The Details of a Brand

Your customers care about details.  Even if you don’t.

When your brand stands for quality and tradition, cutting corners – even on packaging – will be noticed.

Buying a product falls into one of two general categories:  purchasing something that is necessary and utilitarian, and buying something that makes you happy.  It’s the latter of these two categories about which I’m writing today. 

When we buy something that makes us smile, we choose things things that evoke a personal relationship with the product.  Clothes, cars, homes, televisions, smartphones…and those little treats we afford ourselves on a day-to-day basis.  Like a Starbucks coffee.  Or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.  A movie. 

In my case, my occasional treat is really good rum.  I mean really good rum.

Back in 2002, I spent several weeks on a British Royal Air Force base in Cyprus.  Because of delays in the project, I spend much of my time watching Greek TV in a dorm room next to a bunch of young, rowdy RAF airmen.  They had a great routine – workout at 6AM, work until 4, sleep until 7…and then their real day began. 

These prolific airmen and airwomen would hit the enlisted pub and drink Carling, Worsteiner (which they referred to as “Warbly”), or Rum and Coke.  It was here I had my first experience with “the Admiralty”.

For a quid (one British Pound), the barkeep would give you a tasty (if warm) concoction of British Navy Rum and Coca Cola.  The European kind, made with cane sugar and not the American solution to everything – High Fructose Corn Syrup.  The glass was small, but potent.  And the rum?  It was called Pusser’s.  A strange name, but a beautiful product.

With not much to do, and no  sign of a good vodka (my drink at the time), I put in for the rum.  I was not disappointed.

To this very day, I typically only drink Navy Rum mixed with Coke.  If I get ahold of a 30-year-old rum, I’ll sip it straight.  In fact, unless I’m in Germany where the beer is among the best in the world, I’ll always search for a good rum.  I’m a fan for life, and love buying a world-class bottle to enjoy on occasion. 

The Tradition of Pusser’s Rum

Pusser’s is a great rum with a storied past.  Forbes Magazine referred to Pusser’s as the single malt of rum

Pusser’s Rum dates back to 1655, when the British Navy started providing their sailers with two “tots” (shot-glass sized rations) of rum per day.  This was for two reasons.  First, it was difficult to maintain citrus while months at sea, and the rum – infused with citrus juice, helped prevent scurvy among the sailers.  Second, it kept morale high – with every sailer looking forward to their daily ration. 

The name Pusser’s is a perversion of the term “Purser” – the person on the ship responsible for all of the stores, including the rum.  This British Navy rum was served daily on British ships around the globe every day in an unbroken tradition from 1655 up until July 31, 1970, when the tradition was finally discontinued on a sad day known as “Black Tot Day”.    

In 1979, nearly a decade after the Royal Navy abandoned the custom of the daily tot of rum, company founder Charles Tobias obtained the rights to blending information associated with the naval rum ration and formed the company to produce the spirit according to the original Admiralty recipe, a blend of five West Indian rums without colouring agents. The Royal Navy Sailor’s Fund, a Navy charity, receives royalties from the proceeds of each bottle of the rum sold, and that is now the charity’s largest source of income apart from the founder’s original bequest.

Pusser’s Rum is uniquely blended primarily from rum handcrafted using a wooden pot-still distillation process that provides a depth of flavor far beyond that of mass-produced rums distilled from “modern” semi-automatic metal column stills. The two existing wooden pot stills were first put in use in the 1700s and are made of Amazon Greenwood. The distillation process impregnates the rum with esters (naturally occurring organic flavoring compounds) far beyond those of any other rum. The product is then aged for a minimum of three years.

This history of Pusser’s is important.  Because beyond just drinking a great rum, there’s a great story steeped in five centuries of folklore, tradition, and quality.

The Mis-Management of an Iconic Brand

Over the years, Pusser’s Rum Ltd. has had its ups and downs.  There’s a famous story of Pusser’s suing a small bar in NYC, and the recent decision to relocate their headquarters from the British Virgin Islands to Charleston, SC.   

But the latest change they’ve made is the one that has me up in arms.

It’s a relatively small thing.  Most people wouldn’t even notice it or think twice about it.  Certainly the product managers and supply chain specialists at Pusser’s didn’t.  It’s not something I can even get Pusser’s to acknowledge.

They’ve replaced the wooden cork with a plastic one.

I know it sounds petty.  But that wooden cork has more to do with the experience of Pusser’s than just being a bottle top.

In the evening, after the kids are in bed and my wife pours her Keurig coffee with warm frothed milk, I pour my “daily tot”.  It’s a special routine for me that signals the end of a day and an hour or two of relaxing with my wife.

So here’s the process.  I start with one of our Waterford crystal tumblers from our wedding list.  I love these glasses because they have a very thin rim and a heft greater than regular glass.  I use ice cubes from the old-school ice trays.  I like square cubes better than those half-moon shaped ones that come from the automatic ice maker.  Occasionally I’ll add a maraschino cherry or two.

Then, I’ll open the bottle of Pusser’s.  Here’s where it gets romantic.  Opening the bottle with the regular cork top creates this unique “squeak” sound that announces to my wife, our dog, and anyone else around that the best rum in the world is about to be poured.  The sound of that squeak, the sound of the rum hitting the rocks in that crystal glass…these are part of my daily experience.

Seven square rocks of ice.  Crystal tumbler.  Cover the ice.  Fill to the brim with Coca Cola.  Garnish on occasion with a Maraschino cherry.  Enjoy for the next hour.

That squeak of the wooden cork is an integrated part of the whole experience of enjoying rum. 

So imagine my disappointment when I recently bought a bottle and found a plastic cork.  Which makes no sound at all.  And looks cheap as all hell.

I wrote a letter to Pusser’s about it.  No response.  I wrote another one.  I even wrote a letter asking them if I could buy a couple dozen corks to replace the shitty plastic ones upon purchase. 

The Details Matter.

We’ve all experienced it at some point or another.  You buy that special thing that makes your day a little bit more enjoyable.  But you notice something different about it this time.  The packaging changed ever so slightly, or something is just slightly off.  Or your favorite TV show changed its format ever so slightly in a way that cheapens the experience. 

It’s the effect of cost cutting to maximize profits, and it really hurts your brand.   

That squeak of the wooden cork is an integrated part of the whole experience of enjoying rum.


Think about your experience opening that precious new smartphone for the first time.  It’s no secret that I’m a disciple of Steve Jobs and love the Apple experience.  Opening a brand new iPhone, iPad, or even Mac laptop is such a joy.  It’s that momentary experience that’s like a drug.  I want to experience that again and again – like a first kiss of sorts.

When you manage a product, think about the little things that matter to your customers.  Your best zealots and greatest evangelists will tell you what your product means to them.  They’ll tell you when some things need to be improved, and they’ll remind you that some things really shouldn’t. 

Like the cork of a bottle of Pusser’s. 

Oh and one last thing.  If your zealot evangelist customers contact you, you really should respond.  Some of them might write blog articles about how you failed in managing your brand.

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