When a new company is just getting started or sales are down, the pressure is on for more advertising. But is that the best solution? Advertising is based on your long-term commitment to running expensive ads repeatedly before you can get any “traction.” But there is something else driving the sales gauge that is less measurable and more subtle.
Advertising is supposed to build brand awareness and communicate the promise, features, benefits, and distinguishing factors of your brand. And it can. But advertising cannot create the personal memory of a real, positive, and historical experience your customer has already had with your brand. Customers can recommend your brand to others only if they actually try it first. In other words, “The proof is in the pudding!”
This is why it is so important to keep track of everyone you meet who has tried your brand and to understand what their experience was with your brand. It is this experience that is worth way more than advertising. It is the reason why they will advocate or disparage your brand.
And their words, unlike most advertising, are targeted at the most impressionable and immediate potential buyers you could ever hope to reach: their friends, relatives, and colleagues. What they say about your brand will have more impact than any kind of a blast, advertising campaign, or publicity. In fact, without a positive customer experience, the efforts you make to get your name out there can actually work against you. Without a positive customer experience, those who have tried your brand will tell others this is the brand to avoid.
But when your first-time and repeat customers have a positive experience with your brand, they become credible advocates with firsthand information. They will be seen as credible because they are already respected by their contacts.
Focusing on the customer experience and leveraging it is how we built the Barefoot Wine brand. The fact that we could not afford commercial advertising was a blessing in disguise. If we had been funded, we would have felt obligated, like so many startups, to enter a big number for advertising in our budget. That money would have been spent like a duck hunter with a shot gun, blasting at the sky, hoping to hit a duck!
Instead we had to rely on word of mouth, which required us to be diligent about providing an excellent customer experience. We clearly understood that the future of our sales depended on it.
We found out through real-time personal interviews with our customers that their number one complaint was that our brand was “hard to get” because it was out of stock. Immediately we slowed down our expansion and focused on managing the distribution system. We had to understand how to prevent out-of-stock situations before they occurred. We policed our distributers and retailers. That’s where our “advertising budget” was spent.
Expanding without first solving this customer service problem would work against us. This problem could not be overcome with more advertising.
Find out what your customers need from you in order to convert them into advocates. You may be surprised that it may have nothing to do with your brand but everything to do with how others in your distribution chain deliver that customer experience – or not.
When you think about the real reason why you advertise in the first place, isn’t it to get new customers and create loyal return customers? Well, think of advertising as the volume and customer experience as the music. Don’t turn up the volume on a bad song.
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