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Having decided that Annandale Distillery should produce both peated and unpeated Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Product Story), we needed to consider how these two expressions should be presented and how they would co-exist underneath the Annandale brand umbrella (Annandale Brand Story).
Had a traditional approach been chosen, they’d probably have been branded, rather unimaginatively, as Annandale Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Peated) and Annandale Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Unpeated). However, it was abundantly clear that this would barely distinguish our two expressions from each other, never mind the 1000s of different expressions from the other 110+ Single Malt distilleries. In marketing parlance, they’d have poor visual and emotional standout in the ‘Wall of Whisky’.
The ‘Wall of Whisky’ is an expression coined by us to describe the bewilderingly large number of poorly differentiated Single Malt Scotch Whisky brands presented to customers in often badly planned and structured retail fixtures. Single Malt Scotch Whisky is most unusual because of the sheer number of undifferentiated brands (110+). However, the mere existence of so many distillery brands in such a narrow product category is one of the things that differentiates Single Malt Scotch Whisky from other non-Scotch whiskies and makes it special. In short, this is something that distillers, large and small, need to live with (and celebrate).
The most common way of managing the Single Malt Scotch whisky fixture in retail is either by region (Speyside, Lowland, Islay, etc.), alphabetically or by producer (Diageo, Chivas Bros/Pernod Ricard, William Grant, Beam Suntory, etc.). The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile provides a stylish example of regional layout of Single Malts. However, bearing in mind that there’s no such thing as regional terroir in Scotch whisky and there are very few genuine regional differences in product and sensory terms (other than most of the Single Malts produced on Islay are peated), regional layouts provide very little insight into the flavour of the whisky. Alphabetic layouts make it easy to locate a distillery which is great if customers know what they’re looking for. Layouts that are organised according to producer are easier for the store and the producer to manage and merchandise but they’re of very little help (or interest) to naïve purchasers. By far the best way of organising a fixture would be by the sensory characteristics (‘taste’) of the whisky (refer to the sensory map in Product Story) but this probably isn’t a practical option unless all producers agreed to adopt a particular sensory map and to locate every expression from every distillery on the map before launching it into the retail environment. This just isn’t going to happen!
As a consequence, even sophisticated whisky drinkers can sometimes struggle to navigate the Single Malt category. Those new to the category must surely find it utterly bewildering.
As a very small and new player in the category, all that Annandale Distillery could hope for is to develop branding and packaging that is ‘outstanding’ in some way or other. We definitely wanted to do something mould-breaking and we weren’t afraid to take risks!
Before starting the brand development process it was absolutely essential to clarify Annandale’s brand objectives, in the clearest possible terms:
1.) It must communicate the core essences of Single Malt Scotch Whisky in a powerful and credible manner so that it’s obvious, from the first fleeting glance, what our brands are all about.
2.) It should be meaningful in the context of both Annandale and Annandale Distillery. Branding is most effective when rooted in substantial, meaningful and relevant concepts. (Annandale Brand Story).
3.) It must be universally understood across cultures, geographies and people with different degrees of interest and awareness.
4.) It should differentiate Annandale’s peated and unpeated whiskies, make it very obvious which is peated and which is unpeated but clearly associate them as belonging together.
5.) It must differentiate Annandale Distillery’s Single Malts, from those produced by the other 110+ Single Malt Scotch Whisky distilleries.
A very stiff challenge by all accounts!
Our starting point was to root the brands in substantial, meaningful and relevant concepts. We’d already leveraged Annan’s maritime provenance and the role played by local Solway Firth ports such as Annan in the Scottish diaspora. Could this theme be further developed and extended?
During the middle ages, the area around Annan and the Borders was known as ‘The Debateable Lands’, largely because it was a wild, lawless place, ruled by local clans with highly dubious morals and very few scruples. (Helmand Provence in Afghanistan, with all that this implies, is probably the nearest modern-day equivalent.) Could ‘The Debateable Lands’ be developed into a compelling brand narrative?
Scotch whisky is what’s known as a geographical indication. In practice this means that whilst whisk(e)y can be made anywhere in the World, Scotch whisky can only be produced in Scotland. Whilst Annandale Distillery’s very close proximity to the Scotland-England border may be relevant, could this be developed into something interesting?
Several of Scotland’s most important and iconic figures have strong associations with Annandale but none more so than Robert the Bruce (1274 – 1329), 7th Lord of Annandale and King of Scotland. Towards the very end of the 13th Century, the Scottish throne became vacant. There were two principal contenders for the crown, John Comyn of Badenoch (aka ‘The Red Comyn’) and his cousin, Robert de Brus (aka Robert the Bruce). Bruce murdered his cousin before the high alter of Greyfriars Abbey, Dumfries, thereby clearing his way to eventually becoming King of Scotland, albeit after a bitter struggle. Even in these lawless days, murder (especially in a church) was hardly ethical, but this was an era where people lived and died by the sword. Bruce subsequently led the Scottish armies to victory in several key battles in the Scottish Wars of Independence. Bruce was every inch a warrior king. He was, and still is, highly revered amongst Scots.
Although Robert Burns (1759 – 1796), Scotland’s national poet, was born in Ayrshire, he spent the last 8 years of his very short life in Dumfries-shire, eventually becoming an exciseman as well as a celebrated poet. His excise duties took him to Annan, most notably when he led a team of excise officers to capture the marooned smuggling brig, Rosamond in 1792. He famously penned the song ‘The Deil’s Awa Wi The Exciseman’ whilst lodging in Annan. Robert Burns is revered around the World, and not just by Scots. His birthday is widely celebrated on Burns Night (January 25th) and his song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung the world over to welcome in the new year. Burns was a prolific poet and songwriter, with a true genius for the written and spoken word.
When all of the above mentioned themes and ideas (plus several others) were researched by our colleagues at MMR Research Worldwide (www.mmr-research.com ), Bruce and Burns were found to be the most compelling by far.
But could they be developed into Single Malt Scotch whisky brands that would satisfy all five of the criteria set out above?
To explain this, I need to explain the meaning of conceptual profiles (and profiling); a theory and process developed by MMR.
What are conceptual profiles and why do they matter?
Think of the colour yellow. Now think of the colour purple. Which of these is the happiest colour? This question has been posed (by David Thomson) to thousands of people in many different countries over the last few years and the answer is invariably “yellow”. Which is the most powerful colour? Invariably, the answer is “purple”. Happy and powerful are concepts that have come to be associated with the colours yellow and purple, respectively. Through experience, observation and what we glean from others, we’ve learned to associate yellowness with happiness, purple with powerful people and vice versa. Why? There are lots of reasons, but in the case of yellow, it won’t have escaped your attention that the sun appears to be yellow. We only see the sun when the sky is blue and clear of those dark, foreboding rain clouds. Being bathed in sunshine usually makes people feel happy whereas being soaked with rain tends to have the opposite effect. Daffodils are yellow. For those of us living in northern climes, their appearance in our gardens and public places, signals the end of the cold, dark Winter months and the prospect of long, warm Summer days (OK maybe not in Scotland). People generally feel somewhat happier in the Summer. The same rationale applies to purple and powerful.
Happiness isn’t the only concept associated with yellow. It is also associated strongly with fun, energetic, youthful, carefree, friendly and modern (amongst others). This is known as the conceptual profile of the colour yellow. It transpires that everything, without exception, has a conceptual profile……including you! How people think of you (e.g. energetic, happy, fun or moody, grumpy, lethargic) is a manifestation of your personality as perceived by others, which is essentially your conceptual profile. Your smartphone has a conceptual profile, the chair your sitting on has a conceptual profile, Single Malt Scotch Whisky has a conceptual profile and both Robert the Bruce and Robert Burns also have conceptual profiles!
The conceptual profile of a particular Single Malt Scotch whisky will depend to some extent on its sensory characteristics, but all successful Single Malts have 10 concepts in common: They are traditional, genuine, distinctive, trustworthy, sophisticated, comforting and classy. They are not arrogant, boring and cheap. These are very potent concepts to associate with any product category. They determine its status, not just as a product or brand, but as something that some people knowingly or unknowingly want to be part of their lives. (The full conceptual profile of Single Malt comprises 25 conceptual terms.)
Whilst peated and unpeated Single Malts have significant differences in their conceptual profiles, as determined by the presence or absence of peaty/smoky/phenolic sensory characteristics, they still have the above 10 concepts in common, which emphasises the fact that they are defining for Single Malts.
We also obtained the conceptual profiles of Robert the Bruce and Robert Burns, as perceived by people who are aware of them (or claim to know something about them).
To summarise – we obtained (through research with consumers) conceptual profiles for a generic peated Single Malt, a generic unpeated Single Malt (both identified from the sensory map shown in Product Story), Robert the Bruce and Robert Burns. As with the peated and unpeated Single Malts, the conceptual profiles of Bruce and Burns had much in common, which is hardly surprising since they’re both historic Scottish icons, but they also exhibited some very obvious and interesting differences.
It was immediately obvious that the conceptual profiles of the peated Single Malt and Robert the Bruce had much in common. When the two conceptual profiles are plotted as a simple 2-variable scatterplot (see below), the correlation coefficient (r), which indexes the degree of commonality between the two profiles, is 0.84 when calculated across all 25 conceptual terms and 0.91 when taken across the 10 key concepts. (Both correlation coefficients are statistically significant.) This is known as conceptual consonance.
When the conceptual profile of the unpeated Single Malt is plotted against that of Robert Burns (see above) they also have much in common; i.e. 0.62 for all 25 terms in the conceptual profile and 0.94 for the 10 key concepts. (Again, both correlation coefficients are statistically significant and therefore the two conceptual profiles are consonant.)
It could be argued that because Single Malt Scotch Whisky is a traditional/historic Scottish icon, it might have been expected that the personalities of Bruce and Burns should align with the ‘personality’ of Single Malt Scotch Whisky. That the fit between personality and product is quite so high, especially with respect to Bruce and peated Single Malt, is quite fortuitous!
The fact that Bruce’s and Burns’ personalities communicate the core essences of Single Malt Scotch Whisky in such a powerful and credible manner and they also have meaning in the context of Annandale, satisfies the first two criteria of the brand challenge.
A spark of creative genius
The next challenge was to find a way of presenting the personalities of Robert the Bruce and Robert Burns in a way that’s credible, isn’t cliched and universally understood and appreciated across geographies. Whilst Robert Burns is quite well known across the former colonies of the British Empire (largely because of the Scottish diaspora), in the former Soviet Union (because of the socialist sentiments expressed in his song ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’) and elsewhere because of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, he’s not universally well-known nor is he a contemporaneous figure. Although Robert the Bruce is very well known within Scotland and across the Scottish diaspora, very few other nationalities know much of him or his exploits.
The design team at Springetts in London (headed by Sue Bicknell), along with colleagues from MMR and Annandale Distillery, wrestled with this problem. We knew we had something powerful but how could we contemporise it and reach out to the World of premium Single Malt Scotch Whisky drinkers outside Scotland and the UK? The solution came to the design team through occasional, casual repetition of two simple statements mentioned previously: “During Bruce’s time, people lived and died by the sword!” and “Robert Burns was a genius with words!” ‘Words’ and ‘sword’ were written on flip chart and suddenly it dawned on us that they were anagrams of each other. A spark of creative genius! Now things were getting really interesting. We’d also toyed with the idea of Burns being a man of letters but that didn’t really fit. It took a second spark of creative genius from Springett’s design team for this to evolve into ‘Man O’Words’. ‘Man O’Sword’ followed quickly afterwards.
We’d also been thinking about the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword” which encouraged us to believe that anything that alludes to a sword must surely be conceptually differentiated from anything that alludes to words. Conversely, the inclusion of ‘Man O’…..’ gave the two names something in common with each other at a very obvious level whilst the anagram coincidence did likewise, albeit in a deeper, more intellectual and more subtle manner. Consequently, Man O’Sword and Man O’Words came into being and seemed to satisfy the 4th brand criterion (i.e. the branding should differentiate Annandale’s peated and unpeated whiskies from each other but also strongly associate them). Now we were getting somewhere!
The Shanghai Test
Whilst most Scots will have a good understanding of both Bruce and Burns, Annandale’s long-term ambition has always been to sell its Single Malts globally, so implementation of Man O’Sword and Man O’Words had to resonate with people who may never have heard of Bruce or Burns. We chose Shanghai, in the People’s Republic of China, for the next stage of brand evolution.
Rather than featuring Bruce and Burns personally, we decided to focus on features that characterised each personality but could be generalised and extended to others. For Bruce we chose Warrior King. For Burns it was Genius Wordsmith/Romantic Poet.
Through MMR’s contacts in Shanghai (where they have a significant business presence) and with help from international marketing consultant, Neil Selby, we developed the two personalities into themes that we hoped would resonate with premium spirit drinkers outside Scotland and specifically in Shanghai:
The idea of Single Malt Scotch Whisky brands named Man O’Sword and Man O’Words was researched qualitatively by MMR Research Worldwide, in collaboration with Hycon Research (Shanghai), with our very good friend Ricky Xie moderating the sessions (in Mandarin). We listened to the simultaneous translations and the results astonished us.
For Man O’Sword, the themes of a ‘courageous heart’, ‘advancing bravely’ in life and ‘Scotland’s greatest warrior king’ seemed to really resonate and motivate these Shanghainese premium spirit drinkers. Scottish warrior king linked back to Scottish (Scotch) whisky. We also heard the message loud and clear that the only ‘real’ whisky was Scotch whisky. Wow!
Man O’Words was equally engaging. The notion of ‘inspiration from poetry’ linked to the opening line of a famous Qing Dynasty novel which translates into ‘every word is a beautiful pearl’ (something Robert Burns’ would surely have applauded), seemed to be very engaging, whilst the possibility of being an inspirational character, because of the words they wrote and spoke, would make other people admire you greatly.
Man O’Sword and Man O’Words had passed the ‘Shanghai Test’. Doing so gave us confidence that the brands would probably be understood across cultures, across geographies and across people with different degrees of interest and awareness.
The next stage was to develop brand graphics for bottle and pack that communicate the themes visually.
Relatively few design iterations were required to get these to the point where they could be researched.
Proof of Concept:
It was clear from MMR’s exploratory research in the UK and Shanghai that the themes underpinning Man O’Sword and Man O’Words were likely to engage premium whisky drinkers. This next stage explored their relative and absolute appeal when embedded within a set of in-market competitors.
Separate concept boards were created for Man O’Swords, Man O’Words (shown below) and each of the 11 in-market competitors.
Presenting all 13 whiskies as equivalent concepts helped to ‘level the playing field’. Each concept board comprised a graphic of the bottle and the corresponding brand narrative extracted from the competitors’ on-pack and website marketing material. Neither Man O’Sword nor Man O’Words was highlighted in any way. The research was conducted online in the UK in 2014, using a sample of ~200 target consumers (i.e. Single Malt consumers or premium Blended Scotch Whisky drinkers). Each person saw and evaluated all 13 concept boards (order fully rotated to neutralise presentation bias). The object of the research was to determine how interested each person was in each brand (captured on a scale). Several supplementary questions were asked but these were of secondary interest.
In all product categories, different people have different views about which brands interest them most and which interest them least, and that was certainly true in this research. However, it’s often the case that rather than there being lots of very different points of view, there are a relatively small number of underlying themes; i.e. people who share a common view about the Single Malt Scotch Whisky brand(s) that interest them most and those which interest them least. These underlying themes are identified using a mathematical procedure known as intrinsic segmentation. Considering the sheer number of brands in the category (110+), we were surprised to find that only two themes (or segments) emerged:
Segment 1 represented 58% of the survey population and Segment 2 accounted for the remaining 42%. It transpired that these two segments held polar opposite points of view, so it would have been inappropriate to average the ‘interest ratings’ for each brand across all 200 people. Instead we averaged the interest ratings for each brand within each of the two segments. The results are shown below:
The differences in opinion across the two segments are quite extreme. In Segment 1 (58%) the brands that stirred the greatest interest were Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie and The Glenlivet. The key concepts associated with these brands are traditional, comforting, conservative and serious. In Segment 2 (42%) the brands that garnered the most interest were Man O’Words and Man O’Sword, followed by Kilchoman (another fairly new brand at that time) and Talisker. Key concepts were intriguing, free-spirited, friendly and contemporary. There was a greater proportion of older whisky drinkers and males in Segment 1. Conversely, there was a greater proportion of younger whisky drinkers and females in Segment 2.
These results barely need further interpretation. It’s evident that in Segment 2 Man O’Sword and Man O’Words created a lot of interest; significantly more so than most (if not all) of the established brands. This led us to conclude that although Man O’Sword and Man O’Words (as concepts), although not universally interesting, do engender very strong interest amongst a large minority (42%) of younger consumers who seem to be looking for something less traditional and different in the Single Malt Scotch Whisky category. This suggested that they are likely to be viable from a commercial perspective. It also helped to assuage three nagging doubts:
1.) Man O’Sword and Man O’Words are interesting to a significant proportion of potential purchasers.
2.) Giving Man O’Sword and Man O’Words primacy over Annandale Single Malt Scotch Whisky didn’t seem to have a negative impact.
3.) Although Bruce and Burns are hardly contemporaneous figures, this did not seem to dissuade younger premium Scotch whisky drinkers.
We had proof of concept!
Now we had to do just two further things:
First of all, we needed to renovate Annandale Distillery and install a whisky-making plant that would deliver peated and unpeated Single Malts that would not only be excellent but also consonant with the Man O’Sword and Man O’Words branding. No pressure!
Secondly, we needed to create contemporary packaging that would communicate the brand message of Man O’Sword and Man O’Words and give them extraordinary standout and appeal online and on-shelf. Another not-so-small challenge!
Fast forward to 2019
At the time of writing, Annandale Distillery had been in production for exactly 5 years. In Jim Murray’s 2020 Whisky Bible (published in October 2019), Man O’Sword has just won the accolade of ‘Best Single Cask, Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 10 years and under’ and Man O’Words received high commendation.
We hope you’ll agree that our packaging is unique and very distinctive.
Co-Founder – Annandale Distillery
Sue Bicknell – formerly of Springetts (and the Springetts design team)
Toby Coates – MMR Research Worldwide
Ricky Xie – Hycon Research (Shanghai)
Simon Harris – MMR (Shanghai)
Neil Selby – Unfair Advantage