As someone who works within the world of branding, and someone who is fortunate enough to travel a fair amount with work I often find myself spending a lot of time milling around airports taking countless photos of whisky global travel retail.
Yes I really am that guy who wanders around stores taking photos, getting excited about new packaging, new colourways, new bottle structures and new positionings for brands – especially if I was responsible for the updated design / brand which can be the case.
During a recent trip through the airport in Brussels I had nearly three hours to kill so spent quite a lot of time in their retail environments and identified five trends in how whisky is evolving.
1. Brands are turning their backs on home territories
That is not supposed to sound harsh but many brands’ home territories have reached market saturation and legacies of price promotions or poor communications can hold brands back from repositioning themselves or strengthening their premium position so they are turning to emerging markets in order to create something new, interesting and without baggage.
2. Grown up design systems
Whisky brands have seemingly realised that to continue growth and to remain relevant they need to look the part so are investing heavily in sophisticated design systems that have gradually simplified the ornate label design we all know and recognise from over the years.
3. Flexible colourways that create simpler trade up stories
Some brand teams ask strategists and designers to help them ‘own’ a colour, whereas others look to fit in line with expected category codes – most of which has been set by Johnnie Walker over the years.
Smart brands are now looking to stand out through not necessarily owning one colour but by having what we call a ‘holding colour’ that acts as a frame and is consistent across all packs and communications (ads, labels, websites, social media) but then using additional bold colours to indicate the different types of products or the different aspects to their range.
4. Provenance, but in an interesting way
Founder stories in whisky are massive. Virtually all whisky brands have founder stories that are normally conveyed either generically – man goes on a journey, man sets up a distillery, man goes global with product etc. or through the use of signatures embossed into the glass.
Other brands such as Glenfiddich are extracting different elements of their provenance story to create an emotive experience around the journey of creation through to consumption in wildly unexpected ways.
5. Near endless range extensions (either permanent of limited edition)
This is a really clever one, by adding either permanent or limited edition SKUs (Shop Keeper Units) to their range brands can reintroduce themselves to consumers in interesting ways that draw the attention, drive collectability and increase social currency through having access to products not available elsewhere outside of whisky global travel retail.