A craft spirits marketing expert and her distiller client, a former pastor in Kansas City, let us follow their footsteps through a brand update.
Question for you: How do you take spirits marketing from cringe-worthy to celebration? Two words: road trip. When you go on a road trip, planning your route is the only reliable way to end up somewhere great. In this piece, we’re going to share the secrets of an effective marketing roadmap, and share the real-life road trip of Lifted Spirits with CEO Michael Stuckey and how he boosted his Kansas City-based brand.
But first, before we go anywhere, let’s define three key marketing concepts: terminology, planning, and budgeting.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the different areas of marketing and what they mean in basic terms:
- Market Research his is all about understanding your consumers and making data driven decisions based on what they have to say.
- Branding Giving your brand an identity, name, story, look, feel, and voice. Taking it from an object to an emotional experience.
- Advertising & Promotions All things paid marketing, including traditional and digital.
- Social Media The fun of creating valuable content and genuinely engaging with your audience. This can also be referred to as “organic” marketing since it’s not “paid.”
- Public Relations Getting others to talk about you without paying them for it directly. This can also be referred to as “earned” marketing.
- Consumer Experience Anything related to consumer touchpoints with your brand to drive loyalty since it costs more to get a new consumer than to keep a good one.
- Creative/Design Bringing ideas to life in visual, appealing, and consistent ways.
- Marketing Technology All things tech related to marketing: web functionality, CRM systems, plug-ins, apps, etc.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” said the Roman philosopher Seneca. It’s easy to look at others’ success and think they just got lucky, but their “luck” often tends to be more about planning and being able to make good decisions fast. The same is true when it comes to marketing.
The first planning step is to set specific marketing goals (aligned with your business goals) on at least a yearly basis while revisiting them monthly or quarterly. An example of a specific marketing goal is “upgrade our logo and brand packaging and merchandising kit and social media and ads and events to land 4 new distributors in 2 adjacent states to generate 40% growth within 12 months.”
Once you have your goals set, next is your marketing strategy. The marketing strategy is how you’ll achieve your marketing goals. Using the example above, your strategy would be to assign resources to update your logo and packaging and merchandising kits and events. From strategy, you get down to brass tacks with marketing tactics (like your exact social media content, ads, and event types and locations) to bring it all to life.
Did you just panic because you’re creating social media content on the fly? Or because the only time you’re thinking a month ahead is when it’s Thanksgiving and you’re starting to think about Christmas? It’s normal as a small business to have shorter calendars or even no calendar at first, but now that you know this is not the best approach to achieve real results with your marketing it’s time to spend a little time thinking about your marketing so you can plan for success. Failure to plan is planning to fail.
As a business owner, you probably feel like all you ever do is think about budgets. But your marketing budget must be adequate to support your goals, strategy and tactics. While there are tons of ways to accomplish free marketing, and do it effectively, we all know you have to spend money to make money.
Your budget is proportional to the impact you want your marketing goals to have on your top line. If your goal is to grow from 500 cases to 5,000 cases by adding 4 distributors in 2 adjacent states, you will need an itemized budget to support each of the marketing tactics you established in your plan. Do you have room in your budget to experiment a bit and try something new, or can you only afford to spend money on something familiar and guaranteed right now? Is there someone on your team who is smart about marketing or do you need to find some marketing education or hire someone to help? Do your customers know about your products and categories or do they need some level of education before they will be interested in trying what you have to offer?
The Importance of Brand Identity with Lifted Spirits’ Michael Stuckey
Michael Stuckey started Lifted Spirits as a hobby. (Find them at www.LiftedSpiritsKC.com) Today, their Kansas City facility, originally a stable for the Smith Brothers Steam Bakery, produces a full line of superior spirits that are distributed widely, with a robust tasting room on-site, a tour business, and event space in the second floor hayloft.
We sat down with Michael to talk about one of the key elements of bringing his vision to life. You may be surprised to hear, it’s all about branding. So much so that Lifted Spirits has invested time, money, and energy into not only doing their deep brand work up front, but a second time as soon as it became apparent they were getting off track in an unintended manner. As a small business it often feels impossible to invest meaningfully in marketing efforts that can’t be directly tied to cases, but this founder, owner, and distiller is here to tell you that continually investing in your brand identity work is one of the most important things you can do.
How did this all get started?
As an ex-pastor my love of spirits came out of love for people, which was inherently why I studied theology and why I worked with people. As I started to study and learn about distilling it started to become clear that I knew how to follow a recipe. I knew how to distill. But, I didn’t know why a recipe was a recipe, so I started by picking 50 different botanicals and distilling them using different methods primarily going from maceration to vapor extraction on the gins one botanical at a time.
Brand identity amid cash constraints
I think it’s super important for any company to do, like straight up DO your brand work and figure out who you are, what needs you’re filling, who your consumer is, and what problems you’re solving. Doing your brand work is the base you generate demand from with all of your marketing. This brand identity is all about who you are, which guides which kind of products you make, it guides decisions, quality control, ad research and development, and how you talk to your end consumer. You can have a great product, but if you can’t communicate that product quality to someone and you can’t get their attention then it doesn’t really matter if you have the best gin in the world. There’s a lot of great craft alcohol suffering that fate out there right now.
I know a lot of distillers are great learners, because it’s not like a lot of us have gone to school for distilling. We picked it up by learning how to do it, and so basic branding…I think we can learn that too. There are good exercises and resources to help you in the beginning. From there though, it never beats having someone who has experience. So, finding someone to help is important, but it doesn’t have to be super pricey. It’s about finding the right person to ask the right questions. If you want it done really well, and you do, it will cost money. Hiring someone with experience here helped us examine this objectively instead of just being emotional and passionate about what we do and our products.
Why did he rebrand after only 3 years?
Essentially there were two reasons for our rebranding: too much focus on my story as a founder, which was taking the focus away from our experimentation culture and a desire to communicate better with our consumers.
For the first piece, we weren’t sticking to the whole picture of our brand identity and just started talking about the sensational piece of it…you know, an ex-pastor makes booze. Yes, I used to be a pastor, but our brand got too focused on that. Lifted Spirits is really a group of people, not just a founder, who love spirits, are passionate about spirits, are experimenters and tinkerers, and have a lot of amazement with this idea that anything’s possible. We weren’t allowing the soul of our company to come through. Which didn’t fit the way we were talking about it, so we needed to do the work to shift the way we were talking about it!
For the second piece we noticed product quality wasn’t a problem, pricing wasn’t a problem, but communicating was a problem. We noticed we weren’t communicating who we were well unless it was one-on-one. So we knew we needed help communicating more broadly and visually.
Old logo, new logo, new bottle and label shape and colors, and video sidebars
We revamped our logo, updated our website, and so much more. We shifted our focus on social media so instead of talking about our histories of where we started or even where we landed with our ingredients we now talk about more of a revolution and where we were really pushing boundaries. We also started engaging more in the community and socially, hitting some hard topics:
- New Product Barrel Reserve #2 Gin, rested in Whiskey barrels and 12 year old Nicaraguan Rum barrels
- Campaign Idea Since this gin is a meld and it bridges the gap between whiskey and gin drinkers, we accompanied it with a campaign focused on bridging gaps.
- Campaign Execution We shared one video per week highlighting someone in Kansas City who was bridging gaps in our community.
- Tie-In To Brand Identity We now try to take what we’re doing and engage people with it, which really ties into who we are. We want to lift people’s spirits which means we want to engage in social change. So while we’ve always been active in supporting nonprofits, being active with a more forward stance was a big change for us.
We didn’t just change the way we talked about things though, we actually changed our bottle and label, because part of the drive behind this rebranding was to get more bottles to move off shelves!
We noticed when we were present and doing tastings, product was really flying off shelves. But if a consumer was interacting in retail by themselves the product wasn’t moving. So, after we were done with the rebranding for our identity we redesigned our label to showcase our new identity of being a little quirky, experimental, and ingredient-driven. This is where having help, to translate your brand identity into design elements, is really important.
We started seeing an effect from it pretty quickly, and it has continued to grow over time. It’s not like we rebranded and all of a sudden sales tripled. It doesn’t work that way. A marketer can’t guarantee sales because they don’t have control over sales. There’s one person who has control over sales and that’s the person doing the sales, but they need something to talk about! They can’t just talk about product quality because there’s a lot of quality product out there, that’s why doing this work and continually refreshing it is so important.
In terms of results, revenue is up and wholesale is up. Being able to communicate with people in an effective way helps sell your product! We also have better engagement on social media and better engagement with people one-on-one. Particularly people who have been with us since the beginning, although we’ve been attracting new fans as well. People who have invested in the experimentation part of our story are always looking for those new things we’re doing, which ties them to the story. It creates ambassadors for our brand and creates a pretty loyal following. If we didn’t know who we are, if we were just making good gin, we wouldn’t have that same kind of engagement.
— Suzanne Henricksen is the founder of The Crafty Cask, a media and consulting company that works solely with craft alcohol producers to refine/tell their story and improve their marketing efforts to grow brands and categories. She has a background in consumer marketing and a passion for craft alcohol education and exploration. She can be reached at www.TheCraftyCask.com.