Storytelling: how passionate independent distillers can beat big business

With fourteen micro-distilleries set to launch in the UK this year as well as 26 new distilleries over all, you may wonder how craft spirits can make a splash, especially in a saturated market dominated by big brand names with even bigger marketing budgets. Counter-intuitively, marketing is the answer, primarily because digital marketing trends are shifting in favour of craft distillers.

The hottest buzzword in advertising in recent years is Content Marketing. It even has its own trade association, the Content Marketing Institute, which defines the phenomena as the “technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience - with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Karen Elson Tanqueray

Craft distillers have an immediate advantage when it comes to this digital trend primarily because they have engaging stories to tell. They’re building small businesses with their own blood, sweat and passion. Theirs are the stories that resonate with consumers and that will contribute significantly to driving sales of their carefully crafted products.

Recently, whisky writer Ian Buxton, presenting his views at the Craft Distilling Expo during London Cocktail Week, spoke to the importance of a “compelling story” for “aspiring craft brands”. Through these stories, he argued, craft brands differentiate themselves. Quality, once the primary differentiator of passionate independents, has become less of an issue with Buxton opining that “there are no bad products in the spirits sector” and quality is “taken for granted.” 

Buxton’s musings on quality are shared in the industry. In the case of gin, for instance, top bartenders appreciate the diversity of the craft movement but still reference large, established brands such as Tanqueray and Beefeater as the centerpieces of quality London Dry. 

At the same time, these elixir experts understand the significant impact that stories have on the consumer. From developing themed cocktail menus to telling historical tales to branding their own bottles, the world’s best bars understand that their patrons return because of the unique experience on site and the knowledge they take with them after they’ve finished their drinks. 

As for traditional advertising methods, consumers don’t take much with them from 30-second tv spots. Glossy magazine ads are nice, but consumers often forget the brand advertised in the images. And the chances that you’ll survive a plane crash are higher than the chance that you’ll click on an internet banner advertisement.

Craft distillers don’t have the budgets necessary to engage in these traditional ad channels. But their stories of determination and passion communicate much more effectively - and economically - on blogs and social media than the advertisements of corporations. Here are some real-world stats to back up this claim:

  • 70% of consumers would rather learn about a company through articles than advertisements
  • writing articles and creating online content costs 62% less than traditional advertising
  • consumers are five time more likely to make a purchase after a friend shares an article about a product with them
  • content marketing generates 3x more leads than traditional marketing per pound spent

So for all of the 26 distillers opening operations this year, the message is clear: quality storytelling is as important as quality product. By telling their stories well, independent distillers can make a bigger dent in their larger competitors’ sales and quicken the rise of craft spirits.

This Twitter conversation was sparked by an article in The Spirits Business which spoke of the advantage that big brands have in negotiating with bars.