Whether it’s a lavender infused gin and tonic or a spit-roasted pineapple gin with ice, there are now seemingly endless ways to drink gin that go beyond the standard G&T.
This growth has been helped by a string of new brands, flavours and innovations entering the market. Much of this has come from craft gin, which can arguably trace its success back to Sipsmith.
Founded by two friends in 2007, the premium gin brand lobbied the government for two years to ensure it was granted the first small-scale distilling licence for nearly 200 years.
Previously, to deter backstreet distilling, distillers could only get licences for a still greater than 1,800 litres. However, Sipsmith successfully argued for the smaller craft distiller, making it legal again and helping revive the trade among independents. In 2018 there were 315 independent distilleries in the UK.
Sipsmith’s global marketing director, Kate Moorcroft, tells Marketing Week: “Prior to [the law change] there were three or four big global brands that ruled the roost and had the lion’s share of the market. Now you can have these craft gins that are made by hand, which gives a different quality. Sipsmith has given consumers that choice.”
As the London gin celebrates its 10th anniversary it is facing starkly different challenges. Where originally it had to fight just to be allowed to produce gin, now it is operating in a hugely competitive market.
Total gin sales hit £1.5bn in the 12 months to March 2018, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association – with value sales up 33% and volume up 28%. Sipsmith might have “lead the charge” but it now needs to cut through as gin’s rising popularity attracts more businesses into the sector.
“The market has changed enormously and the nation has fallen in love with gin again. It used to be your grandma’s tipple of choice, now it’s everybody’s”, says Moorecraft.
“Our differentiator is we’re the pioneers and we are uncompromising in everything we do. If I think about our positioning, nobody else can say they pioneered that change in the law and that craft gin movement”.
‘Supercharging’ the Sipsmith brand
One way to keep ahead of the competition is by “supercharging” the Sipsmith brand. In the year since Moorcroft joined, the company has released its first TV campaign, introduced a new flavour and launched a canned ready-to-drink gin and tonic.
Moorcroft explains: “It was about the life stage for the brand. We’ve grown organically for the past 10 years and we’ve led the craft gin movement but ultimately we want to be the world’s most-loved gin. To get there we need to start supercharging so we need to tell more people about it.”
Telling more people is where the TV campaign comes in. The 60-second ad, ‘Mr Swan’, uses stop motion animation to provide a tongue-in-cheek recap of the brand’s story.
The stop motion world was created with painstaking accuracy to ensure that every detail, down to the proportions of the bottle neck, was correct. Moorcroft argues that it is this level of detail that makes Sipsmith stand out.
The market has changed enormously and the nation has fallen in love with gin again. It used to be your grandma’s tipple of choice, now it’s everybody’s.
Kate Moorcroft, Sipsmith
“Stop motion animation [speaks to] what is at the heart of us. It’s that real craftmanship,” she says, admitting that a “more mass approach” might have compromised the brand’s values.
“It felt like the right thing because we were able to get our tone of voice and character across. It was about that real personal touch, which I wouldn’t be able to do as well in OOH,” explains Moorcroft.
That personal touch is crucial to every aspect of Sipsmith’s marketing. She explains: “We are uncompromising in our quality in everything we do. It’s not just about the gin – which is at the centre of everything we do – but we actually hand write letters. We do things properly. We really believe in things being well made and the inimitable skill of something made by hand”.
The business didn’t use focus groups or test the ad with consumers. Instead, Moorcroft relied on a “gut feeling” and a knowledge and understanding of its consumers from other communications.
“What you get in a smaller business, especially Sipsmith, is ownership of the brand. If you think it’s right and the founders think it’s right than it probably is. You don’t need a consumer to tell you that it is, in an artificial environment.”
She adds: “We come into contact with our consumers a lot. Maybe not in a traditional marketing sense of a focus group but we meet them every day at our distillery tours and our events.
“We have communication with them through our newsletters, through our emails, so we have a good sense of who they are and what’s at the heart of the business”.
Sipsmith uses an “ecosystem” of channels: a mix of PR, experiential and social to get the brand’s message across, a strategy that Moorcroft doesn’t see changing “anytime soon”.
Experiential in particular is important, with every member of staff required to lead one of the regular 90-minute public gin tours in the distillery. Often sold out, the £25 tours explain the process and passion behind Sipsmith’s gin.
Many who go on the tours will then join the brand’s ‘Sipping Society’ a yearly membership that includes two bespoke gins a month and costs £180 a year.
“It’s a way for our distillers, who are passionate about gin and highly talented, to play with the gin but also to communicate with our brand fans,” says Moorcroft.
The society also provides feedback on new flavours. The brand launched Orange and Cacao in April after “cracking feedback” from its members.
The marketing team’s location also keeps it in tune with the brand and its customers. The “small” marketing team sit three steps from the distillery and has regular interaction with the founders.
Moorcroft says: “We’re a close-knit team. That personal heartbeat of the business is one of the things that makes it a success and it’s also what I think is very different to corporate world”.
Relying on ‘gut feel’
Starting her career in marketing as a Unilever graduate, Moorcroft spent 11 years with the FMCG giant before switching to Sipsmith. Careful not to pass judgement on her old employer, Moorcroft says there is more “freedom of thinking” at Sipsmith than at a big businesses.
“What Unilever gives you is an excellent classic marketing training. It gives you the nuts and the bolts and the structure. What is different here is I can use that but I can also use my gut feel.
“It is not pure gut feel based on nothing. It’s based on having judged things, having got things wrong and having got things right,“ she explains.
One of the things Moorcroft got wrong was what she called a “dreadful” campaign while working on Lynx.
She explains: “I made an appalling campaign that actually didn’t go out. I learnt what might look great in a script might not always translate visually”.
Adding: “You have to rely on agencies but equally as a client you have to have that creative ability to ask ‘is that right for my brand?’.
“By doing a dreadful campaign I learnt what makes a great campaign and where to rely on my agency and where to rely on myself”.
However, it is her work at Sipsmith she is most proud of: “We’ve got that creative spot on in my humble opinion.”