• Transform magazine
  • September 27, 2021

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Five minutes with Dominic Burke

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Dominic Burke, founder of drink specialist design agency, Knockout, speaks to Transform magazine about the unique aspects of brand design in the drinks category. He explores how it differs from other FMCG categories and how important sensory details are in telling a brand’s story in the spirits category.

How is the approach to drinks branding different than other FMCG categories?

Drinks branding is pure storytelling with so many different aspects to communicate from provenance and heritage, to the process and taste, to the purpose and passion of the people behind the brand. Design weaves all these elements together creating a brand story that consumers can buy into and believe in. Using craft, semiotics and technology, design creates a kind of magic that enriches the brand experience, deepening the bond with consumers.

Whilst there are distinctive nuances between offerings, drinks is essentially a brand-led category. The way a spirit looks, the way it portrays and projects its story, profoundly influences consumer preference. For them, it is a choice that conveys their tastes and character, and in social situations, they use it as a way to assert their individuality. This is one of the reasons there tends to be greater loyalty in this category.

The way research is used in drinks is also quite different from other FMCG categories. Marketing directors are much more willing to go with what they instinctually know is right for the brand. Rather than a filtering process, they use it to create a brand with a unique, individual voice. It’s not so much about fulfilling a need as it is about inspiring a desire.

How important is sensory details in telling a brand’s story, particularly in the spirits category?

Sensorial details intensify consumers engagement with a brand, subconsciously sending messages as it peels away the layers of its story. In spirits, where brand stories tend to be richer and multi-faceted, these types of details are used to communicate the brand’s full proposition. Colour and shape initially draws our attention, but then there’s a secondary moment of truth based on touch, which enhances the signals in an intimate way and takes the emotional engagement to the next level.

In my opinion, tactility is highly underrated in its ability to communicate a brand’s proposition and drive deeper engagement. Those hidden layers of detail that the consumer doesn’t discover until they pick it up and touch it, continues the brand’s story with a rush of electricity. It’s a rewarding experience of surprise and delight, and when you get it right, it tells the consumer so much about the craft and quality of the spirit within.

Why is it important, from a design perspective, to have a deep understanding of your supply chain suppliers?

The agency may create the design, but when it comes to the actual production engineering and the knowledge of what is possible in the manufacturing process, the supply chain partners are the experts. We can propose ideas, but they are the ones that ultimately have to deliver it.

That’s why it is the agency’s responsibility to get suppliers onboard and excited about the vision. You’re normally asking them to step out of their comfort zone, so it’s important to help them understand exactly how it will bring benefit to the brand. When they can see the end vision, they can share in the passion to push the boundaries and accomplish it.

Agencies that charge in with unfeasible ideas and fail to listen or create a dialogue, can result in barriers and delays. That’s why I’ve found it so essential throughout my career to have a good understanding of manufacturing processes. It gives you the credibility you need to create a positive rapport with supply chain partners. Then together, you can identify the opportunities to do something new, different and beneficial for the brand.

How important is it to be ahead of emerging technologies? What are the benefits?

Emerging technologies give designers new tools to project the brand’s story and create a more engaging experience. When you are the first to use a new technology, you are demonstrating leadership and innovation. It can possibly be transformative for the category, setting a new standard through improved functionality, sustainability or aesthetics. It can also be that element of magic that makes all the difference – something that when a consumer sees, they can’t quite understand how it has been done, thus creating intrigue that draws them deeper into the brand.

It’s important to stay on the pulse of emerging tech to know what is possible for the briefs that come across your desk, but it doesn’t end there. You must also have the strategic and creative vision to recognise how they can be harnessed to amplify the brand’s message. To do this, you need to be brave – to believe when no one else does, and be able to inspire that belief in the teams you are working with. This is again where collaboration comes into play. When you can get everyone sharing the same passion and vision, barriers can be unlocked and magic can happen.