Monday, September 26, 2011

Affinity case study: Brand affinity from teenager to titan

Today we look at Lee Einsidler, philanthropist and CEO of Sidney Frank Importing Company, Inc., a company associated with some of the biggest brands in its industry. I had the privilege of interviewing Einsidler this summer for a magazine and online article. It was fascinating to hear how his affinity for a particular brand that emerged while he was a teenager later developed into an amazing career built on building brand affinity.

One of seven children, Einsidler was a teenager growing up in Long Island in a family of modest means; his father put bread on the table running a liquor store. Working there during his teens, Einsidler got to know the sales representatives coming in, each brand of bottled beverage, and the company image behind it. So it’s little surprise he would continue in the family business. But as a teenager, Einsidler’s vision was bigger than operating a small family-run store. He wanted to work for Seagram’s, which was the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in the world.

While Einsidler believed in his heart that he had a head for business, his high-school teacher was telling him he’d never amount to anything. So, in spite of his teacher’s judgment, he decided to take a few community college classes in sales and marketing, and then a few more, until he completed a full year of credits. Then, buoyed by that experience, he eventually went on to earn a bachelor’s degree with honors in 1978. He then used one of his father’s contacts to secure an interview at Seagram’s headquarters in New York and landed a job there. He fulfilled his teenage dream; however, no one could anticipate what the future would hold for him.

In 1986, after seven years at Seagram’s, Einsidler joined another huge name in the industry, Jim Beam®. “I became their Vice President - National Sales Manager and the youngest in the liquor business at the age of 29,” he said.

Five years later in 1992, Einsidler faced a personal tragedy that led him to move back to New York, where he joined the small, privately-owned Sidney Frank Importing Co., Inc., which became like a second family. The Chairman and CEO Sidney E. Frank, who founded the business in 1972, became a mentor to Einsidler, and in 1996, after reporting directly to Frank for four years as Vice President of Promotions, Einsidler was promoted to CEO with Frank staying on as Chairman.

Leading up to this point, the company had been making huge moves in the industry, capturing consumer attention and demand. After obtaining importing rights to Jägermeister in 1974, the company turned this specialty brand into a mainstream success. Einsidler’s job involved continuing to build on the Jägermeister brand and its marketing efforts, including its connection to music. “Jägermeister’s affiliation with music has been part of the promotion of Jägermeister since the beginning,” Einsidler said. “Over 500 independent bands plus headliners have been sponsored by Jägermeister, with promotion expanding from sponsoring tours to creating a tour. Today the Jägermeister music tour is one of the pre-eminent rock tours in America.”

In addition to his Jägermeister brand work and other promotional responsibilities at that time, Einsidler was part of the team developing a new vodka concept that would become known as Grey Goose. “We built the company importing Jägermeister, which targeted ‘entry level drinkers,’ an industry term for this market,” Einsidler said. “And during this time we saw that ‘entry level drinkers’ were drinking vodka martinis, not gin martinis like their parents. So we wanted to create the best tasting vodka in the world. We had a relationship with a company in France making brandy, and we asked them if they could make vodka. They said yes, but it would be very expensive because of the methods involved. We spent over a year collaborating with them and tried hundreds of samples until we fell in love with one. Mr. Frank, who was a marketing genius, applied the name Grey Goose to the vodka because it resonated with consumers. Shortly after Grey Goose’s introduction, an institute was doing a tasting competition and we entered and won.” Einsidler said the company created Grey Goose advertising around the independent taste-test results and, from there, sales took off.

Einsidler said Grey Goose vodka was introduced in 1997 and “in summer 2004 we sold it to Bacardi because Sidney’s health was not good and he wanted to leave his fortune to charity.” Einsidler said the Grey Goose sale – estimated at over $2 billion – resulted in huge employee bonuses and millions of dollars donated by Frank, particularly to education, allowing Frank to leave an amazing legacy prior to his death in 2006. Einsidler said Frank’s generosity inspired him to also become a philanthropist.

Einsidler has followed his heart and his head into a highly successful and rewarding career. He said the company stands apart from other businesses because of its family approach and its size and structure that allow it to be very nimble and quick in making decisions, providing maneuverability that is essential to compete against big companies.

“The business continues to do well,” Einsidler said. “We’re the largest importers of sake in America, we have over 200 employees, and we’ve just introduced another vodka.” After redefining the vodka category with Grey Goose, the company has created “the next revolution in spirits”: American Harvest, an American-made organic vodka rolling out in test markets.

Those who follow the food and beverage industry recognize the growing affinity for organic and artisanal products and for supporting American farmers and artisans. Given the company’s track record of understanding its audiences to build brand affinities and Einsidler’s exceptional head for business, it will be interesting to see how this new venture unfolds.
Our first case study looked at James Silva whose work is followed internationally by critics and fans. He demonstrated the art of "do what you love and the money will come," leveraging his affinity for computer gaming into a ground-breaking career.
Brenda Dow is a specialist in Marketing, Advancement, and Business Development. She holds degrees in communications and human resources management, and blogs about affinities and affinity related activities at

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