Whether you partake in the beverage or not, any business person has to admire bourbon’s recent track record. Fortune magazine referred to the phenomena as the “Billion Dollar Bourbon Boom” explaining that 2013 sales reached $8 billion. In 2014, sales grew more than 7 percent, capping off a wave of nearly 50% growth over the past six years. Experts are even wondering if the industry is going to run out of bourbon. 2015 reports indicated that, “Kentucky Bourbon production hit a 48-year peak of 1.9 million barrels in 2015, up 315 percent since 1999.”
Bourbon’s recent renaissance has been fueled by everything from television shows like Mad Men (Joan Harris pictured below) to politics.
Just after the November 2014 United States Senatorial Election, this quote about President Obama and Senator McConnell appeared…
One day after his party lost control of the U.S. Senate, Obama told reporters he would like to share some Kentucky bourbon with McConnell. The invitation was quickly dubbed the bourbon summit and has received lots of attention as the two leaders prepare to either work with or against each other for the final two years of Obama’s presidency. – ABC News
Mila Kunis became the face of Jim Beam in ads (above and below).
There are many things we can learn from the power of the bourbon brand. Here are 4 essentials or observations that I think you might find useful as you work to unleash the power of your personal or organizational brand.
Bourbon is a fairly simple product. I’m not saying it’s simplistic – just that it has few ingredients – corn, wheat, water, rye and/or malted barley pretty much round out the list. There’s a lot of value in keeping things simple. Of course there are plenty of bourbon producers all with variations on the standard process. However, at it’s essence, the base product is arguably fairly straight-forward.
Compare that to your company’s offerings…
- Do you create a straight forward product that people can understand?
- Are your customers confused with what they are actually buying?
- Do you make it easy for customers to do business with you?
- Are your services clear?
- Do you have too many SKUs, confusing names, or conflicting messages?
There is something special that happens in that barrel. It’s a bit of a mystery. You can walk through a bourbon distillery and watch the bulk of the process, but you never see what really happens in the barrel. It takes time and happens behind the scenes. The same should be true for your company and your products/services. Great brands have a bit of mystery – “What is Apple going to produce next?” “What happens behind the scenes at Disney?”
- Is there a bit of mystery around the magic your company performs?
- Do customers look at what you do and say, “heck, we could do that”?
- Is there something special you bring to the table that makes your expertise, process, capability something special?
One thing that bourbon is benefiting from is terrific visibility in the market. Right now, bourbon is everywhere. Have you ever watched an episode of Mad Men? Don Draper’s favorite concoction is an Old Fashioned – main ingredient: bourbon. As previously mentioned, President Obama is considering a Bourbon Summit. It was recently lampooned on Saturday Night Live. Even Johnny Depp and Jennifer Lawerence, both native Kentuckians, are know to enjoy an occasional bourbon.
- What about your products – have they found their way into the right hands?
- Are notable people using your service; not just because you are paying them to do it? They don’t have to be celebrities – just influencers who can help you get visibility.
Bourbon is not easily replaced or replicated. It can only be produced in the United States – that takes the vast majority of the world out of the mix. Many contend that the best is produced in Kentucky. Plus, the process doesn’t allow for people to quickly play catch-up. If something new hits the market, you can’t replicate it overnight. Bourbon ages in a barrel for years and does best in climates with hot summers and cool winters. True, there are many producers of bourbon, but entering the market is no easy task.
- What about your team or organization?
- Are you easily replaced?
- Can someone enter the market, undercut your pricing, and start gobbling up your business?
These are just a few quick thoughts on bourbon. Again, you don’t have to partake in the beverage to benefit from its wisdom. If you do enjoy bourbon, here are a few items you might find of interest that are springing up as part of the bourbon cottage industry:
But as always, Think Responsibly!
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Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.