Keep Walking – Business Lessons from a Whiskey Blender

While the story of Steve Jobs and Apple dominates the landscape of business case-study success stories, there are lessons to be learnt about how to build a great business from a whiskey blender called Johnnie.

Leverage: while most whiskey distilleries devote themselves to the time consuming (10-20 years) and laborious task of creating whiskey, Johnnie Walker would simply buy whiskeys from a range of distillers and then blend and repackage them.
That’s some serious leverage.

Consistency: making Scotch demands a mix of art, science, alchemy and luck. Johnnie Walker didn’t like those odds. People prefer consistency to art. By blending a range of whiskeys, he was able to deliver a consistent, reliable product.

Branding: Johnnie Walker must have been one of the first products to successfully segment it’s market: each sub-brand (red,black, green, blue etc) has its own distinctive personality and market. The business has a product for each segment of the market: from cheap cans of mixed red label and coke, to the prestige of Blue Label, all the way up to a bottle that will set you back $5k – or $650 a glass at Rockpool.

The business also pioneered the ‘walking man’ image and the ‘keep walking slogan, which has burnt itself into the minds of consumers, as a symbol of determination and staying the course.

By turning the label to an angle of 24% they were able to increase the size of the font and make the bottle stand out on the shelf. Such a simple way to stand out and be noticed.

Dont’t be the racehorse, own the racecourse: when the business started to gain success they started buying up distilleries to ensure a regular supply.

Innovation: Johnnie Walker changed the shape of the whiskey bottle to something more square than normal. This made it more distinctive, but it also meant far less breakage on its journey around the world to establish itself as the global super-brand it is today.

Story: you’re not just buying a product, you’re buying a story. This is one of the most powerful uses of film to tell a brand.
(thanks to Steve Sammartino and his Startup Blog for alerting me to this great video)

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