Word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to sell a product. If a friend tells you about a good experience with a certain brand of product, you are more likely to try that product than you would if you simply saw an advertisement for that product. This is true for Bourbon and other whiskeys. The internet is a great source for word of mouth advertising.
The growth of the Bourbon coincides with the growth of the internet. In the early 1990s Bourbon sales were still pretty flat and declining for some brands. The birth of single barrel and small batch products was beginning to reverse the trend, but things were still pretty grim in the whiskey industry. By the end of the decade the internet was created and available to the public. As more and more people started to use the internet, there was the creation of public internet forums where people could go and read what others thought on a subject and post their own opinions. Straightbourbon.com was the first forum dedicated to Bourbon and other whiskeys. It was created by Jim Butler in 1997 and is still going strong today. People on the site started discussing the different brands and what they thought of them. It quickly became the ultimate source of word of mouth advertisement for brands. Other forums sprang up as Bourbon grew in popularity.
In the 21st century Facebook and Twitter came along with other sources of social media. Clubs and organizations were created by Bourbon and whiskey fans and Facebook became a way for them to have an internet presence without spending money. Members could read about events and other business of the club, but more importantly they could share information about the whiskey they were drinking. It was considered much more accessible than the forums to many people. Word of mouth could cause an explosion in a brand’s sales overnight. When Fred Minnick tweeted that Henry McKenna Bonded won an award at the competition he was judging, the brand practically flew off the shelf in the next few days.
The internet’s growth has also led to a growth in supporting technology. Smart phones allow people to access the internet anywhere. They are no longer tied to a personal computer or laptop when they want to check the social media. The power of word of mouth advertising grew as a result of this increased access. People can find out instantly what bottles are on the local liquor store shelves. The growth of smartphones also led to a growing popularity of podcasts, yet another way to spread the word of mouth messages about Bourbon and other whiskeys. Whisky Cast, a podcast from Mark Gillespie, has been doing this for over a decade and covers all of the world’s whiskeys with both reviews and industry information.
The benefits to the brands are enormous. Distilleries do not to depend upon paid advertising in newspapers, magazines, radio or television like they did in the past. They still do that form of advertising, but not as much. The downside is that if they get a negative internet review it travels faster than a magazine review. A good review can lead to shortages in the market as a brand will trend in the media and people purchase bottles from the shelves. Unfortunately a large portion of the sales of trending bottles is not the whiskey drinker, but the people who purchase bottles in bulk in order to sell them on the black market for a profit. Social media supports this black market. So called “flippers” use social media to find customers.
The power of word of mouth advertising is tremendous and made even greater by the creation of the internet and social media. Brand advertising of the future will depend upon the internet. It has been a mixed blessing with more people finding out about great whiskeys, but at the same time it has created shortages of many of those same whiskeys. Distilleries are making more money because of the internet, but unfortunately, so are the black marketers. It has been a mixed blessing for the consumer and it will be interesting to see how things develop in the future.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller