And the winners are…

Two things came to my attention recently.

First, David van de Velde, founder of Ketel One and Van Gogh was kind enough to post a comment on the “What makes a brand successful” piece below.

Second, the trade magazines have selected the ‘hot brands’ and ‘growth brands’ of the year.

Got me thinking…

The very successful brands since the 1980’s came from entrepreneurs – Grey Goose, Ketel One, Patron, Skyy and so on. When those brands were getting started it wasn’t about bureaucracy, process or systems it was about hard work, tenacity, ingenuity and persistence. No gates, no silos…just determination to win.

Take a look at the current roster of hot and/or growth brands. Nearly all of the 14 brands identified by Beverage Dynamics as “Fast Track,” were created by an entrepreneur or a company not among the top 10 suppliers.

I guess the slogan should be “Build it and They Will Buy.”…

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Captain Morgan and modern day Caribbean battles

The Captain is a fascinating brand. When I was first introduced to it, as a marketer I thought, “a cartoon character on a liquor bottle?” I soon learned that its strong following among consumers set an industry standard for growth. In fact, between the time a million case celebration was planned and held, the brand had grown to 3 million cases.

The story behind the brand and its double-digit growth for so many years make it a wonderful case study about the industry and new products. (I’ll get into it some other time.)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, therefore, to learn that I’m closely following the “battle” over the current brand owner’s decision to move the production from Puerto Rico to the US Virgin Islands. Lots of “volleys” back and forth via press releases, lobbying, congressional involvement…in other words, quite a skirmish.

I’m not sure I get it all but as in most business issues, it’s about the money.

Without taking sides, and hopefully in a nonpartisan way, I have a few observations.

First, a friend and colleague who was instrumental in the birth and upbringing of the brand recently mentioned that in the beginning, Rums of Puerto Rico (the island’s marketing arm) wouldn’t recognize Captain Morgan as a “legitimate” Rum. It wasn’t until the brand started to grow significantly that it was able to share in the marketing support dollars. They’re now fighting to keep it in PR. Ironic isn’t it?

Second, I always thought that when you change distillery locations the product changes. That’s what the production folks in Scotland always told me. More recently, some production friends have said “no way; we can replicate any taste …

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Salesman in Winter

The booze business, at least when Seagram was alive and kicking, was about stories. Here is one of my favorites.

A salesman for one of the Seagram sales companies (or perhaps it was a distributor sales rep) called on bars in Wisconsin in the dead of winter. His main objective was to get Kessler Blended Whiskey placed. His mission, his bonus and perhaps even his job depended on sufficient sales of the brand. Not easy, since Wisconsin was (and still is) a market cluttered with whiskies and brandies.

He would park his car out front, walk into the bar, engage the owner/manager and talk about the virtues of Kessler. Invariably the bar owner would tell him that he already had enough whiskies and no room or interest in a new one.

To overcome the owner/manager resistance, his spiel was always the same. “Listen, this brand is so distinctive and stands out from other whiskies that I’ll bet you I can pick Kessler out of a line up of whatever whiskies you care to test it against. I’ll get a bottle and you can pour a shot of it and any other whiskies and I’ll always be able to pick the Kessler.”

Now baited, the owner would likely say, “What’s the bet?” The salesman’s answer would be something like “50 bucks if I can’t pick it and you buy 3 bottles if I can.” Hardly anyone turned him down.

He would go out to his car, bring in a bottle, give to the owner and turn his back. The owner would pour shot glasses for the ‘taste test’ including any number of brands plus a shot of Kessler.

The salesman would …

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