief and to agree deliverables and what is required.
This will be everything from bottle sizes, label sizes, mandatories (the information and icons brands are legally obliged to include on each bottle’s label) and to get a feel for the brand’s heritage, stories and characters.
'The designer's job is to help sell products by the thousand, by the million, usually at a premium price, usually without the consumer being able to taste the product, always within an ocean of competitive brands and if we aren’t successful we get fired. It’s a brutal discipline', said Bell.
These design sessions are usually at the distilleries or brand homes in question so as to fully immerse the creative folk into the brand world and so that any archival artefacts can be seen, discussed and photographed.
In my experience you would be surprised where the inspiration for a brand may come from.
Aberfeldy is a great example of this where the now-iconic, and distinctive black and gold packaging aesthetic came about.
The story goes that it all stemmed from a chance conversation between the creative team at Stranger & Stranger and a member of the production team who fleetingly mentioned that the water source for the Aberfeldy distillery, The Pitilie Burn, used to be panned for gold some time back in the day.
Thus a creative spark was ignited, and the brand’s visual aesthetic defined and worked into a look and feel that would engage consumers on shelf.
It is not always like this however, a lot of new spirits brands have bought or created a great liquid, but have no idea what to do with it so employ strategy consultants like myself and design agencies to effectively define their business model, set the strategy for where the product’s place in the world of spirits should be and then create the whole brand around it.
'For each brand it is vital to find a truth as a starting point, but finding the right kind of truth does not always require reaching back into history. For example, it could stem from a leading influencer who has had a major influence on the company, this could be a recent character or even someone who is current.
'Or perhaps it originates from an attitude, possibly even a way of behaving. All these can be the catalyst to creating distinctive, unique and engaging packaging', says Tony Enoch, creative partner, Nude Brand Creation.
These are the most challenging, and often the most creatively rewarding as the consultants and designers are truly free to bring these mostly wonderful spirits to market in the way in which we, as specialists in what we do, see the opportunity for the maximum consumer connection, relevance and ultimately revenue.
With packaging seen as being more and more important, and what consumers want from packaging becoming more diverse, from ‘post-use packaging’ so that it can perform some sort of function after the primary use of carrying and storing a bottle has been exhausted to statement bottles that they can proudly display in their office, their home, their whisky cabinet or drinks trolley.
It is clear that the designs of both labels and the glass our whisky is housed in will become more intricate and tell more detailed stories in the years to come.
Next time I will explain how you take this beautifully packaged whisky to market, where you need to engage with brand teams, start connecting with influencers and set the blogosphere alight with excitement.
With so much on offer, how do you stand out? There is plenty of choice for the consumer.