The Evils of Marketing

As a Marketing professional, I feel obliged to respond to the seeming outrage (even “anger”) at the audacity of Bruichladdich in announcing a new expression. First, a little background. I’m fundamentally an engineer. I have a long history of building things. Computer networks. Multi-protocol routers. Ethernet network interface cards. Silicon chips. Through all that, I have always realized that without sales, the technology was meaningless.

A business can’t succeed unless it aggressively seeks out a market in which to sell its products. Marketing facilitates sales. Period. I work in Marketing now, instead of Engineering, because I think it’s more fun to be out battling for every sale. I love the aggressive, intense aspect of Marketing at a Silicon Valley startup. In my opinion, if a company is not that aggressively pursuing business opportunities, it’s dying.

I suppose it’s obvious, but by definition a business can’t sell something unless it can find a market for its product. Invention is creating something new. Innovation is selling it. I don’t care if you are talking about high technology or whisky: Marketing is the process of building a connection with a market (i.e., a set of customers). It facilitates sales. If a business is spending money on Marketing and if it can’t trace that spending to sales, it is wasting money.

So, some people are extremely vocal about not liking Bruichladdich’s Marketing approach (and this isn’t limited to the reactions to that story on the Malt Advocate blog…I see similar reactions whenever PC7 or PC6 is mentioned on Whisky Magazine’s and Malt Advocate’s forums).

But…how do you measure the success of a Marketing program? Answer this question: Does it stimulate sales? Well, in this case, Bruichladdich’s Marketing must be very effective. They are one of the fastest-growing distilleries by almost any business metric you care to name. So whatever they are doing is working. People are buying their product — despite the overwhelming number of different expressions, and despite the fact that many of their expressions don’t fit what most people think of as an “Islay-style” whisky, and despite the fact that many people claim that PC6 was overpriced.

Re: pricing, see many stories of late, in pretty much any whisky trade magazine or blog, about the increasing prices of whisky, and put the limited edition PC6’s price in that context. Yes, other things might be cheaper than $130. So what? Lots of expressions are more expensive.

Personally, I can think of several ways for Bruichladdich to improve their marketing that might make it both more effective and less annoying. But I’m an outsider, and can’t possibly know what drives their decisions. I do know that they have a public face that is extremely independent. Given their success to date, it’s hard to imagine why they’d take advice from me (or anyone outside their company), despite the fact that I think I could bring a unique perspective on Marketing to their business.

It should be clear to an unbiased observer that they have a very effective Marketing strategy: Limited edition bottlings, lots of expressions, futures selling, members-only bottlings, etc., because they have the sales trajectory to prove it. To me, the weird thing about the reactions to Bruichladdich’s Marketing is that there are as many (or more) people excited about Port Charlotte or X4 or Octomore compared to the complainers. Perhaps success brings out detractors. I don’t know, but the only meaningful proof is in the bottom line.

The last word: If you think that their new bourbon-barrel-aged 16-year-old is too expensive, or if you are just annoyed at Bruichladdich’s Marketing, don’t feel obligated to buy it. Someone else will. Or perhaps not. If the product tastes good, and offers good value for money (in the eyes of the purchasers), and as long as it can be produced profitably, I can’t call that anything but a success.

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