Global drinks giant Diageo counts 111 Scotch brands among its portfolio. This spans the styles and includes Johnnie Walker, J&B, Bell’s, Lagavulin, Buchanan’s, Oban, Talisker, Mortlach, The Singleton and more. To share its Scotch strategies for 2017 — and to celebrate International Scotch Day (Feb. 10) — Diageo invited media to its NYC headquarters last month for a tasting and education session.
These were six key takeaways:
1) Millennials Represent Growth Opportunity
Bourbon has already brought many Millennials into the whiskey category. Diageo is confident that this generation’s tendency to experiment will lead them to try other brown spirits. “There is huge growth potential for Millennials with Scotch,” says Alex Tomlin, SVP Marketing at Diageo.
First, the key is to demystify Scotch. Some younger consumers consider this spirit “stuffy” or intimidating. Reversing these misunderstandings requires education that connects with Millennials on their terms.
2) Bite-Sized Education
Millennials and most U.S. consumers now have short attention spans. And they are turned off by blatant advertising that shouts messaging. So it’s critical to market in a manner that fits naturally into their increasingly fast-paced, personalizable, digital world.
“When I first started working for Johnnie Walker ten years ago, we would hold these big events for consumers,” recalls Stephanie Jacoby, vice president, Johnnie Walker. “We’d educate consumers for 45 minutes in one sitting. Since then we’ve gotten the iPhone, Facebook. Now it’s all about bite-sized info.”
Social media, downloadable content, info-graphs, brief-but-in-depth videos: this is how perceptive brands connect with modern consumers. Moreover, these same people love to learn. So Diageo is wisely teaching consumers about Scotch’s history and craftsmanship through bite-sized educational content online and on the packaging.
3) Show Blenders As Artisans
Millennials and the broader U.S. consumer base are also keenly aware of authenticity. They prefer products that come from a place of realness and craftsmanship. Scotch fits the bill. After all, you can’t fake barrel-aging.
So Diageo is increasing the profiles of their Scotch blenders. These are flavor artists who mix 30-to-50 whiskeys to create the singular ideal taste. Bottles of Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch highlight the employees who created these unique flavors. Videos online also allow consumers to get to know the blenders and hear their nuanced takes on whisky production.
This perceptive marketing strategy adds yet another layer of authenticity and artisanship to a product already popular for being craft.
4) Drink Scotch Your Way
Part of the strategy to overcome Scotch’s stuffy/intimidating stigma is stressing that traditions do not dictate how it’s drank. “What’s the right way to drink Scotch?” asked Gregor Cattanach, national program education, Diageo reserve. “Any way you want to. Do whatever you want to with it.”
Modern consumers gravitate towards personalizable products. Diageo wants customers to know that they have permission to drink Scotch neat, with water, with ice — or any other way they prefer. This is no longer a spirit so venerable that to drink it unorthodox is sacrilegious.
Diageo will push this strategy through the hashtag campaign #ILoveScotch. The company wants people to post different ways they enjoy the spirit, helping spread the message that any way is the right way to drink Scotch. This campaign would also depict the varying ages, genders and backgrounds of people who like the spirit, thus moving away from the perception of old stuffy men sipping Scotch with cigars.
This push to embrace all forms of consumption includes an embrace of Scotch cocktails.
5) Cocktails Are A Gateway
Not that long ago, the idea of pouring Scotch into a mixed drink would be blasphemy. Why would you ruin this painstakingly crafted spirit by diluting it with the flavors of other liquids? But the modern craft cocktail movement brings a classiness that matches Scotch, which is simultaneously trying to look a little less serious.
It’s a win-win marriage at the right moment. Diageo is now pushing mixologists to get creative with Scotch.
“Cocktails are opportunity to bring more people into the Scotch category and let them know they can drink it however they want to,” explains Jacoby. “We expect cocktails to open up more people to Scotch the same way they did for bourbon and rye.”
6) History And Heritage
This should come as no surprise, but Diageo will continue to highlight the history and heritage of its Scotches. Since modern consumers favor products with authenticity, look for Diageo to remind people of the long histories behind their many Scotch brands.
Including Johnnie Walker. This globally dominant brand can trace its own roots back to a mid-19th-century teetotaler grocer of the eponymous name, whose descendants innovated the spirit in ways well ahead of their time, helping to create the modern Scotch industry.
Kyle Swartz is Managing Editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 7 Trends To Watch In Whiskey In 2017.