The best brand building signs and merchandising materials we ever saw were in the dumpsters of the very distributers who were expected to use them to sell the products of the brands they represented. What were they doing there? Because the distributers only had a limited amount of space in their warehouses, and needed to make room for next month’s new marketing materials from hundreds of producers, they created the space they needed by dumping any unused material from the last month.
Well, if they used the materials and put them up in the marketplace, wouldn’t that have solved their space requirements without such waste? Sure, but the sad fact is that distributors, jobbers, and wholesalers (with few exceptions) don’t bother to use all the materials they receive. As a matter of fact, we saw literally tons of very expensive advertising materials, with clever catch phrases and compelling logos, all mixed up in a jumble in the warehouses of distributers from coast to coast. Many had been driven over by a fork lift or two in an attempt to reduce their mass before they found their way to the overfilled dumpsters.
So much for the way it looked on the marketing designer’s screen back at the producer’s office. But that designer rarely, if ever, gets out into the market to witness the carnage of his or her clever marketing and merchandising materials.
Oh, and when sales are down, the distributers say, “Lower your price and send more marketing materials!” Yet, your previous shipment of expensive and thoughtfully designed marketing materials likely never saw the light of day.
When we saw our expensive materials discarded in the trash we soon came to the realization that we could only rely on our very own people, in each market, to actually it put up in our materials. Nobody was going to do it for us, especially when we were new and not much of a consideration for our distributers. This was a hard pill to swallow because it meant having a representative in each territory to do what we thought the distributor should be doing. It was going to be expensive, but at least the materials we had so thoughtfully created were finally going to get up on our displays and start building our brand.
Probably the most painful lesson we learned building the Barefoot Wine brand was that you can create the best marketing materials in the world with a great logo and compelling catch phrases, and if it’s in the dumpster, it won’t help you build your brand! So we had to take two steps back to take one step forward. It was years before we made such an impact on our distributers that they would use our materials, but by that time, our brand was built in their territory – by our own people!
We have spoken to thousands of students and we find it interesting that very few schools that teach marketing mention this problem we found so prevalent. Most new and naive brand builders assume their materials are in use in the market, and when sales are down, they just send more.
Serious brand builders must go into the market personally to see if their materials are being used in the way they intended. They hire representatives for each territory to ensure they are up, even if it means that they have to grow slower than originally planned. And they never send more materials when sales are down because they know that when sales are down, so are their materials!
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