Fear and loathing in Dublin airport - What B2B marketers can learn from whiskey, Poitín and Jim Beam
I was coming through Dublin airport last weekend and while waiting to board I had some time to browse through the duty free shop. I came across an attractive display of Irish whiskies and although not a spirit drinker apart from the odd tipple of sloe gin I couldn't help admiring the wonderful bottles.
Whenever I travel through Edinburgh and the Scottish airports I'm always drawn to the beautiful displays of the Scottish malts. Glass cases display artfully lit bottles, delicately placed in hand made wooden caskets with certificates of provenance and handwritten bottle numbers testifying to the uniqueness of the limited batches. I doubt I will ever buy a £5,000 bottle of whisky but I can certainly understand the appeal.
While I was browsing through the Irish whiskies, one of the assistants came up to me. I commented on the nice display but mentioned that I wasn't really a whiskey drinker. I was looking at "The Wild Geese" whiskey. "The Americans love that," he said. “But if you want something special have a look at this,” and he beckoned to an almost empty bottom shelf where there were a few bottles of Irish Poitín.
I recoiled because I had been introduced to Poitín (pronounced Putch-een) in college and had no intention of renewing my acquaintance with the famous Irish moonshine. I knew that as soon as I opened the bottle and smelled the distinctive Poitín aroma my stomach would be re-living some painful Hunter Thompson-like memories. The illegal Poitín I was familiar with was brewed by some demon in Connemara and stored submerged in a watery peat bog to avoid prying eyes but here it was being sold in Dublin airport. Poitín is basically the raw alcohol base for whiskey, it just hasn't been left to age and mature.
"Wonderful as a change to whisky in Irish coffee," said Michael, the sales assistant. "The original medicinal rub…" I wasn't convinced and knew that it would probably sit for years in a cupboard beside that other bottle of green stuff we picked up on a holiday ages ago. But I was handed the bottle. I admired the embossed gold label. "Holy Lord," I said, "it's 65% volume." "Ah yes," he said, "This is the real deal… not like those other Poitíns you see, they're for the tourists." Then he started to tell me how the Cooley distillery had created a very small batch of this Poitín. It was a unique product, only about a thousand or so bottles, distilled as authentically as possible with malted and un-malted grains.
Then he tells me that it's unlikely that the Cooley distillery will keep making this again. "They've just been bought by Jim Beam… and they're going to be much more interested in turning that alcohol into whiskey for the Asians… not much demand for Poitín in China… bit of a collectors item this". Well, before you know it I'm walking to the till and handing over 30 euro to Michael for a bottle of hootch I'll never drink.
After I’d handed over my cash I had to wonder what had come over me. When we market our business products do we focus on the elements that truly make our product or service distinctive? What are the elements that will really drive a customer to make a purchase? I could have bought any of the other whiskies but they all blended together in my eyes. Ten years old… single malt… oak aged, etc., all features that I didn't care about and were just neutral marketing points in my eyes. Features that we believe may be important like good service, value for money or fast delivery may in reality be features customers just expect us to have and do nothing to make our business distinctive.
The uniqueness of the Cooley distillery product was attractive but there are plenty of rare whiskies. What really drove me to purchase the Poitín was one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book: the fact that might it might not be around for much longer. It's around these distinct drivers that other competitors don't have that a brand should focus its marketing efforts. Michael had a unique story to tell me about the Cooley distillery Poitín and the empty looking shelf was testament to his ability to articulate that story. Our challenge is to use the new social media tools to re-create the personal experience I had with Michael in Dublin airport.
I got home that evening and showed the bottle to my wife. "What on earth possessed you to buy that?" she exclaimed. I muttered something about marketing and it's sure to be worth something on Ebay some day. "Ebay… you'll never… a fool and his money are soon parted… it'll sit there forever!" Well, it's still sitting there unopened. Hmmm, might be a good time to check out Jim Beam shares.