A favorite word of mouth marketing case study: Tito’s Handmade Vodka
By Ted Wright April 22, 2019
By Ted Wright
I love studying how word of mouth works in our world and one of my favorite case studies is Tito’s Handmade Vodka. It’s a brand that was created from the start by its ability to ignite conversations.
What I love about the founder, Tito Beveridge, is that he recognized the importance of consumer conversations from the very beginning and has generated those conversations continuously over the years.
When Tito first made his vodka – all handmade in his kitchen – he would carry bottles with him and play bartender for his friends just to get the word out. He would load up his car with bottles and give away drinks at local charity events. By the end of the evening, people would be hugging him and telling him how much they loved what he was doing. He realized that connecting with people face-to-face was a really smart way to do business. To this day, he has never said no to a charity that wanted to feature his product at an event.
As the brand began to grow, Tito brought on a woman named Elizabeth to help create conversations about the brand. Her job was to travel around to parties in Dallas, Houston, and Austin. And if you’re having a party in Texas during the late 90’s, she would come to your house and pour drinks and she would talk about Tito and their handmade vodka.
The key element of their story at that time was that nobody else in Texas was making legal booze. Tito and Elizabeth were seen as rebels, folks doing something different, to some even “moonshiners” although they were always 100 percent legal.
The emotional connection
In short Tito’s was unique and cool. This is a key idea because being the first to make a branded booze is a very Austin thing to do. The city has a saying, “Keep Austin Weird,” and this was very weird, very Austin because it was first and different. It couldn’t have worked with the country club set in Dallas or Houston, to rebellious or disruptive. However, it was a perfect fit for Austin and a relevant, interesting, and authentic conversation for people with that Austin spirit, no matter where in Texas they lived.
Another conversational element from those early days was the color of the label. They made the very outside edge of the label a distinctive burnt orange, which of course is the color that represents the University of Texas. In Austin, that is a very big deal.
So that label creates another emotional community connection and another story. You have 100,000 people going to six or seven home football games a year and maybe 15 basketball games and just having a burnt orange label that matched the tailgating gear is going to help sell a couple thousand cases a year. He could easily go over his breakeven point just by having a burnt orange label.
The conversations continue
So the next talking points developed about taste. Remember, at the time of Tito’s founding the leading brands was Stolichnaya, which was from Russia, and Absolut. Somehow people convinced themselves that the Soviet Union was making a really good consumer packaged good. Go figure.
And then there was Absolute vodka coming on in that timeframe and they convinced people that if you put better vodka and ran arty ads in fashion magazines drinking their vodka would make you cool.
Then the distilling wars started. Brands started popping up claiming they were superior through the number of times it was distilled.
Tito’s was able to take control of this conversation by focusing on taste. It was local and hand-crafted.
More recently, Tito’s is printing on their boxes that the brand is gluten-free. So for the people working in a liquor store, the people who know and sell the booze, it is reinforcing this message that the brand is gluten-free.
Another conversation point for Tito’s is dogs. I remember being in a park and seeing a dog leash that said “vodka for dogs.” I was like, “somebody is making booze for pooches?” Nope, it was just Tito’s announcing the start up of their foundation. Maybe a bigger company would have a hang-up creating a leash that says “vodka for dogs,” but Tito’s can just be real and try cool things like that. Tito loves dogs and he is extending that authentic concern into the community, and that extends it to the brand.
A focus on joy
Tito’s now has a chief joyologist focusing on creating a corporate culture of love, sustainability and philanthropy. Simply having a joyologist creates conversations. If her title was VP of philanthropy, the conversation would stop.
The company wants to bring joy to its employees – this brings great substance to the company and establishes a legendary corporate culture.
Tito empowered each employee, regardless of their role, to support the causes they were passionate about in their local communities. As Tito’s Handmade Vodka continued to gain momentum across the country, involvement in philanthropy grew in tandem. The more people who joined the Tito’s family, the more hearts and hands were out in the world spreading love and goodness, with Tito’s behind them all the way.
Every time a member of the Tito’s Team reached out to extend a hand, to make a difference, to say “Thank you for inviting us to help the cause,” they signed off with “Love, Tito’s.” This salutation became a mantra, which turned into a movement. Love, Tito’s is now a force, a group of individuals giving back to causes, efforts and organizations that move them. Through Love, Tito’s, the team has supported thousands of causes – lending a hand to rebuild communities after devastation, spreading joy to those who need a little more, and protecting the environment we all share.
Tito’s wants to bring to joy to their community and their customers. That culture is going to extend to every consumer they serve in some way. Who wouldn’t want to a support a product devoted to community joy?
There is no better example of company keeping up with the pulse of the culture than Tito’s.
Ted Wright is the founder of Fizz, the world’s leading word of mouth marketing (WOMM) agency. Ted is also an acclaimed WOMM keynote speaker and the author of Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth.
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