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  • Writer's pictureMatías A. Luciani | Drinks Writer

Are we mis-selling Whisky?

Communication across the whisky industry is broader than ever. Today, with the explosion of digital content, consumers are forced to navigate within social networks to find a “database” overflowing with information. Brand ambassadors

sharing their company-backed staging and exhibiting the products that they represent, influencers showcasing high-class venues and their own experiences and long-term experts in the field broadcasting the latest news and launches across multiple publishing

platforms. The same situation occurs when you visit a whisky store or a duty free shop, and ask for advice from one of their whisky specialists. In a nutshell, the whisky industry has managed (whether voluntarily or not) to supply it's public with an overflowing and unprecedented amount of information.

However, there is where the potential problem lies. What type of information

is provided to the public, aimed at current and future consumers? And even more importantly, how do companies train their staff and ambassadors to communicate their

products effectively? In this sense, it is really important to look at how two major parts of the whisky world intersect: marketing and production.

The marketing phenomenon is inherently tied to the communication sector within the whisky industry. Marketing relies heavily on communication, and vice versa.

Speaking with a close colleague who works in the industry, we came to the conclusion that developing a new product takes - at the very least - 365 days to bring to market. A whole year. And here is where we see a key difference between marketing and

production. Removing from the equation the maturation and blending processes, the distillation team may have a new product ready in a matter of a few months.

Nevertheless, the development of the new label, it's design, packaging composition, distribution strategy and market studies consume much of the remaining time and represents a significant portion of the final cost and retail price of said product.

Once the new whisky is available on the shelves either domestic or travel

retail, a communication challenge emerges - in 95% of cases, Brand Ambassadors and Sales Reps often lack the flexibility and empirical knowledge necessary to guarantee one

of the primary marketing pillars and premises – long-term customer loyalty.

Here is a detailed example: in the Republic of Ireland, it is fascinating what brand ambassadors know about Irish whiskey and can delve deeper into discussions around this style. This country is internationally famous for it's pot still whiskeys, and the Irish are proud of them. But, having said that, the knowledge of Irish whiskey sales

reps is often limited to what was discussed in popular meetings, or what they are told by the company they work for. “A single pot still whiskey is a mixture of malted barley and unmalted barley”. But as we know, Irish single pot still whiskey requires a mash bill of at least 30% unpeated malted barley, 30% unmalted barley, and up to 5% of other

grains such as oats, rye, and others (yes, it has to be simple, but at the same time, it has to be accurate). This gives the spirit it's distinctive spicy flavour and smooth texture.

Something equally similar happens in Scotland, where the wide variety casks used in the maturation process are enough to confuse potential customers and sales reps alike, specially on the flavour profile of a whisky.

The previous phrase in quote marks denotes a kind of misinformation. The

same type of misinformation that marketing does not necessarily seek to generate, but it certainly can end up doing so purely by accident. On many occasions, potential clients and buyers ask questions that, without realising, can end up making the brand representative uncomfortable because they lack the tools and knowledge to answer correctly and effectively. Some classic and common examples are:

But... what is the difference between single malt and single pot?

So, this wine barrel imparts wine flavors to the whisky, right?

If they make it from corn, does that mean this whisky is sweet?

Responses to questions like this usually go one of two ways. The limited information available to the representative means the answer is inaccurate. There is also the fear of losing the customer and, consequently, a mis-selling of their product. All of

this often culminates in the customer purchasing a product that is almost certainly not what they were originally looking for.

The root cause of this is ultimately the disconnect between marketing and

production areas. The vast majority of those working in the marketing of products who, at the end of the day, are typically the ones that end up placing them in certain markets, lack the tools to understand the production processes. They often do not understand enough about the general overview of the product they are developing a sales channel for. All of this results, logically, in misinformed sellers and ambassadors.

Could some of these ambassadors or marketing professionals explain the

aromatic and taste profile of a product? Do they understand the influence of the type of barley used, malting details, distilling production and post-distilling operations such as maturation style and blending process? The answer writes itself.

It is of the upmost importance that the industry begins to integrate these two previously mentioned areas more thoughtfully, especially given the rise of increasingly modern and more exceptionally niche products. Nothing makes both consumers and the industry happier than being able to enjoy a wider array of products. Yet we must be aware that the enjoyment of whisky is seriously threatened if consumers are misinformed, and

therefore being offered the wrong product through unknowing misrepresentation by brand advocates, who themselves are not provided the tools to achieve the best result for

both company and customer.

Slán go fóill


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