An interview with Ben Branson, founder of Seedlip, the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit, and Jack Hart, Strategic Business Director at Pearlfisher, to understand how he is putting customer experience at the heart of his strategy to build a new category.
By Charlie Hills
How can brands keep up with changing consumer needs? With their ever-rising demands and expectations? Well, if I told you that, the answer involves a book from 1651, a bad restaurant experience trying to get a decent mocktail and 300 years of farming heritage, would you be taken back?
It took exactly those 3 factors, combined with a deep passion for distillation, a lot of research and visits to nature and farming museums and a desire to give people who aren’t drinking, something decent to drink. That led to the development of Seedlip, the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit.
A growing market…
The drink has taken the world by storm and created a new category of drink for the important and ever-growing minority who don’t drink alcohol. 41% of young people don’t drink, pregnant women don’t drink, drivers don’t drink, people on certain medication don’t drink, people doing Dry January don’t drink... Ben Branson, founder of Seedlip, is on a mission to give everyone who isn’t drinking alcohol for whatever reason “a good complex, adult, sophisticated drink.” It is now served in the best cocktail bars, over 100 Michelin* restaurants and luxury hotels across the world.
Tell us about Seedlip:
We named the brand for a basket that I learned about at the Museum of Rural Life in Reading, England. It was used many years ago by farmers to scatter seeds by hand, a Seedlip – it’s quite literally what we do, taking ingredients from nature, from seed, and bringing them to people’s lips.
The design we developed with Pearlfisher champions the power of plants, celebrates the art of nature and unites flora and fauna. I wanted it to possess the charm of Wind in the Willows, the suave sophistication of Connery’s Bond, the magic and imagination of Willy Wonka and the passion for nature of Sir David Attenborough.
Which were the key human insights that led you to develop it?
3 trends came together to create a need for a product like Seedlip.
The world is starting to think and drink differently:
- People are drinking less alcohol, seeking better quality drinking experiences and enjoying products with good provenance. They are more concerned with savouring than guzzling. Knowledge is becoming social currency; that’s an opportunity for us.
- There is currently a great revival of the cocktail culture; people are once again appreciating the care and craft of the drink itself, not the quantity.
- And there is a celebration of the theatre of the drink, the experience and a joy again for experimentation. Brands like Bombass and Parr are vaporising gin in bars, ingredients and presentations are getting ever more interesting.
My greatest surprise was the positive reception we have had from bartenders, who really need it.
How do you engage people in such a new category?
We are a new brand, a challenger brand, building a new customer category. As such our priorities are about getting people to try our product for the first time. We are building customer relationships from scratch. To achieve that we are doing a number of things:
- Extending our product range. Seedlip Spice 94 was our first product, launched in November 2015. Now we have Seedlip Garden 108 too. We are going to continue to develop new products to meet new needs.
- Building rituals. We continue to experiment with new cocktails and combinations. We serve Seedlip Garden 108 with peas, trying to do for peas what Hendricks did for cucumber.
- Working with influencers. We are new; we are unknown. We achieve a lot more by working with and impressing influencers. To quote Sir Isaac Newton “we stand on the shoulders of giants”. If I say it’s great, it’s OK. If Kate Moss says great, it’s amazing. Meeting Kate was surreal and as we grow Seedlip internationally having such a global icon and influencer of taste like her supporting us is incredible. We work with the world’s best bartenders and best chefs, constantly experimenting, evolving. Constantly striving for better.
- Events and sampling. Trial is really important for us so we do a lot of events, a lot of sampling opportunities.
- Getting people access to it. We are working with more and more retailers to distribute our product. Selling directly through our website has been brilliant – it gives us real data and insight about our customers. As part of this, we are experimenting with pricing and promotions too. We want to create regular purchase and habit.
"I firmly believe that real customer loyalty is built through creating an outstanding customer experience, every time."
What are the key pieces of advice you would give someone who wanted to create a new customer experience like yours?
- Focus on purpose over product. We’re a nature company, not a drinks company. We are bigger than the taboo of not drinking. That would lock us into one category. The smallest thing on the label is that there is no alcohol in it. Because of this thinking we can be bigger than a drinks brand, bigger than we are alone. For example, we were recently invited to create a garden for the Chelsea Flower Show, and we won a gold medal. We have a vision that is bigger than ourselves, it makes us desirable beyond our category.
- Find the slipstream. Creating a new category, a new customer experience is not about stealing market share. It’s about creating and monopolising a niche and then growing it. We are starting with those people who don’t drink, then those who prefer not to, then everyone else. We are seeding, growing and nurturing our idea into the mainstream.
- Be familiar but new. People will always choose the thing that feels familiar. It feels safe, comforting. It’s important to frame new ideas with a little cognitive fluency and disfluency. Seedlip has cues from the spirits category alongside new influences.
- Don’t believe me, believe them. It’s critical to engage a network of influencers, groups of respected and influential people. For us, it’s about Michelin* hotels, cultural influencers, chefs and the bartender community, as well as consumers.
The single thought I’d like to leave your readers with is that, to succeed, you need to create desire, not disruption when you are building a new customer experience, a new category.
Charlie Hills is Managing Director and Head of Strategy at Mando Connect.