How to create a refreshing sip of legacy

Changing up a brand that people know and love is a tall order for anyone. For legacy brands – ones that have stories and reputations spanning 25 years or more – change can feel downright impossible.

Kim Lawton

While today’s drinkers still value the nostalgia and classic glamor of a historical drink, they’re also thirsty for reinvention. Modern consumers respond to a sense of updated luxury and memorable experiences that unfold in the present moment.

The challenge of rebranding as a legacy beverage brand is in choosing how to change. How do you take the traditional elements, the fonts and typefaces, the colors and flavors – all the elements that create a recognizable, trusted brand identity – and add something new to the mix?

Luxury spirits is a fast-growing market, with many new and adventurous brands arriving on the scene regularly. But with more choices than ever, alcohol consumers are becoming more and more selective. Today’s drinkers are willing to forgo tradition and loyalty if it means participating in a brand experience that puts them at the center of the story (and a great drink).

Is it possible for a legacy alcohol brand to reinvent itself?
Let’s look at the case of Diageo Reserve. This portfolio of heritage brands includes luxury spirits such as Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky, Don Julio Tequila, Bulleit bourbon, and more. Each of these brand names carries with it a unique heritage and legacy. They each have a taste, an aesthetic, and even a language they speak to consumers.

How can a portfolio like this begin to shift?
The short answer is that a rebranding strategy must be unique yet remain applicable to each specific product and its specific needs. With Diageo Reserve, our team started by examining how each brand in the portfolio communicated itself to prestigious accounts in its industry. The typical model that suppliers were following was to push brand names into on-premises accounts, share stories with bartenders, and hope those stories were passed along to drinkers to build brand affinity.

Enthuse Marketing reinvented that storytelling strategy and created the Diageo Hospitality Partnership program. The program fostered three different levels through which Diageo could educate the public, flipping the script to be customer-centric first versus historically brand-centric. Master Educators became the face of the brand at a high level, Local Educators brought that message to training scenarios, and Advisors spoke to individual accounts, demonstrating how Reserve brands could fit into each unique bar and menu concept. Each of these field team members took a consultative approach that leveraged industry expertise, employed a variety of approaches to tailor engagement, and met the needs of each individual account.

While the Diageo Reserve rebrand was about reinventing the strategy of education, it’s important to note that every aspect of a heritage rebrand should be up for reinvention, even the taste. When our team also worked with Captain Morgan, the brand wanted to renovate its famed Spiced Rum formula. To do this, we developed a cocktail serve strategy that added a twist to the beloved and familiar taste, demonstrating an evolution of the brand – not a complete overhaul.

Some legacy rebrands are simply about seizing an exciting opportunity. When Johnnie Walker forged a partnership with HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones, it opened this legacy brand to a whole new audience and added creative spice to its already-flavorful offering.

How to change a 100-year-old brand
For those working in the hallowed halls of a legacy brand, the challenge will be to balance caretaking and evolving. You’ll want to protect the existing story of your brand while creating new growth and forward momentum. The key is to acknowledge and celebrate the past while envisioning the future.

How do you do it?
1. Talk to people who really love the brand.
Every drink has its loyalists: the Don Julios, the Johnnie Walkers. These advocates have been enjoying your product for years, and they know what makes it great. Talk to these loyal fans when beginning to reimagine your brand. Ask the people who really love it: What makes this drink so special? When and how do you drink it? With whom? And what about it would you be gutted to lose?

2. Find something exciting to test.
When rebranding a heritage drink, you almost want to think like a tech startup. Choose something to test and then see how the audience responds. If you want to change how your product shows up in venues, test out a new placement. If you want to evolve your recipe, test out a new spin on a household-name cocktail. See how it tastes.

3. Stay in touch.
You don’t want to be the scientist that disappears into the lab and only reappears when a cure’s been found. Stay in touch with your customers (prospective and loyal) as you’re trying out new forms. If you keep checking in – teasing out what you’re working on and reaching out for feedback – you’ll be able to learn from what you hear.

4. Waltz, don’t run.
You’ll be able to change your brand more sustainably and successfully if you take small, elegant steps. Change direction when you need to, rather than leaping ahead and unveiling a brand-new product ‘just because.’ Don’t risk alienating your loyal consumer base, even if you’re sure your idea is stellar. Put feedback to use, iterate in small but certain ways, and keep building the picture of your next version.

Great things change, like eggnog. From medieval hunting parties to the living rooms of the 1950s to every hip bar on the East Coast, eggnog has followed the twists and turns of our drinking culture. Critically, it’s also evolved over time: You can fill it with peppermint bark or make it taste like Puerto Rico, and it’ll still be the warming, romantic treat you know and love (and if you don’t, you should give it a try!).

Don’t be afraid of change. Face it and use it to make your brand better today.

For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor.
Kim Lawton is the Founder and CEO of Enthuse Marketing Group, a woman-owned small business based in New York City. Enthuse is an experiential consultancy that pushes innovation partners to discover new ways of growing business. It funnels the excitement of a new offering or brand and uses data-informed, agile strategies to activate experiences that solve problems, promote stronger partner relationships, and drive growth.