In recent weeks, we’ve seen an explosion of digital methods replacing what was once a face-to-face activity. Whisky, of course, is no different.
Whisky is just one of many things that has grown over recent years by leveraging digital or social platforms to build connected communities like never before. First, the web itself; specialist forums, blogs and industry sites. In time, mobile technology evolved and digital broadcasts followed in the form of podcasts and the rise of social media channels in various forms; Facebook,Twitter, Instagram et al and of course, with the rise of higher-capacity bandwidth, video platforms such as YouTube. These days, every platform utilises video in some form. Newer applications are built on it. Marketers have said for years that, until virtual or augmented reality are real, video is where it’s at.
Specific to the context of whisky, while none of these platforms were without industry interaction or recognition, YouTube in particular seemed to be the most lacking in any kind of industry buy-in. Perhaps because its creators were perceived as mavericks, hobbyists or amateurs. Perhaps, because the medium is video.
In these times, across industry in general and certainly within this “whiskyverse”, due to forced circumstances, we suddenly see an expansion across all digital media and for those that already existed there, an accelerated evolution. Some may go as far to call this a Digital Whisky Explosion. For the consumer, viewer, hobbyist or fan, these may be exciting times. There’s also a danger that this is a Digital Whisky Deluge.
As a creator on YouTube, I realise fully that I’m part of the potential problem. Suddenly, there are virtual tastings, presentations, visits, festivals, club meet ups and product launches across all the aforementioned channels and certainly inside YouTube. There’s even a virtual pub. The reason? Because the medium is video.
These days, even your granny knows how to use Facetime, Messenger or WhatsApp video calling. Let’s be honest, who’d heard of Zoom before the pandemic? Video is a natural, default replacement for togetherness, or IRL (in real life). We’re becoming very comfortable with it.
It makes sense that, with every other tool removed, any industry would move quickly to seek replacements and alternatives. In these platforms of technology they have found them. But there’s a problem. Or two.
Firstly, they only remain temporary, make-shift replacements and alternatives where people cannot connect in real life. Given the choice of freedom of movement, they are instantly demoted to mere options. A choice people can make; to stay, or to go. A convenience, then. However, there remains a spectre of concern that some parties will take a view from a distance, run stats on data they don’t yet fully understand, see the huge numbers the platforms can report and misinterpret them as potential efficiencies to be gained. Perhaps mistaking them for an alternative to a talented individual.
Yes, these channels provide the promise of global reach and inclusion, but surely not while excluding the promise of something real.
Also, there’s too much of it. Not even the most ardent of agoraphobic, whisky-obsessed enthusiasts have a remote chance of keeping up. That’s not a problem in itself, the more choice the better perhaps, the cream floats to the top. Yet without care, we’ll switch off this potential new audience before they’re even engaged. Short term sellotape-fixes over long term layers of added value. The solution here is simple, yet to the ears of a traditionalist, often overly conservative, industry it will hit barriers with the frequency of fairground bumper cars.
The digital era has had its dawn. For so many, this is lunchtime.
There are a few things that need to be in place before something like this can sustain. The thinking I share here is not from the mind of an expert. I’ve worked in marketing for a small, forward-thinking, international electronics company for years, and I’ve built a whisky-themed channel around my own ideas, but everything I share here is self-taught, personal-thought. In case that’s not blindingly obvious.
For me, it needs to be approached as content creation over advertising. That is; there needs to be a layer of value. That can be knowledge, entertainment or some other form of value such as access to a community of like-minded people seeking a shared experience.
I use a mental check-list when I have a new idea and it goes along the lines of three Cs. I hope you’ll indulge me.
It shouldn’t need to be said. It needs to be good-quality, interesting and engaging content that has some form of evergreen value. Certainly, an important facet of YouTube over literally any other platform is that it’s an asset library powered by the most potent of search engines ever devised. I recently enjoyed Horst Leuning’s first ever video – a review of Lagavulin 16 from 2007. A 13 year-old video that still has value today. Yes, it was pop, sniff, taste, rate and please subscribe (not to mention it’s in German), but it’s likely the first of its kind. Make your offering as original as you can, with as much thought as you can. The other Cs may help here.
You are not the only creator, you are not the only blogger, feed, channel, brand or web-page. Why would you try to pretend otherwise? These are not the days of print, you can’t get any guarantees you’ll be the only column on the topic, the only ad on the cover page. Reach out on possible collaborations to folks at the same level or stage, or those closest to you. Find synergies. See how it explodes your audience, endears your messaging and adds layers of value that was previously impossible to fathom. It’s not a silver bullet, but forward thinking minds collaborate to an extreme level, and when it’s done well, it truly is of mutual benefit. Choose the collaboration targets fairly, ensure your audiences are aligned and you all do well. An incidental benefit here is the added value to the audience. It might even be the biggest value. Which brings me onto the third C.
Perhaps the most overused of words, it seems, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used if the context is correct. Building a community around a particular brand can be done, but that’s probably closer to a fan-base. That’s not bad in itself, but a community is born of more than a bi-directional relationship. It’s a network. It is a living, breathing, constantly evolving thing in and of itself. There is rarely any individual at the helm. It develops its own culture and self-regulates. Its membership is present from choice, and a perceived value in belonging. If you are creating, sharing, saying, showing or selling anything that you wouldn’t want to be a part of as a member of that community, perhaps don’t do it. The single biggest marvel for me is the attraction of our beloved, inclusive, welcoming, sharing and knowledgeable whisky community. It’s truly a wonderful thing. I hope that, and its values, over everything, is what endures.
A perfect illustration of this would be to apply the rules of a whisky festival. The brands congregate in a shared space, one big family feeling takes hold. They butt their tables close to each other and quietly consider their USPs without trashing their neighbours; Collaboration. The Content is covered as they bring knowledge, personal skills and insight to colour their latest brands and deepen the value proposition, all the while taking care of the eager and willing Community of fans and whisky lovers who flock to their wares with genuine, appreciative excitement. It’s not a perfect analogy but the unwritten rules are adhered to and everyone benefits. I don’t think that’s a difficult concept to apply, especially while we grapple with an influx of parties eager to make the most of the available tools in the same shared space.
I won’t differentiate between brand, producer, writer, blogger, vlogger, host, sharer or agent, we are all creators in this space, this “whiskyverse”. We speak to an audience of enthusiasts who choose to spend their valuable time and money in its bubble. We can guarantee that when the dust from this explosion (or deluge) settles, the community will remain in rude health. We can be sure, however, that it’s the actions that we as creators take now that will determine our place in it.