case study:

Striking the Right Tone:
Flavored Brandy Product Testing

Elegantly expaning audiences


A well-known liquor brand wanted to strengthen and broaden its relationship with the African American audience by rolling out a new product line of flavored brandy. While the client is considered a cherished, trusted brand, it is not considered upscale or fancy. For a brand that has a reputation as a more affordable “well liquor”, branding was essential to expanding the audience and appeal.

With this in mind, the client enlisted Zebra’s help to gather consumer opinions and obtain insightful feedback before releasing the new product

Our Findings

Within a highly fragmented, commoditized market, this new product would need to inspire the flavor enthusiasm required to propel word of mouth, while filling the niche suitable for the product type.

Respondents all said when they wanted to try something new, they’d ask a bartender or server for suggestions. When it comes to picking a drink, mood and situation both influence the choice.

As a brown liquor, brandy is seen as an option for a quiet, intimate occasion. Suitable for mellower moods, it is associated with connoisseurship and comfort.

During product testing, participants embraced concepts that promised a relaxing, intimate, nightcap experience. The winning bottle design concept suggested a premium, sophisticated product. However, during a taste test, participants found the sugary, energizing flavors at odds with the marketing and packaging of the new product.


To reach the client’s target market, Zebra Strategies conducted 6 focus groups in Atlanta and Chicago with young African American men and women, ages 21-35. After a discussion focused on their drinking habits and preferences, participants engaged in taste tests and product design testing. Once the research was completed, Zebra presented the client with a comprehensive report.

We found the need to create a product that evokes quality and craftsmanship, while not pushing the brandy packaging too far into luxe territory, which may cause dedicated customers to assume it’s not for them.

The solution was to infuse sensuality as a touchpoint of bottle design, flavor enhancement, and marketing direction. This offers a unique positioning opportunity that does not compete on price or prestige but could easily attract both female and male consumers.

We concluded that while the participants were intrigued about the new line, striking the right balance was crucial. We recommended using words like “crafted” or “blended,” which suggest artistry and care, rather than “flavored” or “with a twist,” which seem more artificial and slapdash. Subtlety was key: any flavor should be an accent to a base, while the brandy must stay front and center.

Through Zebra’s research, we were able to reevaluate an overpowering flavor profile and shift the marketing direction to connect with the target audience and encourage word-of-mouth recommendations.

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