Some brand killers are coming from your competition or the marketplace. Others may be coming from your own office staff. Yes, they are well-meaning, but do they have the knowledge and experience required to make suggestions affecting sales?
Administrative and production people have a tendency to discount what the sales team has painfully learned over the years. Remember, for the most part, you are stuck at the office and so is your production and admin staff. Your sales people are far away, out in the field. It’s easy for your non-sales folks to gang up and suggest ideas. They have your ear more often, allowing them to “out vote” your sales staff. So watch out!
In Part 1, we identified three of the big in-house brand killers: Cost Cutting, Simplification, and Standardization. It’s always challenging protecting the integrity of your brand from your own people. Here are four more culprits to keep your eyes open for:
4. Proliferation. You may hear, “Well, if that brand is hot, let’s just throw more products into it. They’ll sell too! It’s just a line extension, and we will sell so much more!” When you exceed the “brand-width” of the market, you are in danger of losing your identity as well as the mind share of your own sales people. Understand the reasons behind the successful sales your company enjoys. Your sales staff will tell you it’s much more than just the brand. Sales won’t necessarily increase just because you have more products.
5. Competition. “We’re going after the competition,” they’ll say, as if there are a limited number of customers for your type of product, and if you don’t get them, presumably the other guy will. But it may be that your product appeals to new customers who have never used your competition’s product. Why chase a brand that may be on its way out because the market has changed? Take a closer look at what makes your brand unique, and who and where your best customers are.
6. Change. They may say “It’s time for a change,” as if change itself is always a good idea. Marketing people want to put their mark on a product, even products that took years to establish their current look. This change may simply confuse your buyers and make your customers wonder where that old dependable brand went. If it ain’t broke, don’t let your marketing department “fix it.” We’ve seen several brands die from label changes. We had a mentor who told us, “Don’t be different. Be good!”
7. Compensation. “You are paying those sales guys too much,” your non-sales staff may complain. Someone once asked us if we were worried that our sales manager was making more than we did. We had to laugh, considering he was working on commission! Losing a sales manager to a higher paying job costs your company the critical buyer relationships that he takes with him. Those buyers will likely buy whatever his new company is selling. Relationships trump products. When compensation is based on performance, non-performers can’t afford to stay and performers can’t afford to leave.
The best way to avoid these brand killers is to require your administrative and production folks to have regular rides with your sales people. It will give them practical, real-world insight. Then, before they even ask, they’ll know the answer to that precarious question, “Why don’t we just…?”
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