New Establishment Brand: Amanda Horn breaks through

How this year's winner prepped alcohol brands for pandemic pivots by trusting her gut and trying some virtual experiments.

Amanda Horn 2020 New Establishment

You’re reading the first of two profiles of this year’s New Establishment Brand winners, recognizing the up-and-comers bringing fresh thinking and new ideas to Canada’s marketing departments. Check back tomorrow the read about our second winner.

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of strategy.

Amanda Horn has an eye for design, a mind for politics, the feet for dancing and a voice for communications. The entrepreneur and brand marketer has worked in all four fields. She also briefly flirted with the tech world.

It seems each step of her 10-year career has been kismet.

If it weren’t for her love of ballet, she probably wouldn’t have left Parliament Hill as a Page to take a marketing post at the National Ballet of Canada in 2014. If it weren’t for her language studies, she may have not been plucked from Ford by a head-hunter to work as a bilingual marketer for global distributor Treasury Wine Estates in 2016.

And if it weren’t for her time at Calgary’s digital subscription box co. The Wine Collective in 2017, she may have not had the knowledge to test and roll out successful virtual events right before the worldwide online pivot.

In 2019, while managing a portfolio of whiskey brands for PMA (an association that helps international alcohol co.’s market, sell and distribute their liquids in Canada), Horn created a “whole new business arm, essentially.”

Months before brands in every category fathomable began hosting events online as a result of stay-at-home orders, Horn and her team were experimenting with “Masterclasses” via Instagram Live. They called it “The Whiskey Explorer” IG series, hosted by brand ambassador Mike Brisebois, who would taste and talk about different malts, online and in real-time, every two weeks.

Once the virtual tasting series was proven a success – with up to 100 people consistently signing up to watch – her team decided to link the digital series to the retail channel and create a sales funnel. They designed shelf-toppers that contained a QR code that shoppers could use to sign up for the workshop or book a one-on-one chat with Brisebois. Consumers were also asked whiskey-related questions via a website, with the brand ambassador then sharing a list of his recos from a selection of whiskeys based on users’ answers.

Ideas like the virtual tastings were met with a little resistance from some brands at first, admits Horn. “I was a bit of a rogue when it came to that. But then it took COVID for [the industry] to realize, ‘Wow, we need to invest in digital marketing.’ It’s been a slow transition but it’s great that they’re starting to see the value.”

The marketer also built a digital-first strategy for South African liqueur brand Amarula when it relaunched in Canada and entered Quebec for the first time. Working with content creators at the Food Bloggers of Canada, as well as Notable, Horn was able to tell the story of Amarula, its history, ingredients and what makes it unique from other liqueurs like Baileys across digital and social. The influencer program was even being considered for adaptation in other global markets – that was until South Africa’s export business was hit by the pandemic and budgets were shelved, she says.

Horn believes her experience at the aforementioned wine delivery startup gave her the tools and knowledge to spearhead digital and data-led projects like these. And as she moves into a new role at Breakthru Beverages (similar to PMA in that it represents global alcohol brands in Canada), having joined as a national portfolio manager in December 2020, Horn will help build its first-ever brand marketing department with a focus on innovation.

Ever since she began working in alcohol, the marketer has been designing an app in her head. She describes it as “Tinder for wine” where drinkers can swipe for the best food and drink pairings. Perhaps her new role at Breakthru will open the right doors for those types of ideas to come to life. “The industry tends to think of innovation as simply adding new flavours. So it’s really exciting to see a company look at innovation in different ways – whether that’s creating new proprietary apps or technology in-house, which is something I will hopefully be involved in.”