Whiskey Marketing

The Triiibes online community, which I belong to, has produced a book.  You can download it here.  It’s a compilation of about 200 blog-like entries about groups of people and what distinguishes them.  It’s edited by Seth Godin.  I had a chance to contribute, but ran out of time.

I have not read it all, but a first glance revealed a surprising number of entries about “tribes” that I feel a part of, including rugby players and whiskey drinkers.  One writer described a 30-year correspondence he has carried out with Jack Daniels (the distillery, not the dead guy).

That reminded me of a promotion that Laphroaig ran a few years ago inviting their patrons to join the “Friends of Laphroaig” club.  One of the perks is they grant you the title to one square foot of land in their peat bog on the island of Islay in Scotland.  And if you ever visit there, they will give you a pair of Wellingtons to put on and escort you out to your land to stand proudly on it.  And when you return to the distillery, they will pay you your landowner’s rent: two drams of Laphroaig whiskey.  (Sadly, rent can only be collected once a year.)

So I signed up to be a Friend of Laphroaig, and received a very nice welcoming package including a book about the distillery and its history (it was nearly coffee-table book quality), a deed to my plot of land, a map showing me where it was, and some other stuff I forget now.  In the years that followed, I got Christmas cards from them and other periodic communication.

Since I moved the Moncton, they’ve lost track of me.  So just now, I sent them an email to try and reconnect.  That’s right, I am pursuing  a vendor – practically begging them to market to me.  How cool is that? 

The only trouble is that, when I initially joined a dozen or so years ago, they had a few thousand “Friends,” and I’m pretty sure a real human ran the program.  Now I see that they have over 317,000, so the warmth of the relationship might not be there any more.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.



Interruption vs. Permission

Today it’s another one of my marketing seminars adapted into a Blog post.  This one explains the concepts behind Seth Godin’s idea of Permission Marketing.  We start with the acknowledgement that almost all marketing done up until now has been interruption marketing.  The marketer interrupts whatever it is you’re doing (reading a newspaper, watching a TV show, visiting a Web site or even idly glancing at the back of the car in front of you at the red light) and shows you their message (print ad, TV commercial, pop-up or banner ad, the car company’s logo).


This is not sustainable.  As the interruptions grow in number, we begin to tune them out.  So they get louder, sexier, funnier, viralier (that’s more viral), bigger – to try and get our attention back.  But then they’re all louder, so nothing stands out except the overwhelming cacophony.  And it fails.

So what’s the alternative?  Send personal, relevant, anticipated messages to people who want to get them and have given you permission to send them.  The most prevalent current examples are RSS feeds and opt-in newsletters.  There’s another technology-based concept that I love that never really got off the ground before the tech-stock bubble burst, but I hope it makes a comeback: WebGrocer.  The idea is that you place your grocery order and pay online, and someone packs it all up and delivers it to your door.  So far, no magic.  But what if I gave them permission to keep track of my order patterns?  After a while, a sufficiently smart database application could begin to predict what I’ll be needing and when I’ll be needing it.  They might send me an email saying, “Dear Stephen, we think you are going to need one 4L Tide with Bleach and a dozen eggs tomorrow.  Shall we add it to your next order?”  I would go check my supply, and seeing that they were right, I would agree.  After a few times, I wouldn’t even check, I’d just assume they were right.  After a sufficiently long string of accurate predictions, I’d want to give them even more permission: I’d say, “Hey, if you think I need something, just send it. Don’t bother asking.”  It would be like having a valet or personal shopper.


You might think that vast amounts of technology like Amazon’s recommendation engine or Google’s search algorithm would be required to achieve that kind of trust and permission.  I’ll give you a couple of examples from the past, then:  every autumn of my childhood, we gave Sears permission to send us 300 pages of advertising.  In fact, we welcomed it.  It was the Sears Christmas Wish Book.  A catalog that both I and my parents welcomed.  I could pick what I wanted, and my parents could see what it cost.  Sears was doing us a service

The other example was our home heating oil.  I don’t believe we ever actually ordered any; some guy would just show up periodically with his big smelly truck and hose, and dump a bunch of dead dinosaurs into a pipe on the side of our house.  And send us a bill.  We trusted him to give us oil when he knew (or guessed) we would need it.  We gave him permission.

So How Do You Engage Drinkers?

I guess it’s about time I start touching on the other half of the title of my blog.  I’ve written quite a bit about various aspects of marketing, but not touched on how it applies specifically to the retail beverage industry.bar interior

I suggest using a combination of technology, excellent people, and smart techniques to create a two-way communication with all your customers and potential customers.  I would get a good, inexpensive contact management software package (like Maximizer, in a shout-out to my west-coast peeps).  I would then start collecting as much information about my customers as I could:  favourite drink (obviously), birthday, names of family members and friends, activities and interests, career, previous visits, etc.  Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t make everyone who walks trough the door fill out a questionnaire.  The data would be collected over time, by simple observation.  Some guy is getting drinks bought for him because it’s his birthday?  Make a note.  A bunch of ladies come in after their weekly softball game?  Put it into the software.

Once you have gathered information about a person, you can begin to communicate with them electronically on a 1 to 1 basis.  Hopefully, you can get permission from him or her to send them emails about topics you know they will find interesting.  Sometimes, the topic may include some overt marketing, like: “Hey Bob, swing by on Thursday and I’ll buy you a Chivas to celebrate your birthday!”  But it may be just a relationship-building thing with no (immediate) revenue generation: “Andréa,  I found this great Web site about acoustic guitar pickups, and I know that interests you…”  There’s nothing sneaky or underhanded here – it’s called looking out for people and doing them favours.

Over time, those casual relationships will start to become friendships.  It won’t be, “Stephen, that guy who runs the pub by the lake,” it will be, “Stephen, my friend who runs the pub.”  And when you have to make decisions about where to spend your scarce recreation time and scarce entertainment dollars, wouldn’t you rather do it with friends?