“With your experience in the real world of brand building, can you just give me the one thing I need to know to build my brand in the New Year?” A member of the audience asked us this question after a recent keynote address. These days it seems like everybody just wants everything boiled down to one kernel of truth. It’s like no one has the time for more than one kernel any more.
So we thought about it, and of course there’s really no one thing. For instance, when they asked us “the one thing” that made the Barefoot Wine brand such a success, we always got a laugh out of replying, “Well, the one thing was that it was multi-faceted!”
So even though there is no one thing, there is one overarching thing that needs to be top of mind. You can use this to set your priorities properly to build your brand in the New Year. And that is: You don’t own it! Your customers do! That’s right. The realization that you don’t own your own brand, and that it is owned by your customers is a mindset that should guide your decisions throughout the year and beyond. And those decisions will be plenty for sure.
You will be asked to make decisions on packaging, labeling, logos, quality queues, product, distribution, sales, strategy, and price. Who should be in the boardroom when you make those decisions? Your customers! And how is it practical to get all your customers into your board room? Simply get your salespeople and your customer service people in there to tell you what your customer wants. Why? Because they’re talking to them directly every day.
Your Brand Promise isn’t what you have crafted so much as it is what your customers think it is. This is a result of their time with your product and their resulting judgements about what your product, package, and quality should be. They may have expectations about your brand’s behavior that you may not even be aware of. Find out before you pull the trigger on any in-house marketing or production schemes that promise to save money or time, or increase growth or profits. They may upset that fragile trust.
You will hurt your brand if you violate the Brand Promise. And like the Brand, your customers own the Brand Promise. Most brands are not “killed” by the competition; they are victims of self-inflicted wounds!
So if you are not the brand owner and the customer is, who are you? You are the Brand Steward. You are responsible for improving the Brand Image, delivering an excellent customer experience, and basically, turning your customers into advocates. You have to build the brand you are stewarding with the utmost care and respect for the real owners’ wishes, expectations, and loyalty.
This is why we recommend the “Two Division Company” mentality when it comes to excellent Brand Stewardship. The customer is on top, then comes the “Sales Division” (which includes Customer Care) because they are uniquely qualified to know what your customer is thinking. Then comes the “Sales Support Division.” This includes everybody else in your company – Marketing, Production, Accounting, and yes, even you, the creator or acquirer of the brand. Make sure the flow of customer feedback finds its way to the brand decision makers. We recommend some official channels be put in place so you won’t be making any brand building decisions without saying “hello” to the real brand owners!
Here’s to building brands that honor their Brand Promise and respect their real owners’ wishes in the New Year!
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