Brands Served Straight Up at Whiskies of World

Today I get to combine my raison d’etre, marketing and mixology.   Last week I took a night off to go to Whiskies of the World event at San Pedro Square Market.   Having never attended a Whiskey festival, I didn’t know what to expect.  I’ve been to many tradeshows over the years for high tech products, but how would this be different?  Besides the obvious tasty enjoyment of fine spirits?

As a marketer and a businesswoman, I often look at events with a different eye—what one might call a “brandometer”.  Did brands I love live up to my expectations?  Did I discover a new brand?  Did a brand I was lukewarm about engage me to a new level?

At regional events such as this, brands often have to make a choice about what type of manpower will staff the event.  This could be a badged employee from the company, someone from their distribution team or a paid brand evangelist.   With the hardware companies I work with, this is always a complex decision as the tradeoff is usually between cost, quality and amount of coverage.   Rather than get into a long discussion about theory, I’ll use a few examples from Whiskey Fest to illustrate the results.

For me the hands-down brand winner at the show was High West.   Often I counsel brands at events or at retail trainings to take a more agnostic approach  and teach people about the category.  Your brand will naturally be enhanced, even when mentioned with other brands.

Organoleptic Journey by High West Distillery

Various tasting cups at the Master Distiller session by High West.

Not every brand is graced with a charismatic leader,  David Perkins is the proprietor of High West and able to carry that role.  He taught the master distiller class that evening.  He led people through the chemistry of distilling or what was called an organoleptic journey.

I won’t lie, there were a few too many chemical equations on his slides, but I learned a couple of things [never drink the heads part of distilling straight, ugh].  Yet, it was what happened next that took the brand relationship to a higher level.

Vanessa and David at Whiskey Fest

Getting the VIP treatment from David at High West Distillery

We were disappointed in the distiller seminar because only a couple of High West bourbons were being tasted.  We had attended the 6-8pm tasting session and had specifically not tasted High West because we figured we’d try them at the special session.  My husband had stayed to ask a question and mentioned that we hadn’t tasted the whole line.  David then offered to take us back over to the expo, so we could complete our High West experience.  There we met the rest of the High West crew—and enjoyed the complete line of High West products.  My favorite was the Bourye ®, which was a blend of bourbon and rye.  High West was almost entirely staffed by their employees.

Another up and coming brand, 2Gingers, also did a great job engaging with customers.  Plenty of swag, a refreshing beverage [the Big Ginger] and someone working who was enthusiastic about sharing the brand reinforced my good feelings about 2Gingers, which we used to have to smuggle back from Minnesota before national availability.

Whiskey Fest Swag in San Jose

Best swag of the night was from Canadian Club. Love this shirt!

I also have to give a call out to the gentleman who was representing Canadian Club.  Though we were not familiar with Canadian Whiskies, he was patient in answering our questions while he was dying in the warm California sun. Our unseasonable spring had meant it was almost 90 degrees in the tent.  We also plan to get a bottle of the Canadian Club 12 year which was our first Canadian whiskey sample.

The most disappointing experience of the evening was at Maker’s Mark, which is our house bourbon and has been one of my favorite brands.  The gal representing the brand [with the bigger organizations, it’s not clear who is an employee–I hope she wasn’t] failed miserably at continuing the warmth that I’ve come to expect from the Maker’s Mark brand.  As an Ambassador and someone who has been to the distillery, I expected an engaging conversation around the product and experience.  The table wasn’t even busy and she was just flat.  She had no additional insight about what was happening at Maker’s Mark, nor interest.    This is where I encourage brands to continually audit those who represent them to the public.   In markets that are getting bigger and more competitive, it doesn’t have to be about the biggest splash but rather about the experience the customer has with the brands.

Enough shop talk, what were my top five bourbons that night?  {I should mention that there were a great deal of Scotch whiskies available also, but those don’t tickle my pallet.}

  1. Colorado Gold Bourbon2Gingers and High West
  2. High West Bourye
  3. 2Gingers Irish Whiskey
  4. Canadian Club 12 Year
  5. Michter’s American Whiskey

I’d love to hear from anyone else who attended Whiskies of the World in either San Jose or San Francisco, what brands or whiskies did you love?



PS   And I have to raise a glass to Dean, who has taught me so much about face to face brand advocacy.

Making a Customer Say “Wow!”

I read Tom Peters’ The Pursuit of Wow! back in 1994.  He wasn’t the first to write about exceptional customer experiences and he certainly isn’t the last.  Yet, as I talked briefly in my last blog, marketing trends come and go, but the customer really remains the center of it all.

Today a customer’s ability to transmit a good or bad experience is far greater than it was in 1994.   Back then personal PC use was just starting to cross the chasm.  Only the experienced were diving deep into bulletin boards and chat rooms.   You still sent a letter to Aunt Marge instead of an email.  AOL was just starting to have its time in the sun.   Your ‘bad’ customer experiences were usually cocktail party stories.

But now I can be in the middle of an experience [good or bad] and start tweeting away about it.   In a matter of seconds I have the ability to affect a brand’s public reputation.    As a marketing person I have no control over it.     What I do have control over is how the brand is empowered in the hands of employees.    Last week I had the great pleasure of hearing Dennis Reno, VP of Customer Experience at Oracle, talk about building customer satisfaction.  One of his key points is empower your employees to act with the customer in mind.

At Panera Bread today I had one of those experiences that will make me a Panera enthusiast for a long while.  As an independent consultant I have always appreciated their good food and free wifi on those days I need to get out of the office.     After ordering my coffee and chocolate croissant this morning,  I handed the gentleman at the cash register My Panera card [their loyalty program] and jokingly said to him that ‘someday it would be a magic card and things would just be paid for’.  In fact, my pastry was already free due to their loyalty perks and I was getting out the cash for my coffee, when the man said “no need, it is magic today.”

Now I don’t know if I looked like I was having a bad day [it’s possible as I hadn’t slept well the night before and had already driven back to my house once to get the wallet that I left behind], but he somehow know that I needed a little bit of magic in my day.  Just one cup of free coffee made my day–gave me that Wow! experience.   It inspired me to write this post.

I am working with a new service company right now to help them develop a customer experience that will set a higher standard of service for an industry that traditionally has only wanted to provide exceptional service to those who could pay for it.   It’s an interesting challenge as only Disney can manufacture experience–the rest of us need to create it, replicate it and hope that our employees with embrace it.

It’s my turn to go put a little Wow! in someone’s day…maybe you should do the same.