The Bootlegger's Guide to Building a Memorable Brand

October 3, 2023
The Bootleggers Guide to Building a Memorable Brand

What is the secret of a good whisky?

Everyone has their own opinion; Is it the grain? The method of distillation? The water source? All of these factors undoubtedly play a part, but the real answer is far less obvious and far more intriguing.

The answer may well unlock the hidden potential in your business. It has the power to help you connect with your customers on a whole new level and turn them into tenacious advocates of your brand.

To uncover the answer we need to go back in time. Back to the days when whisky was heavily taxed. Innovative bootleggers had to come up with creative ways of transporting their precious cargo. This was no easy task, excise officers were keen to put a stop to the illicit trade and would often catch the bootleggers making their way through the Cairngorms with coffins full of whisky.

Back at the distilleries, carefully hidden amongst the heather, the whisky sat maturing in dusty wooden barrels for decades and so did legends of the efforts that went into producing it and putting it into the hands of the whisky drinkers.

Gradually the stories of the craft and the heroics of its transporters became bound inseparably to the whisky itself.

Fast forward a few hundred years to today. Whisky production has moved on. But the stories and legends remain.  And that is where the true secret of a good whisky resides, not in the bottle, but in the story. And, perhaps more importantly for marketeers, in the telling of that story.

Why are brand stories so effective? They allow a business to connect with its customers on a deeper level. Stories are memorable, they allow us to get involved on an emotional level and become part of the narrative.

Now you may be thinking ‘that’s all well and good, but my business doesn’t have an exciting tale of swashbuckling bootleggers and wily customs officials to call upon’. Well fear not, the rest of this article is devoted to helping you craft a great story around your brand that will give your business the edge. After all a great story is essential for a memorable brand.

How to Create a Great Story

A great story is one that grips your attention, like a book that you just can’t put down. It makes you want to keep on reading to find out what happens next. A particularly great story will involve the audience; making them feel part of the experience, will motivate them to join in with the action.

To create a great story around your brand follow these steps:

1. Nail down the thing that makes you interesting

Try mind-mapping a few ideas, by asking yourself these questions…

  • What is it that makes your business different?
  • Why did your business start in the first place?
  • How does your business make the world a better place?
  • Are you based in a unique location?
  • What adversities have you overcome to stay in business?
  • What is it that really makes people buy from you?

Some businesses that have created a great story around their brand include;

Apple - The Story of Steve Jobs
Nando’s - The Barcellos Cockerel
Glen Livet - The old Smuggler's Bridge
Irn Bru - It’s made from girders

2. Put your story into words

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Once you’ve got a good grasp of what makes your business interesting it's time to distill the details down into the key ingredients that will resonate with your customers. Don’t settle for generalities or filler content. Give people the highs and lows; that time you were down to your last five-pound note, the time that your team all pulled together against the odds to hit that terrible deadline, the unshakable dream that kept your business going through all those setbacks.

Once you have those details clearly in mind, write them down.

Next, organise them into a logical order;

  • Where you were
  • Where you are now
  • Where you are going

3. Make your audience part of the story

Your next step is to tell people your story. This involves more than sending an email to anyone who happens to have crossed your path in the last year. To get customers involved in your brand story it needs to be gradually filtered out through brand touch points.

In short, have conversations.

Whether it’s through a targeted social media campaign or the micro-interactions that you and your staff have with people, your story should come through loud and clear.

Nando’s Restaurant is a perfect example. Let’s face it Nando’s basically serves chicken. But when you walk into one of their restaurants you are instantly immersed in an environment that has been carefully crafted around their brand story.

Here is an excerpt from the Nando’s story:

The Nando’s story started centuries ago, when the Portuguese explorers set sail for the East. The winds of Africa called them ashore and it was there that they were introduced to the African Bird’s Eye Chilli – more commonly known as PERi-PERi. A spice like no other, they used it to create a unique PERi-PERi sauce that put fire in their bellies and ignited passion in their souls.” - (

Reaching back into their history Nando’s have managed to weave an engaging story around their brand. How have they translated that into their branding?

Next time you look at a Nando’s menu take note of how the headers are all slightly tilted, this is no mistake. Nando’s tilt the headers on their branding exactly 87 degrees north as a subtle nod to their beginnings in South Africa in 1987. Nando’s even had a specialist mix their official Peri-red colour scheme based on the colour of the African Bird Eye Chilli’s they use.

When it comes to social media Nando’s maintain a lighthearted conversational tone with their audience. They deliberately link themselves with their audience’s concerns and interests making them part of the story.

A Final thought

A brand story is a powerful tool but to be effective it should change and take on greater meaning over time. The lesson? Leave the ending open and build on your story as your business grows.

In summary

An effective brand story will help people remember your business and engage with it on a deeper level

Your brand story should be interesting

It should involve your audience and motivate them to become part of the story.

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