They say that robots are coming for our jobs. It's true in the booze world too, if your job is a journalist or a brand ambassador.
Typically, liquor brands' websites are all about 'lifestyle'- lots of videos and images of people and parties and fun times and cocktail recipes and hardly any detailed brand information whatsoever. You never know how a spirit is actually made (beyond the basics) from their own information. They're commercials, really. This seems to be truer the larger the brand.
For more interesting and detailed information, curious consumers could read traditional magazines or search the internet and find sites like Alcademics (the best!) for super nerdy details about a spirit they enjoy, but you'd never learn it from the brands themselves. Now I think that's starting to change.
It seems to me many brands are developing educational programs that do or will engage curious consumers directly, rather than indirectly through media. It's the same with the industry - why hire brand ambassadors as intermediaries if you can go right to the bartenders?
In a recent story that quotes Charles Gibb, the president of Belvedere vodka, he says:
“Before the financial crisis people were all about celebration, parties. It was an overtly celebratory time. But in the aftermath you saw people interrogating things more, asking more questions. Suddenly people were wanting to talk to us about the environment. They weren’t doing that 15 years ago,” he says.
“Before the crisis, I think if you tried to tell the vodka story the consumer was less interested. Today I think the expansion of social media and access to information means that as a brand your ability to be transparent is critical to having authenticity. So we ask people to come walk around our distillery, see how we distil, meet the rye farmer. If people can’t be there directly, how can we still tell this story in a virtual way? We’re increasingly looking at ways that we can do that and tell that story.”
Let's Get Cyber
Enter the 3D goggles: Brands including Patron, Sipsmith, Bowmore, Hendrick's, and others have all tried to strap me into their 3D virtual reality 'experience,' in my home city or at various cocktail conventions. While some of the virtual tours are a little more artsy and abstract, many of these videos are 'visiting the distillery' experiences simulating a press trip.
Given the choice, I'd prefer the real life version of those.
For now the challenge is that the brands have to bring their own goggles to consumers/bartenders, set up a space, and lure people in. In the future, they might be able to simply offer them for download when those things become more commonly owned by individuals.
I'm also starting to see more high-level consumer education programs being rolled out. There have been a few I haven't taken much notice of (so forgive the lack of detail) but as I was writing this post an announcement crossed my desk that pointed to the future.
It's for Johnnie Walker's "new digital mentorship program, leading a new year of whisky education that can be enjoyed right at home!"
From the press release:
Johnnie Walker has developed a progressive collaboration with Amazon to develop an innovative Alexa skill that allows consumers to experience the full Johnnie Walker portfolio and learn about the brand’s rich history.
The Johnnie Walker Alexa skill allows consumers to immerse themselves in an entertaining and educational whisky tasting, all without ever having to leave the comfort of their own home. Staying in just got that much better!
So what happens once you say, “Alexa, open Johnnie Walker”? You’ll then be guided through a clever, personalized whisky tasting, hear anecdotes from the storied Johnnie Walker history to up your whisky knowledge and learn unique, new cocktail recipes to re-create at home.
You can talk to your computer devices and get a richer brand experience and guided tasting.
These new apps/devices will not only decrease the need for spirits brands to rely on media stories (perhaps going back to typical ad spends to increase awareness), they can also hire less brand ambassadors and educators:
With these new programs the brands don't have to send an ambassador to a local market; just set up a bunch of goggles in the corner of the mall or release an interactive experience in an app.
The future is coming, so let's each plan appropriately.