We learned a lot about building an international brand during the two decades we grew Barefoot Wines. Most of it we learned the hard way, and that is why today we share our lessons in this blog devoted to brand building.
Although we were successful, we nearly failed several times. No one had warned us about the real perils to brand survival and growth. We discovered most brands are not killed by the competition, but die of self- inflicted wounds.
The real dangers were coming from within our own organization, and they can be lurking within your organization as well – unless you know what to look for and take preemptive action!
This discussion about challenges to your brand is so important that we are presenting it in five parts so we can focus on each and offer our recommended mitigation in greater detail. We will cover marketing, production, accounting, legal and distribution, and what to do in each division to preserve your brand.
Marketing. The general public and the educational institutions believe that marketing is responsible for sales. In fact, you can get a degree in marketing just about anywhere, but a degree in sales is pretty hard to find.
These well-intending folks in your marketing department can harbor a kind of hubris that sometimes leads them to believe they know more about the market than your sales and customer service people. But remember that it is your sales and customer service people who talk with your customers, retailers, and distributors on a daily basis, not your marketing department. Sure, your sales staff needs help with design and strategic planning from marketing but it is through personal relationships that most sales materialize.
Watch out for the new MBA types you hire in marketing who want to make their mark on your brand to add to their resume. They do not yet understand why your brand has been so popular up to now, yet they will inadvertently undo it. They can “gang up” with your production and accounting people to tip the scales with more “inside” people in agreement with their initiatives than “outside” people – like your sales people who are in the field. But it is in the field where your brand is being built. It is in the field where the true brand builders do their best work.
When your marketing folks want to “freshen up” your brand image, be careful. It’s evolution, not revolution that wins the day. It is your customer who ultimately builds your brand through purchases, so be sure not to surprise them, confuse them, or disorient them with a “cool” new look that everybody in the office likes. Get your customers’ permission first by going through the folks who are talking to them every day – your sales people.
Don’t let marketing go it alone with initiatives that find their way into the marketplace without the benefit of feedback from sales and customer service first. This goes for pretty much all marketing materials, signs, pamphlets etc., but especially for labels, logos, and packaging. It’s better to not only require the sign off from sales and customer service on all new marketing initiatives, but to actually provide an official feedback loop.
Encourage your sales and customer service people to tell the marketing people on a regular basis what’s needed, what works and what doesn’t work in the marketplace. Sales is your ultimate goal. It is how your brand equity is evaluated. Therefore marketing should support sales and not the other way around.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week when we discuss how production people can harm your brand.
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