By Alexander Westgarth, CEO and Founder of Westgarth Wines
Every business has the potential to be a brand, but not every business will realize its potential. The reason is simple: Too many want too much and do too little to succeed. That is, most businesses want the benefits of a brand but few invest the time to divest themselves from the one thing they can neither rush nor control, which is time itself. It takes time to build a relationship with consumers and establish an identity in any competitive industry. It takes work to transform a business into a brand. You have to earn the trust of shoppers by showing them that your acts speak for themselves because your investment in proving this point is total, truthful and transparent.
What, then, is a brand? It is, by my definition, something of incalculable economic worth and immeasurable emotional value. To which you may ask: Why should a business spend its time (and money) on something so subjective when its objective is to increase sales and make more money? The answer is twofold: If you want to invest as little as possible in your business and still make money, branding is not for you. If, on the other hand, you accept that branding is a form of exercise -- that it requires discipline, consistency, patience and hard work -- that you must give it your all, then you have what it takes to create a brand. I end each workday with a blend of exhaustion and exhilaration. It is, after all, tiring to physically move merchandise, field calls from suppliers, inspect inventory, do payroll, speak with distributors and think about logistics and market variables. But that doesn't mean I don't feel terrific, too.
When Apple Computer became Apple Inc., when it went from creating the Macintosh personal computer to losing its battle with Microsoft, only to reemerge as the premier company of its kind with a quintet of products and services (iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone and the iPad) -- that was when this business became the world's richest brand.
This video reflects Steve Jobs's position on what it means for a company to have the privilege to call itself a brand. He talks about values, not "feeds and speeds," because he knows that minutiae has nothing to do with magnificence -- that a brand communicates its values through the excellence of its products and the excellent service it provides, that a brand has standards that govern these processes, that a brand never ceases to value these things lest it devalue its own status as a brand, and that brands do not perform transactions, not when they have a bond that is more valuable than the sum total of its transactions. You have to decide what matters most to you, so you may apply your beliefs to what you do.
I follow Jobs's advice by controlling what I can. I never, therefore, let a query from a consumer go unanswered or allow my answers to sound ambiguous. I reply to emails as they arrive, to at least acknowledge receipt of the message and emphasize that I will respond within the hour or by the close of business. I use voice dictation on my phone to do this and I correct any misspellings before anything goes out. If I am pressed for time, I can still acknowledge a customer's receipt of a query. Is it easy? Rarely. Is it a necessity? Absolutely. I discipline myself to accomplish this task. I also prioritize service by serving the needs of my clients, treating every customer with the same degree of respect and gratitude. I reach out to them before they feel the need to reach out to me, thanks to the details I have about my customers by way of a database I update sometimes every day or week. And finally, I never lower my standards to carry low-quality merchandise -- and I refuse to let comfort lure me into complacency. The writing is, literally, on one of the walls of my office: "Never stop communicating with your customers!"
Alexander Westgarth is CEO and Founder of Westgarth Wines, a fine wine and spirit merchant specialized in investment grade wines.