Your relationships are everything. Never sacrifice short term gain at the expense of them.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Brass. Eric is the CEO of Tequila Tromba — Canada’s top premium tequila and one of the top independent brands in the United States. From working in finance to building a premium tequila brand, Eric’s story is about taking risks and creating your own future. With no money or experience — Eric started Tromba out of his backpack, selling his product to bars, bottle by bottle.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I put a lot on the line when I decided to start my own company. I left my job with a good salary, a great culture and people I enjoyed working with. Logically it didn’t make any sense. I had no salary for over 2 years, and there was no certainty of payback. Despite this, I was really happy.
I had a dream to build a premium tequila brand and to beat the odds. I’m a true believer that if you do what you love and build a great brand, the money is secondary and it will follow.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We made a few mistakes early on by trying to copy the tactics of other brands, in hopes of them making us successful. This was a mistake and we quickly realized it because nobody wanted a copycat brand. We needed to form our own path.
If you look at some of the most successful people in history — whether it be in business, music or art — what makes them memorable is that they did something different. They were innovators and risk-takers. Repackaging a used story, mission, or campaign is futile and we learned that quickly.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It’s been incredibly special (and perhaps surreal) to see the brand grow to what it is today. I used to go from bar to bar with my backpack and a bottle of tequila when no one knew what Tromba was. Sometimes, I would visit more than eight bars in a single night, preaching the good word of tequila. This raw, true grit helped form the foundation of who we are today.
From the beginning, we grew Tromba without a marketing budget and zero conventional advertising. Everything was driven by word of mouth and grown organically by bartenders who fell in love with our product. I learned from there that gaining the trust of the community and investing in relationships within the community was the backbone to success. Word of mouth truly is the most powerful form of marketing on the planet. It’s more difficult to build and takes a lot longer, but it builds longstanding trust that continues years later.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re always working on expansion and strategic distribution deals but from a creative standpoint, we have quite a few projects on the go. In September, Tromba is partnering with the Toronto International Film Festival as the Official Tequila Sponsor for a second year. This partnership is really exciting because we can leverage our local Toronto connection but speak to a global audience through their platform which sees millions of people during the 10-day festival.
We’ll also be launching a new limited edition artist series with Daniel Mazzone, who has gained national acclaim for his work. The product is an aged Blanco and comes in a bottle with a custom print designed by Mazzone. We hope that the integration helps to bring awareness to some of the incredible artists who have inspired a lot of elements that make Tromba so distinct.
In a nutshell, would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
From a high level, we view these as completely distinct categories. Our brand is our identity and is central to who we are as a company. We place a tremendous amount of energy in articulating our message and our brand story because we know that our story is what sets us apart and gives Tromba real history. Our brand is long-term and is our connection to our customers. We pride ourselves on having a team who is knowledgeable about the history of tequila, how it’s grown and produced, and can speak on the intricacies of the brand in a one-on-one setting. We do this for offices, restaurants, and local liquor stores. Your brand is your ‘why’ and everyone needs one. It also needs to tell a compelling and different story.
Our product advertising is more isolated and focused on the granular level. The look, feel, taste, and special nuances of each product. From our very first bottle, created by Hipólito Gutiérrez who is one of Mexico’s most celebrated glass blowers, to the artwork featured on every bottle by Marina Pallares, we focus on highlighting each product in a unique way.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
We built Tromba on a shoestring budget, alongside industry giants who had multi-million dollar marketing budgets behind them. That’s something we’re proud of. Today, as we expand and require more support, we have certainly seen the value of marketing and advertising efforts but perhaps not in a traditional way.
We utilize marketing and PR professionals for their expertise in building strategic partnerships because we believe relationships are the greatest marketing tools we have. These could be partnerships with American Express, TIFF or creating long-lasting campaigns with global hotel chains. Whatever it is, we need experts in the space to create the partnership, lead the strategy, and execute on our behalf.
Your brand is everything but the value of advertising and marketing should not be overlooked. You have to have the right agency that is purpose-built toward strategy and focused on partnerships, not billboards on the highway.
Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or an example for each.
- A friend to all is a friend to none. Your brand has to stand for something and that means gaining support from some while pissing off others.
- Making sure that your brand has a purpose-driven vision and story. There has to be a ‘why’.
- Your relationships are everything. Never sacrifice short term gain at the expense of them.
- Choose the right platforms to talk to your audience (social media). You have to have a sophisticated understanding of how your audience interacts with their favourite platforms. This will position you better to tailor your voice and capabilities to specific audiences. With a message that resonates with audiences, you can create charismatic brand voices on social media.
- Authenticity cannot be bought or manufactured.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
Airbnb would be near the top of my list. If we look at Airbnb, it’s created a globally recognized brand that still appeals on such an individual level. I’m impressed with how their storytelling remains consistent (even across continents) and has resulted in strong connections to their audiences. They’re great at producing high quality, engaging content.
To replicate a brand like Airbnb, I think you have to have a company mindset of breaking barriers and thinking globally, then using that thinking to tell a damn good story.
They have a great story and strong content, and they share them on every platform they can get their hands on. They even have their own magazine.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand-building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
While numbers are a crucial aspect of how we measure results, we also look at the qualitative measurements. Did we align ourselves with the right brands? Were we able to drive awareness with new customers? Was the product displayed positively? And perhaps the most important question, did we build and instill loyalty?
Those measurements can be just as important in learning about what is and isn’t working for your brand from a sales perspective.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
Social media plays a major role in our branding efforts. We have a community of cocktail enthusiasts who are very engaged and love to share their creations over social. We often share UGC (user-generated content) on our feeds, which help us stay connected and show appreciation for our community. We also use social as a way of promoting our most loyal restaurants and their drink specials. We’re always working on creating great content and communicating frequently but with purpose.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Whether it be starting a business or entering a phase of growth, entrepreneurs/leaders can quickly get stuck in the weeds with day-to-day tasks and incoming fire. When we do this, we lose sight of the bigger picture of the business. It’s easy by nature to get caught up in putting out fires but I would remind leaders to divert their energy to thinking proactively about ways to grow their business in the right direction. This will let them thrive and avoid burnout.
It’s important to have a clear overall strategy, or “master plan”, and make sure you’re always working towards a defined goal. Sometimes you need to lose battles if winning them (and wasting energy and political capital) doesn’t get you to your end goal.
You are a person of great influence. 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 there’s a big mental and physical health issue within the bar and restaurant community today. Too many suicides, too many drug overdoses, too many health-related deaths from people that are far too young. Depression is a big problem in the industry and is often a contributing factor or side effect of the industries work hard, play hard mentality. We’ve started to see a more mindful approach when it comes to these issues, but we still have a long way to go.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Passion and persistence overcomes all.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? They might just see this, especially if we tag them!
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow us on Instagram @tequilatromba !
Thank you for these great insights!