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By The Drum, Administrator

February 14, 2003 | 5 min read

Example of Story’s relationship building campaign for Ardbeg.


It goes without saying that to build a good CRM programme you need to get to know your customers, look after them and, more importantly, keep looking after them.

To properly implement a CRM programme everyone in the client organisation has to be on board with the whole concept. It’s not just a marketing thing, you can’t buy and just plug in a bit of software and you’re off.

Take what we do for Glenmorangie’s Ardbeg brand. Everybody’s involved in interacting with the customers, from the mash men who help distil the product, to the team at the distillery visitors’ centre right through to marketing and sales and the people at the agency. Everybody has a role to play in keeping the customer close to the brand.

Following years of closure at the mothballed distillery, the once-prestigious brand was in serious decline with zero global market share.


As a team of people, we have worked on the brand for nearly four years and our initial re-launch strategy was to create a relationship marketing programme as the key brand-building technique. Our research identified that with a population of only 3,000, the tiny island of Islay has over 140 committees. So we created one more – the highly successful, worldwide Ardbeg Committee.

In the beginning, budgets were tight so initially a campaign was launched through in-pack leaflets and a website to recruit members. As the number of members and, more importantly, sales have increased so too has the budget and we’re now in the process of planning and implementing ambitious plans for the future.

Ardbeg has always had a unique flavour, but we wanted to give the brand a unique personality that made it stand apart from other malts.


In all our communications the product, the people and the place is the basis of everything we do. The malt and the distillery are inextricably linked. Every communication from the Ardbeg committee chairman (the distillery manager) looks, feels and reads as though it was produced at the distillery itself with its own Ardbeg postmark, creating an authentic and warm relationship with the drinker. The design and quirky tone of voice – often mock-committee-speak – all combine to create the sense of inclusiveness and the sense that their involvement will help to shape the future destiny of the distillery. Committee members are on a mission to ensure that the doors of the Ardbeg distillery never close again.

Regular direct mail and the newsletter, “Momentous Minutes”, all drive people to the website, where committee members can share their views with other members in the committee room and view an online movie about the restoration of the distillery – as well as purchase online.


Since launch, the programme has beaten all targets set, by recruiting more than 15,000 enthusiastic and passionate members in over 80 countries, from Alaska to Australia, and many have subsequently been persuaded to visit the distillery itself on Islay.

Managing the expectation ... and anticipation

Committee members take their membership very seriously and regularly e-mail, write and visit the distillery unprompted. This level of loyalty is due to three core factors.

First, the authenticity. In these days of big corporations, Ardbeg is a genuinely inviting, working distillery. It clings to a rock on the southeast of the island, buffeted by the Atlantic, an atmospheric place, full of character and characters. Every time we visit the distillery or speak to the people there on the phone, we pick up more gems to use creatively. By knowing the personalities involved, it’s very easy for us to give them a voice in our mailings, to which committee members respond wholeheartedly.

Secondly, the experience. One secret of a successful CRM programme is to inject as much human contact as possible, within reason. There are some things software just can’t do. Jackie Thomson and her team at the distillery work hard to keep it personal. All correspondence is personally answered by the team. Members who arrive at the distillery in person are greeted as friends.

Thirdly, the product is absolutely superb.

Our latest mailing for a special limited edition bottling – Ardbeg Committee Reserve – remained true to the spirit of the committee. Each member throughout the world received a special register of all committee members’ names and their very own whisky bottle label. Recipients completed the label with their name and committee number then returned it with their order form.

The label was signed by the chairman of the committee before being affixed to their bottle at the distillery on Islay, creating a bottle of Ardbeg unique to them. The response was phenomenal and the campaign exceeded all expectations. The bottling was a sell-out within weeks and, as an added bonus, it has increased traffic to the website and online order levels.

Our brand advertising campaign, launched just before Christmas, reflects what’s happening below the line. Usually it’s the other way round. Latest results have shown that from an annual produce of a couple of hundred cases, and then the launch of the 10 year old in 2000, Ardbeg has seen a global brand growth of 280 per cent and it’s currently on target to obtain 10 per cent of the global Islay malts sector by 2004. It’s also the fastest growing malt in the global malts sector.


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