One of the hardest challenges you face as a startup is to be true to your concept, your message, and your real market. When you start your business the pressure is on daily to produce sales. You hear that if you just made this or that line extension, there would be a demand. In desperation, you may sacrifice the clear mission of your brand in the hopes of just making a sale.
You’ve chosen to focus on the needs of a narrow niche to reduce competition. But meanwhile you have to stay in business. So you are tempted to expand your range of products for the promise of sales, any sales. But in doing so, you risk losing your focus on your core offerings, what distinguishes you in the marketplace, and finding your target niche.
You may have chosen that niche because no one was there servicing a need you discovered. But when that niche is slow to pick up on your solution, you may feel compelled to go sideways. Still that niche, once accessed, can result in loyal advocates for your product to others who want it.
When you expand your line before your brand is established, you run the risk of becoming just another also-ran with very little to distinguish your offering. Your products become a commodity, not a brand. Now it’s a race to the bottom, price wise. Now you have lost your focus and the mind share of your own people, your distributers, your retailers, and your customers.
When we started our wine business, we designed Barefoot to address a very narrow niche: the 37-year-old mom with two kids shopping for an everyday staple wine that had consistent flavor from year to year. At the time, this shopper was unserved and not even recognized as the majority wine buyer in the supermarkets. In order to meet the criteria of consistency for this niche, we had to make the wine non-vintage, an unpopular idea in a male-dominated industry looking for vintage dated wine. Sales were slow at first, since we were prevented by the gate keepers from gaining access to our true niche. “If you’d just put a vintage date on it, we’d take it,” they said.
Like so many startups desperate for sales, we were under pressure to give up on our non-vintage product, a distinguishing characteristic that would latter prove to be so essential to our success. The buyers wanted us to expand our line into a space that they could understand. But it was a space that every other wine occupied. We stuck to our guns and were true to our mission. It finally paid off and changed the industry.
It is futile to try to be all things to all people. The result is simply that your real mission and message will never be heard or appreciated.
So if you want to change the future, resist the temptation to accommodate every buyer’s whim. Resist the temptation to expand your line until your brand is strong enough to support an extended range. And resist the temptation to give up on your true mission. Don’t exceed your brand width. Stick to your guns. What you will earn in customer loyalty and advocacy in the long run will far exceed the temporary financial fix you may gain in the short run.
What distinguished your brand are the characteristics that serve the market niche you have discovered, even if it takes much longer than you thought to achieve access, recognition, and acceptance. Hang in there and your niche will embrace your brand with loyalty and advocacy!
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