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Michael Kinstlick: “Be available.”

Be available. Respond to customers, even if they’re telling you difficult things to hear. Some of that may just be because they’re not really the right customer, but sometimes it’s because they are, and they’re really passionate about the brand. That’s how we learned about the issue with our wax caps. As part of our […]

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Be available. Respond to customers, even if they’re telling you difficult things to hear. Some of that may just be because they’re not really the right customer, but sometimes it’s because they are, and they’re really passionate about the brand. That’s how we learned about the issue with our wax caps.


As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Michael Kinstlick is co-founder and CEO of Coppersea Distilling. He is also the author of the Craft Distilling White Paper and a noted expert on the US craft spirits market.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had been wanting to do something entrepreneurial for a while and it became clear to me that the craft spirits market was tracking the same path that had led to the craft beer explosion. When an old acquaintance with deep knowledge of folk distilling techniques was looking for help to start a business around those concepts, Coppersea Distilling was born.

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?

Our first packaging included a beautiful copper metallic wax dip on the top of the bottles. Except when the metallic wax dried, it became hard and brittle and really difficult to open. The key lesson we learned is: don’t put roadblocks between your consumers and the product!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

First & foremost, being thought leaders provides a resource to the community like with the Craft Distilling White Paper and with striving to be a “distiller’s distillery.” We use what we call “Heritage Methods Distilling” to make amazing spirits, and whiskey connoisseurs deeply appreciate the rich mouthfeel and flavor of our whiskeys. Inevitably when we go to a big whiskey pouring event we get people coming to our table saying “Someone told me I had to come to try your stuff,” and then folks coming back to us, especially at the end of the evening saying “I want your whiskey to be my last taste of the evening,” which just feels so good.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are building out a set of special-finished whiskeys…aged Rye whiskey that has been finished in used wine barrels. Our first set includes PX Sherry, Oloroso Sherry, and Sauternes finishes. Those products extend and elevate the customer experience even further.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Brand marketing is about communicating the core values of your organization, product marketing focuses more on the features and benefits of specific products. Brand marketing creates the “why” in the customer’s heart to go along with the “what” and “how” in their mind from the product side.

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?

I believe these elements all need to support each other in an integrated way, and they need to communicate the core truth underlying the organization and its products. Consumers are super-savvy and they now have instant access to any information they want about your company. There’s no “one right way” to engage with customers and the market, but they do not appreciate being duped, so tell your true & honest story.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

— Don’t lie. Do what you say you’re doing. Volkswagen suffered enormous reputation loss from the emissions scandal.

— Maintain brand consistency. I think Bud Light going into hard seltzer poses a tremendous risk to the brand.

— Know your consumer. You can’t be all things to all consumers, so be the best thing for the consumers you want most, or who love you most. In spirits, I think Hennessey has done a great job with their consumer branding.

— Be expansive. Brands take on a life of their own in the market & in consumers’ minds. Letting customers “own” the brand creates that deeper connection. In-N-Out burgers “secret menu” items are a great example of building loyalty.

— Be available. Respond to customers, even if they’re telling you difficult things to hear. Some of that may just be because they’re not really the right customer, but sometimes it’s because they are, and they’re really passionate about the brand. That’s how we learned about the issue with our wax caps.

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?

I think Caspar, the new mattress company, has done a really good job of building a new brand from scratch, focused on the brand and not the products. The mattress industry has effectively been dominated by 2 big players (Sealy, Serta) who make a living off of product confusion and misdirection, and neither of whom has a particularly well-loved brand. I don’t know that its replicable everywhere, but there are always markets with large entrenched incumbents who leave opportunities for smaller nimbler competitors to reach and satisfy unmet customer needs.

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?

Advertising might create responsive sales. Brand-building creates a deeper relationship with consumers that creates market evangelists. When you get customers from other customer referrals, that’s a sign of the successful brand building.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

It’s pretty core. For us, Instagram is primarily a way to build a brand ethos and communicate what we’re all about. It lets us present a visual tableau of our farm-to-bottle processes and connects consumers with our physical site.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

I think its critically important to find time every day to put our devices down and step away from our “always-on” world. Block off time to communicate, time do other work, and time to play and recuperate.

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 am also involved in the Sustainable Business community and I would encourage all business leaders to include all their stakeholders and not just shareholders in their strategic planning. Profits are always the outcome of good management of employees, customers, and our wider community and environment.

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

My grandmother was fond of saying “Genius and $0.50 will get you a cup of coffee.” The coffee may be a bit more now, but the key lesson remains: you can have all the talent in the world, but without the dedication, professionalism, and hard work it won’t get you anywhere.

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 lunch or breakfast? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are two that I’ve been thinking of recently, united in their work ethic, risk-taking, and audacity to dream big, but completely different fields: Elon Musk and Dr Dre.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We’re @copperseadistilling on Instagram, Facebook, & Twitter.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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