SINGAPORE - Matthew Fergusson-Stewart jokes as he matter-of-factly lays out the key challenge for the Glenfiddich whisky brand in Asia-Pacific at the moment: maintaining consumer loyalty in the millennial market.
“Younger whisky drinkers are some of the least brand-loyal people in the world,” he tells Campaign Asia-Pacific. “To them, single malt is the Pokémon of drinks: you’ve gotta taste ‘em all.”
The flipside of that coin, Fergusson-Stewart admits, is that young people in the region, and particularly Southeast Asia, are coming over to whisky in droves, which is an obvious windfall for brands such as Glenfiddich, owned by William Grant & Sons.
Malaysia is the brand’s biggest market in the region, while the Philippines is its fastest growing. Since becoming APAC brand ambassador (the company's term for its top marketing officer in the region) three years ago, Fergusson-Stewart has found success marrying the legacy and tradition of an old Scottish whisky with the local cultures of Southeast Asia, through food.
“Everyone does food and whisky pairings, but its usually very Western or at least Western-inspired,” he says. “I want it to be about local food and make Glenfiddich something that goes with what people are eating every day, which then makes it an easy decision for them to buy.”
To that end, Glenfiddich last year hosted a dinner in the Philippines that paired expressions of the whisky with the national dish ‘lechon’, whole roast pig. It was such a success that similar events followed and more are planned in the coming months in other markets.
“It’s been a great way for me to engage with the whisky-drinking communities in those countries,” Fergusson-Stewart adds. “Often the best thing we can do for the brand is to put it in front of people, get them to taste it. That doesn’t matter if they’ve never tried it before, or last tried it quite some time ago.”
This is particularly important as we return to the topic of millennials and their somewhat scattered interest in single-malt whisky. Fergusson-Stewart says it’s tricky finding the balance between offering new, innovative products and maintaining the brand identity that has given Glenfiddich the claim of 'most gifted' single-malt whisky in the world.
“That’s because of the brand trust, its tradition and reliability," he says. "No-one’s ever going to be disappointed. But it’s also very accessible, so it doesn’t have that air of unattainability that makes people want to try it.
“Younger consumers coming into whisky, our fastest growing consumer set, are very well informed and like to try different things. They need interesting stuff to taste and talk about. So it’s not harder to get them to try the product, but it’s harder to keep them engaged.”
At the same time, Fergusson-Stewart says Glenfiddich is tapping into that ‘unattainability’ sentiment, usually among older, wealthier consumers.
The notions of luxury and exclusivity have exploded across APAC in recent years, and Glenfiddich is responding to market demand, as are many of its competitors. Fergusson-Stewart explains that Glenfiddich 30-year-old, previously sold worldwide, is now only available in Asia. An extremely rare 38-year-old edition is only sold in China.
The brand is also looking to expand its experiential marketing strategy, following the success of its Valley of the Deer—the meaning of Glenfiddich—event in Malaysia last year, which took the concept of the distillery tours provided to its very high-end customers to thousands of consumers in Malaysia.
The event featured mock-ups of the machinery and stills used to make Glenfiddich back in Scotland, and staff from the distillery were flown to attend and engage with consumers.
“We brought that engaging, immersive distillery experience to Malaysia, and it was a huge success," Fergusson-Stewart says. "People who didn’t even attend knew what the Valley of the Deer event was, so brand recognition went far beyond just the event itself."
Given the range of Glenfiddich’s marketing mix, it’s clear that Fergusson-Stewart has strong ambitions to make the brand APAC’s most loved whisky, and he is keen to do what it takes to keep up with the new breed of whisky drinkers.
“You cannot be seen to be resting on your laurels,” he says.