The world's second-largest Irish whisky is Tullamore Dew, and yet comparatively few Americans have heard of it, favoring instead competitors Jameson and Bushmills. Importer William Grant & Sons USA is using a mix of retail partner efforts and direct-to-consumer marketing to change that.
The challenge for consumer brands that don't have their own retail operations is reaching consumers, obtaining data on consumers and using this data to modify and influence the brand's activities. Ken Reilly, the category marketing director at William Grant & Sons who is responsible for Tullamore Dew, is building a network of bartenders, bloggers and other influencers geared toward promoting the brand in 2012.
"Tullamore Dew does not have the consumer awareness that drives velocity at the retail level," Reilly says. "Rather than working with large chain accounts, we are reaching out to consumers directly."
Those include consumers in influencer positions, such as well-connected social media users. But the efforts will also target bartenders: In the spirits world a bartender's in-person casual acquaintances are more primed for an alcohol recommendation than are close friends online.
"Bartenders are going to be a major focus for us in 2012," says Reilly. "We are not unique in understanding [the power of] advocacy of bartenders for brands."
Going through retail outlets such as bars and restaurants presents its own set of challenges. Each chain or outlet tends to prefer marketing programs tailored to the specific strategies they use to communicate with their customers.
"It can take up to 24 months to put a program together for a chain," Reilly says. "It has for fit with their category and their timing. It's a slow burn, but it's rewarding when we do hit on the right solution."
While William Grant & Sons has used this strategy successfully with its other brands, the relative newness of its relationship with Tullamore Dew—it rolled out its first marketing programs at the start of 2011—means it will take another 12 months before "we crack the code", as Reilly puts it.
"Some efforts may include direct mail, or have a digital communication component," he adds. But they might also involve something live in the restaurant, such as developing a signature cocktail."
Working through a chain presents other hurdles, in terms of the information establishments can pass along to the brand. And most locations want to make sure any effort expands the total audience. They're not interested in cannibalizing the sales of one brand for another, according to Reilly.
The good news is that even this strategy has a metrics component: An organization called MSS provides a variety of adult beverage influencer studies, which quantitatively evaluate the effectiveness of bartenders, sommeliers and wait staff as advocates.
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The brand's consumer-focused strategy includes working with event promoters such as Thrillist, which maintains a database of consumers and allows marketers to target product-specific audiences. In the case of Tullamore Dew, Thrillist provided access to a largely male audience between the ages of 25 and 34 for its "Irish True" event, which over three nights in New York City pulled in around 2300 people.
Irish True, which offers tastings and Irish-themed entertainment such as music and boxing (light sparring, actually) will be moving to Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia, and Thrillist will help provide prospects for those events as well.
In addition to using Thrillist, Tullamore Dew posts invitations in neighborhoods that feature populations demographically aligned with its core audience. The posters have links to the brand's Facebook page, its home page and a mobile link, all of which serve as conduits for invitations. But even these efforts are influenced by an intermediary: In-market local distributors are tapped to offer suggestions for the most likely neighborhoods.
Some of the postings are especially eye-grabbing. In Chicago the brand painted a wall mural over a five-day period—and shot a video compressing the mural painting process into two and a half minutes. The video is on the brand's Facebook site, which as of mid-November boasts more than 20,000 likes.
As part of its direct-to-consumer work, the brand is also exploring Twitter, with Tullamore Dew's US ambassador Tim Herlihy (@tullamoretim) taking the lead on this channel. (A sample post: "En route to Philly for WhiskeyFest. Turns out there's a concept called the 'quiet car' on US trains. I've been asked to leave.")
That said, the brand is "backing away a little and letting consumers talk about the brand themselves," says Reilly. "It's more compelling than if we were inundating them with information."
When Tullamore Dew does contact individuals (primarily through mobile and e-mail addresses it has collected from folks opting in to its lists, or signing up to attend its events) touches will be tailored to their geography, with Herlihy passing along information relevant to their city.
One medium Tullamore Dew won't be exploring during 2012 in the U.S. is television, a channel it has used successfully in other markets such as Bulgaria, Germany and the Czech Republic.
"It's a very expensive media choice, and we think the brand needs to be established on premises first, and that is where we are putting a lot of our efforts and expenditure," says Reilly. Additionally, Tullamore Dew isn't being rolled out nationwide: Its market introduction schedule is following the Irish True tour. Down the road, Reilly says, television will be part of the mix.