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Top 10 ways to build a drinks brand

The drinks industry is becoming increasingly crowded – a quick glance behind the bar in your local pub will tell you that, writes Gary Westlake.

Every brand is trying to shout something different – we’re older/newer/purer/more traditional/quirkier than our competitors. Drinks brands that hold people’s interest are the ones targeting knowledgeable, discerning consumers and listening to what they want.

The nirvana of booze branding is to create a product that will stand out from the crowd and one that consumers not only believe in but willingly want to be associated with. We’ve been working with drinks brands for almost 20 years, so read on for my top 10 ways to create a successful drinks brand.

Gary Westlake is founder and creative director at Purple Creative

10: Find your voice

Project your brand personality in every way you can – it’s just as important to get your tone of voice as well as your look right. A lot of the most successful drinks brands have their own unique voice: Hendrick’s Gin is peculiar and unusual; Johnnie Walker whisky consistently exudes confidence. These tonal cues are memorable and ownable, making them a powerful asset in creating an inimitable brand.

9: Be visually consistent

Try to make your brand instantly recognisable at every touch point, from behind a bar or in someone’s hand, to on a supermarket shelf. If you’re a global brand, make sure that every market has the tools it needs to do this.  Only by doing this can you ensure your global site, local market site and Global Travel Retail shelf wobblers shout a consistent brand image and message.

8: Nail your Packaging

No matter what the brand may be, we’ll always see the packaging before we taste the product. As we buy with out eyes, make sure your packaging doesn’t just hold your product, but presents it in its best possible light – it needs to evoke the spirit of the brand in its shape, materials and design cues.

If it gets as far as a consumer’s hand, bottles, cartons, boxes and cans all need to feel as good as they look. From a design perspective, it is often the packaging that influences and inspires the brand communications, so make sure it tells the right story.

7: Let your logo become shorthand for your brand

Some of the world’s most successful drinks brands have leveraged their motifs to powerfully and emotionally resonate with consumers. These are more than just design cues; they personify the brand and represent their greatest strengths.

Some examples include:

• Courvoisier’s silhouetted Napoleon representing revolutionary spirit

• Rémy Martin’s centaur representing the mysterious union of nature and man

• Glenfiddich’s stag representing the Valley of the Deer location

• Bacardi’s bat representing the night

• Grant’s tree representing five generations of family and craft

6: Make sure your product lives up to your brand

You can have the best brand story ever, but unless people like what they are drinking, it won’t be drunk. The Kraken Rum is an interesting example of this. A dark, spiced Caribbean rum, it instantly made an impact on the UK market with its retro naval bottle and stories of sea monsters lurking in the deep.

It didn’t position itself as a party rum like so many others, or a lifestyle brand, but was ruthlessly consistent with its unique look and feel. It told a different, but epic and great, story. Fortunately, it didn’t disappoint drinkers in the taste stakes either.

5: Know your audience

Research your customers exhaustively. What drives them? What do they do? Where do they work? Where do they go out for fun? Only once you know all of this can your brand live where your audience does, becoming part of their lives. Research will lead to a core consumer insight; the single phrase that all brand communications should be built on.

Monkey Shoulder has done this really well with its “For One Night Only” events (above), creating imaginative, engaging and experiential evenings for its fun-loving triple malt drinkers. After extensive research, the brand identified that its core consumers were playful, irreverent and idiosyncratic individuals. Thus, adventurous one-off nights that tap into guests’ creative spirit and sense of individuality were born.

4: Choose the right name

This sounds incredibly obvious, but make sure people can pronounce the name of your brand, and that it doesn’t mean anything rude in other languages (especially not penis in Arabic, as one of our client’s products did). Also, a brand needs to be able to be happily shouted across a crowded bar.

The name should be part of the brand story, and ideally something ownable, unique, memorable and challenging. If it fits all of these criteria and is said enough times, by enough willing people, it will become a recognisable name.

3: Get your story straight 

Today’s consumers want authenticity and to be part of a story that they believe in that makes a memorable and emotional connection with them. We all prefer our musicians with a back-story rather than a manufactured band, and it’s the same with our drinks.

Look at the surge in craft beer in the UK – a phenomenon that started in the US. Consumers had a passion for taste and thus began to reject established “bland” brands built on marketing budgets. These in turn were replaced by brands that were born, not built; brands with real stories, full of depth, flavour and passion.

Be brave

Never underestimate the importance of gusto and vision – they are vital components in creating a truly great brand. We’ve worked with some very experienced people over the years and it’s the brave ones that have the highest rate of success. If you are the brand owner, get yourself a creative agency full of people who want to create amazing things, not people that need to hit targets for their bosses.

Build a brand world that people want to live in

This is the big one. Everything you do and say, everywhere you appear, anything you endorse or sponsor, anyone that you get to talk about your brand, needs to be rooted in your brand world. Only by doing this will you be able to clearly project what you are and what you stand for. And in turn, if you’ve done your research, and got your brand story right, you’ll resonate with your consumers on a deep level, becoming not just their drink of choice, but part of their life.

Bombay Sapphire is a great example of this. With its ‘Infused with Imagination’ strapline and brand essence, it appeals to creative types. Over the years, the brand has deliberately associated itself with filmmakers, designers, writers and (most importantly) bartenders. The pale blue bottle naturally tied back to the product packaging, the recipe is an imaginative combination of botanicals, and the strong brand colour powerfully cuts through the gin category, helping them own it (colour is said to contribute to a brand’s recognition by up to 80%).

Bombay Sapphire has been ruthlessly consistent about its marketing message across all channels, which has combined to create a brand world that its audience is excited and keen to adopt.

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