When It Comes to Branding – You Don’t Know Jack

Jack Daniel's

Jasper was born on a farm in Moore County, Tennessee – one of Calaway and Lucinda Daniel’s 12 children. Exactly when that birth occurred is not known for certain – but the consensus is September, 1850. The hard times his family endured were made more so when Jasper’s mother died when he was only seven years old. At the age of ten, his father declared it was time for Jasper to learn a trade and earn some money.

Jasper went to work for the owner of the dry goods store in Lynchburg, Tennessee – who also happened to be the local Lutheran minister. Stores in those days sold everything needed for home and work – many items were made by the Reverend Call. Jasper not only learned those skills, he learned the secrets to distilling the minister’s very own whiskey. A fast learner with a keen head for business, the lad’s talent quickly equaled his mentor’s.

Most distillers sold clear or caramel colored whiskey as it could be produced faster and cheaper. The minister employed two distinctive processes to make what was considered by many to be the finest whiskey around. They employed the ‘sour mash’ method, which left a small amount of the mash from previous batches in the storage vat, hastening the fermentation process. The whiskey was then filtered through charcoal made by burning hard sugar maple. It was that step which created the deep amber color of the minister’s whiskey.

1861 saw the start of the Civil War during which time the minister and the young boy continued to run the store – and still – as best they could. It was 1863 when a female evangelist delivered an impassioned speech decrying the evils of alcohol. That prompted Mrs. Call and his congregation to give the reverend an referendum – give up the whiskey business or his ministry. With that as impetus, he passed the business to Jasper – then only 13 years old. Jasper eventually purchased land in Lynchburg which included a limestone cavern and spring. That water became a critical element in the flavor of Jasper’s whiskey.

He was a visionary in that, at 16, he registered his distillery with the U.S. government which legitimized his business and protected him from the ‘carpet baggers’ of the time. Jasper also believed in marketing. He used hot air balloons to promote his brand. He issued commemorative coins and bottles. He even created a town band which played at events across the state. Well into his twenties, he had brought many family members into the business.

Against his better judgement, Jasper’s nephew convinced him to enter their whiskey in the competition being held in St. Louis at the 1904 World’s Fair. That decision turned out to be momentous as the whisky won the gold medal and was honored as the world’s finest whiskey. They won the same award in 1905 in Liege, Belgium. The whiskey was now famous worldwide.

Two years later, Jasper, frustrated at his inability to open his safe, kicked it – breaking his toe. Not seeking treatment for the break ultimately led to him losing his leg due to gangrene. As his health diminished, Jasper – by then known better as Jack – turned more of the distillery’s operations over to his nephew, Lem Motlow.

Motlow guided the company through many rough times, notably prohibition. He maintained the original square bottle and green label, but introduced a black label version which was distilled even longer than the original. It wasn’t until 1944 that Motlow achieved his greatest goal. He received a letter from the U.S. government which stated.

“Your charcoal mellowing process produces characteristics unknown to bourbons, ryes, and other whiskeys and thus (your whiskey) is officially designated as a Tennessee Whiskey.”

The official designation as a Tennessee whiskey – not just another bourbon – was the ultimate product differentiation.

The original distilling company was purchased in 1957 by Brown-Forman, one of the largest companies in the spirits and wine industry. The whiskey brand plays a significant role for Brown-Forman as it has gone on to be the largest selling whiskey in the world. Global sales in 2015 were more than 12 million cases. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the brand. This performance is the result of Rev. Call and Jack (Jasper) creating a fearless brand – Jack Daniel’s is a brand built by combining passion with purpose – skills with execution – all wrapped in a spirit of independence.

Fearless Brands combine passion with purpose – skills with execution

Jack Daniel’s is a brand built through vision, hard work and excellence – all wrapped in a spirit of independence.

Another key to Jack Daniel’s success was the company’s ability to turn a negative into a positive. Sales had grown so much that the distillery had reached full production capacity. Demand dwarfed supply, which meant that Jack Daniel’s was available only on an allocated basis from the mid 1950’s to the mid 1970’s.  Distributors and retailers weren’t sold – they were told what their order would be at any given point. This limited availibility further fueled consumer’s demand for the world’s best whiskey.

The marketing strategy was simple – Jack Daniel’s is authentic, produced by real everyday people in an out of the way place. Frank Sinatra called Jack Daniel’s ‘nectar of the gods’. Movie placement positioned Jack Daniel’s as the preferred drink of the rugged American hero. In the music world, Slash, Keith Richards and Kei$ha drink and/or sing about Jack.

The Jack Daniel’s label prominently features the mark “Old No. 7”. That phrase and graphic have become integral in the Jack Daniel’s persona. What’s interesting is that no one at the company knows what it means. It is a designation created and applied by Jack himself – and done so without explanation.

One more oddity is that Jack Daniel’s – the world’s largest and best whiskey is produced in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Lynchburg is in Moore County which is a ‘dry county’ – which means that sales of alcohol are not permitted.

The Jack Daniel’s story is one of a successful and powerful brand. The lessons to be learned from the ‘world’s greatest whiskey’ are many.

Align your passion and your purpose – When Rev. Call and Jack (then Jasper) created what would become known as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey they chose the more difficult path – committing to a unique and longer production cycle. Their purpose was straightforward – distill a great whiskey which would earn them a good living. Their passion drove their commitment to making the best whiskey. Make certain that your purpose is in alignment with your passion – together they are a powerful force.

Leverage your difference – Jack Daniel’s (the man) passion to make Jack Daniel’s (the whiskey) the smoothest and best-tasting was a difference maker all by itself. Making the commitment to include two special processes – sour mash and hard sugar maple charcoal filtering – created a product which was clearly different than – and greatly preferred over – its competition. That process led to the special designation of Tennessee Whiskey which is so powerfully unique. When building your brand, focus on your key point(s) of differentiation – but only if they are relevant. Being different for the sake of being different is a recipe for disaster.

Be authentic – remain true to who you are – Jack Daniel’s has ventured into the flavored whiskey market – and done so very successfully with Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire. In addition, their line extensions include Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel Select. These products exist to take advantage of specific market opportunities. What has not changed across these line extensions is the essence of Jack Daniel’s. Authentic. Honest. Quality. Your brand has to adapt to changing market conditions – but you can never be successful if you depart from the ‘soul’ of your brand.

Jack Daniel’s embodies every aspect of a successful brand – a fearless brand. Learn from Jack Daniel’s. Study their success. Perhaps enjoy (responsibly) a bit of Jack Daniel’s while you do so. Align your passion with your purpose. Remain authentic. Celebrate your success.


Company Branding Friday's Fearless Brand

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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