#MarketingEventsAwards spills: William Grant & Sons' secret to quick adaptability

Amidst the pandemic-hit year, William Grant & Sons, which is the creator of premium spirit brands such as Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, Hendrick’s Gin and Monkey Shoulder, had an eventful year as it fought to pivot its operations and keep business afloat. The spirit company has quick to take action to counter changing consumer behaviour, and its Singapore counterpart tapped on the virtual space to continue marketing its brands to consumers who faced social restrictions and are spending more time indoors. William Grant & Sons also stepped up during the global crisis and gave back to the community by diverting its technology and skills to help produce hygiene products and protective gears. 

The company's efforts did not go unrecognised. In this year's Marketing Events Awards 2020, William Grant & Sons Singapore won two gold awards for the categories Best Event for a Targeted Community and Best Use of Hosting Platforms, two silver awards for the categories Best Immersive Experience, Best Press/Media Event, and Best Virtual Event (B2C), as well as the bronze award for Best Innovative Transition - Physical to Virtual. The company was also shortlisted as finalists for Best Event Ambience and Best Experiential Marketing. 

In an exclusive interview, William Grant & Sons' Charlene Low, senior brand manager - mixables, Southeast Asia, and Arturo Lozano, senior brand manager - malts, Southeast Asia share how the company adapted to the constant change and uncertainty it faced this year. They also talked about how the company is gearing for not only the new year, but the new normal.

This interview is done as part of MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s winners and finalists’ interview series for Marketing Events Awards 2020. To find out more about the awards, click here

What are some of the expectations your consumers now have for your brand?

Low: With the major reset and opportunity for introspection that 2020 provided, consumers no longer look at brands or companies to merely provide products or services, but also deliver on their mission statements and leverage their resources to make a positive impact on consumers and society as a whole. While consumers have come to know William Grant & Sons for having a portfolio of premium spirits such as Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, Hendrick’s Gin and Monkey Shoulder, they are now also looking to see how we can take steps to make meaningful change in the markets that we operate in.

As a family-owned company, William Grant & Sons was quick to take action, diverting our technology and skills to produce ethanol and hand sanitiser, to be distributed to care homes, producers of personal protective equipment and other hand sanitiser manufacturers all around the world. What we produce will equate to at least 24.3 million 500ml bottles of hand sanitiser.

As consumers in Southeast Asia deal with various degrees of lockdown (or CMCO, circuit breaker), we also have a different role to play – and are working hard to create experiences that add value to everyday celebrations or get togethers, whether in-person or virtually.

How has your marketing/your clients marketing plans shifted this year?

Lozano: In line with consumer behaviors, our plans changed to be focused on in-home and small groups occasions, as well as support for the F&B industry. The 1887 Virtual Bar was a great example on our commitment to the industry, we wanted to give a platform to our partners to showcase their skills and reach consumers in a way (that no one) was ready for! We are entering a new normal! For 2020 all our plans changed completely to adapt to new regulations and new ways of interacting with each other.

What are some of the trends you see carrying on post-pandemic, and how are you readying your workforce to be ready with these trends?

Low: As we look forward into the new normal, we see the following:

  1. A stickiness attached to consumer behaviour especially attached to domestic purchases (eCommerce and off-trade)
  2. A return to a more balanced mix of on-trade and home consumption
  3. More experimentation at home and trade up/premiumisation

It is also more important than ever for our marketing and commercial teams to be more closely aligned. We have conducted cross-functional seminars and break-out sessions that allowed us (off-trade key accounts, on-trade sales, marketing, finance) to gain a deeper perspective of our roles and what the new normal looks like for each function – so that we all work more agilely, with the same objectives in mind as we navigate through an uncertain post-pandemic period.

What do you think makes for great marketing these days?

Lozano: These days consumers are spoilt for choice, with an abundance of brands embodying similar propositions.

Leveraging consumer tensions

The challenge then, and the DNA of great marketing is creating cut-through that is not perceived as “just another one-off campaign”. That strongly lies on our ability to identify local consumer tensions accurately and to bridge these with our core brand proposition.

The Balvenie Stories campaign for instance, was built upon the raw consumer tensions we unearthed of consumers perceiving single malts as intricate, filled with rules and daunting. Generally during tastings audiences are often left on their own to identify complex tasting notes without the incubation space to self-discover.

The campaign bridged this tension effectively, by introducing a more multi-sensorial approach in a romantic, storytelling format that elevated, yet simplified whisky tasting engagements. At the same time, it allowed us to distinguish from our competitors positively in consumers’ minds, while keeping authentic to our brand proposition which is to narrate the richness of the human story in our whisky making.

Value-adding authentically

Great marketing happens when we identify and solve a true consumer need, in a way that’s authentic for the brand/company. That's how the 1887 Virtual Bar was conceptualised, and why it resonated so much with the industry and with consumers.

We asked ourselves how we could support the local bartending community through difficult times that wasn’t just a charity hand out and would also allow us to keep our brands top of mind in a time of limited socialising and venturing out of home. Our strategy was to find a way to orchestrate a meeting point between the needs our of our establishments and our audience’s headspace in this new normal, and in a way that William Grant & Sons could add real value.

How are you planning for 2021?

Low: After an unexpected 2020, we are entering 2021 with a more resilient mindset, and with a still-evolving world, we are building plans that are adaptable to multiple scenarios, taking the learnings from this year. It’s difficult to be ready for the unknown and 2020 has taught us that it is hard, but not impossible.

One key thing about planning and making sure it’s a bulletproof plan (or in this case, pandemic-proof!), it’s to make sure you have the right team in place, with the right mindset - that’s what can really make a difference. Having the right people doing the right job, supporting each other and keeping each other sane, it’s what makes a difference.