William Grant & Sons (WG&S) is not a company that many people know about, admits its UK marketing director Gary Keogh. However, many of its brands are household names – think Glenfiddich, Hendrick’s and Monkey Shoulder.
And it takes building those brands incredibly seriously. The company’s approach is done through a programme called ‘dram by dram’. It is a set of five principles that have been designed to drive business growth, and are “unique” to the culture and the history of the business. The principles include distinctiveness, deep roots, consistency, insight and driving trial.
A recent campaign example includes The Balvenie Craftmen’s Dinner, which sees chef Michel Roux Jr discover the “true meaning of craftsmanship” in a six-part video series. The series concludes with Roux Jr preparing a ‘craftsmen’s dinner’ for the individuals, using contributions from each artist.
This focus on long-term brand building is done despite the current trend among businesses to try and please impatient investors, who want to see instant results.
“We’re comfortable seeding brands in the long term to ensure we have a brand that has strong trade and consumer advocacy. If that means we don’t make money for a couple of years, that’s fine,” he says.
Instilling marketing theory
Besides its ‘dram by dram’ approach to marketing, the business is also pioneering a two-year in-house learning programme called Marketing Fundamentals.
Year one follows a “classic” marketing plan, starting with situational analysis, brand positioning, consumer journey mapping, communications planning and evaluation.
Year two then takes a deep dive into a mix of areas such as managing creative agencies, behavioural economics and contemporary topics including “ridiculous” generalisations around millennials.
HR and finance can take the course as well. Many departments don’t appreciate just how much work goes into coming up with a strong strategic analysis.
Gary Keogh, William Grant & Sons
It put 50 colleagues through the programme in 2015 and 2016, and has since received the endorsement of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. By the end of this year, 80 people will have gone through the course.
WG&S is not the first company to offer an in-house training programme; back in 2014, both SSE and Morrisons launched a marketing academy to try and keep “young and enthusiastic” marketers from leaving due to lack of professional training.
Keogh says the idea came from its own co-workers, who said that even though they “loved” working for the company, they were missing out on classic marketing training that might be offered at giants such as Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Unilever.
“I met with my senior marketing team to discuss our options. We could send people on expensive courses – but not all courses are brilliant. Or we could design something internally and deliver it ourselves,” he tells Marketing Week.
Raising the profile of marketing
The course has had some positive, if unintended, consequences. Marketers frequently have to battle misconceptions around what the department stands for within a business, and it is sometimes labelled the “colouring in department”.
While Keogh says the marketing team at WG&S has never been labelled as such, the course has given other departments the chance to truly understand what goes into developing a strong business strategy.
“Commercial team members, HR and finance can take the course as well. Many departments don’t understand or appreciate just how much work goes into coming up with a strong strategic analysis,” he says.
“We give them the backstage tour of what goes into media planning, creating great advertising and understanding core consumer challenges. It just moves [the perception of marketing] on a few more notches and they are far more engaged.”
A focus on long-term brand building
Since the course, six of the company’s UK marketing team have been promoted into global roles, and “a lot of people now have a marketing qualification, even though they thought they never would”, adds Keogh.
In times of economic uncertainty and slow growth rates, many companies respond by cutting back on marketing. For example, Unilever recently announced it would cut the number of ads its creates by 30%, and reduce the number of agencies it works with by 50%. P&G is taking similar steps.
Due to WG&S still being family-owned, Keogh says it refuses to take the same route.
“In our 130 years as a company, there have been quite a few rocky moments globally. If there’s an economic challenge where companies might look to cut back on marketing, if anything we’ll go the other way,” he explains.
“We believe in long-term brand building. We have a bigger marketing budget compared to last year, and a strong growth curve on investment.”
Keogh would wholeheartedly recommend other brands to take the same route. He urges them to do their homework, and convince the rest of the c-suite by focusing on cost efficiencies.
He concludes: “Sending one person on a day course is more expensive and less valuable than doing it yourself. Make sure you’re demonstrating that it’s needs-based too. A demand for these courses needs to come from your colleagues and from the bottom up.”