Probably the biggest misconception we see coming from aspiring and launch-phase consumer product producers is that they think they are in the product business. But they are all ultimately in the service business. Why? Their products and their customers will need servicing! The quality of that service will define their brand image more than the product itself.
When you produce a product, you must provide a multitude of effective services if you want to build your brand’s reputation:
Distribution Management Services. These include helping your distributers, brokers or jobbers sell your product to their retail customers. These services take the form of your physical presence in the market, pitching their retailers to carry your product, and bonding with their sales managers and sales people. Your participation gives them a social reason to eventually sell your product on their own, use your sales materials, and get the reorder.
Retail Management Services. These include store visits, replacement of damaged products, and bonding with clerks so they will promote your product and keep it in stock. And don’t forget to provide the ultimate customer service a producer can provide a retailer, and that is to bring in customers! You can achieve this by effective advertising, regular price reductions, and community involvement. Also, help the retailers with merchandising such as stocking, pricing, and yes, even dusting your products in their stores.
Customer Care Services. These include an easy-to-use website with product information, answers to most concerns, and an ombudsman-style chat box to resolve issues quickly and satisfactorily. It also includes courteous, friendly and intelligent 800-number representatives who can turn complainers into advocates for your brand. Lastly, it includes a robust customer feedback loop that gets customer suggestions, complaints and praise back to your marketing and production people so your products remain relevant.
If you thought you could just create a product, slap a brand on it and give it to someone else to sell, you are sadly mistaken. Your brand image and reputation are more important to your sustainability than your product itself. We found this out the hard way. The quality of the services you provide as a product producer will be what the market remembers, will be the deciding factor in brand loyalty, and will set the stage for your ability to expand.
We believe there’s no such thing as B2B; it’s really B2B2B2C! Even though you are selling to a distributer who says, “We’ll take care of sales from here,” they won’t! YOU must provide stellar service in a variety of forms throughout the distribution system. It is your responsibility as a producer to understand everybody’s job in the distribution system and how you can help make that job easier and more effective. Remember, they can STOP your product from getting to the end user. When that happens, your end users thinks your brand is undependable and all that great branding work you did to catch and hold their attention begins to work against you. They remember the brand that has let them down.
All businesses are service businesses and all brands are judged by the service their producers provide. Building the product is just the beginning. Building the brand requires excellent customer service at every level! Find out what kinds of customer service your product requires before you launch. Integrate it into your budget and roll-out plan. Our experience building the Barefoot Wine brand has taught us that you are not just launching a new product, you are launching a comprehensive customer service campaign to build and protect your brand’s reputation. This is what it takes to be successful.
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