WSWA Access Craft Advisory Council members and craft brand development experts Justin Shaw of M.S. Walker and Monique Houston of Winebow, discuss what wine and spirits brands need to do to engage with consumers, build a meaningful brand and tap into new markets. They are joined by Jack Peterson of Sandstrom Partners, a leading brand creator and revitalizer for spirits brands such as Bulleit Bourbon, Aviation Gin, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Montana Whiskey Company, Tequila Mi Campo, and Betty Buzz, to name a few. Recorded on June 27, 2023.
Define Your Brand Story with Your Package – “Context is everything,” said Jack Peterson of Sandstrom Partners. “Defining a very specific brand story and then conveying that with the package [is important]. And when you think of a package, you can’t think about it as just a label, you have to think of it as a whole...People are visual first and we scan the shelf, and we look for those stories that connect with us.” Peterson recommends that craft brands look to use every visual cue at their disposal to connect with consumers – from the shape of the bottle to any embossing or enclosures and only then creating a label that conveys a brand story with words. Panelists discussed Bulliet Bourbon’s crookedly placed label as an example of a brand that focused on visual impact to tell their story of humble beginnings in a way that scaled to its current production level. They also pointed out that when it entered the marketplace “Handmade” was the largest word on Tito’s label. Visual Impact is key.
Don’t Just Chase the Largest Markets – “Yes there is volumetric opportunity,” said Access Craft Wholesaler Advisor Justin Shaw of M.S. Walker, “but it could be a huge and costly misstep that costs a lot of time and money.” Instead, he advises identifying market opportunities through a brand’s sphere of influence – anything from adjacent markets geographic to a hometown, relevant markets through a dominant flavor profile, or a new market that simply operates similarly whether through similar retail chains that operates there or maybe a brand’s color palette that coincidentally mimics a sports team.
Success Takes Time – Bulliet Bourbon was created to compete with Jack Daniels 30 years from when it entered the marketplace and Tito’s might seem to have appeared overnight but took two decades to become a household name.
Understand the Current On-Premise Marketplace – Panelists drove home that the on-premise of pre-COVID doesn’t exist today. “[Bars and restaurants are] really overwhelmed,” said Wholesaler Advisor Monique Huston of Winebow. “We still see plenty of restaurants that haven't reopened for lunch or aren't open Monday through Wednesday…you can't just show up on a busy Friday night and expect that somebody can taste your product…that is such a turn off right away to not understand the space that they are in the timeframe that they are working in. How busy they are. [You need to] develop good ways to have a fluid conversation, have an actual formal appointment, and [understand] what they want to be shown – not 50 things, 3 things [you] paid attention to [the] menu, and [that] make sense. Just showing some compassion and some empathy for the position that they are in.” Panelists also discussed that bartenders, servers, and managers have seen major turnover in the past 3-years.
The U.S. Market Is 50 Different Markets – When asked about any advice for international brands hoping to break into the U.S. marketplace panelists all agreed – treat the U.S. marketplace like 50 different marketplaces. Every state has different tax rates, different tiers so its not going to be one size fits all.
Define Success Early – Our panelists agree, brands often don’t define clear benchmarks of success early on. If the goal is world domination, there are a lot of steps to get there and its important to define them early and clearly for your teams. Huston suggests starting with one key question “How do you define if you’ve been successful in a year from now? Is it conquering a single market? Is it being found in the top 5 bars? Or is it that you want to sell a thousand cases and keep your doors open?” Being able to define success helps you to find the right partners and build the right team.
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