Innovation In The Spirits Industry

Innovation In The Spirits Industry

We need to always evolve and be innovative.
— Nancy Juang, Innovation Manager

    Nancy Juang is an innovation manager at Diageo.  Before her tenure at Diageo, she was a brand manager at Summergate Fine Wines and Spirits after from transitioning as a brand manager at a cigarette factory in Shanghai.  She is originally from Seattle, currently based in Shanghai, and knows all of the goings on with the Chinese spirits market, as well as has knowledge on the upcoming trends within their target audiences.
    
    As an innovation manager, her job (along with her team’s) is to identify the next trend and market it.  Whether it’s re-branding a classic product to sell to a younger market or create a newer product altogether that caters to the millennial consumer, she is the go-to woman for all things trending in the spirits community.
    
    The first step in selling your spirit on the market is identifying your audience.  With her, it’s millennials.  She identifies them as trend leaders and not followers who want to show off their knowledge and do whatever they wish for their lives without imposing self-restrictions based on society’s outlook on them.  That is a powerful group with which to identify, and her job is to find out what caters to this market so that they can sell and package their products to the best of their ability.
    
    In Chinese culture, there are big wealth gaps between the bigger cities, which are the major market, and the smaller countrysides, which are the minor market.  Within those markets comes a different knowledge base of spirits, so it gives you a better idea of how to market them to the consumers that grow up in different areas of a country.  Scotch, in general, is not a strong suit for the Chinese or Taiwanese market.  Instead, baijiu is the major Chinese spirit of choice, distilled from rice and packaged with a much harsher taste than scotch.  This is their domestic drink of choice.  Business deals are done over baijiu.  Patrons of restaurants have it frequently alongside their meals.  Domestically, it is what they prefer.
    
    However, because of the knowledge gap and what they see in their media entertainment sources, the Chinese market as a whole believes that scotch is for foreigners.  They have this skewed perception that comes from lack of education on the spirit that scotch has a harsher taste and a larger alcohol percentage than scotch, which is just not true.  The task is making right this false perception so that the Chinese market can open up and embrace something like scotch.
    
    Among Juang’s responsibilities, one of them is consumer research.  Within her research, she has found that Chinese consumers are very confident in themselves.  They feel that their opinions matter, and they are looking for people to look up to them as trendsetters.  This is why their market tries to stay incredibly up-to-date on the latest technologies and food crazes: they want to be the first to report or review it.  How does this apply to selling spirits?  Because those key leading voices within those groups are who you look for to market your product.  You want those voices that people listen to talking and raving and rating your product.  The challenge is finding those voices within those groups.  Everyone wants to be one, and one has to establish who is actually being listened to the most.
    
    With scotch in the Chinese market, the preferred palate says to mix it with green tea.  The trend originated when promotions would run a sale that consisted of purchasing a bottle of scotch and having a bottle of green tea given to you for free.  That promotion ended up creating one of the most popular ways the Chinese culture drinks scotch.
    
    A drink that does have quite the potential within the Chinese market is Baileys, especially for female drinkers.  Consumers enjoy it because it’s sweet and you can’t really taste the alcohol within it.  However, there is still a massive knowledge gap, because many places still don’t know how to properly drink Baileys, just like scotch.  The question that comes into play is: how do we educate people in order to broaden their knowledge with drinks and, therefore, their purchasing horizon?
    
    With education, it’s a step-by-step process.  It doesn’t happen overnight, nor will it occur with just one campaign.  The trick is to figuring out which campaign will work the best to transfer knowledge to the consumer market.  Is it advertisements?  Commercials?  Promotions?  Digital posting moments?  The smart method has to be found, and each method is different for each product.  You have to not only find the way that will work for the product itself, you also have to find its major target audience and figure out how they would learn best.
    
    With the Chinese market when it comes to spirits, education and finding a way to do as such with their market is imperative.  Because of their love for their domestically-made baijiu, it makes it hard for other spirits to compete within their market.  However, we need to always be evolving and innovating in the world of marketing, and education is one of those points that comes with the territory.  Find a way to educate your audience and you stand a chance at expanding your horizons within the Chinese market.

Rebecca Travis

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