Our new book, The Entrepreneurial Culture, 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People, will be coming out in September. This book was written specifically for corporate executives who want to improve their company culture by borrowing techniques successful entrepreneurs use every day. They know that fostering an entrepreneurial culture will keep their brand relevant, and tap in to a profitable resource – their own people – that many large companies see only as a cost center.
Successful brand building requires fully engaged and empowered people at every level who are committed to the brand, just like the passionate folks in a start-up. One of the chapters from our new book addresses this opportunity.
Always over deliver.
Today’s consumers are more informed than they ever have been. With the click of a mouse, they can compare prices, read reviews, and find customer service horror stories. And they’re using that information. They don’t just go with the least expensive option, they look for value—how can they get the best experience for the best price. That’s why it’s so important that everyone at your company over deliver to your customers, every time.
At Barefoot, we always strove to over deliver by meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations in quality, quantity, and customer service. Prioritizing our customers’ experience over our own comfort and (sometimes) potential solvency wasn’t always easy, but it did pay off. Our customers were satisfied and remained loyal, and our company grew.
Here are some principles we followed that you should instill in the way your employees (and you!) work with your customers:
Never compromise on quality. A product’s packaging, pricing, and reputation all send the consumer signals about its value. If it lives up to those “brand promises” of quality, the customer is validated in his or her decision to buy. And until the price goes up, the quality goes down, or the packaging becomes more corporate or generic, he or she will remain loyal. The point? Consistent quality and value is king. Make sure your employees are checking and double checking quality every chance they get.
On more than a few occasions at Barefoot, the opportunity to save money on production and materials presented itself—but we nearly always turned these opportunities down because they would have affected the final product.
For example, an accountant once figured out that we could save $0.09 per wine bottle by using gold ink instead of gold foil on the label, and by reducing the quality of our corks. At the time, we were selling 300,000 cases per year with 12 bottles in each case, resulting in 3,600,000 bottles. At $0.09 per bottle, the accountant concluded, our total savings would be $324,000.
The problem behind the accountant’s suggestion was the basic assumption that sales would remain at 300,000 cases per year (or more). They wouldn’t, because sales were, and still are, based on a perception of quality and authenticity. Gold foil and high quality corks validated the consumer’s purchase and gave us a market advantage at our low everyday price point. Needless to say, we continued to use gold foil and high quality corks.
Focus on providing excellent customer service. How we are treated when things go wrong is more important than how we are treated when things go right. It’s when we see a company’s true colors and decide whether or not to continue buying their products. Reputation is based on excellent customer service—so make sure your employees are always going above and beyond.
Always tell the truth. At Barefoot, we made the decision to always tell the truth no matter how painful it might be. That’s because a crucial part of over delivering is doing what’s best for your customer (and being honest is always what’s best!).
We remember one situation in which Barefoot had put the wrong barcode on a store’s shipment of cabernet, which meant that the wine rung up for less than it should have. In this instance, it was our team who caught the mistake, not the customer. We could have kept our mouths shut, hoping that our error would remain unnoticed. But as soon as possible, Michael showed up at the store’s corporate office with a check for the store’s loss, plus the time and expense of dealing with the mistake. Then he described to the manager in detail how we at Barefoot were changing our internal processes to make sure that the bar code problem would never happen again. And guess what? That store thanked us for doing the right thing, and it didn’t stop ordering from us.
Always share third party endorsements. As consumers, we all want to know that when we give our loyalty to a brand, we’re making a smart decision. So anytime you receive awards, accolades, and endorsements, have your employees share the news in as many places as possible: on the website, on the marketing materials, in their conversations with people outside the company, and even on your product’s packaging, to name just a few possibilities. And do it as quickly as possible! Consumers want current validation. This is an easy (and gratifying!) way to deliver that validation to your customers.
Remember, your brand’s reputation is a very valuable—and very fragile—thing. If any of your employees under deliver, your brand will be damaged, possibly beyond repair. But when your products and services meet or exceed customers’ expectations, they are more likely to remain loyal and recommend your brand to friends, family, and associates.
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