I'm an agency guy. I started a shop with some friends a dozen years ago and we've worked with some big established brands like Adobe, Virgin Mobile and Walmart.com. But about a year ago, when I was approached by a startup in the fruit beverage category called the Pacific Fruit & Beverage Company, I found myself faced with a whole new set of startup challenges.
Victor, the CEO, had successfully started selling calamansi juice to Filipino restaurants and markets in California. The calamansi fruit, which looks like a cross between a lime and a mandarin orange, is wildly popular in the Philippines, comparable to orange juice in the States.
Victor approached me because he felt that there was an opportunity to introduce this product to the mainstream American market. I was so impressed by the product that my agency took a chunk of equity as compensation.
Suddenly, in addition to my job running an agency, I was also a CMO.
Now we were stuck with a client on a shoestring budget for which we were the marketing department. I even got business cards printed that said "CMO." We named the product Nomsi, designed a logo, packaging and a website. Then I had to think about what else really matters -- from getting on shelves to creating velocity at retail. Unlike running an agency, acting as CMO to a new business meant I had to figure out a way to not only build a brand, but get into shopping carts.
Here are some valuable lessons I learned:
1. Maximize shelf space. Retailers will show you more love if you offer them multiple SKUs. So we went beyond the single calamansi offering and came up with raspberry and mango infusions, which drove sales big-time. Not only do buyers appreciate choices, it's essential to have a sizable visual canvas to capture the attention and imagination of the shopper as they glance at shelves. One bottle on a shelf gets lost. Six bottles make an eye take notice. Being seen is the vital step in being sold.
If you're an entrepreneur developing a product, make sure you visit stores. What aisles have the most traffic? What will your product look like on the shelf? Will it stand out? What other products stand out and what are they doing? This will tell you what you need to accomplish to get in and get noticed.
2. Don't forget to include distributors in your marketing plan. As an agency, we think in terms of reaching consumers directly, be that through street teams, social media, online ads or a website. While we did all that for the launch of Nomsi, to be successful, we had to also integrate with distributors. That means we not only had to make sure they had point-of-sale materials, but to make sure the product actually got put on shelves and looked great there. Marketing without distribution is a waste of time and money.
When we launched Nomsi, we coordinated a big story in the San Francisco Chronicle with street teams handing out samples in the city. But we didn't stop there. We also offered the delivery guys a cash incentive for landing prominent shelf space in stores. The result was buzz that delivered sales.
3. Consumer marketing is B2B marketing. Launching Nomsi had me devoting as much time marketing to retailers as I did to consumers. One sales rep told me I should put QR codes on the packaging. When I told him that was a waste because most consumers don't even have QR code readers on their phones, let alone use them, he told me that didn't matter. It was for the buyers.
He was referring to the people in charge of choosing which products go on shelves. Those "buyers" are not always sophisticated marketers, but they know that products with great marketing sell. Unfortunately, something like a QR code looks innovative so it signals to them that you know what you're doing.
Overall, Nomsi is off to a great start with projected sales up to $1.5 million in 2013. We're getting on shelves in a wide range of stores from Bay Area mom-and-pops to a couple of national retailers.
I've worked with big brands for years and continue to do so. Being part of a small brand requires an entirely different approach. It's all about the five Ps: product, price, placement, promotion and most importantly, people.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.