Brands go back to Roman times. They were used to identify the merchant who produced a product emblazoned with a particular mark. Today, brands represent not just the producer’s identity but also the brand’s promise. This brand promise covers not only product performance, but extends to availability, packaging, quality, price and other factors that are your consumers’ expectations!
Modern communication and distribution can elevate brands to a level of massive recognition and wide spread reputation based on historical and recent behavior. But this is a double-edged sword! On the one hand, a brand with a stellar reputation and excellent distribution can take and hold center stage in its category in the marketplace. On the other hand, brands can quickly lose their appeal when just one factor important to the consumer fades. For example, brands can continue to deliver on features like price, quality and dependability but lose favor because they broke their brand promise in other ways, such as labor relations or environmental practices.
The brand promise is complicated. No matter what you may want your brand promise to be, your consumer has their own ideas based on their own experience with your brand. If their most recent customer experience with your brand does not live up to their expectations, they will not only stop using your brand, but they now feel obligated to tell others, to whom they have previously advocated your brand, to avoid it! When it comes to brand reputation, your former advocates can be formidable adversaries. They have more credibility than you do with your customers.
This is why it is imperative for startups and big companies alike to understand the volatility of a brand promise. Start with the understanding that you don’t “own” your own brand. Your customer does! You don’t own your brand promise, your customer does! You brand represents a certain promise of behavior in your customer’s experience that you and your marketing team may not even be aware of. Sometimes changes in the market, new competitors, changes in your category, and even the daily news can affect your brand promise in the eyes of your customers. So be cautious and attentive!
People want to feel completely comfortable with the brand they trust. Once they have found “their brand,” they stop shopping for an alternative. Shopping for a new brand creates anxiety and the potential of disappointment. This psychology can be a real asset to brand builders who never disappoint their following. The more you know about your customers’ perception of your brand promise, the better chance you have honoring it and remaining relevant in their eyes.
Your salespeople and customer service people know more about that perception and the fluid dynamics of the marketplace than your marketing people. Why? Because they are talking to your customers on a daily basis! Your salespeople have the most current information on the marketplace, your category, and the competition. Your customer service people know before anyone else in your company when you are breaking your brand promise. To keep your brand promise (and thereby your devoted customers), we recommend a formal and regular line of communication between your Sales and Customer Service teams and your Marketing, Production, R&D, and Administrative teams.
Too many producers get comfortable with their brands just as they are. They think they have arrived at a destination, when in reality, keeping your brand promise is a very vigilant journey. Don’t let your brand become just another label. When you keep your brand promise, you keep your loyal customers as advocates for 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