Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

Building Your Brand Entails Counterintuitive Decisions

Building Your Brand Entails Counterintuitive Decisions 150 150 MIchael and Bonnie Harvey

We’ve seen it a million times—physical product brands spread themselves too thin before they’re established. Some brands offer too many choices, and their principal message gets lost in the marketplace. And others expand too quickly into territories that they can’t handle, and they lose their dependable status. Why is this?

When a brand can’t achieve its true target market quickly enough, they second-guess their mission, trying to be all things to all types of people. They think they’ll do better quicker by speaking to a wider audience. But instead of being the leader in a close race, they become lost in the bigger battle.

Their sales team may cry, “If only we had (this or that type of) product…” As the pressure to make sales is on, brand builders can easily give in to this persistent plea.

Establishing yourself in the marketplace is hard enough without blurring your core message. We tell brand builders to stick to their guns—the fewer, the better! You have to distinguish your brand when you’re a new player. Sure, it’ll take a long time to draw and keep customers who appreciate your unique approach. But this is when patience and perseverance really pay off.

When we started Barefoot Wine, we entered with a large-size format that wasn’t as common as the standard smaller size of most wine. But this set us apart! It made us a newcomer in the big bottle category. And the choice was simple for the customer—only two types of wine, a varietal white and a varietal red. That’s it! It was easy for both the buyer and customer. People don’t like having too many choices.

We thought, “Could we sell more with a pink?” So, we tried it. It worked! Then we thought, “How about other varietals? And why not expand the line with the smaller, more popular size bottles?” Retailers responded quickly— “Which ones would you like to trade out for the new ones?” We were killing our own brand! Total sales hit a plateau for two years!

Looking back, we should have waited until we were more established in the market before adding more choices. Now, we advise our clients to avoid exceeding their “brand width”!

Another mistake some brand builders make is thinking that their product will sell well in other territories just because it sells well in their territory. The big risk is expanding prematurely, before they know enough or have the money to service what they sell in new territories.

It’s easy to forget about the importance of your own time when selling in your own backyard. Because you are doing all the merchandising, policing, and maybe even delivery, you might not have a handle on the cost of sales in a new territory, where you need to hire people to do this work. And without any new hires, you quickly learn what you’re up against—poor representation, out-of-stocks, and the competition taking advantage of your absence.

We made this exact mistake. We misunderstood the cost of sales in 2 new territories, and we expanded too quickly. And we actually had to withdraw from those markets for many years before we could afford to hire our own representatives there. We tarnished our brand in the process. It took us years to bounce back.

At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive to restrict your territory and your offerings when you’re just starting out, but you’ll be thankful that you built your brand on a solid and simple foundation.

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