Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 16.09.36Our good friend Deb Mazzaferro has been helping bring specialty food brands to market for over 30 years, so when she writes something – anything – about how build a brand, we tend to stop what we’re doing and read her thoughts. Her most recent email newsletter is no different, as it offers a wealth of great insight on how the relationship between building a brand and building sales is often overlooked in the scramble to increase revenue as quickly as possible. It made for such informative reading that we asked if we could reprint it here, and thankfully, “Coach Maz,” agreed to our request.

To all specialty and gourmet food brands, read closely. Brands in other industries should take note too, as there is plenty of macro-level marketing knowledge here that can be applied to various other products, goods, or services.

For more information about Deb and her services, please visit her website.

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Just recently I was interviewing national sales candidates and noticed that almost all of them referred to garnering sales as ‘Building Your Brand.’

Revenue is exceedingly important for every company. Without sales, bills don’t get paid and companies are bankrupt. There are companies who exist as co-packers who don’t aspire to brand building, but prefer to run under the radar as B2B entities. Yet even they can benefit from branding their processes and expertise to attract more business.

While branding has become top of mind for most companies, few understand what it entails and how to get there. You have a brand when a consumer asks for your product by its brand name, not by the commodity name. Examples are Walker’s (meaning shortbread) or Carr’s (meaning crackers). Sometimes a brand is a comprehensive product line like Rothschild’s Berry Farm or Stonewall Kitchen.

Building your brand doesn’t equate to growing sales, per se. There are many $5-10 million companies out there who are recognized as leaders in their category, but when you mention their brand name there’s no brand recognition. You get a puzzled look until you describe the product… then there’s an “aha!”

Sometimes a category grows without any one brand a clear winner. Olive oil is an excellent example. Per capita consumption of this category has grown 40% in the US over the last 10 years, yet there’s no dominant ‘olive oil brand’. Look at Whole Foods Market’s olive oil set. It’s 80% private label. In absence of a clear leader, they’ve gone directly to the European suppliers to fill the gap and provide their customers with quality product at a value price point.

Why is this? Specialty producers focus on flavor profiles that are difficult to determine without tasting… and even then the profile might be too subtle for the average consumer to judge. Add to that a lot of foreign names and places, and the consumer isn’t sure why they should pay $20 or $30.

Whole Foods Markets has simplified buying olive oil in two ways:

  1. they leverage their strong, existing brand equity (the brand their customers trust), and
  2. the knowledge that their customers know that olive oil is produced in different countries and has different characteristics. So they call their EVOO selection… Whole Foods Market 365 (some are organic) Greek, Italian, and Spanish. Then they value price them at under $10. It’s a brilliant brand segmentation strategy.

What can you do to ensure you are building brand equity? Make it part of your overall strategy from the beginning. Locate an experienced third party to assist you in assessing your current position, and defining where you want to be. Start-up entrepreneurs should determine their brand positioning before launching their product… even before finalizing their product characteristics.

Here are the steps:

  1. know your target consumer, what does she wear, where does she shop, what does she aspire to, how does she spend her time?
  2. know your competitors… even if there is nothing like your product out there, you’ll be competing for space on the shelf and in the consumer’s shopping cart so figure out who you’ll be competing with for those spots
  3. define your point of differentiation, these are your unique selling propositions
  4. create a space you want to occupy, the narrowest niche allows you to really focus on your customer
  5. understand where your target shops and what she is willing to pay (the sales function of this is understanding the logistics of getting there and how to price correctly)
  6. hire a branding company with specialty food experience to design the packaging that will resonate with your target
  7. repeat your message, repeat, repeat, repeat! Use trade advertising, trade shows, collateral material, social media, and PR. Create a budget and stick to it.

How do you know you got it right?

  1. your target customers BUY! Sales happen! Voila!
  2. YOU get to chose who to do business with. You might actually say NO to customers who would hurt your brand!
  3. the press finds you! This sends consumers to the store to buy creating sales (careful, though, you need to have shelf placement first otherwise you frustrate the consumer trying to buy).
  4. you attract great partners, investors, talent. People want to associate with success.
  5. your brand is one of the top 3 mentioned when your category is discussed
  6. no specialty food set would be complete without your brand in its respective category

How do you know you got it wrong?

  1. everyone makes suggestions on what you SHOULD do. This is a sure sign that you are not communicating the message.
  2. your price point is compared to the competition
  3. you are asked to reduce your price as if you are a commodity
  4. requests for private label abound

Here’s a wide range of sales and marketing experts weighing in on the subject in their own words.

(Note: Coach Maz can assist you in both branding and sales strategy. Email for a complimentary one hour consult. She is also available to speak to your small business or trade association on branding and sales.)