Jamming brand and gin
SCOTT OXFORD: 00:02.814 [music] G'day, I'm Scott Oxford and welcome to BrandJam, the podcast where we jam about brand because brand is our jam.
SCOTT OXFORD: 00:12.674 [music] I'm just your regular everyday garden variety brand evangelist, and my day job is head of strategy and creative for an Australian brand and creative agency called New Word Order. So I live and breathe brand every day. And talking to people who own, manage or empower brands is my happy place. And if I had to say something that would make it even happier, I would say add gin. So I have just the tonic. And yes, this is going to be a few dad jokes. Today I'm jamming with Matt Jones, co-founder and brand director for Four Pillars gin, an incredible Australian brand and fabulous success story.
MATT JONES: 00:48.711 Gin can be truly different. Gin can taste of ideas. Gin can taste of places.
SCOTT OXFORD: 00:54.927 Born in 2013 to three mates, Stu, Cam, and my guest Matt, Four Pillars went from a small craft distillery to being named the world's leading gin producer two years in a row. Matt has a truly fascinating work history behind him. Having studied economics, he began his career in military intelligence studying the economies of countries of interest to the UK Ministry of Defence, and trying to date a girl who worked at MI6. While planning a move into foreign affairs, Matt ended up dating the Australian girl Rebecca and instead of moving buildings in Whitehall, he moved to Sydney and fell completely in love with both the girl and the city. In a brief stint back in London, Becs started working in arts marketing while Matt moved into politics writing speeches and running campaigns. And here is where the foundations of the Four Pillars brand come from. His passion for language, and communication which he also shares with Stu, and also Bec's genius for creative marketing. After a few years in London where he was one of the founding members at London's Milk and Honey which is his claim to being early on the whole craft drinks scene, they moved to Australia. Matt moved into the world of brand strategy and brand experiences at an agency called Jack Morton. This was 2006 the time before social media, and he had the chance to work on literally dozens of huge brands from Sony and Samsung to Microsoft and Volkswagen. The job moved them to New York, and he became the agencies global head of strategy and creative, then back to Sydney again. With the desire to do something more meaningful, Matt started up a small brand consultancy called Better Happy, choosing to work for the brands that were in some way making the world a better place, that's the better bit. And his job was to help them engage their customers through storytelling design and experiences. That's the making people happy bit. And that was when he met Stu who introduced him to Cam, and the three of them spent time talking about their gin dream. And that's where we need to meet Matt and find out what happened next. Matt, welcome to BrandJam.
MATT JONES: 02:49.780 Thanks Scott. That's comprehensive, overwhelming. I think it's my story.
SCOTT OXFORD: 02:55.413 It's the potted history, anyway.
MATT JONES: 02:58.691 The potted and slightly embellished history, but I love it, let's go with it.
SCOTT OXFORD: 03:02.858 It's a good set up for a spirited chat. Boom boom. So look, I wanted to start by asking the big question. You're pretty much an ad man, and intelligence man, why gin? Where did gin come from?
MATT JONES: 03:15.151 Look, there's a long answer and a short answer, Scott. Why don't we start with the short answer and then the long answer ill probably emerge over the course of this conversation. But I spent a long time as a consultant. I spent a long time working in agency land for Jack Morton in that brand experience space, then in my own consultancy running this little agency called Better Happy. And I'd become increasingly convinced that the brands that were meaningful were not ones that were trying to be another something but ones that were trying to be a better something, where there as a true sense of product or service or business differentiation at the heart of that proposition. So when I met Stu and Cam they had been playing around with this idea of making gin. And gin immediately appealed to me both on a personal level, I was gin drinker. I wasn't someone who knew a lot about gin, but I was a gin drinker and I had a long history of passion for great bars, and hospitality, and food and drink. But the other thing I liked about gin, there was a possibility that you could make a truly differentiated gin. Gin is not vodka. Vodka is all about purity. It's about almost sterility. It'a about sort of trying to remove any sense of flavour or texture or character and sort of deliver neutrality into the drink. Gin is not that. Gin is juniper and then anything you like. So gin can be truly different. Gin can taste of ideas. Gin can taste of places. We could make a modern Australian gin, and we'll talk more about that. But looking at that gin category you could see immediately you're going to need a level of brand differentiation. You are not going to succeed with product advantage alone. And so for me as well as having an interest in the category as well as lining these guys that I'd met and being energised by their passion for wine and for food and drink and now for gin I also saw there was an opportunity to make a contribution. And you would understand this as a brand advocate as well. I could see the role of brand really clearly but within a context where we were going to lead with a differentiated product, and I really like that balance of helping to make something better but also still seeing the contribution that the brand thinking, the brand strategy, the brand execution could make to success.
SCOTT OXFORD: 05:33.047 Yeah. Well, I mean that's the whole purpose of brand is to actually capture some reality and some promise that you can then deliver on. That's the biggest misconception that I see about brand that somehow you can polish the proverbial turd or at least role it in glitter. But when you can actually create something different, it's a brand that actually lets the world know about it and helps them access it and connect for it. So making the product is one thing, and then it's telling the story is another. And when you those to right, as you guys obviously have, then magic happens, and clearly it's happened for you. Did you know it was going to get magical at the beginning? Or how were those early days? Was it a long term vision or was it an experiment?
MATT JONES: 06:16.601 It was probably a combination of the two to be honest. I think it's interesting how the DNA of the founder group sort of shapes the DNA of the business, right? So we went into this as three bald middle-aged forty-something guys. So we all had years under our belt, runs on the board, a decent amount of experience. Cameron, he's the ultimate kind of can-do pragmatist in our business. He ran for Australia in the Atlanta Olympics in '96. Got his body around a 400-metre track fast enough to represent Australia in the relay. Stu had been a journalist. Had ended up in wine journalism, wine writing, opened his own PR agency specializing in food and drink. I came from that brand word, that agency world that we talked about. So we all brought something to it, and I think none of us wanted just to play around. None of us wanted another hobby. We all wanted to make something meaningful. But whether that meaningful thing was going to be small and beautiful or bigger and more scaleable, I don't think we entirely new. I think what we know was we wanted to put the product first. We wanted to do this properly. And what helped us with that was I think defining a sense of purpose before we really defined a sense of commercial ambition. So before we sat down and said, "Why are we doing this for us? Well, we want to build a business, and we want to be able to sell it to so-and-so or whatever." We didn't start there. And I absolutely know that there will be people listening to this podcast sort of rolling their eyes going yeah that's a great marketing story but the reality is that's what we want to do, it genuinely was not where we began. We began with a much more sort of broad sense of purpose, why would we make gin in Australia? We were not the first people to make gin in Australia, but there was not really a gin movement here yet. You looked overseas, you looked to the UK, looked at the US there was a real craft gin scene going on, part of a craft drinks movement of craft brewing and craft distilling. The craft beer scene had really started to happen here. The craft spirit scene perhaps it was happening a bit in Tasmania--
SCOTT OXFORD: 08:34.926 Bit of whiskey, yeah.
MATT JONES: 08:35.894 Yeah, absolutely. But it certainly hadn't taken off in gin. And no one was sitting around going the one thing that our gin landscape is missing in Australia is Australian gin. I don't think there was a huge kind of pent-up demand. And so it was really important in that moment to go, so why? Why would we make gin here? And what we absolutely believed and this particularly got locked in after Stu and Cam went on a road trip to the first major investment that we made in business was putting down the money so that Stu and Cam could jump on a plane, I stayed here and wrote the powerpoint, but they went off to the States, and they started up in Seattle, and they hired a BMW six series convertible. I've never established why that was the only available car, but anyway. They drove down from Seattle all the way down to Los Angeles and visited about 35 different distilleries, and they came back just fully energised around a couple of things. One was we've got to have this particular type of still. We'll come to back to that because I think it's so important those fundamentals of what we've bought the business on. But the other think they came back and raved about was how the Americans were doing gin in their own way. The Americans weren't trying to make British London style dry gin. The gin that you and I would have potentially grown up drinking in an illicit fashion, that was very much kind of Nana's tipple. It was very heavy on the juniper, it sort of had that Pine o Clean quality and wasn't particularly palatable and delicious. It sort of did its job as a vector for alcohol, but it wasn't particularly delicious. And the Americans weren't trying to make that. The Americans were making gin that really spoke to their place and their landscape and their palate. And Stu and Cam came back and said, "Look, we can make Australian gin." We'd talked a lot about what would Australian and specifically modern Australian gin would taste like. We said, "Well wait a minute, we have got the most delicious flavours on earth here. Ww've got access to unbelievable produce all year round. Incredible indigenous native botanicals that grow great for us. We've got the collision of these absolutely delicious warm Mediterranean food cultures with these incredible food cultures of Southeast Asia." So we are in cities like Sydney and Melbourne, we are so blessed with the diversity of our cultures and the diversity of our food cultures and our flavour references. Well wait a minute if gin can taste of a place, if after distilling juniper you can throw whatever you want in that still then gin that tastes of modern Australia can truly be the most delicious gin in the world. But we're only going to achieve that if the heart of our purpose is to get up every day and try and elevate the craft of distilling gin. So that's what got written down on a piece of paper, "We exist to elevate the craft of distilling gin." And at first we said in Australia, and then after about four years we scrubbed out the in Australia bit and went well this isn't just about Four Pillars it's about the fact that this is the most delicious country on earth, we can be the most exciting gin scene. So the very long-winded answer to your very straightforward question is, no, we didn't know how big it could be, we didn't know how big we wanted it to be. We knew simply that we wanted to lead with product and we wanted to lead with that sense of purpose. And sort of trusted that if we did that, and if we set the business up for the long-term and made sure we had enough cash in the bank and enough liquidity to not get rushed and not get impatient, but instead, follow that logic through, there was always a sense that we could be onto something. Whether we could be onto something on the scale that we've now seen, I don't think we predicted that. We didn't have that accurate a crystal ball. But I think that's the learning I take from it, that we really focused on why are we building something meaningful? Why will people care? Why will this thing that we're creating in Australia matter? Not what's in it for us and how quickly are we going to get that?
SCOTT OXFORD: 12:29.752 For me, that's the distinction between a build to sell, which is an admirable way to build a business. But from day one, it was all about the craft and it was not about-- it was not about the sell and the pay off. It was about finding something that you could just love doing and being your own boss at doing it. And essentially, creating something that was the essence of the zeitgeist. You're part of what's happening. And that, I sort of liken a bit, I guess, to things like honey, where honey is like your gin, it takes its flavour from the botanicals around the hive. And it's if you taste your way through Australian honey, you taste your way through our landscape and through our differing spaces and it's-- yeah. But I'd love to-- what you said about the Americans, because essentially Americans did the same thing with whisky. They completely personalised whisky when they-- in the various bourbons and the like in American whiskies that they make, just to do things their own way and do it differently and sort of define it as their own. And I want to come back to the name, because, to me, it sounds like-- I don't know what the Four Pillars are, but it sounds like there are four potentially-- I know what four pillars stands for in general culture, which is principles, guiding principles. Is that where Four Pillars came from?
MATT JONES: 14:00.072 Yeah, look, it is. I mean, just to pick up on-- I'll come back to the American thing, because I think that's a really interesting observation. Look, the name emerged. So naming is always a really interesting conversation in brand. My least favourite part of the brand development process, by a distance, is the naming bit. I hate it. I think one of the reasons I hate naming is there are no good names. There just are no good names. And just look at the names of cars that emerge these days, the unbelievable kind of made-up words that you see stuck on the back of cars. There are no good names. But there are definitely bad names. And you can overthink names. And we needed a name to go onto our initial label concepts. And it was Stu who suggested Four Pillars. He actually made two incredibly good suggestions when we developed that label. The first was Four Pillars. And I'll tell you what it means in a second. The second was that we should be designing a label-- and this was on our original Rare Dry Gin, our first and still our signature gin, we should be designing a label that we would be comfortable for our kids to inherit. That if we designed too much 2013 into that label, too much contemporary design language of the day, within three or four years it would look tired, it would look dated, and instead, we should create something that we would feel was a modern classic. And I think we achieved that. And I think as a result, we've been able to do lots of tinkering with our design language as we go, but there's always been that kind of core of modern classicism that hasn't dated. The name, as you say, it was really just about principles. And the principle that we wanted to talk about was this notion of focusing on a few things and really getting them right. That sense of simplicity and excellence. Just focusing on four pillars. And what are the four pillars that's going to make this gin extraordinary? And we deliberately didn't write Four Pillars for the brand, we wrote them for our gins. And so if you pick up a bottle of Rare Dry Gin, our original on the side it will say, "The Four Pillars are stills, water, botanicals and love." And it was that sense of having the world's best stills, made by Christian Carl in Stuttgart, all copper, pure-bred gin machines. They only-- well certainly for us-- they only make gin. They're the best gin-making stills in the world. We only make gin. We make nothing else. We're completely specialised. So we went and bought the perfect specialised equipment. We've got access to great Yarra Valley water. We've got access to this incredible range of botanicals. We don't only use Australian botanicals. We think modern Australia is about taking from the best in the world. So when you think about great modern Australian chefs, like Neil Perry, they brilliantly combine the best of Australian produce with flavours of China and South East Asia and the Mediterranean. Well we thought Australian gin should be the same.
SCOTT OXFORD: 16:47.687 That's multicultural Australia. That's who we are.
MATT JONES: 16:49.715 Exactly right. And then love, craft, attention to detail. Call it what you will. But then those four pillars changed with every gin and it became a rhythm and a way of communicating and saying, "Look everything we make, is built on four pillars." And what are the four pillars of this gin? So I think, for me, the name developed more and more meaning as we went. And became a window that we allowed you to look through and understand what we were doing. But we never made too much of a big deal of the name. We're just Four Pillars. And what are the four pillars of this gin, or this thing that we're trying to do? Just back on the American point, though, I think this is the other sort of foundational side of the brand. And sometimes the bit that, I think, gets a little bit missed, perhaps by our friends in the brand space. Which is really making sure that the brand you're building, is optimised to the commercial realities of your market. So you mentioned the US, Scott. I think one of the reasons that we've seen, and we were seeing back then, this unbelievable boom in craft spirits in the States. The scale. There is simply a scale of market there. And there are all sorts of complexities to doing business in the States, which we don't need to go into, but there is absolutely, scale. And so something we were very conscious of here in Australia, is the absence of scale. And so we recognise that we were going to be doing something very expensive. Making super-premium gin, paying incredibly high excise rates on every bottle we sold, to the Australian government. And we were going to be doing that to a relatively small gin market. Fortunately, since the launch of Four Pillars, it's been a fast growing gin market and we've been a big part of that growth. But it undoubtedly started small. And because it started small, we're to focus on a couple of things. One, we're to make sure, as I mentioned, we had enough, sort of liquidity in the business. So we went out and got a little family of twenty, we called them "ginvestors," in the business before we'd made any gin. We were patient, we decided that we would rather, as three founders, own a smaller percentage of a business that had longevity to it, than own 100% of a business that could never really scale, or would be on it's knees from day one. The second thing is we really had to focus on that quality over quantity, and go, "Well there isn't a quantity of market out there." It's a relatively small market, so we're going to have to build community. We're going to have to build loyalty. We're going to have to build a direct consumer business and we're going to have to work really hard with the pally retailers like Dan Murphy's. We're going to have to play every angle of this. We're going to have to find a way to build quality into this, because we can't just play a scale game. Whereas if we'd be launching in a market like the US or the UK, much bigger populations. much more established, you could have, perhaps just gone for scale, but I think it baked in a real focus on quality and loyalty and that sense of community from day one, that has served us really, really well. So some principles, I think there, on the nature of the brand that we built. And then a name which, I think, developed meaning over time as we sort of invested in it and told stories, using that name.
SCOTT OXFORD: 20:02.600 I love that. Whenever I work on naming projects, we always talk about inclusivity and exclusivity. And a great name can never be completely inclusive. So what it needs to do, is ensure that it's not excluding opportunities. Excluding anyone or excluding anything. And give it some freedom and some length to run so that it can discover it's life and purpose and play out and the like. And that's exactly what you say, because it's funny, if I look at my entire experience with your product, and as I said, I think I was a relatively early adopter I think, which probably makes me fanboy today. But what it means is that the name just kind of sat comfortably with me and I think it sat comfortably, and it worked and again the classicism of what you said there I think that's really key, is you weren't just building a brand for today and the time, you're actually building it for longevity and to sort of step a little outside of trends so that you could actually just be. And I love each product you release, each new one like the olive leaf gin is that beautiful green version of basically you classic original label, is just beautiful. But then I look at the Negroni one, and it's got all of the character that a Negroni has as a cocktail, but it's still absolutely a variation on this classical underlying look and feel and that's beautiful. And you know again go across to the Shiraz as well, and I guess just letting colour, colour combined with that classicism just bring it to life. So yeah I think whether-- it was obviously some intention but also some really good luck as well, I just think that's served you really, really well. And I just want to sort of push in to it because again names work well when they're subliminal, they just do their thing don't they? Rather than smashing you in the face, so.
MATT JONES: 22:05.116 They do and I want to come back to something you said right at the top of this because I think it get rights to the heart of name of all the beautiful and kind things you just said about the design of out labels. And I kind of gave my little preamble about this notion of the ideal business being a business that brings something better to its category. But that alone is not enough and we still need to wrap these layers of brand around it, and you said quite rightly that is brand, that intersection of bringing emotion, bringing language, bringing aesthetics, bringing feelings. Bringing all these intangible but still nonetheless meaningful and motivating things wrapping that around the core product. I still think though that within that there are at least two but let's just go with two different models, and in model number one you can see the brand, you can see the hand of brand building playing out. So take a brand that probably we all admire because it's a cliché like Apple. No one really looks at Apple and thinks Apple is just like that because a bunch of industrial engineers make that. You can absolutely see the brand thanking, you can see that polishing, you can see the pencil of the designer or the artist alongside the beautiful commitment to incredible industrial design at the heart of Apple. You can see it all. I think the other model is the one where you want brand to be a little bit more invisible. You don't really want to feel the hand of the advertising agency, of the brand agency. Undoubtedly their work is there but it's less visible. And I'd like to think that's the brand we've built at Four Pillars, and as a result we haven't got everything right. Every label you mentioned there with the exception of olive leaf has evolved over time, and we've looked back at the first inspirations and gone, "We could have done a bit better." But we've always loved what we've made. We've always made things that have spoken to us as a family group and a growing community. We've never allowed ourselves to get too invested in design and brand theory and marketing. At the end of the day we've made things because we've loved them, and we've put labels on them that spoke to us. We've never focus grouped anything. We've never asked a trade customer what they think of the label before we put it into market. And so even the mistakes then have a certain quality to them. They have a certain sort of authenticity and honesty to them. So over time there's no question that the design language and the photography and the decisions we make have become more sophisticated and more refined, and hopefully we hit the target more often. But I think what I just would want people listening to take from it though is that we haven't always got it right, and we haven't always thought it through perfectly and that's okay because instead of-- where things go wrong is where you're making mistakes, but the mistakes come from trying to second guess the market, from trying to figure out what customers like, what people want and then getting that wrong. Because then you've got something that misses the mark for you and misses the mark for them. And I think what we've always done well is we've been very true to ourselves. So you take a product like Bloody Shiraz gin. No one at Four Pillars got up on any day and went, "There's a coloured and sweet gin movement coming and pink gin is about to explode. And we don't want to make pink gin so let's find a different way to deal with that customer insight, let's find a different way to get into that new growing category, and let's do 10 different experiments" And then Shiraz comes out on top, and we make that. None of that happened. What happened was one day Cameron saw some Shiraz fruit lying around in the winery where for the first two years of Four Pillars we were basically squatting in the back of Rob Dowledge winery in the Yarra Valley, and Cameron some Shiraz fruit that Rob who's a great mate of Four Pillars, and Rob didn't have any use for it. So rather than wait for Rob to figure out what to do with is Cameron stole it. And having stolen it he needed to make sure it was rendered useless for winemaking, so he tipped gin on top and hen he started stirring that every day and after about 10 weeks he pressed these grapes that were then soaked in all of this gin and out came a gin, and with it came all of this natural colour and sweetness. And Cameron just thought, "That's delicious." And then he topped that up with some fresh gin and brought that up to sort of a high enough alcohol to be a gin, so it's a little bit weaker than our regular gins but still bottles at 7.8. So unlike slough gin for those who have tried that in the UK which is much more liqueury and sticky, Cameron wanted to bottle it as a gin, and he brought it up to the city one day and let me and Stu taste it and went, "I've just had a play with this." It didn't come from a strategy. It didn't come from an insight. It didn't come from a commercial opportunity. It came from Cameron's inventiveness. And so from there you name it, and you tell a story about it, and you put a label on it, and you don't nail all of it at first. So I think what I'm trying to say here is that it's wonderful to hear the personality of those gins that the savoury olive leaf gin, the sort of Italian inspired Negroni gin, the naturally sweet Shiraz. It's wonderful to hear that you're seeing the character and personality of those gins coming out, but you're still seeing this sort of core Four Pillars identity, and classicism there across all of them. But it's also important to counterbalance that with all of those emerged initially just from an instinct feeling about what was right for us and what spoke to us. And I think that's where real brand truth comes from rather than sometimes an overengineered, over-thought through piece of work that might not quite hit the market.
SCOTT OXFORD: 27:52.372 Everything you've said for me I've got the word organic in terms of the way you develop your product, and they way your brand-- and this is as a guy in my late forties I know that there is a natural organic outflow for me now at this stage in my life, that I didn't have earlier in my life. And it sounds like, you said the three of you guys were in your forties and so you're basically just naturally outworking product, naturally outworking brand, and it just it is a flow out it doesn't need to be captured it just is, and it ebbs out, and it creates things then. And it means that you've got unique products. Who wants to go against the global majors on pink gin? I mean I know that's incredibly well sort of catered for. Why would you want to just go and compete with them when you can--?
MATT JONES: 28:48.861 Absolutely. And I think that was the point I was making before about the way that the DNA of the founder group does shape the DNA of the business. And we've built more heavily on instinct and that sort of, as you say, that kind of outworking of professional experience than perhaps you could do if you'd built the business when in your mid-20s not in your mid-40s. It doesn't make you any more correct in your decisions. It just maybe gives you more confidence and more conviction. And the balance of course is not tipping into arrogance. I think the balance is to bring that conviction with humility. And to say, "Look, we've made this. We think it's delicious. We think it's exciting. But that's just us. We hope you like it." And I think our brand has always-- and this is a word you used just before. I'd like to think we've always balanced that sense of conviction in our product. That sense of quality. That sense of craft. That sense that we are - and we talk about this a lot - makers not marketers. We've balanced that then with a real sense of inclusivity. And we've built community with our customers. And we've had conversations with our customers. And we've really been open to their feedback. We've never asked them, "What gin should we make next?" but we will absolutely ask them how they're enjoying the gin. We'll absolutely ask them how they're drinking the gin. We will engage in conversation but we will still hold this place of confidence that it's our job to be the gin experts. But that doesn't come with an arrogance or a hubris. It just is a confidence and a conviction in what we're making and a desire to talk to people about it.
SCOTT OXFORD: 30:20.409 Yeah. And I think that's that attitude of test and learn. I think that willingness to fail, it keeps the arrogance at bay. And I'll just qualify what I said too about being in our 40s. I don't think we've got any sort of exclusive on anything. It's just something that I've noticed about our age. I admire 20-somethings who have this vision that I never had in that age. And they're doing entirely different things. But it's nice to reflect sometimes, particularly in this brand space too, how creativity just flows from you. Whether that be creative in terms of the product you're making or in terms of the way you tell that story. And there's sort of a real comfort in that. I wanted to mention those beautiful stills and get you to tell us-- because each one of those has a name. And they're just gorgeous to look at. But they are obviously the real secret to creating. They facilitate your ability to experiment and create such beautiful gin. Tell me about your stills.
MATT JONES: 31:24.991 Yeah, so when Cam and Stu came back from the US, one of those things that was just crystal clear for them was we had to go and buy a still from Christian CARL in Germany. Every time they had gone to a distillery in the States where they'd tasted a gin out the front that just blew them away, they would go out the back into the stillhouse and they'd find a CARL still. And they were like, "Look, we've done enough blind tests. CARL stills make better gin." And so off we jump on the internet and Cameron makes contact. And at the time, I don't think there was a CARL still in Australia. These guys had been making stills pretty much the same way by hand for a hundred years in Stuttgart. They are the Rolls Royce of still makers. It takes about 12 months from ordering to getting one commissioned. And so a couple of things sort of happened with that decision. One, it baked in a moment of pause. And I talked earlier in the podcast about the importance to us of really reflecting on purpose and defining purpose. I think we did that to a great extent with the time that we were given by having to have that pause. By having to have that moment of slowing down and going, "Well, look, we've made the big decision. We want to get a still from CARL, it's going to take a while." The second thing that the CARL still did was when she showed up, and we named her after Cameron's late mum, both beautiful, both with the potential to explode. So we named her Wilma and Cameron prior to Wilma showing up, he'd been playing with what was really a chemistry lab still. And I think he had had it about a week, and he was distilling individual botanicals. So he was looking at what happens to lemon myrtle, this incredible game changing Australian botanical, it's got more natural citron in it than a lemon. It's absolutely delicious. And he was playing with these individual botanicals going, "What happens when we distil them. No one else has played with them." I think it was about a week into him doing that, that the local coppers in Hilton knocked on his door and said, "Mate we've just got to make sure you're not cooking up meth here, because that's normally why people park in these little stills." He was like, "Nah, here's what we're doing." But Wilma shows up, and he's able to put it all together. He's able to throw all these botanicals-- and that's the distillation technique that we use single shot. So it's a bit like making tea. All the botanicals go in as the tea leaves. And the flavours that unfurl from this still are extraordinary, and then came this sort of total lightbulb moment, and it was actually inspired a little bit by the original still when she arrived, she came with a German attached, his name was Klaus, and he's sort of the resident distiller consultant to CARL. So he came to visit because this was the first time a Christian CARL still had been delivered to Australia, so he wanted to make sure we set up properly. He was absolutely overwhelmed by the quality of citrus in Australia. And he sort of started interrogating, "Well, how long's your citrus season?" And Cameron's like, "Well, year round." You think about the Northern Hemisphere, if you try to use anything other than citrus peel in your gin you'd have this window of 2 months when you could make gin and then another 10 months. Here in Australia, incredible natural organic citrus the whole year round. And so Cameron just threw about 8 kilograms of local organic oranges into what's called the botanical basket of the still. So slice them in half and effectively the still bubbled up, your podcast listeners can't see my hands moving, but the still sort of bubbles away and all of the dry botanicals they're distilling in a multigrain spirit and up come all of those vapours, those spirits hence the name, and steamed these oranges, these 8 kilograms of whole organic oranges that are sliced in half, and just brought all of this perfume effectively out of the oranges. And that was really the moment that our first gin, Rare Dry Gin, took shape, was this incredible aromatic hit from the fresh citrus combined with those botanicals. And so from there we're away, and we're flying in terms of gin. And we'll probably talk a bit more about the gin. But the other thing because--conversation, the other thing I wanted to note and you asked it in the question is Wilma is just beautiful. And her big sister Jude named after Stu's mum and both Jude's have a higher capacity for alcohol than Wilma. Eileen who's named after my mum, my mum doesn't drink she's an academic, so she got the experimental still. And Eileen now lives in our little drinks laboratory in Sydney. Big Beth, named after employee number one Scott Gould's mum. Coral, our second experimental still named after full-time employee number two's mum Michelle. So we've got this family of stills all named after mums, all stunningly beautiful. And I think what that did, that baked the importance of aesthetics of photography into our brand. That we recognised there was just this fundamental visual advantage. That these stills were beautiful. The botanicals were beautiful. The oranges were beautiful. Hopefully, we were going to design some label that would be beautiful. Let's really invest on letting people see that. And so we did didn't spend a lot of money. We didn't really spend any money on advertising in the early days. But we spent a lot of money relative to our budget on content, on photography, on design. I'm going, "This is a natural advantage. And the best thing we can do is get you to watch us make gin and taste our gin. Because product first, product advantage, craft above all. But if we can't do that, the second-best thing we can do is take the best possible photographs of every step of that craft, every step of that process, and make that an advantage." And I think it's really interesting when you look back to 2013, '14, '15, not only does Cameron make gin that tastes better, but we're consistently creating content and putting out photography that just looks better and gives you that sense of craft and the sense of those pillars and that attention to detail. And a big part of that was leaning into the natural advantage of the still. So again, a very long answer to a simple question. Yes, the stills changed the game in many ways. But one of them was taking advantage of what they brought to us. And without doing that, these beautiful stills could have been sitting at the back of a shed unseen by anyone. But by then leaning into that and going, "Well we don't need to overthink this. We've got an aesthetic advantage. Let's invest in making the most of that," I think was a simple but critical thing that we did.
SCOTT OXFORD: 37:52.676 Oh, look, I think a big part of why we connect to brands is the provenance story. Where things came from, how they were made, who made them. All of those things. And I encourage anyone to jump on the Four Pillars website and explore some of these and see these beautiful copper gorgeous things and a whole lot of these beautiful photos. Because there are a lot of-- there are things that are not so glamourous. I mean wine used to be-- wine's quite beautiful in terms of when it's stored in barrels. But beer is lots and lots of stainless steel. So there's something very classical and beautiful about those copper stills. And I think, yeah. I think they're a huge part of it. And I'd even continue that right forward to the bottling as well. There's something about a bottle, a distinctive bottle, but also a certain weight of glass that just protects the precious contents inside in terms of that. And I think that's-- you've also owned the shape of bottle as well. I mean that's a huge part of your brand. It's not an elaborate over-the-top shape. It's a distinctive shape though. I would pick one anywhere. And I sound like I drink too much gin, don't I? [laughter] But it's all part of that story is about just keeping these things simple and beautiful and elegant.
MATT JONES: 39:14.632 Look it is. And it goes back to something we discussed earlier. This desire to do stuff the right way for the long term. That on the one hand, you're not going to get everything right. You are going to make mistakes. You're going to look back and go, "Oh my god, did we really think that was the right way to do whatever three years ago?" You evolve, you mature. But on the other hand, there are certain things that you only get one chance at. Where we could see that, we wanted to get it right first time. So we didn't want to launch in a rush with an off-the-shelf generic bottle that didn't really speak to our values and then in a couple of years hope to improve that. We said, "Well from day one, can we have the patience to go and get a custom bottle made? To get it right? To try and establish those values very early on?" So you pick your battles. In the early days, you can't afford to do everything. But certain things feel really important. And for us, exactly as you said Scott, the closer it was to the product - and so the next thing closest to the liquid is the bottle itself - the more important it was to get that right. And if you had to compromise on other things, if you had to take all of your advertising budget and say, "Well, why don't we just make a better product and put it in a better bottle and take a better photo of that and tell a better story about that? Rather than have a less good product in a less good bottle with a less good photograph but a bigger advertising budget," we always prioritised the product first and foremost.
SCOTT OXFORD: 40:41.875 Yeah. Hey, I'm ad industry but I'm more passionate about a brand that essentially sells itself, that connects with-- that doesn't need to be advertised. Or was less reliant on it. And I remember for me it was word of mouth and it was sharing. That was really what it was about. It was about people talking about, "Have you tasted it? Have you tried it? Did you try Navy strength? Have you these are the things. And even down to all the conversations which was like I remember when I first had Bloody Shiraz recommended to me it was like, "Don't mix it with tonic just soda. It's beautiful with soda?" And then someone else saying, "No, you've got to mix it with--" Just all these conversations about the individual ways that different people approach it. And I love what you said. I was going to ask you how you stay connected with customers. And it sounds like you go out of your way to have conversations. And I know that you and the guys make yourselves very available on social as well in terms of if someone had a question or wanted to give you some feedback. Do you have any particular mechanisms that you use to stay connected with? Because you're in BWSs, you're in Dan Murphy's. Your product, it is the definitive Australian gin in certainly all of the bottle shops that I've ever visited. And so there's a lot of customers out there, and how do you talk to them?
MATT JONES: 42:03.790 There are. So let me be a politician for a second and dodge the question, but then I promise I'll come back to it. I think the first key for me on social media is to value it, which doesn't necessarily mean to measure it. I think you have to understand innately the value of social media and the building of social community to your brand. You won't always be able to measure and prove it, there has to be a level of faith. Now we've always had that faith in social media and like so many things about Four Pillars it goes back to that genesis story that when we were sitting around waiting for Wilma to show up, and we had that moment of pause, and we'd sort of written the brand strategy, we'd written down that sense of purpose Cameron's dodging getting arrested for bootleg distilling at home. We've gone and found a little investor group to put some money in the bank, and we went, "You know what? Wouldn't it be kind of fun to bring some customers on the journey?" And so we ran what I think was one of the first alcohol crowdfunding campaigns, certainly in Australia. So we ran that on Possible which at the time was the third biggest crowdfunding platform after Kickstarter and Indiegogo but it was the local Australian one. And we had no idea how it would go. We decided well look why don't we just put batch number one 400 bottles onto this platform, and we'll say that anyone who buys one of these bottles they'll become a member of this thing that we call the batch number one club for life. And they will have imperpetuity, first dibs on any new gin that we make. And we sold out our campaign in four days. And that gave us this little community of-- and in fact I think it was about 220 people bought up those 400 bottles. So then we sort of extended it a bit, and I think we allowed about another 100 people to effectively put their hand up to get rights on batch number three when we eventually got round to making it. And so that gave us around 300 people, and those 300 people were our batch number one club. And from the outset as we started to then send them emails and build a little exchange with them , you could see their passion. You could see the way that they were going to drive this brand, they were going to own this brand themselves. And I think from then we recognised the absolute value of social community and making people feel invested in the brand and making people feel like family. And so the first step then was to really invest my own time. So Rebecca and I owned our social channels in the early days and I would estimate that between us we would have allocated 2 out of-- 2 days out of our 10 working days a week would have been on social community management, even in the early days. And so once you start to recognise that that's the level of investment that the founder group is making, and our time is hopefully reasonably valuable and you can see the results. It becomes then relatively easy to go, "Okay, we need to bring someone onboard and three days a week of their role is going to be social media." And you can have that conversation. And so we've always scaled against our desire to both tell stories but be there to interact and converse. And literally I think it was Friday of last week, we've got a sensational social media team, we hold it all in-house we do not outsource social media. Again lots of brands do and that's great, and there's lots of agencies that do it well. We've always wanted every social interaction to feel like it comes from our distillery. The guys last week at about 4 o'clock they just put a little thing on Instagram stories saying, "Tell us what gin you've got open at the moment and what mood you're in, and we'll come back with a cocktail recipe." And by about 10:00 PM that night 70 people had received a personalised cocktail bit of advice, and they'd come back and shared images. And we're in 30 countries worldwide now. We're a sizeable business in Australia. We're a small business, but in a lot of countries worldwide. But we still believe that nothing would be more important than those 70 interactions, a lot of whom it was the first time they'd interacted with Four Pillars because by us sort of opening our arms and saying, "Guys come and talk to us. What have you got at home? What did you buy at Dan Murphy's recently? You might not be in our database, you might not have bought it from us, but someone might have gifted you a bottle of Olive Leaf, if you're sitting there wondering what to do hit us up, and we'll give you a drinks recipe and have a chat about how it went." We still believe to this day that the quality of those interactions are more important than any sort of quantity of not really engaging interactions that we can make out there. So how do we handle it? Technology. We used to community manage using our phones, and now we're using community management platforms. We're using platforms to publish, but we're still owning that in-house. We've got a really strong community management team, we try and scale that over a few different people. It can be exhausting. But the way that platforms are changing the way that direct messages come in. The speed with which Instagram stories expire. Our absolute policy as a brand that we try and see everyone, respond to everyone, acknowledge everyone. We don't just let people post about us and let it drift past us. It means it is a full-time job, and it can be really exhausting and overwhelming and frankly not very healthy for one person to try and handle it. So we've recognised that, and we've brought people from our hospitality frontline who really understand the brand story and brought them across into community management, so we can kind of grow that team. So there's a bit of manpower there. There's a bit of technology, but at the heart of it is just a philosophy and a belief in the value of that and a willingness to invest in that.
SCOTT OXFORD: 47:37.589 Yeah. What I love about that is that's that true connection and I think it forms a lifelong connection. I've had plenty of conversations from people who wrote a letter when they were a kid and got an incredible response from a big corporation that you wouldn't have expected to ever hear from, and they're that for life, you know? Naomi from Facebook she wrote to Smith's crisps when she was a kid about the goggle dog and got this package delivered to her that she got to share with all her friends, and she said she'll never ever forget that. And I think that's the value of it to have something that you love that you have conversations about all the time and then to have that personal connection back to the people who make that product, who sell that product I think just comes back to that authenticity and--
MATT JONES: 48:28.360 Look it does. And the one thing I'd want to acknowledge. You mentioned you're an ad guy, I come from the ad and the brand agency world. Advertising has a role. There's no question advertising has a role. I think all of us enjoy advertising brands more when the brand has so much substance to it and has so much value to it. I think was it McCann back in the day that the agency motto was truth well told. It's that sense that when advertising is amplifying truth and curating truth and helping it reach more people that's when I think it's sort of at its best. but I think the other thing to acknowledge is that brands do evolve. And the challenges facing brands evolve, so. It's always nice when you acknowledge challenge as well as success. And I think one of the biggest challenges for Four Pillars now is as we grow we are reaching people who are harder to reach through those traditional word-of-mouth means.
SCOTT OXFORD: 49:28.115 Yeah, you've almost hit a platform. Like a glass ceiling. And it's like, yeah the next bit is a whole new level of-- whole different way.
MATT JONES: 49:35.642 A little bit. You do. I remember listening to the marketing director - I think it's Robbie Brammall - down at Mona in Tasmania. You know Mona the really wild contemporary art museum. And I remember listening to him talk a couple of years ago about the marketing challenges as they realised that they just-- David Walsh, the incredible founder and funder of Mona. Him saying to the team, "Guys, look, I'm not going to fund this forever alone. I need you to get more people here." But of course, the sort of hardcore people who would have flocked to Mona no matter what, they could have not put a dollar into any advertising and we would have tracked it that down and we'd have gone there. You get to a point where you, as you say, you hit that plateau. You've reached most of them. And they can only be born and grow up at such a speed. And so you've got to start to reach beyond that. And I remember Robbie talking about their advertising strategy. And he put this billboard up and they ran billboards in suburban Adelaide. And so what they did there was they focused on the creative to almost segment the audience. So they ran their worst TripAdvisor reviews. So they ran these absolutely horrifyingly negative reviews. The lowest of 1-star reviews they could find. And they put them up on billboards knowing that what they were saying to people was, "This experience at Mona is incredibly divisive. You have a machine that literally manufactures shit. You have sex and blood and death and all of these things on display. And so your neighbour will probably hate it." And so if you were there in suburban Adelaide looking at that billboard going, "Everyone who lives around here would hate it but I would love that and away I go." And I think that was just this interesting lightbulb for me in recognising that how you're going to reach the next audience might not be the same as how you reached the last one. Doesn't mean that your brand should change. Doesn't mean that what you stand for needs to change. But you might need to change your methodologies and your theories of how you're going to grow. So that's something we're going through at the moment as we look at export markets, we look at that next wave of growth in Australia, we look at the changing landscape-- I was going to say post-COVID but let's be honest we're still mid-COVID. So I think that's the interesting thing for all of us as brand marketers is to really have confidence in the brand that we've built and what we stand for and which parts of that are timeless and true and as relevant today as they were when we began. But equally have that humility and that curiosity and that willingness to interrogate, to go, "What are the next problems in front of us? What are the next opportunities in front of us? And perhaps we need to think differently about them compared to how we thought about the ones three years ago."
SCOTT OXFORD: 52:24.722 Yeah. Yeah. Sage advice. Or should that be juniper advice? That's terrible. I'm trying think of--
MATT JONES: 52:30.414 Is that your last one?
SCOTT OXFORD: 52:32.410 I just made it up on the spot. I am a copywriter, but. No, I was going to say I'm sure you've heard all of them. We're running out of time sadly but there is just one question I just wanted to ask you about. Because all of the other questions I had, I think it's been really, really clear why you guys have stood out when there are-- I think I read that there are thousands of gins produced in Australia. You guys have done some--
MATT JONES: 52:57.807 Oh, look. Yeah, let's quickly tackle that. I think when we launched we would have been in the first, certainly in the first 20 gin producers in Australia and I think it might have been around 12 or 13. Today, there are hundreds, possibly thousands of individual gin products made in Australia by around about somewhere in the high two hundreds of distillers. So yeah, there's been wild exponential growth of Australian gin in the last seven, eight years.
SCOTT OXFORD: 53:30.986 Yeah. And you guys, as you said, you said part of what you set out to do was to create this wave and so I'm sure plenty of those producers are very grateful that you guys were a big part of making gin a very Australian thing to drink. So it's extraordinary and we could talk about this for hours and it's always the way. Trying to stick to an hour is such hard work when we have such amazing stuff. I just wanted to just ask you just a non-gin question because your career, the time you spent, the fact that brand's such a part of you. If we go back to your childhood, is there a particular brand for you that you connected with in childhood? Either it was the first time you became aware of a brand or that brands made sense to you or that you're still loyal to today because someone wrote you a letter or something like that? Is there anything like that from your childhood?
MATT JONES: 54:28.381 Yeah, look there's plenty and there's this brand that I remember having an affinity with then that I still have a sort of nostalgic connection to. I'm a Manchester United fan and so when I first started supporting United, Sharp, the electronics manufacturer was on their jerseys. And so I was a big Sharp fan as a kid and I insisted when I wanted a hi-fi system, I wanted a MIDI hi-fi system if anyone remembers that size with a built-in turntable and I insisted it had to be a Sharp. I'm no longer a Sharp loyalist, but it still kind of gives me warm feelings inside. I grew up like most kids, then you have these sort of flexible relationships. I had more Ferraris and Lamborghinis on my wall than Porsche 911s. But as I've got older, I've realised I'd much rather own a Porsche than a Ferrari and I should clarify that I own neither.
MATT JONES: 55:23.926 My father was a-- my father was a watch guy. And he gave me-- he sort of handed down his-- one of his first sort of premium watches - an Amiga - and I've always sort of had this great love of Amiga but which comes from that sort of personal connection. One of my great passions was music, another was technology. And so I really fell in love with Sony and Iowa from a music and hi-fi point of view. And so yeah, Sharp was my irrational love because I thought they made better stuff. I don't know, it's interesting how we form these views and something I also challenged teams I've worked with to reflect on, are their contemporary brand preferences and where they got formed. But it is fascinating, Scott, to think about that stuff from childhood and what has sort of moved with you and remain true to this day. As you say, Naomi with a relationship with Smith's Crisps versus the stuff that more feels part of childhood and part of memory and part of nostalgia.
SCOTT OXFORD: 56:23.966 I think it's summed up in that we connect to brands that support and care about the things that we support and care about, or that take the time to know us or connect with us. Maybe not know us but at least reach out and respect us and value us and I think that's tied up in your whole social media approach. And I think it's tied up in that whole approach that you guys do in terms of the way you make your product and that you set out for the long game. And the long game is about building long-term relationships. And it sounds to me-- and I can say from personal experience, all of my touchpoints with your brand have, right even down to what that when I reached out the fact that you were like, "Hell, yeah. Let's do this podcast." It just speaks volumes to me that where brands sit in a certain corner, that's my corner. And you guys sit in my corner. So I've loved hearing all about it. And like I said there's much more. I look forward to finally getting down to visit one of these stills. And when we get out of lockdown, and when all the lockdowns end and experiencing that. But in the meantime just enjoying that. Yeah. I've got a couple of very nice bottles of Four Pillars that I drink moderately and [laughter] enjoyably in my cupboard. I just wanted to finish with, by asking you, I think, I can tell you a philosophy has so rolled out of everything that we've talked about here. But is there a great piece of advice, or is there anything in particular that you would want to say that after all of your time in brand and particularly at the helm of this particular brand? Is there something you'd say to listeners? A piece of advice that you live by?
MATT JONES: 58:12.246 Oh, look. There's probably a few things that I find myself saying too often. When I was in politics I worked with this-- I worked with a few fairly experienced campaigners. And one of them used to talk about this notion of the vomit test. And his vomit test was, "You've only said your message enough if you want to vomit every time you say it." And at that point, the voter might have noticed. And there is probably a few things that I say that make me vomit a little bit in my mouth because I've said them so often. The one that comes to mind here is, and it's one of a number of quotes that I've stolen from a guy called Marty Neumeier over the years, Is this notion that brand building is about the bridge between logic and emotion. And I think a lot of people when they start out and they're building a business there is a lot of logic there. They've developed something. Whether that something is a line of code, or a product, or a service, that they believe is better. And of course they believe it. And they believe they can argue the customer into understanding that it's better. And the piece that they can miss sometimes is that emotional dimension. And without the logic, perhaps the emotion isn't enough. But equally, with just logic, with the absence of that emotion, the absence of that connection, the absence of that feeling, then I don't think that that business is going to be anywhere near as successful as it might be if you could wrap that around. So valuing emotion. Valuing the intangible. Valuing the irrational. And adding that to the fundamental logic of what makes your business strong. What makes your product, your offering strong. I think that's where the magic is.
SCOTT OXFORD: 59:44.887 I'd even go in so far as to say that for startups, the majority of startups the only reason they actually get off the ground is because the emotion in those early days is buoyant enough to overcome what logic tells us. Which is that we're-- it's hard work to start a business and it's hard work to build a brand. But that emotion is key. And that's the difference between those of us who just have great ideas for businesses and those of us that actually make them happen. So that's a brilliant piece of advice. Matt, I'm so sad to end this but it's been an absolute delight. And, yeah, like I said, we could talk for ages. But you shared with me a quote that's one of your favourites by Marty Neumeier who you just mentioned. And I think it's simple and beautiful and so incredibly true. He says in The Brand Gap - in his book The Brand Gap - he says, "A brand is not a logo." And amen, brother. A brand is conversations, recommendations, tastes, experiences, provenance, story, history, all of these things. And man, Four Pillars is a beautiful example of that. So thanks for joining me, Matt. It's been amazing.
MATT JONES: 01:00:56.844 Thanks, Scott. It's been awesome. Catch you soon.
SCOTT OXFORD: 01:01:01.418 So my studio producer and editor is Zane C Weber. Music is by Phil Slade, and brand and art direction by Andrew McGuckin and my team at New Word Order. Please subscribe if you haven't. You'll get every single episode and we're pumping them out week by week. I'm Scott Oxford thanks for joining Matt and myself on.