In this series, we have been discussing how to recognize the various ways your own people can inadvertently hurt your brand. Your company is ultimately only as valuable as your brand equity. Your brand equity is based on the likelihood that your branded products and services will continue to sell.
This means brand loyalty is a must. Brand loyalty is only as good as the customer experience, and that experience is based on how well your branded products and services meet or exceed your customers’ expectations. Therefore your brand, its promise, and its reputation are owned by your customers.
Successful brand builders know this. They are forever vigilant that their own well-meaning people don’t do something that disappoints their customers. They also know that the farther your people are removed from sales the more likely they are to take those sales for granted.
Beware of the “bean counters,” for they have a tendency to reduce everything to numbers. Sometimes they can exhibit too little appreciation for how those numbers were achieved in the first place. For instance, your CFO may see “expensive” quality queues on your packaging as a “needless expense” that can be eliminated, adding to the bottom line. “Just do the math,” they may say. Then they multiply the so-called cost savings by the current and projected volume and voila! You’ve saved a bundle – and it’s all profit! But, watch out! It’s not so simple.
You have to listen closely or you both could miss the dicey underlying assumption: Sales will continue at the current rate or even increase without the quality queues on the package, or with a lower quality product.
This assumption is very risky. You’re betting that embellishments like gold ink medallions that validate the customer’s purchase, or four- color labels that set your brand apart and give it authenticity, or even trade dress that gives the customer a sense of value are not necessary to sustain and grow sales.
This is simply a misconception of who owns the brand. If you think you do, then you believe you have license to change it without counsel from your sales people who are in touch with your customers on a daily basis.
Changes become especially dangerous when your brand has been on the market long enough that your customer expects it to look and feel a certain way. A change in the name of “profitability” can hurt your bottom line because the underlying assumption was wrong. Once again, successful brand builders bring in their sales people before any decisions are made to “cheapen” or “commoditize” their branded products.
Also watch out for your finance and accounting people ganging up with your production people. They can not only outnumber and out rank your sales people, but they are physically “inside” the office and have regular access to you, while your sales people are physically “outside” in the field and you don’t see them as often. This natural and required division of venues works to the detriment of your sales people, your customer, and ultimately your bottom line.
Neither finance nor production talk to the customer every day, making it easy for them to isolate and insulate themselves from the “action” in the marketplace. But that’s exactly where your sales people live and work.
Your sales people are painfully aware of your customers’ expectations – and what your competitors are doing to attract your customers. Don’t give your competitors an opportunity to better address your customers’ expectations just to save a few bucks in the short run. You’ll regret it in the long run. Get clearance from your sales people on all “cost saving” schemes.
Next time we will discuss how your legal people can hurt your brand and what to do about it.
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders