9 ways to create a killer brand

David Gluckman - the brains behind iconic drinks brands Baileys and Smirnoff Black - reveals how to turn an idea into a best-selling brand.

by David Gluckman
Last Updated: 29 May 2019

David Gluckman stumbled into the business of creating alcoholic drinks back in 1969. Working for IDV (which later became Diageo) he travelled the world and helped to create brands such as Baileys Irish Cream, Le Piat d'Or, Purdey's, Aqua Libra, Tanqueray Ten, Cîroc and Coole Swan. Each morning, he'd wake up with one question in his head: 'How am I going to turn this idea into a knock-out brand?'

Here are the branding lessons he learned from more than four decades in the drinks industry:

1. Get the green light from the big cheeses

Whenever we worked to a brief issued by executive decision-makers, we had a better chance of moving with speed. Middle marketing management were more preoccupied with the process. Ideas took longer, research was endless and cost a lot of money. People who commission ideas should have the power to green light and enable their implementation.

2. Keep it simple

We always tried to reduce briefs and problems to simple statements. The key to creating the wine brand Le Piat D’Or was that UK wine drinkers back in the 1970s wanted wines that they could remember, when going into a shop. French wines were high quality but their names were too complex for non-French speakers and their labels were too understated. The Singleton was a single malt whisky aimed not at the 3 per cent of drinkers who drank single malts back in 1984, but the 97 per cent of people who drank blended whisky.

3. Have a healthy disrespect for market research

One of our great successes, Baileys Irish Cream, wasn’t an initial hit amongst consumers - so we ignored the findings. Our feeling was that consumers ‘like what they know’ but do not always ‘know what they like’. Innovation is about getting people to try and adopt new things.

4. ... But make sure you've read it all

Your first port of call on any development programme should be the databank of previous market research you have undertaken. Companies own massive caches of research which are rarely revisited. A more pragmatic approach to research will save companies huge sums.

5. Be better and be different

Vodka is required by law to be ‘odourless, tasteless and colourless’ which is a difficult framework within which to innovate. Two vodkas were created against that backdrop: Smirnoff Black was formulated to be perceptibly smoother than any other vodka and Ciroc was the first vodka to be distilled from grapes, not grain. Tanqueray Ten was the world’s first gin distilled with fresh botanicals, delivering a fresher, cleaner-tasting gin product. They were all perceptibly differentiated from their competitors.

6. Take on the giants - but be clever about it

When competing again huge ‘mega brands’ like Coca-Cola, Bacardi or Red Bull, it's better to compete with ‘part’ of those brands than all of them. When we were asked to develop a white rum to compete with Bacardi, our conclusion was that Bacardi had almost universal appeal. Our response to the brief was to develop a white rum aimed directly at men. To achieve that aim it was higher in strength, drier in taste and sourced from a more ‘macho’ location: Australia.

7. Get the politics right

The first rule of success is to get the client to own the idea. Once an idea leaves the building, it becomes the property of someone else. And the more that person/company takes ownership (preferably the senior people), the more successful the brand will become.

8. Focus on function

Our aim, even with premium spirit brands was to deliver a functional benefit. Le Piat D’Or worked not only because it was memorable, but because the product was appropriate for UK tastes at the time, in the 70s when wine-drinking was a new experience. It was an easy-drinking red wine and its taste was the same bottle after bottle and year after year. The Singleton tasted smoother than traditional Scottish single malts, making it an easier transition for blended whisky drinkers.

9. Trust instinct and good judgement 

Aqua Libra was one of the iconic brands in the UK in the 1980 (Princess Diana even rated it as one of her two favourite all time drinks – the other was champagne). It succeeded in spite of not being researched at all, having a taste that was not for everyone and having  tiny advertising budget. If you 'know it when you see it', go for it.

David Gluckman's new book, That S*it Will Never Sell!, is published in the UK by Prideaux Press. Price: £25.00.

This article was originally published in September 2017.


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