Wisconsin family farm pivots marketing strategy to raising premium Bourbon.
In the latest episode of Marketing Tech Talk, Matthew Gonnering, Widen CEO sits down with Liz Henry of J. Henry & Sons Bourbon Whiskey. Liz has an incredible story, from her upbringing in Racine, WI, to her reign as Alice in Dairyland, which she credits as a major influence in her marketing background. It is a very cool and home grown story of how her husband, a third generation farmer restored a strain of red corn his grandfather helped create decades ago, and grows it today on their family farm, along with the other inputs needed to distill bourbon. Bourbon is best shared in social situations, and Liz is a master of social interaction marketing.
At 3:23, Liz jokes that her college advisors mentioned that being a veterinarian was probably not a great choice for her, and directed her toward agriculture marketing. She laughs as she initially said no because “she wanted to be taken seriously.” But the advisor noted that she already showed signs of being good at more marketing based skills, so she heeded his advice.
At 8:27, Liz talks about applying for a job with the State Department of Ag Trading Consumer Protection, marketing ag products. The position was called Alice in Dairyland. You spend a year marketing and promoting Wisconsin agricultural production. She traveled internationally and was an exercise in networking and PR.
At 17:02, Matthew asks Liz how we got to making Bourbon, which let’s face it, is really cool. Liz’s husband is a third generation seed corn farmer. About ten years ago, Liz and Joe went down to the Bourbon trail. While it was a fun “grownups” trip, it also spurred them to rethink the purpose of their family farm. Bourbon is 100% American, and is an ag value add product. It is 51% corn, wheat and rye, which they raise on their farm. The red corn seed variety that they raise was created in the 1930’s at the University of Wisconsin. Her time as Alice in Dairyland helped her understand the importance of consumers wanting to know where their food and beverages comes from, how they were produced, and who was making them. Being able to put a face on a product is critical.
At 32:00, the ability to convey that story and provide that information to consumers has helped establish relationships with distributors. While J. Henry & Sons can’t compete with the big guys with big sales kick backs, they allow the distributors to share in the story and invite their customers out to the farm and visit the tasting room, allowing the consumers the ability to form an even stronger connection with the brand. It’s relationship based marketing, and it works amazingly well in the spirits industry.
37:40, Liz says the first thing people look at when they’re shopping for spirits is the price. Since they’re at a higher price point, they need to rely on their story, and relationship marketing to have distributors help them. The juice in the jar needs to be good as she says, but it’s not enough on it’s own.
At 47:00, J. Henry is starting to develop a “barrel club” where fans of the brand can buy into buying a barrel where you could come out to the farm and help bottle your bottle, apply the label, and sign it. It allows brand advocates to really be a part of the process.
After all of this talk about bourbon…..we’re all getting thirsty. Time to sample the product! 🙂