Scottish distiller William Grant successfully appealed to a non-traditional audience of younger, tech-savvy drinkers with a novel use of data to not only create a new product but also to inform the marketing.

The whisky category is awash with heritage tropes – sometimes bundled together in shorthand phrase “heather, leather and weather” – which tap into a particular imagery of the Scottish landscape that doesn’t necessarily appeal to all audiences.

Understanding different consumers

“It’s really about understanding needs states, and what the different needs states are among different target consumers,” Sarah Keenaghan, part of the global innovation team at William Grant, told a Social Media Week London audience recently.

“Older consumers value the master distiller, the nose, the expertise, all of the old ways, and that’s what they’re buying into,” she explained, but younger consumers have grown up with the world of technology and aren’t looking back to the sort of heritage whisky brands so often portray.

“The new, younger, emerging drinker appreciates the idea of human mastery and tech combined,” she explained. (For more details, read WARC’s report: William Grant’s data-driven distillery attracts a new whisky drinker.)

Using tech and data

That insight was the genesis of the Ailsa Bay brand, produced at the technologically advanced distillery of the same name, which is effectively managed by one person via a series of data feeds.

The new brand relies not on the tasting judgement of a person but on the use of data and tech to get the right balance in a peated whisky. It is, Keensghan declared, “the perfect story of craft and code, data and distilling … a controlled, precision-distilled liquid”.

If the distilling process is unique so too has been the marketing. “One of the rules we had was, we said if any of the Glens [there are many whisky brands beginning with Glen] would do it, we shouldn’t,” Keenaghan said.

So no heather then. Instead, data from each stage of the whisky-making process was turned into generative art using an algorithm and distributed via Instagram; a partnership with Wired, also amplified through social media, reached the target audience, while gamification of the distilling process helped hold attention for longer.

Volumes have doubled year on year, Keenaghan reported. And while that’s presumably from a low base, a sure sign of success is the fact that Ailsa Bay is going global.

“It is all driven by the way in which we were able to get the message out,” she said. “Our campaign far exceeded the industry benchmarks.”

Sourced from WARC