Sharing Whiskey Advice Via AI

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Sharing Whiskey Advice Via AI

By Chris Gelbach - 09/01/2019

Brown-Forman uses chatbot to help consumers along the path to purchase

Brown-Forman Corp. launched its first artificial intelligence-infused chatbot to help consumers discover which whiskeys and cocktails they might like. The chatbot, called the Whiskey Whisperer, is part of a larger brand initiative called Straight From the Distillery.

“We wanted a solution for those folks in helping simplify the whiskey category,” says Lynette Green, Brown-Forman digital marketing manager. “When you go into the store, and back to the wall of whiskey, there are more than 500 brands on the market today. For a lot of people, this is really intimidating.”

Brown-Forman research found that for these shoppers, the purchase journey averages only about 72 hours and often focuses on pre-shop planning and research, especially on social media.

Working with Northbrook, Illinois-based Blue Chip Marketing Worldwide, Brown-Forman worked to devise a portfolio program that could simplify and explain whiskey while highlighting brands such as Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Early Times, Coopers’ Craft, Canadian Mist and Slane Irish Whiskey.

“Portfolio programming is somewhat hard at Brown-Forman in the sense that we have a lot of very strong brands that each have their own unique brand stories,” Green says. “We’re very used to telling those stories on an individual basis.”

The chatbot gave Louisville, Kentucky-based Brown-Forman and Blue Chip a consumer-centric solution to this issue. The Whiskey Whisperer educates consumers about whiskey types, brands and cocktails and uses AI technology to learn, adjust and improve its answers for future consumers. It was created in collaboration with technology partner Reve Marketing, Mountain View, California.

The test program started in mid-September 2018 and ran through October 2018 across Florida, Illinois, Kentucky and Arizona. Another follow-up program ran in Florida through January this year. Shoppers were informed of the chatbot via mobile ads as well as ads on Facebook and Instagram. Users could access the program via Messenger or the Straight From the Distillery Facebook page.

On the chatbot, users first opt to either learn about whiskey or get recommendations. Depending on what they choose, they are then given additional choices, such as the option to ask for recommendations based on whiskey type or flavor profile.

“Knowing what you like is easy,” Green says. “But knowing whiskey is hard. Just looking at a bottle, you’re not going to come away with, ‘I like spicy, so I’m going to have an Old Forester Rye.’”

Users can also access cocktail recommendations by choosing from categories that include classics, winter warmers, punches and whiskey +1 (additional ingredient) options. Upon choosing a cocktail, the user is presented with a recipe using a Brown-Forman product.

The program was supported in stores with semi-permanent Straight From the Distillery displays made of wood and metal. It was a success as gauged by the metrics of incremental sales and customer engagement. Brown-Forman saw double-digit sales lift of its whiskey portfolio at key retailers. The chatbot had more than 15,000 engagements over the two initial phases of the program, with the average customer spending nearly 13 minutes on it learning more about whiskey.

“This has surpassed the benchmarks Reve had shared with us in terms of expected engagement, numbers of conversations started and length of conversation,” says Erich Parker, Blue Chip vice president of business leadership.

Building on the program’s success, the chatbot remains live on Facebook. A new nationwide, media-supported rollout of the program featuring more in-store communication about the chatbot is planned for September and October.