The Macallan Distillery

I thought I had a good understanding of brands and what it takes to create a good one until I had the delightful opportunity to visit the Macallan Distillery. Over the years, I’ve discovered some brands know who they are, but most don’t. Newer companies struggle to give their customers that unique experience that just screams who they are and leaves their customers with a memorable experience.

What makes a brand? Is it the logo? Is it their color palette? Is it a slogan?

If I could sum up what captures the essence of brand, I would say a true brand is an experience.

Distillery Tours

My husband and I recently took a trip to Scotland with a goal of touring various distilleries as well as seeing the countryside and visiting castles. The first distillery we toured was Oban, one of our favorite whiskeys. The tour guide was engaging and did an excellent job explaining the distillation process. It was a nice experience, but we left with questions about what makes Oban different from other Scottish whiskeys.

Next up was Talisker. Because there is one way to make Scottish whiskey, much of the information was the same. Each distillery had slight variations in their process, but it was quite similar. At one point during the tour, we asked the guide what gave Talisker it’s distinct flavor. The guide talked about the casks and aging, but we were still left not quite knowing what made them different.

Our final stop was the Macallan distillery. We weren’t as familiar with this brand, but the tour had good reviews and was reasonably priced. We were expecting a similar experience. What we weren’t expecting was to walk away knowing exactly who and what Macallan is and experiencing the “wow” factor.

The Macallan Distillery

The Brand Experience

It was a snowy January day when we arrived at our destination at the Macallan distillery. We had spent the morning driving through the gorgeous countryside and were excited to get out of the car and stretch a bit. Immediately, we were struck with the “wow” factor. This was not some small distillery. The building design was modern and sleek and honestly, I was a bit worried it would be one of those companies that decided that being modern and sleek was more important than longevity and tradition.

That’s where knowing who you are as a brand comes into play. As we walked into the main reception area, we were met with a wall of Macallan. There were bottles of Scotch in their display that were older than I am. They proudly displayed every bottle they had distilled as far back as their origin encased in a lovely glass wall and the pride in their beginnings was diffused throughout the experience.

We then moved into the tour which was met with equal parts pride and humility. The guide was well informed and gave us not only the history and distillation process but was also able to communicate what made Macallan different. Our lovely tour guide educated us in the finer points of what makes their Scotch unique, down to the casks they use and even how the casks are created and where the wood comes from.

The Macallan Distillery

Why Brand is Critical to Success

I could have walked away satisfied with a lovely tour experience, however, for a copywriter it was much more than lovely. It was a brand experience. I didn’t know much about this particular Scotch when we walked through the glass doors. When we left, I not only knew exactly who they were, what their Scotch tasted like, and why it tastes the way it does, but I also knew they would quickly become one of my favorites.

The Final Brand Experience

Most distilleries allow for a small tasting at the end of the tour. A nip of their favorite or a nip of one of the more expensive bottles few can afford just to tantalize their visitors. In true Macallan fashion, they went above and beyond with their tasting experience. We sat at a gorgeous bar with a well-educated tasting expert and tried not one, but 4 of their Scotch whiskeys as well as the malting. We sipped and listened as our dedicated expert talked about the flavors we might find in each Scotch. We easily spent 45 minutes talking and tasting.

If we hadn’t known before the tasting what to expect from Macallan, we knew when we finished. We understood how the flavor was created and the importance of Sherry casks in their making. We also knew that they were built to scale and would honor their meager beginnings decades ago and expect nothing less than the best in their end product despite their growth.

What Can Brands Learn?

After my experience, I break it down to 5 simple takeaways for companies:

  1. Know who you are and if you don’t, take the time to find out.
  2. Be bold in your branding.
  3. Don’t confuse your customers with one experience in one place and a different one somewhere else. (A different web experience compared to an app or store.)
  4. Think about the experience you want your customers to have and create it.
  5. Even if you are small, go big with your brand.

If I could tell my clients one thing about branding, it would be to let your brand infuse absolutely everything you do. Whether it’s a blog post, your website, or a brick and mortar store, if your customers don’t know everything about you when they leave, you are missing the mark. Your brand should be a memorable experience every time and at every touch point.

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