‘we believe that terroir matters’
After a short, scenic and pleasant drive through pastures, woodlands, across stone bridges, past whitewashed buildings and along the banks of Loch Indaal I arrived at Bruichladdich Distillery. Bruichladdich’s distillery can be thought of as old yet new – a marketing renaissance – and one of the great marketing stories where a brand is rescued and restored – and becomes even stronger.
Walking through the shop she asks – ‘Have you tried our Gin – The Botanist? … The gin has been a great success and the botanicals that are infused into the gin are from the island. We are the only ones doing gin on the island and it is a big thing now’. Chrissie then introduces me to Carl Reavey.
An interview with Carl Reavey of Bruichladdich Distillery
‘I have been involved since the start of the Bruichladdich renaissance, but I haven’t always worked for the distillery. What happened was I became quite friendly with Mark Reynier and Simon Coughlin when they used to stay at my hotel. In the beginning the private company had very, very little money. But they had the support of the people of the island and most people chipped in different ways to assist and try and resurrect this place and I was one of those who worked in the background. I am not saying that there wasn’t business in it for me there was and my hotel was well used by the distillery. In time, I started to assist with some of the marketing. When I sold the hotel I became the editor of the local newspaper and my wife worked for Simon. Then with time I started to work on a more formal basis, but still as a contractor, websites etc. Then the takeover happened and whilst most saw it as a good thing, as a fantastic achievement, and as inevitable Mark, one of the founding partners, fought the takeover. He is a fantastic entrepreneurial character and a brilliant marketer but would find it difficult to work for a big corporation and all that comes with big corporations – he is amazing and likes to be the oppose the status quo. So when he left I was brought in to do the PR and communications for the organisation.
I feel that the new found interest in whisky is not across the board; sure there is an increase in single malts but sales in blended whisky are probably static. It is interesting that you chose to interview Bruichladdich and Kilchoman and ourselves because we share more in common with Kilchoman than any other distillery – without doubt. Really it gets down to a philosophy and how we make whiskies- we are philosophically similar. Bruichladdich closed in 1994 after a long and to be honest not such an illustrious past as they were basically producing single malt whisky which they sold to blenders of whisky. There was a checkered history of ownership, the original family lost control and it was shuffled from pillar to post until it was acquired in a hostile takeover by Whiteman McKay; when they bought Invergordon. They shut Bruichladdich as it was surplus to their requirement. The distillery was well designed, however, it had little spent on it and it was extremely tired and no one expected it to open again. There was stock and little by little the remaining stock was sold off and it looked like it was ‘curtains’. Then in 2000 a group of private investors led by two London based wine merchants bought the distillery and dramatically changed its fortunes and also the way it was promoted.
So let’s look at what they had just done; they had severed ties with their B2B customers, they had no B2C customers, and owned an unknown brand name. Keep in mind very, very few people new that Bruichladdich existed let alone new that it was a very interesting single malt whisky. But what we had was very principled and passionate people who approached all decisions from a marketing philosophy that belonged to fine wine – in particular burgundy wines. So you can imagine that central to every marketing decision was this idea of terroir. The idea that there was a connection between the land, the climate, the barley, the water the people and the whisky.
A number of provocative statements were made by Bruichladdich at the time. They stated that a number of distilleries were accessing the barley on the open market and no one knew where it was coming from – sure some was being grown in Scotland but from many other countries and supplied by grain merchants who consolidated the different barley to be shipped to Islay.Once on Islay it would be malted perhaps by a contract malter, delivered to the distiller, where it would be turned into spirit and transferred to road tankers and shipped off the island to huge mainland filling tanks where it would be loaded into casks and then stored on the mainland until it was bottled. Consider this – it had spent one week of its life on Islay, yet, it was branded as Islay whisky. When this story was taken up by the press, mainstream distillers were furious that a hidden truth about the industry was exposed – that whisky was being sold as brands. Traditionally, whisky distillers were so preoccupied with consistency – it had to look and taste exactly the same; now the only way to achieve that is to take a natural process and industrialise it. Some were adding caramel to appropriately colour their product creating a myth that if the whisky was darker in colour it was older – which is not the case.
So it is a fascinating story and like many successful marketing stories Bruichladdich is the story of a group of maveriks that questioned and challenged the conventions of an industry. Maveriks who closely listened, researched and analysed the trends and often went their own way.
Quote Carl Reavey: “In many regards Kilchoman are similar as they are very astute and independent thinkers; they too are interested in provenance, terroir, being authentic and hand made and 100% Islay made. Their marketing is what they do and say and not a mainland agency. I can tell you that those guys at Kilcholman have sweated blood to achieve what they achieved – they sweated blood and I may work for a competitor, but I love their story. Their message is simple and authentic and like Bruichladdich the product we make is everything and the message is secondary.”
Task: Identify the Key Success Factors in the above quote and consider how this commitment would shape the strategic thinking of the organisation of the Kilcholman and Bruichladdich distilleries.
Task: When we talked about profits we mentione that marketing is about profits for the customer, profits for the organisation, profits for the channel partners, and profits for the society. Reflect on the exemplar and consider the 4 types of profits.