New product failures I have known – Old Breed

I thought I would look at some world-class new product failures and see if there is some learning behind what happened. Let’s start with Old Breed.

When I arrived at Seagram the product was in a few markets and was failing miserably. The premise was interesting. The owner, aware of ‘shot and a beer’ consumption, decided that a beer flavored whiskey was a good idea and pushed for it.

I suppose that the equivalency issue also had a role to play. A blurring of the lines between beer and spirits sort of makes them equivalent from a product standpoint and flies in the face of the lack of equivalency in excise taxes.

Finally, beer flavored whiskey was seen as a novel new product idea.

The product failed on all counts. Wanting a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser is not the same as a whiskey that tastes like beer. There are expectations about the taste of a shot with a beer that can’t be met with a bottled version. Even if the product tasted great, it can’t replicate the fresh version – much less with a product that tasted like stale beer.

Everyone knew this, I learned when I got there, but no one wanted to tell the emperor that his baby was ugly (to mix metaphors).

So the product limped along until a trade researcher interviewed a retailer who went ballistic when asked about Old Breed as in, “tell them to get this crap out of here.”

What I love about market research is that political correctness has little to no role to play in providing information. As a result, the owner learned what the management team was loath to tell him. The product was pulled from the shelves the next day.

Lessons learned:

To succeed a new product has to be both unique and relevant.

Concepts and premises can be brilliant but the product must deliver. It’s about what’s in the bottle.

A management team concerned about being candid will not succeed.

And, a corporate culture that creates an environment that punishes the messenger is doomed to failure.

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Start Ups

Ever since Sidney Frank sold Grey Goose in 2005 for billions of dollars, the industry has attracted many entrepreneurs with the dream of inventing a brand, building it, flipping it and moving on to the next one.

It’s a good thing. The growth of the industry, any industry, depends on the infusion of new ideas, capabilities and fresh passion. Look at the rising stars, fast track and hot brands of the industry. You’ll find lots of entrepreneurial and start up brands.

And, as I mentioned in previous posts, success comes from hard work and the tenacity of people not large corporations.

But for every winner there are loads of wannabes whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs. An investment banker friend described it this way —

“Almost every week I get a guy coming in, generally in his 30’s, who made some money in some type of entrepreneurial venture, was out drinking with his buddy and the two of them decide they can do this…build a winner. It’s usually a vodka with an over the top package, a half-baked story and they say they’re out every night pushing the brand. Most of the time I think that they use the brand and their ‘ownership’ to impress the ladies.”

There’s an old rule in new product development. A winning idea needs to be unique and relevant. To succeed, a brand needs both.

Also luck, the byproduct of hard work.

Keep your eye on Cachaca, Sake and specialty products.

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And the winners are…

Two things came to my attention recently.

First, David van de Velde, founder of Ketel One and Van Gogh was kind enough to post a comment on the “What makes a brand successful” piece below.

Second, the trade magazines have selected the ‘hot brands’ and ‘growth brands’ of the year.

Got me thinking…

The very successful brands since the 1980’s came from entrepreneurs – Grey Goose, Ketel One, Patron, Skyy and so on. When those brands were getting started it wasn’t about bureaucracy, process or systems it was about hard work, tenacity, ingenuity and persistence. No gates, no silos…just determination to win.

Take a look at the current roster of hot and/or growth brands. Nearly all of the 14 brands identified by Beverage Dynamics as “Fast Track,” were created by an entrepreneur or a company not among the top 10 suppliers.

I guess the slogan should be “Build it and They Will Buy.”

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