The ‘Gin and Tonic Effect’

How to differentiate your business using the ‘Gin and Tonic Effect’

I’ve sat in many a brand strategy meeting where those around the table have been trying to get to the bottom of what their USP is. They go round and round in circles getting more and more frustrated. I can see all they want to do is get up and walk out the door.

My advice is, don’t spend time looking for something that 99% of the time doesn’t exist.

Your product or service is unlikely to be unique. Even so, in a crowded marketplace we all need to find a way to stand out from our competitors. We need to find a way to be different.

So, how can we do this?

Here’s an example.

You and I are both flying to New York.

We both chose different airlines.

I am flying British Airways, you are flying Virgin Atlantic.

We are both flying on the same airplanes – a 787.

The cost is roughly the same.

Both airplanes are using the same fuel.

Flying from, and to, the same airports.

The same air traffic control, same route, the staff had the same safety training and both ‘planes get to their destination safely and on time.

So, what’s the difference?

The difference is in the different personalities of the two brands.

Brand Personality
As soon as you see the logo on the tail you know you are in for a different experience.

Your brand creates your difference

And it’s not just airlines that rely on their brand to create the difference.

Many other businesses offer very similar products and services to their competitors.

Two Estate Agents, for instance, may be operating in the same territory. Selling the same housing stock at roughly the same prices, charging the same commission, marketing through the same channels to attract the same buyers.

What’s the difference?

Again, it’s down to each Estate Agent’s personality, values, behaviour and reputation. The brand is what makes each one different.

And what’s the difference between high street banks, mobile phone companies and professional services like accountants and solicitors?

Very little if you think about it. Apart from their brands.

What is a brand?

Think of a brand as a person.

When you meet that person for the first time, you judge them by how they speak, their behavior, what they believe or the principles they stand for and what they look like.

Brand Personality

Their tone of voice – how they speak.

Their vision – what they believe.

Their values – how they behave.

And their identity – how they look – how they are dressed.

Importantly too you will find out about their reputation – what do others say about this person?

A brand is exactly the same.

At its core, a brand will have a set of values; it may be trustworthy or honest or perhaps risk-takers or an innovator.

It will have a tone of voice – formal or informal, authoritative or friendly for instance.

A vision – a belief in what the brand has set out to achieve. What is its purpose?

And its identity – the way it looks –its branding: the logo, colours, typeface and style of imagery.

And a brand’s reputation – what people are saying about it – is vital. Think about how we judge Volkswagen, Facebook, Google when we hear that they may have broken our trust.

How to find the difference

Let’s call it the ‘gin and tonic’ effect.

Back to our airline flights. We have returned from our trips and swap notes. You ask, “how was your flight?”

I don’t answer “it was fine. The plane didn’t break down and we didn’t crash – we landed on time”. We expect all this at the very least!

What I might say is “the service was great. On the way out, I asked for a gin and tonic and on the return flight they recognized me and remembered my drink. They even added a slice of lemon from first class!”

Gin and Tonic effect

So, it’s the little, ‘added value’ extra elements that get remembered and talked about.

It’s these little things that will differentiate your brand from your competitors’.

The values airlines stand by, such as reliability, safety, efficiency are all very important, but these are rational values. A brand should consider emotional values too to help it differentiate itself.

What is your brand’s Gin and Tonic?

Here are 5 steps to work through that will help you to find your difference.

1. Make time to sit down with your directors and re-visit your company’s brand values or define them if they don’t exist.

2. Aim for no more than five or six values to describe your brand’s personality. What you believe in and stand for.

3. Be honest – don’t pretend the brand is ‘passionate’ if it’s not.

4. Think about your brand’s vision. What is its purpose?

5. Now define your point of difference.

If you have a truly unique proposition, like you produce anti-cholesterol bacon butties for instance, then you are pretty much home and dry.

But if your products or services are similar to your competitors’, you’ll need to dig deep and find a difference.

Remember, it may well be an emotional, rather than rational, point of difference – like the Gin and Tonic.

How defining your brand can help your business

Creating a strong brand or not can be the difference between a business thriving or disappearing. So, in that context why wouldn’t you take time to go through the five steps above?

The rewards of a strong brand:

  • Consistency of brand engenders trust. Trust is needed to move a prospect to become a customer.
  • Customers understand and remember your brand and what it stands for. When the time is right for them to buy, you are the company of choice.
  • Customers become engaged and loyal. Their lifetime value to your business increases. They recommend you to others.

The benefits of a strong brand don’t just apply to customers and prospects, it’s vital for your employees too:

  • A strong brand makes your company a great place to work, helping you to attract the best skilled employees.
  • It reduces employee churn, and therefore costs associated to re-employing and training
  • You and your staff have confidence and pride in the business when all share the values and vision
  • Your employees (even those who are not customer facing) are your best advocates for your business

If you’re finding this difficult – you’re not alone

Defining your brands personality is not an easy task, especially when you are so close to your business.

Consider getting help from a brand expert. This is exactly what I do. I act as a facilitator. I ask questions about what you offer your customers, what you do well, why you do what you do. I delve deeper to help you paint a picture of your brand.

If you like the sound of this and feel an informal chat would help, give me, Nick Ovenden, a call on 07876 293885 or 01737 819687 or email me.

Samsara retail branding and E-commerce website

I created the branding for Samsara a few years ago whilst working as Nomo Strategic Marketing and Design. Emily Browne, the owner, wanted a name and logo to launch her dress agency in Bagshot Surrey.

Early in 2017 I dropped into the shop to check that all was OK and to ask if there was anything I could do. Emily explained that she was moving to a new, larger premises a few doors up in Bagshot High Street and needed some help with exterior colour and application of the branding.

I suggested a number of signage schemes and alternative colours ranging from subtle to vivid hues. After checking paint samples, Emily and I agreed on a colour named ‘Dusted Fondant’ for the shop exterior. I obtained estimates from signage companies for the manufacture and application of the laser-cut acrylic lettering from my scaled artworks. The entire shopfront was painted before the installation of signage.

Samsara opened in May 2017 and its strong high street presence is now attracting far greater numbers of customers than at the previous premises.

Emily says, “I’m so pleased Nick has designed the new shop front for Samsara – I’ve always loved the original logo that he created. Nick can be trusted to listen to what I want and come up with spot on brief designs. But, also to challenge my opinion and gently push his ideas to achieve a really professional, well detailed scheme. I’m really proud of how Samsara stands out in Bagshot High Street due to the effective design.”

The next strategic step for Emily to develop the business was to take the brand online and sell her merchandise to a wider audience through a bespoke e-commerce site. Design work on the new site commenced in September 2017 and the build was undertaken by my digital partner Taybridge Consulting. We trained Emily on how to update content, use the payment gateway and shipping tools and went live in mid October.

View the Samsara Fashion website here. 


Keeping up appearances

Imagine you are at a party and you come across two guests you’ve never seen before. Before you speak to them, you judge them by taking in their appearances – it’s human nature to do so.

One is well dressed and presentable and the other scruffy and dishevelled.

So, who do you go and talk to – Mr Smart or Mr Scruffy?

It’s highly likely to be Mr Smart.

Now, imagine this in the context of someone seeing your company for the first time. This is why your appearance – your branding, really matters.

Likewise, your brand (your reputation) is equally important. If you do not send out the right visual and verbal messages about who you are, then you might end up attracting the wrong type of people to your business.

Is your company Smart Co or Scruffy Co?

Carry out a quick check to find out how your organisation appears to its audience.

Ask yourself and your customers the following questions:

  • Are you proud of the way your company is presenting itself to the outside world?

  • Do you have a distinct image that you want others to see you as?

  • Are your existing customers happy to be associated with you, and are your potential customers’ first impressions of you positive?

  • Does your branding engage with your customers?

If all of your answers are yes, well done. You are managing your Brand Identity well.

Do remember, though, that your marketplace is constantly changing – particularly with such rapid developments in technology and social media.

However, if the answer is no, then you should review your branding. In which case we’d love to help. Give me a call on 07876 293885  for an informal chat or send and email to Nick.

Commissioning a brand design project

Commissioning a brand design project from a reputable, experienced brand designer should be like ordering a bespoke suit from a Saville Row tailor.

Function before style

Before discussing the style of the suit, the tailor will want to know a bit about you:

  • Your lifestyle
  • Your expectations of the suit you have in mind
  • What occasions you planning to wear it for – business, foreign travel, country pursuits, a wedding?

In the world of brand design this is the research stage.

We ask questions about your long term plans for the business. Are you planning to sell, diversify, acquire new companies?


The design of your new suit (or brand) will have to reflect your personality. Otherwise you won’t feel comfortable wearing it and you will look a bit daft!

  • Are you formal or casual?
  • Cutting edge innovative or traditional.
  • Bright flamboyant or sombre?

And what do your competitors wear? If they are all in dark blue suits do you want the same, to blend in? Or be a bit different, to show that you are different, and stand out.

Design ideas

Now we have an idea of the suit’s function and your personality, we can propose some design ideas for you to respond to. In just the same way, we’ll put a few ideas in front of you to get your reaction. These first ideas often stimulate more debate about how your brand might look and we embark on a process of developing and crafting the design until it’s right.

The process should be collaborative, with the designer listening to, and advising you throughout the various iterations. Similarly, you would be attending many fittings at your tailor, discussing and adjusting details of the garment until it fits perfectly.

The end result

When we dress with care, in an outfit that not only looks great but is well made and feels good, we feel good about ourselves. It gives us confidence and pride. And others tend to notice us, and react to our presence.

It should be exactly the same when your organisation’s branding is carefully designed. It should inspire you with pride, and your customers will recognise, remember and engage with your brand.

Stratum C – a brand design project

Stratum C commissioned a brand design project with us. You can can take a look at the finish brand design for Stratum C here.


If you feel that your branding doesn’t reflect your personality, give us a call on 01737 819687 or send Nick an email.