Laura Johnson of You & Yours Distilling: “Decide what your brand voice is going to be”

Decide what your brand voice is going to be. Be consistent. Make sure all facets of the brand from imagery to brand voice, to email signatures, to packaging to press materials, to slide decks all have a similar look and feel. As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create […]

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Decide what your brand voice is going to be. Be consistent.

Make sure all facets of the brand from imagery to brand voice, to email signatures, to packaging to press materials, to slide decks all have a similar look and feel.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Johnson, owner & founder of You & Yours Distilling Co.

With a passion for distilling, a natural talent for building and highlighting flavors, and her innate hospitality and business prowess, Laura is a strong voice and advocate in the spirits industry. Opened to the public in 2017, You & Yours Distilling Co. is California’s first urban destination distillery. With You & Yours, Laura strives to not only provide high-quality, transparent spirits made with sustainable practices and top-notch ingredients, but also a welcoming and enjoyable tasting experience for all, which she also felt was missing from the craft distilling industry as a whole. A line of canned cocktails became available at the end of 2018 and today all You & Yours products can be found not just behind the bar and in retailers in California, but also throughout the United States.

Since launching You & Yours in 2017, Laura has been named an Eater Young Gun (2018) and Forbes “30 Under 30” (2018), and has awarded by San Diego Magazine: ‘Best Local Spirit’ (2017–2019), ‘Best Distillery’ (2016–2020) and ‘Best of San Diego 2020’ for her canned cocktails. Laura has also become an invaluable resource and inspiration for other new small businesses looking to penetrate the beverage and hospitality industries.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Though I mostly grew up in a few suburbs around Dallas, TX, we moved around quite a bit when I was younger. A different neighborhood/school district almost every other year or so until I was in high school. (The moves were due to either my parents’ business or my older brother’s budding golf career.) Thanks to constantly having to make new friends and settle into different environments, I became quite independent and content with entertaining myself from a young age. I also grew up in a very entrepreneurial family, as mentioned. When I was younger, my mom and dad were growing their business and traveling a lot. Instead of getting me a sitter, they would just take me with them everywhere, which I’m so grateful for now. I saw a lot of the world by the time I was 18 and was very comfortable traveling alone. But the main thing I appreciate from how I grew up was the ability to hold conversations with adults from a very early age. I can remember always kind of feeling ahead of my peers, emotional maturity-wise and mentally. This all helped tremendously later on when I created a business plan and raised capital for You & Yours Distilling Co. straight out of college.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

When I was on a road trip with my dad in high school we happened to stop and go on a distillery tour and I remember being fascinated. Just enthralled with the entire process from beginning to end. That kind of created the first spark as it pertains to an interest in spirits.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It definitely wasn’t funny at the time, but there was one very early on that I’ll never make again. I was about to open Y&Y to the public and we were launching with our two flagship spirits — Y&Y Vodka and Sunday Gin. I was only 23 or 24 years old at the time and there was a lot of hype in the press about this new female-founded distillery. It was a lot of pressure and I immediately had this onslaught of unsolicited advice. I was told by someone in the San Diego food & beverage scene (at our launch party, no less) that my gin recipe wasn’t juniper-forward enough and so in those first weeks I tweaked the recipe I’d spent months on only to find out it was a horrible mistake. I immediately went straight back to the original recipe I’d landed on and it hasn’t changed since. Now I always trust my gut and more importantly, my palate and always take advice — from anyone — with a grain of salt. I know this brand and these products and what they should be better than anyone else ever could.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A big chunk of the family business is rooted in personal development and entrepreneurship, so I was just kind of raised within that culture and those resources. I was naturally exposed to business-related and otherwise motivational knowledge whether I liked it or not. I will say that the book Aesthetic Intelligence really resonated with me last this year. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Jump First, Fear Later” and to get comfortable building the plane as it’s flying. Both I learned from Jason Russell, the co-founder of Invisible Children, a non-profit I worked at all through college. I remember being this young kid in a new city and working for this incredibly energetic and exciting movement. His words really inspired me. I feel like Invisible Children was a launch pad of sorts for a lot of creatives and entrepreneurs-to-be at that time.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, let’s define our terms. How do you define a Lifestyle Brand? How is a Lifestyle Brand different from a normal, typical brand?

A lifestyle brand is one that no matter what it is they’re selling, you want to buy it. A lifestyle brand sucks you in and makes you long to be a part of it, part of the culture they’re creating with their branding and suite of products.

What are the benefits of creating a lifestyle brand?

Deeply-rooted customer trust and loyalty. You essentially have a built-in customer base if and when you want to test or launch a new product or service.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved Lifestyle Brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

One person/brand that comes to mind immediately is Giada DeLaurentiis. I grew up watching her shows on the Food Network religiously. So much so, I would fake being “sick” to stay home from school and watch her. She (and Ina!) are the reason I love to cook and create flavors — i.e. what led me to want to create flavor profiles within spirits. I’ve since countlessly purchased her cookbooks, food and kitchenware products over the years and have dined at her restaurant in Las Vegas several times. She’s created a delicious, glamorous, warm and approachable lifestyle brand (read: empire) within the food & hospitality space.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a lifestyle brand that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

It’s all about brand voice for me. If you define a really quirky, authentic and bold brand voice from the get-go and adhere to it consistently and unabashedly, it lets people know you mean business. You’re here for the long-haul, you have the confidence to run with what you’re creating. Personally, I love when a brand is wholeheartedly and thoroughly themselves. (I think Reformation, Glossier, and JAJA Tequila do this well.)

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a lifestyle brand? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The biggest mistake you can make starting a lifestyle brand is setting out to create a lifestyle brand. It takes a lot of clout and tenure to truly be regarded as a lifestyle brand and I don’t think you should ever really be able to call yourself one. It’s almost like a status you earn over time. You have to start somewhere and focus there. I.e. starting out as a niche foods brand, then growing into a larger “lifestyle” brand.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a lifestyle brand that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

Identify your “why.” What product or service best captures that why? Start there. Establish a customer base. Share your why, share your story, and as you want to branch out to other things, start including them in your conversations, content, etc. If you want to jump from candles to home decor, for instance, consider a collaboration with a notable interior design firm or furniture store, furniture brand, etc.

In order to grow into what is considered a true lifestyle brand, you have to gain your customers’ trust. You don’t do that by launching a bunch of different products or services in several areas. Start with one thing you do really well and establish your brand there. Then, continue to branch out with complementary products or services that make sense with the original offering. For example, I established my company and brand by focusing on different styles of gin. From there, we also launched vodkas, then canned cocktails, then cocktail classes, then tasting kits, etc. Everything we do all has to make sense together and contribute to an overall aesthetic/goal. I don’t make rum or beer or wine… I don’t teach decorating or social media, etc.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. As mentioned above, start with ONE product or one niche/narrow category of products.
  2. Decide what your brand voice is going to be. Be consistent.
  3. Make sure all facets of the brand from imagery to brand voice, to email signatures, to packaging to press materials, to slide decks all have a similar look and feel.
  4. Align with those (influencers, spokespeople, celebs, consumers) who align with your long term goals only.
  5. If you know you want to start with X products and eventually make it to Y products, start establishing subtle connections early on. I.e. incorporate Y-related discussions or mentions in social media from early on.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I think that if I could inspire everyone to follow their true passions and interests the world would be a much better, happier place.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Giada! Duh!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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