Branding with spirit

Within the drinks industry visitors’ centres are gaining a higher profile and renewed investment. Laura Snoad discovers that they can tell a brand’s story authentically, while creating a closer bond between the product and customer

As plans for a Beefeater Gin visitors’ centre at its London distillery, designed by Four By Two, go into consultation and await planning permission, several other drinks companies have rethought their offer to visitors, with revamped centres opening this year.

Purple copywriter Jamie Fleming, who has worked on a new centre for Glenfiddich in Dufftown, Scotland (DW 20 January), says, ’Visitors to distilleries are your perfect consumer. They already like the brand and actively seek you out. So it’s important to tell a genuine story beautifully and with authenticity.’

Bob Thwaites, director of Four By Two, agrees. He says, ’You can’t just stamp everything with logos, it’s about generating ambiences. The experiential visit needs to be enjoyable and educational so that visitors leave evangelising about that brand and will be able to speak a little bit about it.’ Four by Two has created visitors’ centres for Plymouth Gin, Glenkinchie and Bowmore on the Hebridean island of Islay, and is currently working on interiors and design for Beefeater.

Concepts for the Lambeth centre currently include a modern, geometric staircase, peoplecentric exhibitions and a tasting room (pictured), where visitors have a front-row view of the working skills at the heart of the process, says Thwaites.

The key for the look and feel is to make the most of the ’dramatic’ industrial nature of the space, while highlighting the uniqueness of the process, with explanatory graphics etched into the glass and the key botanicals highlighted on large panels, Thwaites adds.

For every project, Four By Two takes between three and five key communication objectives, such as pride in a flavour profile or historical angle, and tries to diffuse them throughout the interiors.

Purple approached the Glenfiddich visitors’ centre in a similar way and took the brand’s key message of ’pioneering spirit’ and used it to inform the creative work visually and strategically, by focusing on people and craftsmanship, with as many human touches as possible.

Instead of the hard sell, the aim is to create a carefully branded immersive environment with as many different mediums as possible, to satisfy the consumer’s hunger for information and reinforce the visitor as a brand ambassador, says Fleming.

Both projects use what Thwaites calls a ’hierarchy of copy’, where simple facts are immediately available, but more detail can be accessed to cater for different levels of interest.

Thwaites says, ’If you write a clever headline, you can impart a key bit of information and [visitors] can glean at least part of the three communication objectives.’

For single malt whisky brand Dalmore, which is due to open a new visitors’ centre in May, designed by Jam Studio, it is what the distillery
claims is its unique process – Dalmore’s stills are physically different to those from other manufacturers – and artisan approach that are the key brand messages.

In tune with this, Jam Studio took a very theatrical approach to designing the visitors’ centre interiors. Part of the centre includes the Alchemy Room, where visitors are greeted with an Alice In Wonderland-style scenario of a walnut box filled with three test tubes atop a circular table. In the tubes are three substances from the distilling process that you can either smell, drink or eat, although it’s not instantly obvious which is which, says Jam Studio director Marie-Louise Dunk.

Depending on which tour the visitor chooses, customers will be able to visit a relaxation area where they can enjoy a dram leisurely, an
exhibition about why wood is so important to the process, or for real connoisseurs, the distillery manager’s office, which has been designed as a time capsule with old maps and artefacts, says Dunk.

The visit needs to be enjoyable and educational so that visitors leave evangelising about the brand

Bob Thwaites, Four By Two

Jam Studio further emphasised the artisan process by using light tape, the same electroluminescent material used in recent film Tron Legacy, to highlight the shapes and geometries of the stills.

The sophisticated lighting system also has the benefit that it augments parts of the tour, rawing attention to what is being spoken about, which is particularly useful for growing international audiences.

In addition, Dunk says, ’A lot of the visitors are from Japan and China – it’s a very technologically astute target market so you must fuse this into the design.’

As designing visitors’ centres is about future brand ambassadors rather than instant sales, design consultancies are keen not to alienate younger drinkers, even if, for whiskies especially, most consumers are male, affluent and over 35. Thwaites suggests a way to accommodate
younger drinkers is to build how younger people drink into the functionality of a space. For Plymouth, Bowmore and Glenkinchie, Four By Two created tasting rooms, providing visitors with a very sociable space where there is the opportunity to have their spirits expertly mixed.

Both Dunk and Fleming argue that creating a less fusty view of darker spirits can be done without compromising the brand messages, by
focusing on people and showing that the brand makes a statement about who you are.

According to Fleming, ’There’s a growing younger audience that appreciate a brand that sets them apart.’

Tasting notes

Scotch whisky’s annual turnover in Scotland is around £6.4bn, making it the country’s leading manufactured export after oil and gas

Glenfiddich was the first distillery to open its doors to visitors in 1969. Since then more than three million people have visited the site

Plymouth gin is the only gin distillery in the country to have a dedicated visitors’ centre

80 000 consumers visit the three Chvias Brother’s owned distilleries – Glenlivet, Aberlour and Strathisla – every year

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