Editor's Note: This story contains one of our 10 Best Business Lessons of 2013. For the full list, click here.
In 2010, Kings County Distillery--the first whiskey distillery in New York City since the prohibition era--started churning out moonshine and bourbon in a building that was once a bank and later home to a company that made burial shrouds.
Cofounders Colin Spoelman and David Haskell found out during the planning stages that Haskell's grandfather was a New York bootlegger during prohibition; Spoelman, meanwhile, had grown up in a dry county in Kentucky (which seems a particularly harsh irony for a bourbon lover). Booze was in their blood.
Today, they run a commercial distillery whose small-batch products have garnered boldly positive reviews. The New York Times says Kings County's barrel-aged whiskey has an "almost piney tang of new American oak embracing the grain"; GQ said of its moonshine that there's "no grimace when you take a sip--just a mild burn that makes you want another."
So the product wasn't the problem. Despite a quirky backstory and a seemingly national passion for all things Brooklyn, the branding was. Spoelman, who still works part-time at an architectural firm, says the packaging in particular had him stumped.
"The architect I work for refuses to design facades; he says it's more about what it does and less about what it looks like," Spoelman says. "I got into that same sort of dilemma--how do you design a logo and the appearance?"
Instead of killing himself to replicate old-timey fonts or come up with a brand identity, he typed out some labels on a typewriter.
"It just became about the words and that simple sort of approach," Spoelman says. "And I think, weirdly, that makes sense from a branding point of view."
Bottom Line: Define your brand with substance over style.
[Video Producer: Shalini Sharma, Camera/Editor: Tony Ditata]