Fashionably Late

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“Fashionably late” has its purpose in life. In high school and college it was often the cool kids who arrived after most of the guests were there, all the better to make a grand entrance. In our 20s and 30s, meeting friends at social gatherings and parties, making sure to be a tad late was still the norm. Obviously, concerts, movies, theatre curtains and other can’t-miss events were the exceptions. Those times must be honored. Other than that, arrival was arbitrary.

I’ve always been too compulsive to be late, but in my days on this earth, I’ve come to understand that in most cases, being fashionably late is harmless and acceptable, part of the social compact. I must admit that sometimes (always) I fall into that mode when it comes to my column. In fact, I am typing this at deadline, while my editors keep sending none-too-subtle messages for me to file… or die.

In the business world it’s a different story. In the beverage spectrum, there have long been normal expectations for when companies should have their acts together. Traditionally, before the end of the year, formulations, graphics, marketing initiatives and the like are ready, so that we can spring into the new year. But over the years, it has rolled further into the next year. At first, it seemed quite harmless and not a detriment to securing placement, authorizations or shelf allotments. An extension of that social compact. But things keep getting stretched.

I work with hundreds of beverage brands: many in consultation, friendship, or, thankfully, through my ad pages. As the years have gone on, however, I have been struck by how many companies have still not finalized the plans and changes they intend for their messaging, especially their new graphic depictions or brand messaging. We are now in mid-February and too many brands haven’t been able to reach the marketplace with their new and improved packages, products, or labels.There’s a negative ramification to this: you risk that retailers and distributors will grow impatient and move on, perhaps to competing brands that have their stories and acts together.

Everyone says to me that they want to get it right, as they should. And we do live in a time where it’s easy to keep tinkering, to make one last change, add one more color or finish. But the opportunity to be included in the mix grows dimmer with each passing week or month. Yes, there are opportunities throughout the year, and a great brand will always be considered, but it easier if you present your initiative sooner than later.

It is incumbent upon brand marketers to adhere to the schedules of their customers, retail and wholesale alike. I understand the impulse to achieve perfection: but it’s never going to happen. Even the best brands pivot and change, and it’s easier to make those changes when you’ve got the accounts that will actually let you execute your sales. Plan wisely, but plan in a timely manner. Fashionably late only goes so far.