Launching a new brand is easy. Getting it out of the harbor and onto the open seas of commerce is much more difficult. It seems like every day you hear about a new business launch. But you hear very little about what it takes to gain traction in the marketplace. Yet without gaining traction, new brands sink like ships with holes in their hulls.
The holes are created when the expenses exceed the investment and ultimately the cash flow. You only have so much time to achieve cash flow or your brand will disappear in less time than it took to launch. The key is to develop an integrated brand building strategy that keeps the ship afloat while you are gaining traction in the marketplace.
You can push on the Queen Mary with all your might from the dock and it won’t move – for years it seems. Then, with consistent pressure over time, you can actually get it under way. Why does it take so long? Inertia. You have to overcome inertia.
It’s the same with new brands but the inertia isn’t physical. It’s financial, educational, and even political.
Financial: Don’t overextend yourself with a big staff or an unmanageable territory. Start small and lean and earn the right to expand. More than just getting your brand into the market, it’s about providing customer service to get the good reputation required to pave the way for expansion. It may surprise you. We, for instance, had no idea that we had to do most of the folks’ jobs in the distribution channel just to keep our product on the shelf!
For example, we found out that many times we had to make the sale to the retailer for the distributer, break out the product from the back room, price it, and put it on the shelf for the retailer, then get the reorder for the distributer. We had no budget for this type of merchandising.
Educational: You and all of your friends may be sure that you have a really hot brand that will disrupt the market, and you might. But you must educate, educate, educate. Just because you see the need and even the ultimate customer sees the need, doesn’t mean that all the players between you and that ultimate customer understand it, especially if it’s disrupting. Most players want it to fit into their current categories and established ways of doing business.
For example, we blended for consistent taste for women looking for a dependable Tuesday night wine they could buy as a staple. But the market wouldn’t let us in because we were without the traditional date on the bottle. It took 4 years to demonstrate it would sell. Then, finally Barefoot Wines became the first nationally marketed non-vintage wine brand.
Political. This is the one most brand builders overlook. Within each buying organization is a cultural dynamic that supports status, power, and tenure within that organization. And you’d better be aware of it! Look in each organization for a champion who will be an advocate for your brand. Otherwise you can get bogged down, or actually stopped in the approval process. Find out how you can make a hero out of the buyer, and do so. Provide uncommon attention to all her stores to demonstrate to the no-sayers in her company that she made the right decision.
We once worked on a Southern California supermarket for 3 years to finally get a purchase order. But before it was issued, the buyer was replaced by a new buyer who said we would have to start all over with him! He wanted to demonstrate his authority.
There are many other challenges to getting your new brand “out there” but these are the big three. Shortly we will be releasing our new 4-part video webinar series called the Entrepreneur’s GPS (Guiding Principles for Success) that will better prepare you to overcome the inertia of launching a brand. Get more info at www.barefootspiritgps.com
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