There’s a reason why whiskey is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. Even when other industries falter, the whiskey industry is based on principles that are helping it thrive: raw passion, solid storytelling, strategy and focus. These are the key ingredients necessary to create profitability, scale and build a brand that stands out.
I gathered these insights after spending three days on Scotland’s famed Isle of Islay with Georgie Crawford, one of the leading distillers in the world. Georgie manages Lagavulin, a famed centuries-old distillery nestled in the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle. She has spent her life in the business and knows what secrets the whiskey industry holds.
As we stood on the dock behind Lagavulin, I came to understand the ins and outs of whiskey. Even if you have no particular interest in whiskey itself, it’s how whiskey is made that’s key to its success.
Here are five lessons every business can learn from the whiskey industry:
Give Your Brand a Story
The magic of enjoying a glass of whiskey is the story of how it got there, the history of the distillery, and appreciating the intricate process involved. As humans, we crave a sense of belonging and connection to the past. Holding a glass of rich amber liquid — made with passion by hand up to 60 years ago — makes that connection tangible.
What story is your business telling? How is your product telling it? The fact that every sip of whiskey contains within it a unique piece of history is what makes it fascinating to experience and explore. Find out what your business does for customers. Why are people going to buy it, and what will they feel when they do? If you can do this, you will attract dedicated customers.
Good whiskey is born from passion, and so are the best brands. When you look into the success of iconic companies like Apple or young brands like TOMS or The Honest Company, you’ll find that they have one thing in common: They were created by passionate leaders. It was the passion these founders had that created more than a brand, but a movement.
You have to love your brand, your product, and your service if you are going to create a love for it. In the world of whiskey, as in any business, if you produce without passion, the market will taste it — and flavor means everything.
Create an Identity
Amidst a huge market, one of the most important factors in the world of whiskey is a sense of identity. Whether it’s a renowned brand name or a distinct flavor that can be identified as belonging to a specific distillery by aroma alone, making whiskey is all about creating an identity.
As you and your product or service are competing in the market, the key to standing head and shoulders above the competition is having an identity. Build a brand that people want to get behind — and stay behind. Make people excited for what’s coming next.
Distil Your Ideas
Whiskey is only as good as its distillation process, whereby contaminants are removed so the final product is in its purest and finest form.
The best companies distill their products and ideas, too. Figure out what it is you do best, whether it’s a product or a service, and focus on that without distraction. Don’t make the mistake of spreading yourself thin by offering more than you need to. Identify the hole in your market, figure out the solution, and distill it. Master distillers take water and turn it into gold: You can do the same with your business.
Perhaps the most important and fascinating aspect of whiskey-making (and running a successful business) is the ability to think ahead, see the future and anticipate where the market is going. The whiskey-making process is one that takes years. It’s often decades after the process begins that the product is ever bought or sold. Because of this, plenty of factors come into play — climate change, political change, advancements in technology, natural disasters — things that you’d never imagine could affect a bottle sitting on your shelf.
Businesses, like distilleries, should carefully calculate how much to produce in any given year and project what sales will look like in the future. One mistake so many business owners make is failing to take the time to think ahead. To calculate risks, plan for the unexpected, and never underestimate the power of preparation.