What makes a brand iconic? And how can brands at that level embrace their heritage while expanding innovation. Ana Kornegay, Brand Director of Jack Daniel's Craft and Luxury, details what it takes to balance and grow a long-standing, iconic brand in an ever-changing market. If you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!Podcast: DownloadSubscribe: iTunes | RSS
Ana Kornegay:: A lot of brands are really focused on experiential marketing. We really want to create wonderful experiences for people that connect them to our brand and leave them with a really positive, memorable experience.
Bill Gullan: Greetings one and all. This is Real-World Branding. I'm Bill Gullan, President of Finch Brands, a premier boutique branding agency. Thank you for joining us, and a big treat today as we put forth an interview with Ana Kornegay. Ana is the Brand Director of Jack Daniel's Craft and Luxury, a long-term member in different roles and progressive responsibility of the Brown-Forman team, a friend of mine, a client of ours, and just a tremendously insightful person when it comes to the world of spirits as well as the world of business and brand.
I think you'll enjoy hearing her perspectives on trends that are shaping the spirits marketplace, but certainly well beyond, as well as how she balances her thoughts about a brand of such depth and history as Jack Daniel's with some of the new directions in which she and others are taking it at Brown-Forman in Louisville. Enjoy Ana Kornegay.
Bill:Joining us on Real-World Branding today, we are honored and excited to have Ana Kornegay from Brown-Forman, whose current title, though she's twirled through the organization in progressively important roles across the company, current title is Brand Director of Jack Daniel's Craft and Luxury. Ana, thanks for being with us.
Ana: Thank you so much for having me.
Bill: It's our pleasure. You and I go back a ways, and one of the things that makes this so much fun is that we do, but to bring our listeners into this, would you mind starting by giving us a quick tour of your career journey up to this point?
Ana: Absolutely. After college, I moved out to Jackson, Wyoming, and I had the pleasure of working for the ski resort there as a front desk reservations and front desk manager.
Bill: Poor thing, yeah.
Ana: I know. It was a tough place to work. The view was awful. I then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and I worked for a sports media dotcom, is how I’d describe it, called TEAMtalk. Did a little work with them, and then was an event planner there for awhile, and I thought that might be a path I'd go down, but I decided to go back and get my MBA at Wake Forest. Then I was fortunate enough to be hired at Brown-Forman in 2005.
Bill: Right, and so you are from North Carolina, yes?
Ana: Yes, I am. I grew up in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina.
Bill: Nice, and so you did under-grad at Chapel Hill.
Ana: I did.
Bill: Your degree, you had an international focus academically, didn't you, at least initially?
Ana: I did. I got my degree in International Studies with a specialty in Anthropology, which unbeknownst to me at the time would be very helpful in marketing.
Bill: Yeah, no doubt, although based on your major and everything else, it sounds like you should go hang out somewhere on the beach and watch people somewhere in the world. It's awesome.
Bill: Cool. Despite the ACC rivalry, came through MBA at Wake, and then into the world you go. At Brown-Forman, could you take us through some of the different roles that you've occupied? I think you started in Insights, right?
Ana: I did. I started out in Consumer Insights, and I worked on the Southern Comfort brand. Then I moved into Global Marketing for Southern Comfort for close to a year. Then I moved out into the field, into field marketing in our Baltimore office, so had a very big territory. I covered New York all the way down to Florida, and then a couple of states out west. I did that for about seven years, and have recently, in the past year, become the Brand Director for Jack Daniel's Craft and Luxury, so I actually look after the marketing and the business for Gentleman Jack, Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Collection, and Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select.
Bill: Awesome, and so I guess you shuttle back and forth between, I believe you still make your home in the Baltimore area, but are in Louisville a lot of the week, yes?
Ana: That is correct. Both great cities.
Bill: Yes, indeed, indeed. Across these diverse experiences, working on different brands and different roles, in headquarters, out in the field, could you compare and contrast across insights, across the field, across the brand teams? What have been some similarities and differences within your Brown-Forman career?
Ana: Well, I would say that when I think about the Consumer Insights role, that was really all about the ‘why.’ It was my beginning at Brown-Forman, my beginning in a corporate environment, and I had a really great manager, who just kept asking me why every time I would share information or presentations with her, so I really learned, myself, to ask why – how to be a data detective. I learned how to put a lot of disparate pieces of information together to develop actionable insights, which is such an important part of business, and marketing in particular. That was a great learning experience over about a year and a half.
Then, when I moved into Global Marketing on Southern Comfort, I learned a lot about the ‘who.’ I learned a lot about collaborating with all of our stakeholders. When you work on a global marketing team, you really have to think about how a brand might be perceived or communicated about differently in different global markets, and a lot of that is driven by life cycle in that market. You have to think a lot about brand architecture, and that's where I first started learning about creative development. I shot a really fun television spot down in Argentina. That was a fun experience.
Then in Field Marketing, I learned a lot about the ‘how’ for marketing our brand. When you sit in the corporate office, you do a lot of strategic thinking, you have access to a lot of great information, but it's so important to understand where the rubber meets the road. You can really see how these marketing programs are brought to life at the point of purchase, and you also have to understand how some of the key communications change as it goes from a national brand plan down to a piece of point of sale at retailers. In our business we have what we call a three-tier system, so everything has to come from the supplier, to a distributor, to a retailer and then to the consumer, so there are a lot of different touch points where things might need to be tweaked, improved, or customized.
I would say that anyone who works in marketing, management, or strategy for a brand should absolutely spend as much time as possible out in the field working with salespeople, talking to consumers, in our case talking to bartenders and store managers, just to really understand what the trends are, what consumers are asking for, and how things happen in real time.
I've been in the Brand Director role for about ten months now, and I have the pleasure of managing two really fantastic Associate Brand Managers, so it's been a great learning experience in terms of managing other people. You really have even more and even bigger pieces to put together, so you have to be very thoughtful and very mindful about how you build your plans and stick to schedules, and push things out that are really going to work.
Bill: Right. No question. Across this journey, correct me if I'm wrong, you certainly worked on some of the larger, more established, most recognized brands in the category with Jack, with Southern Comfort, etc., but you've also had some innovation and new brand experience on the insight side and beyond. How, if at all, is life a little bit different when it comes to the established versus the new in a place like Brown-Forman?
Ana: Well, I would say that I did work for close to a year in new brand development in Consumer Insights. I worked on projects from white space ideation all the way to life after launch. I would say that the biggest difference is when you're creating a new brand, you have a lot of room to play. You're not tied to anything necessarily. Hopefully you're building a new brand or a new product based on an existing, identified consumer need or desire.
It really helps you to build your brand architecture from the ground up, and think a lot about what the actual functional benefits are, and what the actual emotional benefits are or might be, so it's a blank slate, and that's a lot of fun, because you get to be really creative in a different way than you do with a big brand or a brand that's been around for awhile.
I'd say when we innovate on our existing brands at Brown-Forman, we really want to be authentic about how we are creating products and how we're handling the process of making those products, and just make sure that everything we're doing really stems from the core brand, or the parent brand.
Bill: Right. Right. Let's go there. With Jack Daniel's, obviously working on the craft and premium parts of the market, How does the strength of the Jack Daniel's, I guess Old No. 7, but the brand as a whole, and the degree to which people feel like they know that brand inside and out, and by people, it's certainly consumers, and certainly folks in the trade, from bartenders through to store managers and anyone else who may have a role in helping the public understand what this brand stands for. Strong, well-known, well-recognized brand in core Jack and Old No. 7. How does that challenge what you're doing to drive incremental business in other parts of the category? Some of the brands that you mentioned, sub-brands that you are working on are new to the portfolio or newish. How do you balance that heritage with the need for incrementality and growth?
Ana: Well, I'll speak to some of the challenges we face first. First of all, we're in a very interesting time for the brand. The whiskey category is on fire. It's been growing for probably about five years now in a way that we've not seen in over twenty years, so it's a wonderful time to be making whiskey. It's a wonderful time to be drinking whiskey. We are actually celebrating our 150th anniversary at the Jack Daniel’s distillery this year, so there's a lot of rich history, and great stories to tell about the actual person, Jack Daniel, the actual place where the products are made.
Bill: ‘Every day we make it, we'll make it the best that we can,’ right?
Ana: We absolutely do, yes. That's great for us, and we love it, but the consumer interest right now, because the whiskey category has grown, and it's become much more saturated and much more fragmented, there's a lot of confusion. There's a lot of confusion about which brands come from real places, about which brands are made a certain way, but the consumer interest and the trade interest is in novelty and discovery. With larger, more established brands, there's a perception a lot of times that those brands are being mass-produced, or they're mainstream, or not premium enough.
Bill: Right, right. That's certainly one element. I think one of the things we uncovered together in an insights process, we were looking at bartenders. Bartenders, with a brand as established and high personality, and as outspoken as Jack has been, do you run into the marketplace typecasting the brand, as well as the customer and consumer a little bit, in a way that may create some challenge to the expression of newness?
Ana: We do. We hear sometimes from bartenders that they can tell what type of consumer might like Jack Daniel's or not like Jack Daniel's, or prefer a certain brand. I think we've benefited in some ways from being very present in pop culture, so we have a lot of connections with some wonderful musicians and actors and lifestyle groups, and sometimes people make assumptions based on what they see in pop culture. We have a lot of friends of Jack Daniel's, and it ranges from bikers to bankers. A lot of people love the flavor of the product. A lot of people love the iconic label that they are so familiar with. A lot of people really appreciate that it's one of the last American-made whiskeys or American-owned whiskeys out there, so yeah, there's a wide spectrum of folks who really like the brand.
Bill: Right. Would you mind just talking a little bit about the brand extensions that you've been working on in premium and craft, and for those in our audience who may be interested in novelty and discovery, but haven't yet gotten around to this, anything about what they can expect through these experiences compared to what they may be used to with Jack?
Ana: Absolutely. I'll speak to Gentleman Jack first, and then I'll talk a little bit about the Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Collection. Gentleman Jack was introduced in the late eighties. All the whiskey that's made at Jack Daniel’s distillery is charcoal mellowed, most of it through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal. What that does is it really helps to smooth out the flavor of the whiskey, and it's a very important step in the process, and it's something that Jack Daniel did even though it cost more and took a longer time period. We charcoal mellow all the whiskey we make, but Gentleman Jack actually goes through a second charcoal mellowing, so it's mellowed once before it goes into the barrel, and it's mellowed again before it goes into the bottle.
It's got a very light, approachable, crisp flavor profile. It's also got a little bit of a lighter color. I recommend drinking it neat on the rocks or in a Whiskey Sling, which is simple syrup, lemon, and a little bit of bitters. That is a really, very accessible whiskey. It's a great whiskey for people who are just starting to learn about whiskey or drink whiskey. It's in a beautiful package that I wish I could take credit for.
Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Collection is ... We were one of the first single barrel whiskeys out there, not the first, but it's an area that our master distiller, Jeff Arnett, takes a lot of pride in. We have had Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Select since the late nineties.
Those whiskeys come from the top shelf of the barrel house, where the barrels are exposed to more extreme temperature changes, so you can imagine sitting in the hills of Tennessee. You get some very hot summers and some very cold winters. Those barrels are the crème de la crème of the whiskey barrels, and it tends to have a darker color, and a richer, more robust flavor profile. It's 94 proof, where Gentleman Jack is 80 proof. It's ready when Jeff Arnett says it's ready, and it goes into the bottle, and you might taste a little bit of difference from one barrel to the next. It's like wine in that way, so it's fun to try different bottles from different barrels and see what different bouquets and tasting notes you can pick up.
We introduced a new product in October, called Jack Daniel's Single Barrel, Barrel Proof. The whiskey comes right out of the barrel and into the bottle at whatever proof Jeff Arnett says it's ready at. That's one that's just got a lot of range in flavor and it's a beautiful product. I highly recommend trying it if you're a little more adventurous.
Then last but not least, to round out the collection, we just launched our Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Rye in February. What's interesting about that one is that most ryes are going to be a 51% rye or a 95% rye. We're actually at 70%, so you get a nice balance in the flavor that's a little bit different than many ryes out there.
Bill: As a long-term Sinatra guy, can't wait to hear something about that.
Ana: Well, that is one of the most beautiful products in the line-up. It's a partnership with the Frank Sinatra estate. As you may or may not know, Frank Sinatra was the original friend of Jack Daniel. He always had a bottle on stage with him, he flew with it. He was actually buried with a bottle of it, so we partnered up with the Frank Sinatra estate, and created this gorgeous package and this wonderful whiskey. The whiskey in the Jack Daniel's Sinatra Select is aged in grooved barrels, which is a little bit different. Most of the barrels that we age our whiskey in are not grooved, and what that allows for is the whiskey can seep a little bit deeper into the barrel, so it picks up more of the vanilla and caramel, and some of the flavors that come from the oak.
One thing that we take a lot of pride in is that we're one of the only North American whiskey makers that owns our own cooperage, which is where we make the barrels. A lot of attention and detail goes into making sure that those are made perfectly every time and that they're charred and toasted to the master distiller's specifications every time.
Bill: Nice, and if I remember correctly, that cooperage is in the dry county of Lynchburg, Tennessee. Is that correct?
Ana: The distillery is, yes. The cooperage is actually in Alabama.
Bill: Right, but the county is dry, ironically.
Bill: Nice. We'll take a trip to prove that point. That's all cool, and it makes a lot of sense, obviously, with regard to the product descriptions that are so rich and the product experience, so diverse and wonderful. As you all have thought, and I'm not asking you to disclose anything that's proprietary here, so do what you're comfortable obviously, what is the market opportunity that you all have been identifying and seizing as the Jack Daniel's line has extended? We know there's Tennessee Honey there, we know there's some other flavors, but can you talk a bit about the brand trajectory and the ways in which you all are seeking to introduce it to those who may not be as deeply familiar?
Ana: Well, I would say that our big emphasis on Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Collection in particular is through education. There are a lot of myths about whiskey out there, about who makes it and where it comes from, and how to enjoy it and how to compare it. We really want to make sure that we have an opportunity to talk with people, whether it be at a festival or at a bar, or at a whiskey dinner that we host, and tell them a little bit about the story about Jack the man and Lynchburg the place, and then walk them through a tasting of our whiskeys, starting with the lightest flavor profile all the way to the most robust, and give them an opportunity to learn a lot about what goes into making those whiskeys that make them a little bit different from each other.
I'd say education is our number one focus for the craft and luxury products. That's very important, and I'd say that a lot of brands are really focused on experiential marketing. We really want to create wonderful experiences for people that connect them to our brand and leave them with a really positive, memorable experience.
Bill: Right. Having been friendly with you throughout much of your tenure at Brown-Forman, I've certainly heard some of the perks of the job, or as one gets accustomed to it, some of the, ‘Oh goodness, not again.’ It seems like there's a lot of night life here, there are a lot of experiences, whether it's things like the Derby that the company sponsors and are involved in. Could you speak a little bit about what it's like to represent Brown-Forman off the clock, so to speak?
Ana: Well, I'd say that we're always educating. It's so much fun to run into someone, whether it be at a bar or a restaurant, or at a retail store or at a concert, and ask them what they're drinking and why, and talk a little bit about whiskey and where our products come from and how we make them, and who makes them. You're always educating and teaching, and evangelizing for your brand, because we have a lot of passion and a lot of pride for the Jack Daniel's brand.
Bill: Right. Well, that definitely comes through. You've identified a couple of trends and spoken about just the heat and intensity around the whiskey market today. A couple of major, whether it's experiential marketing or obviously so much strength in craft and authentic experiences, etc., a couple of trends that we ought to underline and watch for in the spirits realm in terms of how brands are built, extended, and marketed at this point?
Ana: I would say that there are a few out there. I think one key trend that's a little bit more tactical in how spirits brands, not so much ours, but some others, are building brands, is to have a hyper local focus. When I say local I don't mean made locally or sourced from local ingredients, but more around a lot of focus on certain cities or certain states where they really want to invest human resources and financial resources very heavily. I think the benefit of doing that is that you really show support to a community, and it feels much more personal, and people have a chance to interact with your brand ambassadors and your salespeople and create a personal relationship with both them and your brand.
That's one trend. The other, I would say, is what I'm calling consumer up-marketing. Because of social media in particular, consumers are doing a lot to either spread the good word or the bad word about your brand in reviews and pictures, and every way. It's really important that we understand, as spirits brands, how people are interacting with our brands and what they have to say about them, and build brand activities around what consumers what and need.
Then I'd say last but not least, and this is across the marketing world, it's not just spirits brands, but the catchphrase right now is storytelling. Everybody's focused on telling stories about their brand or about people involved with the brand, and that can be a wonderful thing or a bit of a trap.
It depends on how true your stories are. But the great thing about storytelling is, a. it's a way to educate, and b. it gives people who are selling your brand or interacting with it every day, something to pass along and share. We know that a lot of times, people behind the bar, and people at retail stores, really want to share information with people and have some great sound bites about why you might want to try something or why it's great in this drink. So the more factual information you have to share with people about your brand story, the more powerful it is.
Bill: Right. My friends and colleagues will attest that stories need not be true for me to tell them, but as long as it makes somebody smile and wonder. Are those, and I know you're off the global marketing beat, but is it your sense that some of the trends that you're identifying are US based, or are they really trends that are crossing the globe in the spirits world?
Ana: I think they're probably crossing the globe. Social media's definitely a global phenomenon, and I'm not sure if storytelling is quite as far down the path in global markets as it is in the US, but I would imagine that it is, and if not, it will catch up very quickly. Then I think local focus is happening in the spirits world in global markets as well.
Bill: Right. Well, especially a brand like Jack Daniel's, that has been so associated with Americana. As you mentioned earlier, I think it probably cuts a couple of different ways when you're outside of the US in terms of there's certain markets and cultures that really crave authentic American experiences and others that may hold that a bit at arm's length, and probably most are somewhere in between. But I'm sure that's an interesting wrinkle as the brand continues to grow and diversify the portfolio as well as the overall experience.
Ana: That's true, and another interesting thing that we've noticed in conversations with our global colleagues is that some markets are much more status and image oriented. Russia and some others come to mind. Then some markets are much more focused on authenticity and a little bit more of a rustic bent. Those two are relatively diametrically opposed, so you have to be very careful about your communications and your creative.
Bill: You've had such an amazing career up to this point, and certainly continuing into the future. Are there any words of wisdom that you'd share with those who may be early on and are inspired by the path that you've taken?
Ana: Absolutely. Let's see. I'll share one that's the least exciting, but one of the most important, and that is the more work you do on the front end, in terms of communicating with the right people and planning, the less work you have to do on the back end. We try to hold ourselves, and I would recommend other people do the same, hold yourself accountable to committing to one key objective, and identify the performance indicators. How are you going to measure what you did? Too often we go into something because it sounds exciting or we have to be reactive, and we don't necessarily think about how we're going to measure the ROI on the back end, or make a decision about whether or not we're going to do it again.
I think that's a really important exercise as you embark on a new project or journey. I'd say packaging matters in every way, shape and form. Whether you're packaging information or packaging yourself for an interview, it's really important that you do the quality of the content justice by putting it in a way that looks good and makes sense, and can be easily consumed.
I would say last but not least that I would encourage people to always be curious and always challenge the status quo. Ask the question why. Too often, the business challenge or the opportunity that you are presented with is really just a symptom. Think about why and dig a little deeper to find a true insight, because you might not be treating the problem. You might just be treating the symptom.
Bill: That makes perfect sense. I know you've also been involved, in Maryland and in Kentucky and beyond, in a variety of activities related to service, a variety of different causes that are important to you as a person and as a professional. Would you mind speaking about some of the other things that occupy your time and your energy?
Ana: Sure. I serve on the board of Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland, here in Baltimore. It's been a really exciting time to be part of that organization. They do a variety of work around prevention and treatment for different issues. They started out with their primary focus being in child abuse prevention and treatment, and have branched out quite a bit to help lots of different people across the state. It's been really rewarding. I've met wonderful people who really love what they do and really care, and from a professional perspective, it's been really a good learning experience for me to apply marketing practices and knowledge to a different area.
If you've been in spirits marketing for ten years, there are a lot of things that are the same every day. There are a lot of things that change, but when you work with a non-profit group, then you're really thinking about a different target audience and a different set of tools in your marketing toolbox, so that's been a wonderful experience.
Bill: Right. When you think about the course that you've taken, it sounds like one of the things that links together the various ways you spend your time professionally as well as beyond, is you certainly have a passion for the subject matter. You really seem to be extremely curious about people and things. Are there certain itches that you're able to scratch with all the different things that you're involved in that are part of what make you the person you are? Sorry, I'm not your therapist here. Forgive me.
Ana: Can you word that one differently for me?
Bill: Yeah. I'll try. Are there common denominators with things that really motivate you, whether it be professional activities or the types of things that you choose to spend your time on in your community or in Louisville?
Ana: I would say that the things that motivate me both personally and professionally are just always learning. When you meet new people you always learn new things. When you embark on a new project, something you haven't done before, you're always going to learn something along the way. I want to be challenged and I want to be learning, and I want to be giving back in some way. Whether that's helping someone working on my team at Brown-Forman learn something new themselves, or help them through a project, or brainstorm new ideas together, that's exciting, or whether it's helping to give back to the community.
That's also very exciting, and I'd say that I really thrive on opportunities to be creative. I think that's a skill that we probably don't give enough weight to a lot of times. It's not something that you can necessarily teach. You can certainly prompt it or cultivate it, but it's something that you really have to work at for most people. The creative process is definitely something that I thrive on as well.
Bill: Right. Last question. It's personal but not too personal, and it happens to be based on ... I've just been thinking a lot about it. I had a coffee this morning and a lot of times, and I'm sure this happens with you too, Ana, that you have somebody who's early in their career and trying to get a foothold asked a question of me this morning, and I'd love your take as someone who took a path to business school. Can you speak to the MBA, and obviously you love Wake Forest, go Deacons. But, the rationale in terms of where you were in your career and just the decision to seek graduate education in business as either a catalyst to help expand your knowledge base, your skill base, as a curious person as noted, but also to progress in your career. Any reflections on the decision to seek and then obviously the outcomes on the back end of the MBA?
Ana: Sure. I think it was one of the best things I've ever done, trumped only by a semester at sea during my under-grad experience, but it was invaluable for a lot of reasons. I would say that to anyone who's considering going to get a graduate degree, especially in business, a lot of it depends on where you are in your career, where you are in your life.
I learned a lot in my courses, naturally. I'd been in the hospitality industry in food and beverage and hotel, in event planning for quite some time, and so it was not a typical corporate environment. While you're exposed to operations, and finance, and marketing, and strategy in different ways in the hospitality industry, it's not necessarily in the same structured format that you might get in a business school program.
I think from a pure knowledge perspective, that's really important. But I think that the other thing that was really valuable was learning from my classmates. Our class had, it was relatively small, but we had a lot of people that came from lots of different backgrounds and lots of different industries. That's important, and then lastly I'd say learning how to work really effectively in a team, is something that most business school programs are going to really prioritize. That helps so much in a business environment. One piece of advice that was given to me when I did start business school was decide which industry you want to go in in your function before you start.
It really helps you focus in on learning through thinking about that industry, and networking with people in that industry, and getting your internship in that industry. First of all, it will help you over those two years, if you do a full-time program, to really figure out if that is indeed what you want to do, because a lot of industries can be glamorized, and the real day to day work isn't quite as sexy as it might seem on television. But it also just really helps keep you focused and end up in a place where you will be fulfilled and successful.
Bill: Awesome. Speaking of glamor, Ana Kornegay, thank you so much for your time and insight. Brand Director at Jack Daniel's Craft and Luxury, its been a pleasure being your friend, working with you, everything else, and it is certainly a pleasure to help the business by sampling these products, often in ill-advised quantities, although I don't do as much of that as I used to. So grateful for your time. Anything that you want to close with that we should have asked but didn't, or that is important to how you see the world and career journeys?
Ana: I think we've covered most of it. I just want to say thank you so much for the opportunity to be part of the conversation today.
Bill: Our pleasure. Thank you. Thank you to Ana for her time and for her insight. An amazing perspective, not only on the category that she's in and the brands that she works on, but I think a lot of the comments that she shared with us are certainly extensible into other categories that are consumer facing globally and domestically. Storytelling really is the heart of effective brand building and brand development, never more than now. Obviously social media and the immediacy of that dialog has changed the fabric of how brands communicate. Maybe not as much how they're built, but how they communicate and how they seek to nurture the connection that they have in their market with their audience.
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