Begin with the End in Mind: Choosing the Right Distribution Channel

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No matter how fantastic your product is, how rigorously tested and perfectly tuned to a promising segment of the market, it can't succeed unless you get it on the shelves (either physical or virtual). Not just any shelves either — the best shelves possible that will put your product in front of the largest volume of your targeted consumers. It doesn't matter whether you're brick and mortar or an e-commerce company, what you need to achieve your Ideal Launch Scenario as an up-and-coming brand releasing a new product is the best distribution channel you can attract.

As I've established in the first two blogs of this series (where we discussed creating a road map for success and product testing and validation), your product category dictates the strategy to be embraced for getting your product to market. The companies who are the best fit and provide the greatest access to your target market will vary from industry to industry, but the guiding principle remains the same.

Choose the Partner Who Adds Value

Unless you make cheap plastic trinkets, distributing your product at the Dollar Store is obviously not the ideal solution. That's an extreme example, but you'd be surprised how many early stage brands will jump at any opportunity they have to sell their product, no matter how low-end, simply because they're in a rush to put their product in front of consumers. That's a big mistake. Plus, it devalues your product and brand. 

It may take more work and a longer time frame, but it's worth it to land a distribution partner who adds value. There are many ways this can be done. The first concern should be customer service: is this a retailer with a good reputation for keeping their customers happy? Additionally, do they provide tech support (if your product needs it) or warranty or product maintenance services?

A Value-Added Reseller (VAR), as defined in a helpful article on MarketingMO, will bundle your product with services and potentially other related products. They will "work with an end-user to determine the right products and configurations." If your product involves technology, a VAR is a smart choice. Think of the audio or camera retailers who are able to provide front-side services and offer a full suite of auxillary products. That's a value you can't find in an online retailer.

Brick and Mortar vs. E-Commerce

These days, you can find most products both in physical stores and online, either through resellers or a brand's own web-store. While it's a good idea to make your product available in as many places as possible, this isn't true for some high-end or "luxury" products. There is a cache that comes from rarity, and if you think your product may benefit from an ultra-targeted approach, give it a try.

For instance, if you've designed a line of high-end stationary that will gain value through exclusivity, you don't want your potential customers to see your product on Amazon. After all, if anyone can buy it, where's the appeal? Instead, consider targeting high end stationary stores in prime real estate locations. If your brand is available exclusively on Michigan Avenue, Rodeo Drive, or 5th Avenue, your cultural desirability will soar through the roof.

E-commerce can't be ignored. I is especially important for emerging brands. If you've got a new app, you'd better be in the Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market. Amazon is the go-to online retailer for an immense (and constantly expanding) range of products. If your product is crafty or home-made, Etsy is the place for you. The internet offers a wide variety of distribution channels that are already geared towards a specific market demographic, so find yours and get on it! It's easy to get lost online, however, so you'll need a marketing strategy that directs a lot of traffic to your corner of the web.

The Strategy of the Number 3

Most new brands or products don't often have the ability to land in the stores on Michigan Avenue. If your brand is untested, odds are the industry leader doesn’t want your new product on their shelves just yet. When you're vying for the best placement possible, consider the strategy of the number 3.

The Number 1 retailer in your space probably isn't interested and the Number 2 is focused on becoming Number 1. To achieve the best possible advantage, go for Number 3. They're hungry and driving forward rather than resting on an established reputation (just like you!). They also have upward momentum that will carry you along with it. In the same vein, a tried-and-true distribution channel with a new CEO or other high-level executive turnover may be looking to shake things up and provide an opportunity that wouldn't otherwise exist. Keep up with industry news to take advantage of these unique opportunities!

The Bottom Line

Find a well-matched, up-and-coming company or person in your space and pour energy into them! Consider how a partnership can add value to your product, and choose the avenues that will put you in front of your target consumer with the least distractions.

PR and Marketing are the final pieces of the puzzle for your Ideal Launch Scenario, and next week I'll address them in-depth. Meanwhile, tweet @EidsonPartners with your thoughts on choosing the best possible distribution partners.

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