Companies that acquire a brand may think they “own” it, but they are really brand stewards. They are responsible, like parents, to protect and grow the brand so it will continue to thrive under their stewardship.
Many brands have survived multiple owners. Many have died in the hands of poor brand stewardship. What are the rules that brand stewards must adhere to in order to keep brands healthy, growing, and valuable after acquisition?
1. Respect the integrity of the brand. Is the brand just a label to move more of the acquirer’s product, or is it its own entity with nuances and properties that existed long before the acquisition? What does the brand stand for beyond the product?
2. Honor the brand promise. Interview the users of the brand until you understand what they expect in terms of product, price, performance, marketing, and community involvement. Radical changes in how the brand has been perceived can be detrimental.
3. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Resist the “it-wasn’t-invented-here” mentality that views the acquisition as an opportunity for people to make their mark, even at the detriment of the brand.
4. Use evolution, not revolution. Sure, some brands need a facelift, repositioning, or a complete makeover, but do it slow, carefully, and in stages so you don’t lose what you already have or confuse the market. The brand already has a following, and that’s why you bought it.
5. Understand all the facets of the brand. Resist the corporate inquiry, “Just tell me the one thing that makes this brand work.” Likely, it is many things. Quick answers may satisfy the lazy, but an in-depth analysis can result in the discovery that you acquired a brand with multiple unique advantages.
6. Don’t exceed the “Brand Width.” If the brand begins to expand due to your superior distribution, influence, or marketing budget, resist the urge to keep adding more product choices. This can cause the brand to lose its identity in the minds of the consumers.
7. Don’t over simplify the brand. Just because you may not fully understand the reasoning behind some aspects of the brand, like packaging or other nuances, don’t give permission to your production and marketing people to “simplify” it. Maybe this would make their jobs easier, but consider what it will do for the brand’s authenticity and distinctive image.
8. Honor the Brand Culture. Brands should be more than the products they represent by standing for something beyond their mercantile value. Just trying to “milk” the brand’s popularity can only go so far before it becomes just a logo used for a particular commodity.
9. Don’t corporatize the brand image. Standardization can make the work easier and can reduce costs, but what if the sales drop? The assumption behind most standardization is that the sales will continue at the same level they were before. Will they?
10. Make the best use of the brand’s former salespeople. Ask what they think the particular selling points and unique advantages of the brand are. Hire the best salespeople and make sure your sales, marketing, and production staff listen to them.
By understanding that the brand had a life, personality, niche, and attraction of its own before it was acquired, the new brand steward can take the helm without wrecking the ship. By carefully studying and appreciating what was purchased on multiple levels, your staff can better resist the urge to make big changes right off the bat. The good brand steward will make the right decisions to grow, improve, and add value to the brand they are now responsible for.
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