A Conversation With Nicolas Duvernois, Founding President of Duvernois Creative Spirits

Recently, BrandBourg assisted Duvernois Creative Spirits with strategy and design projects. Duvernois Creative Spirits is a North American leader in the world of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Its portfolio of products and brands includes Pur Vodka, one of the world’s most awarded vodkas; romeo’s gin, available in classic and flavoured versions as well as in ready-to-drink cocktails with or without alcohol; Choco Crème, the result of a delicious collaboration with Chocolats Favoris; and BockAle microbrewery beers, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

In the following interview with BrandBourg, Nicolas Duvernois shares his vision of the role and importance of the corporate brand for a mass-market product manufacturer.

BB: First, tell us about the story behind your corporate brand name. Why did you choose to name your company Duvernois Esprits Créatifs/Creative Spirits? Why not just Duvernois?

Nicolas Duvernois: The company was originally called Pur Vodka. We had already launched romeo’s gin, and we knew that other products would be added later — which could be confusing, even at the SAQ, which sometimes wanted to order gin, but because of the company name, ordered vodka…

The team suggested changing our name to Duvernois, but I was already all over the place and I felt it was a bit vain. I finally realized that since many companies in the beverage alcohol business have family names, using Duvernois would be a nice nod to the industry we’re in. We added “Creative Spirits” because that’s what defines us as a team. “Creative Spirits” refers to both our products and the way we do things — the way we approach recipe development, the way we market our products and brands, the way we collaborate with artists on romeo’s gin, and also the way we go about hiring staff. Creativity is at the heart of our entrepreneurial approach. This creativity also allows us to reinvigorate categories that have been stagnant.

The name Duvernois Creative Spirits allows us to assert our collective DNA every time we introduce ourselves, which creates the obligation to think outside the box. After mulling it over for several years, that’s how I sold the name to myself!

BB: What made you decide to undertake a thorough reflection on your corporate brand when your products already have a strong momentum?

ND: We had not yet stopped to think about our corporate brand because, in our opinion, it was more urgent to bring our commercial brands to life and make them known. We had reached that point. The corporate brand is critical to the employer side of the business, and a major investment by a company in another segment was going to shake things up. It was time to think about what defines us as a company.

I wanted to start at the top and work my way down to the brands, because each of the brands needed tweaking, some minor, some major. If you don’t know who you are, how can you fine-tune your brands?

When asked who we are, our answer was more about what we do, when in fact it should have been about our purpose, what drives us, and our core values.

BB: You took the time to articulate the purpose, the 2035 vision and the values of Duvernois Creative Spirits with your management team. At the end of this process, what do you think you have achieved?

ND: The process made me realize the importance of words and the need and challenge of having a common vocabulary.

To build a strong branding, you have to use the right words. This is a fact that really jumped out at me. The process raised a number of strategic issues, allowed us to have conversations about deep issues, to gain perspective.

The new strategic anchors have inspired us to move from “good” to “great.” The details are where you gain market share. The details are where you can hire talented people who would make a lot more money working for a major corporation. The details are where you can create “Aha!” moments. It’s a combination of talent and work ethic.

BB: How will this reflection on the corporate brand influence your commercial brands? Your employer brand? Your relationships with various partners and suppliers?

ND: We don’t look at commercial brands like we used to. We look at them more analytically than sentimentally. It’s as if we’ve become a “real” company with better processes, better decision-making. For instance, a more critical view of romeo’s gin raised some key communication issues on our packaging, issues that we resolved in collaboration with your team.

In terms of employer branding, the reflection exercise made us realize that we want the company to be one of Canada’s best employers. We are currently working on a revamped approach in order to raise the bar even higher.

As for partners and suppliers, our relationships are closely tied to our employer brand because they deal with our people first, not our products. We want to be that company that other companies want to work with. We want to be their selling point or their “cool supplier” point. And that’s where the Creative Spirits aspect comes in. That’s why it’s important to have clearly defined strategic anchors.

Ultimately, everyone at Duvernois Creative Spirits has the power to make the company shine — not just Nicolas Duvernois.

BB: Often, the mission, vision and values initiatives are carried out internally, or with the support of firms specializing in strategic planning or organizational development. What do you think was the advantage of working with an agency that specializes in branding?

ND: The work we did with BrandBourg was monumental. This is not an easy thing to do in a first-generation company, especially when the founder of the company is still very much involved in daily operations, is interested in everything and has plenty of ideas and projects!

The one thing we liked about BrandBourg was the experience you all had with big-name brands: I liked the idea of being accompanied by people who had extensive experience in alcoholic beverages, and with leaders in the food or beauty fields. Having worked with such brands imprints itself in the DNA. And what I want to do is build strong brands, not just products, because anyone can do that. A brand is a story, and people want stories. And when you have a real story to tell, that’s even better.

That being said, this process was psychologically difficult because it is an exercise that calls everything into question. In fact, BrandBourg’s next team member should be a psychologist or neuropsychologist!

Nicolas Duvernois, Founding President of Duvernois Creative Spirits

"The work we did with BrandBourg was monumental. This is not an easy thing to do in a first-generation company, especially when the founder of the company is still very much involved in daily operations, is interested in everything and has plenty of ideas and projects!"

Nicolas Duvernois, Founding President of Duvernois Creative Spirits

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