When we talk to students about entrepreneurship, we are often asked, “What courses should I take in college besides entrepreneurship?” Entrepreneurship classes do a great job providing students with the structural and operational tools required to build their business. But ultimately, all businesses are brand building.
Eventually, it’s the value of the brand that finally becomes monetized, generally through an acquisition or merger. That value is measured in large part by market share, customer loyalty, and rate of growth – all essential elements of brand building. In other words, brand building is ultimately based on the success of your sales program.
Sure, you must have a high quality product with a compelling catch phrase and a recognizable logo. You can augment this with matching stationary, web site design and social media presence. But none of that actually builds the brand. They are merely tools – unless they are skillfully orchestrated into an effective sales program.
Most sales programs begin with cold calling prospects who have varying cultural, social, language, religious, philosophical, historical and even psychological differences. How can one relate properly to prospects with such diversity?
During the critical start-up phase, and for several years thereafter, it’s the business owner who personally has to make most of the sales. These are the crucial years when you either reach cash flow or fold. They are also the years when your brand gets the reputation as a “hot mover,” an “up-and-comer,” and “the latest thing;” or a “slow mover,” “hard-to-get,” or worse, “a loser.” Your reputation during these early years, when your brand is most vulnerable, depends on your ability to make sales happen.
To accomplish this, most businesses must establish positive relationships with gatekeepers at every level of the distribution channel. Otherwise, even the most compelling artwork and promotional copy in the world will never have the chance to show its stuff, because it will never get in front of the end-user.
When we were building the famous Barefoot Wine brand, we were one of many new brands vying for the same limited and coveted shelf space in the retail market. We had to call on owners of distribution companies – as well as their sales reps, and retailers – as well as clerks who replaced our products on the shelves. We then went out into the community to “sell” our product to the end-users. These were all different people with different backgrounds who bought for different reasons, and each one required a different approach.
The greatest advantage we had that enabled us to get from “Hi, you don’t know me,” to, “buy my product,” was a deep appreciation for who each one of them were as human beings – their culture, psychology, history and philosophy. All that can be learned in college.
Known as the Liberal Arts, Liberal Studies, or the Humanities, these courses are essential to brand building because they give us the knowledge to break the ice with common ground, give and gain respect and trust, and ultimately forge the lasting relationships necessary to make sales. Buyers don’t buy your product so much as they buy you. The more you know about them, the faster they will give you the access and support you need to build your brand.
So dust off that often neglected course of study that seems to have taken a back seat to the sciences and technology. Reacquaint yourself with the courses that make a difference in sales success. You will be much more likely to get purchase orders when you relate to folks in a way that shows respect for their differences. When you are dealing with humans, it is a good idea to learn the humanities!
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