You've Got to Run the Bases

As we enter 2009, we are all holding our breath in hopes that the business climate will improve. Regardless of the external economic environment, however, at least one aspect of our business never slows down: innovation, and innovators’ ability to generate new and exciting products.

The Beverage Spectrum and BevNET offices are inundated with the latest and greatest. While my small space in Manhattan can barely handle the cases delivered a visit to the Cambridge headquarters really brings home how many launches there are. It’s pretty crazy: there is an average of 3000 new sku’s launched every year. They come in all sizes, formats and categories. They contain the latest ingredients, the “natural and organic” monikers and other components necessary for success. They are ready to assume their positions in the shelves and coolers of the marketplace.

So why, after they enter our orbit, can’t we find so many of them anywhere? Where do all those products go after we give them their moment in the spotlight? Is there a vast conspiracy by retailers to block these brands? I think not. As a rule, retailers are fair, open to new product ideas, and understand that consumers want variety. Distributors and wholesalers are the gatekeepers for entry, but to the extent that they are blocking efforts to introduce new products, they are facing mitigating factors of their own: they can take on just so many brands, so they have to be diligent and exacting in what they add to their mixes; also, recently, they’ve been burned by the successful brands that have gotten away (and are retaliating by trying to make sure their contracts are sufficiently fireproof) that they have become an extremely cautious group.

But when it comes to making the big mistake that can sink a brand, lately, I think the fault lies at the feet of the marketers themselves.

Aside from creating terrific brands, it is incumbent upon them to have not just the innovative power to come up with new products, but also the resources to support them, the financing to carry them through the launches and beyond, and unique selling and marketing initiatives. Too often, we see a valiant attempt fail because the expectations are out of synch with reality. Remember: to build a brand, you must execute all phases of your business plan, not just the creative part. You need the right product and the right team, one that can operate with the same passion that you have. You should have a cogent reason for being. And even if you have a passionate team, it needs to have a great brand to sell; too many “all-star” teams are being created to back brands that aren’t completely thought out.

Marketers, it’s up to you now: you must create awareness and visibility in the marketplace. Retailers, distributors, and wholesalers need a comfort level to take you on. Give it to them. It is not an easy task, but unless you do it right, you’ll enter into the graveyard of failed beverages. It’s one thing to get a hit. But you’ve also got to run the bases.

Speaking of running the bases, in the next few months you’ll be hearing a great deal about BevNET Live, a conference we’re putting on in Manhattan on May 14 to help provide knowledge, networking, and advice to growing beverage companies. Those industry people who attend will get the kind of coaching it takes to successfully stretch a double into a triple, and to bring the run home in the key situation. Retailers and distributors should know that the product marketers who come through BevNET Live will really be ready to get into the game.