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Tell Them a Story

Many of the best-selling brands in the world are successful because they had a compelling story to tell in their marketing. Perhaps one of the past decade’s most intriguing examples of this phenomenon is Grey Goose vodka, which began as just a name and a concept, and grew to become the best-selling vodka in the world.

A recent article in New York magazine, tells the story of liquor legend Sidney Frank, who, in 1996, turned his start-up distilled spirits brand into an overnight sensation. First came the name, which created just the right combination of alliteration and intrigue. Next, Frank set a goal to steal away category leader Absolut’s market share not by undercutting its high price ($17/bottle) but by pricing his new vodka extravagantly higher at $30/bottle. A cool name and a “superpremium” price, however, would not guarantee success. Frank knew that he would have to craft a great product story to make his Goose fly.

Frank had already hit paydirt as the U.S. importer of Jagermeister. With that brand, he had taken a liqueur that was mostly drunk by older, blue-collar German immigrants and turned it into the symbol of buck-wild partying. That success was part luck and part instinct, but what he did next with Grey Goose was pure marketing chutzpah.

After coming up with a name and a price point for his non-existent vodka, Frank turned to his team at Sidney Frank Importing Co. and asked them to go to France and come back with a vodka. This was an odd choice, to say the least, as vodka generally comes from Russia or Scandinavia. Frank’s theory was that people are always looking for something new, and if you’re going charge twice as much for a vodka brand, then you need to give them a reason. The Grey Goose story was going to be about quality, so Frank chose France, a country already synonymous with luxury brands. As if that wasn’t enough to make a vodka seem chic, his plan was to use water from French springs filtered through Champagne limestone.

Grey Goose’s distinct bottle with smoked glass and a silhouette of flying geese was designed not only to catch the eye at a bar, but most importantly to look expensive. As a final gimmick, the vodka would be shipped in wood crates, like a fine wine, instead of cardboard boxes like other brands.

The strategy must have worked, because last June Frank sold Grey Goose to Barcardi for $2 billion in cash. This was for a beverage that by definition is designed to be odorless and tasteless.

But this story is about more than just a successful liquor company and the marketing brilliance of its leader. As the profile on Frank’s vision revealed, Grey Goose is a product of the era of luxury. It’s a time when people spend much more than they have to keep up with those who are one rung above them. Whether it’s the type of car you drive, house you own or vodka you drink, we all aspire to more than our current status. In fact, it’s the essence of the custom installation business.

If vodka companies can repeatedly top one another marketing a “flavorless,” clear liquor, think about the potential of our business channel. The emotional impact of audio and video technology and the lifestyle-enhancing nature of automation and control solutions create stories that are just waiting to be told. The home theaters that our industry creates can practically pull us right into the movies that we watch, and multi-room audio systems can provide a peaceful sanctuary from the troubles in the world around us.

But it’s no secret that the word-of-mouth nature of this business is a double-edged sword. A beautifully designed and flawlessly installed whole-house A/V system can be the envy of the neighborhood, but clumsy execution and a frustrated customer can quickly turn a potential referrals network into a town of technophobes instead. A great story only goes so far as your successful execution and craftsmanship on a project. It’s not enough to say that you’re good. You also have to follow through with the goods.

While nobody truly needs the technology that our industry sells, if placed in the proper context, most customers can be convinced that they can’t live without it. Relate enticing stories to your qualified sales prospects, and most will even be willing to pay a premium to allow you to perform your design and installation magic.