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Build a case study before you build a brand

Elliot Begoun
Before you let yourself be pulled in by the call of growth, do your due diligence to make sure you have a scalable model.

It’s like the drums in the movie Jumanji. An incessant beat calling you, drawing you in. Don’t fall prey. Don’t play the game. It will carry you away to another dimension. One that is full of threats, traps and wild beasts.

For young brands, it’s the call of growth, the call of potential new retailers and their shiny shelves and doors. Plug your ears, walk away. Don’t heed the beat of the drums. Before you build a brand, before you find your products in disparate retailers across the country, before you find your resources stretched, your burn rate alarming, and your products under the threat of being discontinued, build a case study.  

You need to go slow to grow fast. It’s counterintuitive, I know. But, there are things you must prove and figure out.

You must prove product/market fit. Investors are going to demand this proof. Can you demonstrate that consumers need, want and, most importantly, are willing to buy your product? In the absence of that evidence, it’s hard to justify the investment and its accompanying risk.

You must also prove the economics. When you give birth to a product, you make assumptions. One of those is what the market will pay. You need to validate that early before you expand reach and distribution. Too many brands find out too late. Forced to lower their retail price point they find their margins depressed beyond the point of sustainability.

Additionally, there are a few things you need to figure out first before you attempt to become a household name. The first is how best to communicate with your ideal consumer. You’ll want to learn with whom and how they engage in social media. You’ll then want to understand how to leverage that in a way that allows you to build a relationship.

You’ll also want to test your trade plan. What promotional vehicles and at what price point do you realize the biggest volume lift? Just as important is understanding the frequency of promotion. How often do you need to be on promotion to see your base velocity grow? Keep in mind, if you were to graph promotional volume, you don’t want to see a graph that looks like hills and valleys. Rather, you want to see something that resembles stairs. The goal of the promotional activity is not the volume you sell during the event, but the increase in base velocity you realize by bringing new buyers to the brand.

The needed evidence and learning can’t be accomplished effectively by following the drums of growth. When you are spread far-a-field, you can’t administer the necessary experiments that deliver the data which will enable you to adjust and perfect your go-to-market strategy.

That is best done by building a case study and you can best accomplish that by going narrow and deep. Pick a geography, a channel, a single retailer or cluster of independents. Lean in and learn. If you can find a model that allows you to build velocity, gain traction and make money, you’re on to something. Even if that’s in 50 or 100 stores, it doesn’t matter. What you’ve uncovered is something scalable.

Only once you are confident that you have a scalable model is it then time to follow the drums of growth. You’ve mitigated risk, you have a playbook, and likely, you’ll have interested and willing investors. So, go slow to grow fast and build a case study before you build a brand.

Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow.

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