Lessons in Branding from the Masters

From 1990 to 1997, I lived and worked in the British Virgin Islands. I worked for a rum company called Pusser’s Rum. Pusser’s was a rum that was given out aboard the British navy ships for over 300 years. In the days of wooden ships and iron men, the purser would dispense a tot of rum to the sailors, thereby dulling their senses and making a difficult life at sea more bearable. In the early 1970’s, with the modern computer era, the British navy discontinued the process of giving out rum as there could be no margin for error. The gentlemen that I worked for,

Charles Tobias, purchased the rights to produce the rum from the British navy. Thereby, Pusser’s Landings were born. Because we were based in the British Virgin Islands, our board of directors was made up of some industry titans who had vacation houses in the BVI.

One such board member was Bill Cheney who, at the time, was Chairman of the Board of Tiffany’s & Co. In 1995, as we were preparing for the US expansion of Pusser’s, I sat in on a board meeting where we discussed our first opening in Annapolis, Maryland. Charles was concerned that the name Pusser’s would not resonate with the US consumers and put the idea out about changing the name. He and Bill began to argue, as Bill thought that Pusser’s was the only name to roll out, because that was our heritage and it was steeped in British tradition. As the argument got heated, Bill abruptly turned to me, pointed at me, and said, “Kelley, you have the flu. You just sneezed and snot is running down your face. What do you grab for?” to which I replied “A Kleenex.” To which Bill replied, “Exactly, Kelley didn’t say ‘facial tissue,’ he called out Kleenex by name because they own the facial tissue category.”

Bill then said, “Charles, if you were to buy your wife a diamond bracelet, and you gave it to her in a jewelry box, and if she was to open that jewelry box and see this wonderful gift, she might actually cook you dinner and you’d have a lovely evening. But, if you give your wife a little blue bag with little white ropes and inside that little blue bag is a little blue box wrapped in a white ribbon and she untied that ribbon and inside that box, on a cloud of cotton, was a little blue felt bag and inside that bag was the exact same diamond bracelet, she would cook you dinner every night for a month. All because you gave her Tiffany’s.”

At that moment, I truly understood the power of branding and how important your brand is to marketing your product. Twenty years later, I still remember that lesson like it was yesterday.

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