Westward Whiskey Wins with Local Personalization

Patrycja Malinowska
Director, Member Content, P2PI | profile
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Seeking to break through as a brand and drive the burgeoning American single malt whiskey category, Portland, Oregon-based craft distillery Westward tapped Aki Technologies to implement a hyper-focused marketing campaign as part of its broader digital media strategy.

“We’re a small brand trying to build awareness, but we don’t have the budget to go and build mass awareness across the country … so it’s [about] trying to build awareness with the right type of people in terms of the campaign,” says Westward CMO Richard Black. “Being a $70 whiskey, we’re really ‘luxury’ and targeting a very specific audience.”

Marrying Westward’s first-party data with Aki’s third-party data, the partners identified three consumer segments to seek out in the distiller’s home state and neighboring California:

• Oregon Lovers — affluent, Oregon-based whiskey drinkers.

• West Coast Whiskey Lover — older, high-income whiskey drinkers.

• CA Cool Whiskey Drinkers — young, social, California drinkers.

While two of the target segments leaned toward traditional purchasers, the “CA Cool” segment was added into the mix based on Aki’s consumer mapping recommendations. “It was great because we wanted to get some learnings out of this campaign as well. Testing the audience, testing the regionality and then testing against other media sources like Google and Facebook,” says Black, a spirits industry veteran who had briefly worked for Aki before joining Westward.

From Dec. 14, 2020, to Jan. 12, 2021, the partners served up rich media and video ads generating 1.5 million impressions. The ads were deployed by segment and further personalized via Aki’s “moments powered by motion” approach, which the adtech company describes as predicting when a consumer will be receptive based on proprietary data signals and then targeting ads by any of the more than 160 individual moments Aki has perfected over the last six years to best drive sales. The campaign totaled more than 220 creative permutations and generated 1.5 million impressions.

“The creative wasn’t 100% where I would have wanted it to be, but it’s a tradeoff,” Black says, referring to the ease and speed of execution possible with Aki’s algorithm. “I just give [Aki] some assets, we create these and — boom — we’ve got 220-odd permutations of moments and personalized ads that are proven in this test we ran to be more effective.”

The personalized creative drove higher engagement rates across all of the consumer segments:

• Personalized video drove 22% higher engagement than non-personalized video.

• Personalized interstitials averaged 44% more engaging than non-personalized.

• Overall, personalization drove 33% higher engagement than non-personalized creatives.

BevAlc Commerce Initiative

The Path to Purchase Institute’s BevAlc Commerce Initiative (BACi) is an industry share group and learning platform devoted to helping beer, spirits and wine marketers meet the new omnicommerce expectations of their shoppers. To join the group and learn more, contact Patrick Hare at [email protected]

“That’s the kind of metrics that Aki can track and are very useful,” Black says. “But what’s useful to me as a brand owner and somebody who wants to drive the business is: How many people are coming to visit my website? How many people are going to the retailer stores where we’re sold? And we saw incredible traffic. We still, since we ran the campaign, have never had traffic like that to our website, even from Facebook and Google, where we spend relatively significant money over time.”

While Westward tested tap-to-map ads directing consumers to a nearby retailer, the campaign objective was to maximize digital engagement, so most of the ads linked to Westward’s website. “Our website is where we can capture consumers and we’ve found workarounds [to restrictive regulations] where we can ship to 25 states in the U.S. … so traffic there is as critical as driving people to retail stores at the moment for us,” Black says.

That’s a bold strategy for a category that has historically shied away from the e-commerce business for myriad reasons. “The spirits industry is a little behind when it comes to digital,” Black says. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift online in this category as in others, and Westward moved rapidly to adapt to the change in consumer behavior.

One of the key learnings that came out of the campaign and will inform Westward’s future digital engagement efforts was the importance of a landing page to close the sale.

“I would have wanted stronger conversion rates on the click-through, and we needed a landing page because consumers never knew our brands,” Black says. “We were getting these incredible amounts of traffic, and they were just landing on the product page so they weren’t getting enough information around what this is and why I should buy it.”