Some folks use the words “product” and “brand” interchangeably. But we see a great distinction between these two terms. A brand is the sum total of the logo, label, image, positioning, promise, and overall reputation. A product is the item that is offered for sale. A product without a brand to go with it is a generic product and is usually sold in bulk. But once that product is identified with a brand, then the product itself and the customer experience consumers derive from it influences the brand image, brand promise, and overall reputation.
For brands with physical products, this goes double. The branded product is the vehicle by which the brand is judged. It’s not the only factor, but it can be the deal breaker or the king maker. The customers’ experience with the product, packaging, labeling, logo, pricing, positioning, and accessibility directly affect the brand’s image, promise and reputation. If, for instance, the branded physical consumer product is out of stock when a loyal customer wants to buy it, the brand’s image is tarnished. Now it’s “undependable.” This occurs even if the out of stock situation is caused by a retailer or a distributer.
Likewise, when the price the consumer expects to pay is “too high” your brand image is hurt. Your end user thinks, “This brand is supposed to deliver a quality product at the same price I paid last time, but now they are asking for more!” They may feel obligated to warn a friend or colleague to whom they previously recommended your brand. But the increase in price may have been a desire on the part of the retailer to make more profit on your branded product. Or maybe they want to drive traffic away from your brand to help sell their store brand which returns substantially more profit. But in the eyes of the consumer, it’s your brand’s fault.
There are a multitude of things the brand producer can do to their own branded product that will also hurt the brand: radical changes to the label or logo in the name of “change for changes sake” which confuses the customer; removing quality queues in the name of cost reduction, efficiency, or corporate conformity, which the customer sees as “cheapening” the brand image; reducing the quality of the product in the name of “increasing profit margins,” which hurts the brand’s quality and value perception. The producer can also do things that hurt the environment, labor, or the community which then reflect on the brand image, thus reducing sales.
So, in the branded physical product space, the product and how it’s presented are still the major factors in brand building. Keeping the distribution channel open and flowing are critical to the brand’s image of dependability. The size, shape, packaging, labeling, pricing, contents and availability of the branded product are what the consumer thinks of the brand.
That’s why we put so much emphasis on distribution and retail merchandising of physical product brands. It doesn’t matter if your website looks great, or if your compelling logo and slogan are matched on your stationary, envelopes, and baseball hats – if you let the consumer down at the product end.
True brand building includes taking responsibility for what happens to your branded product once it leaves your hands. Oversight, vigilance, and active support at every step in the distribution channel are crucial to building your brand. Your brand image is only as good as your physical product and your customer’s experience. If it’s a good one, they credit your brand. If it’s a bad one, they blame your brand!
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