We recommend first reading part one of this two-part series, “How to Start a Liquor Brand.”
I’ve received several emails and messages from entrepreneurs with questions and suggestions. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing these new brands come to life – and in some instances, being a part of that evolution.
Recently, I have fielded a lot of questions surrounding the “now what” dilemma. I’m reminded of the famous scene from movie ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’ – AND THEN……….. So, I thought about this for a while and decided that it may be best to offer some perspective on the ‘AND THEN’……. Next steps.
It’s actually a great time to write on this topic. Here we are in 2020 and the time is ripe to set some goals and resolutions, both personally and for business. So, for those of you looking for some 2020 business goals with your new brands, here we go.
Now that you’ve taken the time and effort to successfully create a craft spirit brand, the next step is to market, market, market, and market some more. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but, creating the new brand is a lot easier than marketing and building the new brand to distributors and consumers.
Remember – this is a tiered space. You need to convince distributors (Tier 2) in each market to carry your brand so that package stores, bars, restaurants (Tier 3) can stock it for the public to enjoy. But wait…….the fun doesn’t stop there. You need to market, market, market to consumers to educate them and let them know you’re available so they can order and buy your brand. So, let me be clear – your marketing program is actually 2 programs: 1 to gain distribution and 1 to earn consumers.
To be fair, distributors will focus a fair amount of their review and analysis on how you intend to build a market for your brand. However, they will really want to drill down on the economics of how the brand fits in with their portfolio, and the potential profit they can derive from the brand in balance with their commitment to be involved. At the end of the day, you’re going to need to convince them you have a sustainable market building and activation plan, and that you can actually see this plan to fruition. Distributors do a wonderful job with new brands, for the most part, but it is YOUR JOB, as brand owner, to really captain the ship that is sailing towards consumer awareness and building a market.
So, first of all, lets discuss the components of a pitch plan to a distributor.
The first thing I recommend you do is prepare a succinct brand presentation deck. This should be approximately 10 pages of so. There is no rule here, other than don’t make it too long. Distributors receive lots of pitches for consideration so keep that in mind. Make sure that with each page you prepare you’re offering valuable insight and knowledge to the conversation. The goal here is to introduce them to your brand, tell them what is unique about your brand, how your brand satisfies something that is lacking in the marketplace, and provide an insight into your plans to raise brand awareness (bullet points of your actual comprehensive marketing plan).
The next step is to decide on how to get this presentation in front of the right person. Each distribution house has their own standard protocol for considering new brands. Take the time to research their websites for these details. I also recommend being active on LinkedIn. You can reach out to me via LinkedIn if you’d like.
Be prepared to send a sample to the distributor as well. If you choose to email your presentation deck ahead of time, simply ask for a street address and contact so you can forward a sample for their team to experience and see for themselves the brand you’ve worked hard on for the past several months. I would recommend you take a little extra time here and prepare a sample and “kit” with a nice presentation to it. You really want to make a solid first impression here. These guys are making a decision that impacts the market’s ability to enjoy your hard work!
At this point, we’re awaiting a reply and following up accordingly to try and get a face-to-face meeting. This is the goal and objective of the presentation and sample kit – to get that meeting.
So, what can you expect at a meeting? You will be given the opportunity to present your brand in more detail and perhaps enjoy some tasting, if not already done. This is your time to really shine and let your personality and passion be on full display. If you are a resident of the market you are presenting to, be sure to highlight that you plan to be very involved in building the market. It’s my opinion that anything less than a brand owner who is not willing to step-up 101% is not a good feature to leave with the distributors.
You will also discuss pricing. KNOW YOUR NUMBERS. It’s important to know your costs and prices at all levels. Take the time to understand the state excise tax implications to your FOB prices – or perhaps your delivered prices.
Here’s a bit of magic…….. Ahead of this meeting, take the time to actually walk to several key accounts in the market and intro your brand to them directly. That’s right. I’m saying get out there and start drumming up interest in your brand with the customers of the distributor. Do what you can to get commitments from them to carry or stock your brand, in writing if possible. If you have those that you can present at the distributor meeting, all I can say is WOW, THAT’S CLOUT. It’s actual business on the table for the distributor to know 2 things: a) your product will sell, and b) you are actively taking control of your brand’s destiny in the marketplace. This is a GREAT dynamic to have at the distributor meeting. It makes another aspect of the discussion a lot easier and validated – your marketing plan.
As I eluded to earlier, the marketing plan is basically your plan on how to let the public and consumers know about your existence. Education and awareness are two key features
Your marketing plan should cover a few key components. First of all, it should clearly articulate your brand and brand attributes. Tell me about your brand. Once you know what you stand for and your brand personality you can then shift gears into identifying your target market and core influencers within that market. This is fun because you get to personify them and bring them to life as part of your study to understand them. This is crucial because understanding your market paves the way with how you need to communicate and dialog with them.
Let’s be clear, social media is the modern-day word-of-mouth and WOM is great because it’s awareness and credibility. I strongly recommend a well thought out social media strategy as part of your broader marketing plan.
One thing I want to highlight here is that each social media platform is different. By that I mean each platform serves a different purpose in the end user’s life. Your market will use Instagram differently than Twitter, Facebook differently than LinkedIn, etc. It is also to understand the role of YouTube and Vimeo in their social media interactions. The main point here is to tailor your content specifically for how your audience is using and engaging with each platform. I do not recommend just putting the same content on all platforms. I really believe that just gives your target market a solid reason to NOT follow all your social media channels.
Regardless of how you decide to proceed, I also think it is important to view content and more than just a ‘post’ or ‘content’. Content Content Content……. Content is NOT King alone. Content nowadays needs to do something. It needs to cause an action…. Swipe up…..Click here……Learn More…..BUY NOW (where available)…… etc. Keep this in mind when developing your content production guidelines – create engaging content.
One final note on marketing that I want to share is the importance of activations. Social media is key to your marketing plan for sure, however activating the brand in each market needs to be well thought out. I strongly recommend you consider an activation plan that is heavy on experiences. Examples would be tastings or signature pop-up events where you can immerse the consumer into your brand – not just your product. These are the types of activations that I believe build the long term sustainable value proposition that serve both you and the distributor well looking forward.
Best of luck with your next phase of brand development and CHEERS!!!
Charles Vaughn is the Founder of LeSin Vodka and President of 40-80 Spirits Group, a premium distilled spirits consulting firm committed to emerging brands. Charles has 22 years of experience in creating and developing brands domestically and abroad. With a background in accounting and tax, Charles is ideally suited to handle the myriad issues concerning cost accounting, brand development, legal structuring, finance, tax, and project management. Charles has personally work with and developed approximately 50 brands in the United States since 1998.