Moonshiners and Marketing.
I never would have thought the Discovery show Moonshiners would contribute a chapter to my blog especially in regards to branding and marketing but never say never!
The Discovery channel has been airing the show Moonshiners for a number of seasons now. It is a show that chronicles the outlaw distilling of spirits in the backwoods in places like WV and KY. I tune in on occasion though it’s more a favorite show of my partner.
In a recent episode, one of the main characters who decided to go legit a few seasons ago (Tim) is called in to rescue a moonshine distillery in Missouri (owned by) that wasn’t doing well. In his quest to go bigger, he lost sight of where he came from and his original reasons for starting the business focusing more on the technology and the how rather than building from his why.
I don’t know if the intention was to break it down the way they did though I imagine they don’t do things by accident. I was listening while cooking and when they said something specific related to branding or marketing I would get excited, yelling across the kitchen to my partner in the other room. If you’ve ever watched Bar Rescue then you definitely understand the premise.
1. It’s About Relationships
The one thing you don’t want to be the best kept secret. Tim had Mr. Pope go out and interact with the people in town. He quickly realized not many of them knew who he was. If your customers don’t know you exist, how are you going to get your products in their hands?
I also loved how they did it. Pope and his wife went out in the town with a jar of wooden nickels with the company name and address on one side and ‘Free Tasting’ on the other. They went into town, asking people if they knew about the distillery. Each person they spoke with was given a couple of nickels, each good for a free tasting.
2. Visuals Should be Consistent, Clear and Easy to Read
When Tim first arrived at the distillery, the tasting room and bar were cluttered which distracted from the overall vibe of the place. There were so many bottles that weren’t even Pope’s product. In addition, the labels on his own product were crowded, small and could not be read from a seat at the bar. When Tim sat at the bar, he was unable to see what he was ordering and had to ask about every moonshine product. Even the sign on the outside of the building was easy to miss and just drive on past it.
The biggest change was to the labels of the product. The new labels gave a nod to the original graphics but were done in one solid color on white labels. The name of the product could now be read from a seat at the bar and, with the cleaned up bar area and lighted display, the distiller’s product was front and center.
3. Highlight What Makes You Different
In a world where we can research and compare everything it’s important to highlight what sets you apart from your competition. In Pope’s case, he uses a very large version of a canted still, meaning the pipe is at a 45 degree angle to the still itself. This isn’t common. In fact based on what he said, he is the only distiller in the WORLD to use a canted still. Most distillers use the method shown below where the pipes run horizontally. Pope experimented while out in the backwoods and discovered eliminating the middle piece created a smoother product. You never would have known that visiting his distillery (or, as of this post, his website).
When Tim reworks and cleans up the main tasting room, he has Mr. Pope include the original still tin the tasting room to show the history and authenticity of his origins. This is a great lead into the next thing we need to remember which is…
4. Don’t Forget Your Story
For most brands and businesses, it is the story piece that creates connects with your customers. This is certainly true for alcohol branding. The Michelob Ultra targeted crowd is pretty different from the Bud Light targeted crowd. In an effort to both figure out and remind Pope why he started his distillery, Tim sets up the original still in the backwoods and has a heart-to-heart with Pope.
Pope started out like most moonshiners do – out in the backwoods, on the sly. He is a 3rd generation moonshiner, going back to his grandfather. It wasn’t about science or making money – it was about relationships, having fun and making a great product. This is the piece of the story, along with the canted still, that shows where his story started and provides history, authenticity and depth. It was also a strong touch point for the owner of the distillery. He reconnected with the roots of where he came, deepening his own connection to his story and seeing how far he’d come.
5. Nobody Wants a Bad Product
Pope had invested a lot of money in his business (the canted still alone was $250,000!) but was getting very little return in part because of our first item: nobody knew who he was. But he was also using less than stellar ingredients trying to cut back on the time to distill, rushing the process. Rather than using actual corn, he was importing a pre-processed sugar corn powder from out-of-state. The result? A final product that showed it: the moonshine had a flat, indistinct flavor.
Tim brought in local-area corn and even got them to go less tech on distillery process by cutting open one of their closed-distillers, letting in air and wild yeast, which resulted in a much more authentic, flavorful sip of moonshine.
And there you have it – lessons from the backwoods! When in struggle, whether in business or life, sometimes the best thing to do is go back to the basics.
Credit where it’s due:
Header Photo | by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash
Show Referenced | Moonshiners: Whiskey Business episode on Discovery
Body Images | Are screenshots from the Moonshiners episode
All content is mine and does not represent Discovery’s viewpoint