The Road To Success

Enjoy a thrilling ride during these early months; the first leg of your journey.
We’re On The One Road

Success in any business comes down to our ability to influence choice.

In The Blend, I have contended that a well-built and well-managed brand can be a powerful driver of choice in the highly competitive hotel and restaurant markets. I have described how a brand works and outlined some of the ingredients and recipes for building a great brand.

During the time that this series of articles has been published, I have also been working directly with a range of business-owners in the hospitality sector. As we have sifted through the ingredients to hand, mulled over how much of this or that one we might use, and begun to write up the brand recipe, I have been struck by an important realisation. We can talk (or write) about the process of making a brand as much as we like but it is not until we roll up our sleeves, get stuck into the messy business of mixing up the ingredients, of blending and shaping and making ready for the oven, and of offering it to our guests to taste, that it makes much sense. The proof of this particular pudding is very much in the eating.

Over the next few outings of The Blend, I will describe the making of a number of the brands that I have worked with over the past couple of years. You are then welcome to taste what we have made and judge for yourself.

One For The Road

I have written previously that behind every great brand is a great story. If we wish to build a brand, we have to find a story for it to tell. When we met the owners of a new chauffeur-driven limousine service earlier this year, the business had yet to begin telling its story. This was one we would have to make from scratch.

It certainly appeared that way. The business was not yet up and running. The five marvellous Lincoln stretch limousines, in silver and in white, that would form the core of its fleet, were still being built in the US. The elegant 1954 Bentley was in transit from its former home in the UK. That first limousine ride was still some five months away.

Where would we begin in telling the story? The owners, soon pointed me in the right direction. Although the limousine fleet was still under wraps somewhere faraway, the wheels of the business had begun turning for these entrepreneurs long before then.

They described to me their hopes and ambitions for the business and the elements of the story that the brand would tell began to emerge. Like almost all owners, they wanted their business to be different. Unlike most others however, they were prepared to invest in building a business that was driven by a distinctive set of values from the outset.

Arriving At A Crossroads

At this part of our journey towards a new brand, we usually have a number of things to consider in terms of the story that we are going to tell. There are a number of routes that we might take.

The first is to locate the narrative in the actual history of the business. This route is only effective when the business can claim ownership of a particular piece of history in a way that is not possible for its rivals. The stories of longstanding players such as The Shelbourne Hotel, Davy Byrne’s Pub, Bewley’s Cafes (despite their imminent demise), Goldman Sachs and Jardines help define their unique positioning and proposition and can offer real competitive advantage.

The second is to base it in the personal story of the business owner, an approach that is at its most effective when the business owner has a particularly compelling personality and a memorable story of his or her own to tell. The brand stories of businesses such as The Conrad Hotel, Superquinn, Ben & Jerry’s, The Body Shop and Virgin are such narratives.

The third is to create a narrative that is based on desired values, and to build the business around those. This requires the greatest act of imagination (and often the most amount of research). Typically, the owner identifies a gap in the market and manufactures the story and values that will fill it most successfully. The stories of Samas at The Park in Kenmare, The Morrison Hotel in Dublin, The IFSC, Cuisine De France and Nokia have been largely built in this way.

Finally, the fourth is to take the owner’s real values and passion for something and to create a business and a narrative around these. Businesses such as Sheen Falls Lodge, Java Republic, Druid Chocolates, Mrs. Fields Cookies and Wolf Blass Wines have been built taking this approach.

A Road Less Travelled

Liberty Limousines had already set out on the last of these routes. In our early meetings, what shone through was the enthusiasm of the owners for stylish cars and outstanding service. While none had an immediate background in the area but they spoke passionately about how Liberty Limousines would bring the whole business of chauffeur-driven limousines to new levels. They talked of offering a service that was upmarket, assured, elegant and absolutely dedicated to the comfort and safety of the passenger. They had already put words on what they wanted to achieve: Taking Someone Special, Somewhere Special.

From our discussions, certain key values began to emerge: strength, integrity, care, discretion and decency. These seemed to be powerful drivers for a business of this nature, particularly when allied with the stunning cars in the fleet, and the next challenge was to identify the narrative that would carry them.

We sought a world where these values were essential, ideally one through which the stretch limousines could move smoothly, taking someone special somewhere special. It struck us that this was something of an old-fashioned world, a magical place where the prospect of an evening out was charged with images of enchanted castles, beautiful ladies in elegant gowns, fine champagne and attentive, chivalrous gentlemen.

We found that such a world had briefly existed (in the popular imagination, at least), during the time of the Kennedy presidency. Our images of the time are of the handsome prince and his beautiful princess, playing host to the lords and ladies of the land in the castle that was the White House (images that are rendered all the more poignant by what followed). This was a time when famous faces from cinema, sport and politics mingled freely and glided from one glittering event to the next in beautiful cars.

Two other aspects of this world had particular appeal. This slice of the American dream has real resonance for us here in Ireland; it is a time, which seems even now to be innocent and magical. Allied to the unmistakeably American stretch limousine, this might work powerfully to evoke for our audience a world of privilege and style.

This is also a period when the American democratic model was seen at its most powerful. Kennedy came from what had once been an ordinary Irish-American family and had risen to the highest position in the land with his beautiful wife. This transformation is echoed as we step from the ordinary world onto the magic carpet of the stretch limousine.

Taking Someone Special Somewhere Special

The owners and their team decided that this was a compelling narrative and one that resonated with their business in a number of ways. The challenge then was to determine the role that the brand would play in evoking this world. We settled on the character of the chauffeur as the best and most natural role for the brand. He represents old-fashioned values. He does not belong to the world of power and glamour and influence but he moves easily between this and the ordinary world. He is passionate about cars and dedicated to delivering a great service to those who travel in them.

The team then set about considering the implications of this choice on the behaviour and communications of the business. The most immediate impact was on the choice of a name and the design of a visual identity. At the same time, it set standards for the drivers and for the way in which the service would be delivered. It also influenced the choice of language and the way in which the new business described its service: “We set up Liberty Limousines for two simple reasons. One, we wanted to share our enthusiasm for automobiles. Two, we believe a journey is just as important as a destination – the world is a better place when you see it through the window of a truly luxurious vehicle.”

Liberty Limousines has enjoyed a thrilling ride during these early months, has made a big impact in its market and has achieved its ambitions for the first leg of the journey ahead of schedule. As I write, the team continues to work to translate the brand positioning and personality into all aspects of its behaviour and communications and is preparing for the next stage of development. You can follow their progress by visiting