gin and football – a tale of two brand experiences

Gin and football. Not necessarily two things you would put together. Nonetheless I found myself experiencing them in a very different way this Bank Holiday weekend.

Gin has had a massive resurgence in recent years. Long-lamented for being ‘mother’s ruin’, the rise in all things artisan and some audacious flavour combinations has seen the gin category rise some +20% while vodka and whiskey flat line. The small, craft distillery has taken on the corporate giants and is hurting them: a 167% rise in artisan gin versus +30% in mass-produced. We’re interested in trying new things. Craft beer led the way tempting us from the staples into something that actually tasted different. Gin offers a blank canvas for distillers. Once you get the basic combination, it’s down to your own imagination and perseverance to make something stand out. Which is exactly what Warner’s do.

We stumbled across Warner’s a year or so ago. I’m pretty sure it was in the Oak’s in Highcliffe when we had a rhubarb gin which the waiter recommended. Since them it’s become a staple. We’ve sent birthday gifts from them, bought in bulk when lockdown happened – and it’s been needed to survive home-schooling – and received gifts from them. Being a somewhat cynical marketing type, you kind of take the marketing guff with a pinch of sat. “Made on the farm”… is it really? Well, you bet it is.

My wife received a wonderful present from some friends. A live gin tasting. The pack arrived with many miniatures and mixers, a request to get glasses and ice and a time to turn on the zoom. Which we almost forgot.

Peering through what seemed a Vaseline-smeared screen, we saw two people in what looked a field. Rain pouring down, the screen in and out of connection. The sound largely out. And then it held out long enough to hear Tom and Tina Warner unleash their personal passion for saving the world from mediocre gin. A passion that started on their farm in 2012 and clearly has not gone away.

We saw the fields, the botanical gardens, the distillers, the dogs, the people, the rain, the bees, the bar, a cocktail being made in the great British bank holiday rain that none of us watching had a clue what was going into it because the rain was so loud we couldn’t hear but wanted to give it a go nonetheless.

But what we saw – even if you couldn’t hear a lot through the rain – was passion. Pure, unbridled passion. I have no doubt that they’re a successful commercial organisation if our contributions to their turnover are anything to go by but it’s so much more than a commercial operation. It’s a passion, a drive and energy. A passion that created the first-ever rhubarb gin and made a big dent in the corporate giants and big waves in the gin market. It’s passion that have seen them experiment and fail a few times too but keep going – I’m quite excited by the dandelion tease in the tour. I’ve been on brewery tours before. They’re largely formulaic – you see the big machines, you smell the ingredients, you see it at each stage and then you retire to the bar and sample the various delights/get hammered and forget all the knowledge you acquired. This felt different. This was personal. The tour wasn’t managed by someone in the organisation on a roster. It’s the owners. It wasn’t a stage-managed corporate performance. It was them in their environment doing what they do. Filmed by the team who also work there. Introducing you to the stories, people and the real behind the scenes.

Passion for what they do. Not written in a 200 page brand book or flip charts in a boardroom. Just 20 seconds into a conversation with the owners in a rain-drenched field on a glitchy zoom call was all you needed to be persuaded. We loved their gins before. We love them that bit more after this.

And then there’s the opposite. It’s been a funny old season in football terms made sweeter by the mighty Liverpool finally climbing back on their perch. August was to see a frenzy of european matches. Not the drawn–out nonsense of previous years but one-off games in a mini-tournament to settle both the Europa and Champions Leagues. Unfortunately both exclsuively on BT Sport. But for ¬£25 for one month of football – why not? Easy to add. Just click a button on the website. Done.

Fast forward to the end of August. Is it just as easy to remove it as had been insinuated? Not a chance. Click to remove – oh, here’s a phone number. Call number – out of office hours. Call number next day – queue messages about staffing issues and taking longer to get through to you and hey, it’s really easy to make changes online… I know, but you won’t let me. Voice prompts for what do I want to discuss today – they never work do they? Eventually I get through to a human being. After verification, what do I want to do today? Why did your system ask me if you then don’t get that information?

“I’d like to remove BT Sport please.”

What then ensued was over 15 minutes of obfuscation, up-selling and increasingly annoying me with my repeated attempts to re-align the conversation to “I’d like to remove BT Sport please.” Along the way I learned you had a 31-day notice period which isn’t signposted particularly well anywhere so what started out as a make the most of all the football in August should have come with a notification that if you really only wanted it in August you should have also cancelled it the same day you ordered it. Which really doesn’t make sense and has just annoyed me further.

I just wanted to do one thing. The sales agent on the other end I am sure has targets and scripts a-plenty but I just wanted to do one thing quickly. I didn’t kick up a massive fuss about the extra month because I guess I’ll see a few of the games in the first weeks of the new season which I wouldn’t have done ordinarily. But where was the human element? Where was the passion of Tom and Tina? It was just script and up-sell. Boring. Far from making me feel part of the brand, it made me feel like a revenue stream. Of course I know I am for anything I purchase but there’s a way of dealing with it. We had some terrible issues with our Volvo when we first bought it but the service level at the garage was exemplary which over-rode some of the issues. Compared with friends who purchased a Land Rover and had a terrible brand experience and will never buy another. Without getting all theory on you, you think of a brand as one thing but your real-world experience of a brand, products, services and people across the myriad touchpoints of today changes your opinion. And your loyalty.

Next time you think about real people interacting with your brand, think of Tom and Tina in the pouring rain versus the person whose name I can’t remember trying to upsell. I know which one I would go back to.

Published by nicholas gill

Nicholas is the Co-founder and Strategy Partner of Team Eleven. He leads the strategic development of integrated marketing experiences to improve business performance.

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