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Why The Bartender Should Be Your Best Friend

Tips for craft distilleries on generating brand loyalty from influential mixologists and bartenders.

Photo for: Why The Bartender Should Be Your Best Friend

Mixologist, Maker, Artist, Cocktologist—call them what you like; today’s bartender enjoys an unprecedented influence over which spirits become standard stock behind the bar. With the rise of maker culture, and an overwhelming emphasis on customization and carefully chosen, high quality ingredients, a restaurant's craft cocktail offering is fast becoming a significant indicator of status. At the forefront of this movement are a cadre of well-trained, creative and highly sought-after bartenders, whose cocktail programs seek to capitalize on the public’s desire for exciting and distinctive drinks.

The question is: how do you make sure your spirits are never far from the bartender’s grasp?

1. Know your products

The rise of the craft cocktail has provided new producers the chance to create a flexible and versatile marketing model, and given established producers the opportunity to re-orient or re-define their approach to the market. The world of spirits is a competitive one, and it’s essential that you develop a branding strategy that sets your product apart from the others.

Whether it is you or your team of reps who is pitching your product to new accounts, it's important that everyone on the team is intimately familiar with the products they’re putting on offer. Providing training programs on how your brand image and tasting profile can play into to the strengths of different styles of potential cocktail programs is a great way to make sure you have the best chance of success.

The craft cocktail movement prizes the successful marriage of a variety of ingredients. Through the use of bitters, syrups, herbs, and locally-sourced foods, your spirits can stand out as distinctive and irreplaceable flavors in a variety of cocktails. Consider engaging the services of a professional mixologist, with experience developing creative and successful cocktail programs. As consultants, they can provide invaluable insights into the successful application of your products in a real-world context, and identify how best to present and emphasize the unique flavors your products possess.

While bartenders will already have a sense of how best to incorporate your gin, whiskey, tequila or vodka, demonstrating that your reps have a solid working knowledge of the science and art of mixing drinks will go a long way to establishing mutual respect and understanding—thus laying the groundwork for a successful partnership, both now and with your future brands.

2. Know the Account

When looking to get your brands into on-premise establishments it is important to tailor your pitch to reflect the unique character of your prospective partners. Before even setting up a meeting, take the time to research the account in detail; explore the establishment’s history, ambiance, clientele, and both the food and cocktail menus. This will enable your reps to design a pitch that has the best possible chance of success.

Generate a clear communication program for your brand reps that highlights a few different sets of products that are well matched, and possess a distinctive character. Instead of pitching everything in your arsenal at once, paring it down to that perfect selection will show your buyer that you have taken the time to offer them something you believe will truly augment their craft cocktail offering.

Remember that no matter how good a spirit is, not all bottles are well-suited to a particular account. However, getting the right combination of products into an establishment ensures you’ll have further opportunities to add more products as your relationship with that account develops.

3. Make the Bartender Your Best Friend

While the bartender may not necessarily be the buyer, requesting a meeting with the head bartender or somm will play well into your hand. It’ll demonstrate that you’re serious about cocktails, and have respect for the role they play in advancing and enriching the industry.

Often the interpersonal relationships you forge with a client are as important as the quality and applicability of your spirits. Consider using different teams for different accounts. Appropriate brand rep personalities should always be prioritized to match the character of the account—as each bar, restaurant, night club or hotel services a unique community of patrons, and will want to know that their suppliers reflect the values and interests that they have come to represent.

Watch the presentation from Jenna when she talks at one of the conferences done by Beverage Trade Network in Australia on the subject of How to influence mixologists and sommeliers to grow your brand 

(Video clip is from 2015 Australia Trade Tasting Conference done by Beverage Trade Network in Melbourne. View all presentations here). Jenna is a well-respected bartender in the Australian hospitality scene. She has worked in esteemed Melbourne venues such as Eau De Vie Melbourne, Cookie, Kodiak Club and Bad Frankie.

She placed in the Top 5 in Australia in the World Class bartending competition 2014, held by Diageo, and Top 8 in Australia in the Australian Bartender of the Year competition 2014 held by Australian Bartender Magazine. She is also a regular competitor on a national stage, having achieved placing positions in various national competitions. Jenna has worked closely with, and developed an adept knowledge of Australian spirits in her position at Bad Frankie bar, who solely stock local spirits from around Australia. She has a strong knowledge of spirits from around the world, cocktails, beer and wine. Jenna is also a judge in Melbourne International Spirits Competition.


4. Provide the buyer and the mixologist a chance to sample your product set in a relaxed and convivial environmental.

As you deliver your pitch, let them arrive at their own conclusions about the various attributes of the alcohol. Allow the conversation to flow naturally, and focus on the types of craft cocktails they’re already producing, as well as your new concoctions. This will demonstrate that you’re providing them with an opportunity to enhance their cocktails, instead of simply pushing something to get it sold. If your reps have done their homework the products on offer should speak for themselves.

After you have successfully found a new home for you spirits, make it a priority to call on the account regularly. Don't just get your sales team to visit when you've noticed that sales are down; be pre-emptive and get them to frequent the account as regulars and encourage them to get to know the entire staff. The more familiar you can make your team with the bartenders and staff, the easier it will be for you to evoke a sense of community around your brand at the account.

While a bartender or wait staff member may switch establishments over the course of their career, you can be sure that if they come to appreciate your products then you they will also be promoting your brands at their next job.

Building brand loyalty across the restaurant industry through genuine personal relationships will give you a very powerful group of un-offical brand ambassadors that you can leverage, both in the trade and with consumers.

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