Who Defines “the Best” Product?

Over the weekend, I stopped at a new Farmer’s Market booth selling old-style European pastries.  The uncut coffeecake was so interesting that I asked the women in the booth to describe the ingredients and how she made this delicacy.

After a long list of mouth-watering ingredients and scratch-baking techniques, she highlighted the fact that she used only the “best” butter: Land ‘O Lakes.  This stopped me in my tracks.  Having worked across town from Land ‘O Lakes previously in my career at Pillsbury, I knew quite a bit about the company (a co-op) and its products (high quality).

I also know that butter is graded by the USDA.  Grade AA butter is top of the line, and butter brands with this qualification are very, very similar.  Most of us would probably say that they are so similar that most American butters are commodity products.  So how did Land ‘O Lakes become the “best” butter? 

Answer: Brand image.

In rough economic times, customers are still willing to buy and endorse the “best” brands” if these benefits are still in place:

1) Differentiated products

2) Good reputation

3) Great customer service

What customers think about your product or service is brand image.  Most of us have purchased private label products that are manufactured by the same companies that produce name brands.  The ingredient list, the grade, the factory may all be the same, yet we judge the “name” brand better than the private label or generic version. 

That reputation can also extend to licensed products.  Did you know that Land ‘O Lakes fluid milk, value-added milk and cultured dairy products are actually produced and managed by Dean Foods?   While Dean produces the products in these categories, the brand image is being built on the Land ‘O Lakes reputation.

With attention and resources spent on awareness and repeat, most brands can weather economic storms, and retain their loyal customers.  If corners are cut and all advertising is dropped  (conventional or new media), then top-of-mind awareness will also drop.  Saving money doesn’t translate into saving customers. 

Who defines the “best” product?  Answer: your customers.  Are you a “best in class?”  What are you doing to maintain and build that reputation to keep your customers loyal?

Full disclosure:  I worked at White Wave, Inc., maker of Silk Soymilk, when Dean Foods combined White Wave, Horizon Organic Milk, Land ‘O Lakes licensed products and other brands into White Wave Foods.

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