Infuse your offering with meaning through the brand stories you tell

(The following is an excerpt from my new book, Brand Bewitchery: How to Wield the Story Cycle System™ to Craft Spellbinding Stories for Your Brand)

When I think of consumer commodities, I think of bottled water, aspirin and vodka (not necessarily in that order). How do you create meaning for an inherently meaningless product to create a premium offering? You craft a compelling brand story based on your purpose that is expressed through your product. Because your customers buy your story before they buy your offering.

This brand story concept has never been more underscored to me than listening to Dan Aykroyd pitch his Crystal Head Vodka on the Joe Rogan show. You can learn a ton from this gifted brand storyteller about how to spin meaning into your offering.

Aykroyd spoke in length about his religion of following spiritualists and mediums. He wrote Ghostbusters because he was raised in Ottawa, Canada, in a family that routinely performed séances and hung out with mediums.

He believes in Sasquatch and has had three of his own close encounters with unidentified flying objects (UFOs). The entertaining two-hour episode rollicks through his beliefs and experiences.

But Aykroyd started the show shilling his premium vodka called Crystal Head. His award-winning vodka is an expression of his purpose as I understand it: to tap into unseen forces to elevate your life.

When it comes to selling an expensive commodity, I can’t think of a bigger task than hocking a $55 bottle of vodka. According to the Planet Money Show on National Public Radio (NPR), there is a federal law that requires all vodka to be pretty much the same. “Vodka must be distilled or treated until it is, quote, ‘without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.'” Some distillers will add flavor packs, which is a separate category outside of “pure vodka”.

The Planet Money team wanted to test this. So they bought some vodka concentrate and added water to create their homemade booze. Then they sent it to White Labs in San Diego for a comprehensive spirits test. With their bathtub batch, they sent a sample of the cheapest vodka they could find and a sample of the ultra-luxury brand of Grey Goose .

Guess which of the three vodkas came in third for taste?

Yep, Grey Goose.

Intoxicating brand storytelling

Given this insight, I was intrigued by how Aykroyd told the story of his ultra-premium Crystal Head Vodka. His vodka has been on the market for 11 years and is in 70 countries with over 50 million bottles sold. They won the Gold Medal for Excellent Taste at the 2013 PRODEXPO exhibition in Moscow, Russia out of 400 vodkas.

But what is even more impressive than the success of his tasteless spirit is his brand storytelling. Aykroyd extolled the virtues of their process.

“What we do is we take peaches and cream corn from Chatham, Ontario and we put them in the truck in the mash. We ship it 90% alcohol volume at that point and we take it over and put it in the ferry boat and bring it over to the distillery in New Foundland, Canada, one of the last state-owned stills in the world. And why are we there? Because the water from the original Wisconsin glacier is under Newfoundland. Vodka is an old Russian word for water. And great vodkas have sweet water.”

It has a “sweet, vanilla, dry crisp with a kick of heat off the finish. Our notes are from Anthony Dias Blue.”

The brand story only gets better. Aykroyd says that after distilling, they filter their vodka by pouring it over Herkimer diamonds. Not surprisingly, Rogan jumps on the thought. “You pour it over diamonds?”

I’ll let the Bass-O-Matic salesman take it from here.

Crafting brand meaning through diamonds and UFOs

Diamonds are another precious example of a commodity. Click on the image to learn the meaning behind Herkimer diamonds.

AYKROYD: “We do. We pour it over the Herkimer semi-precious stone. And the Herkimer semi-precious stone is one of our last purification processes. Now, if you asked a high school professor what does pouring alcohol over diamonds do to the alcohol they’d probably say, “Well, nothing.” But, our stones, after a certain number of pours, they turn yellow and we have to bleach them clean or replace them.

The Herkimer diamond is found in an anomalous area of upstate New York, also in Afghanistan and Oaxaca, Mexico. They’re little semi-precious double-ended crystals and people love the taste of the vodka poured over the stones.”

ROGAN: “Is there a chemical reaction with the stones that causes the crystals to turn yellow?”

AYKROYD: “You’d have to sit with a chemistry professor and say why does the alcohol turn the crystals yellow, is it doing anything is it purifying it? We’ve done flavor profiles and people like it better poured over the stones.

Now, why I like the Herkimer diamond is of course because it’s near Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York.”

ROGAN: (Under his breath) “Dun, dun dun….”

AYKROYD: “That is where a lot of scrambles went up in the 70’s and 80’s against whatever was coming and going in the mountains there in Pine Bush, New York.”


AYKROYD: “So I thought this is great. Herkimer diamonds from that area associated with E.T.s, the Navajo, the Aztec, the Anasazi. They said that these skulls came down to them from the star children. They were given to them as scrying devices to help the tribe move forward, to give positive energy to the tribe. And so I thought, perfect tie-in. We pour or vodka over Herkimer diamonds, we’re tied in a little to the extraterrestrial legend there with the skull. It’s the neat kind of bow to our product.

But the most important thing is that the fluid in the bottle matches the beauty of the bottle and the bottle is the idea of selling purity and enlightenment thinking. Enlightened drinking is what these skulls were made for.”

The thinking behind the skull

Crystal Head Vodka is brilliantly packaged in an artisan skull bottle designed by notable Texas artist John Alexander inspired by the “crystal skull” legend.

The crystal skulls are human skull hardstone carvings made of clear or milky white quartz (also called “rock crystal”).

According to National Geographic, many believe these skulls were carved thousands of years ago by an ancient Mesoamerican civilization. Others think they may be relics from the legendary island of Atlantis or proof that extraterrestrials visited the Aztec sometime before the Spanish conquest.

However, these claims have been refuted for all of the specimens made available for scientific studies. But what a story! And the folks at Crystal Head Vodka are undeterred. They have grown a community of bartenders they call Startenders who share their unique experiences with this otherworldly brand.

“We are the vodka for the creative spirit,” Aykroyd declares. “It comes from two artists, a writer, and him a graphic artist and designer and painter and sculpture.” And then he defined the purpose behind the Crystal Head brand:

Enlightened drinking for the creative spirit.

Rogan deadpans, “Dan Aykroyd, you may be the best salesman who as ever lived.”

This is the power of a brand story told on purpose. And it’s a perfect example of how brand storytelling can levitate your brand’s position in the marketplace for incredible success.  Because as Aykroyd has proven, people will buy your story before they buy your product.

And while you might call B.S. on his story, Aykroyd is selling his true beliefs in mystical forces to sell his spirits. It’s authentic to him whether you believe it or not. There’s nothing wrong with that.

So what is the purpose of your brand? How do you want to enlighten and elevate the people you serve?

It’s critical to declare your brand purpose and tell its story. Because that is the story that will intoxicate your customers.