Aug 20, 2013

7 Seas: A Brand Starts With A Relationship

A great brand name and packaging is only valuable if you get the product onto the store shelves. There are always gatekeepers who will either support you or block you. Without their endorsement, your brand doesn’t stand a chance.

The foundation of a great brand is relationships—strong ones that you grow and nurture.

7 Seas has grown from $6 million to over $70 million in the past 15 years based on a foundation of relationships. They are a wholesaler and exporter of sustainable seafood. They operate two fish markets in BC, supply seafood to restaurants across Canada, and their products are carried in major retailers in Canada and the United States.

7 Seas recognizes that branding alone does not drive their growth. It’s the relationships they build and nurture across their supply chain, from fishermen to consumer, that forms a sustainable competitive advantage.

People buy from people

Retail is a key market for 7 Seas. The challenge is a great product and a competitive business model is not enough in their industry.

The buyers at mass retailers have established relationships, and they aren’t looking for new suppliers. To crack through the buyers’ veil takes more than marketing, it starts with relationships.

Brand packaging helps move the product off the store shelves, but it takes effective sales work to get the product into the retailers. 7 Seas works closely with their buyers to build relationships, establish trust and demonstrate capabilities.

It’s a slow process, but it can’t be circumvented. People buy from people, and more importantly people buy from people they trust.

Trust is earned

Hole in ones make for good stories, but they’re not the average. Growing strong buyer relationships takes strategy and a lot of chipping.

A key way 7 Seas builds trust is by solving problems in a pinch.

Seafood wholesalers get into trouble with retailers by overcommitting for a promotion. They agree to a program, but if the consumer demand is higher than expected they can run out of product part way through the promotion. This is a big problem for buyers, because they’re left scrambling to find new suppliers to shore up the shortfall.

7 Seas builds trust and demonstrates capabilities by stepping up when over committed suppliers falter. They scale to meet their clients’ needs even in a pinch, because of their superior supply chain. 7 Seas controls their full supply chain, from fishermen to store. When they make a commitment, they deliver.

Small victories go a long way to build trust, and provide the foundation to grow your brand.

The packaging is for the consumer

Effective product design and branding are essential for the consumer relationship. Consumers don’t have the luxury of personal relationships with the company and its salespeople. They rely on the brand to form a relationship.

7 Seas’ consumer brands, 7 Seas and Coastal Waters, are names consumers learn to know and trust. A consumer may not be able to judge the quality of the sockeye salmon or the freshness of the scallops in the store, but the brands are a sign of quality, taste and freshness.

Consumers look for heuristics, visual sign or cues, to assess quality. For example, people buying a car will kick the tires and slam the doors to judge sturdiness. They are looking for signs to demonstrate quality.

7 Seas packaging, product names and identity are heuristics for seafood quality. The brand is the relationship point with the consumer.

Invest in relationships

Packaging, design and the activities commonly grouped under “branding” do not make relationship building any easier.

Lasting relationships are based on doing the right things:

  1. Having a superior product and business model to meet your clients’ needs.
  2. Being there in a pinch, and going the extra mile.
  3. Investing in people, and the human side of business.

Relationships are messy and complex, but they provide the foundation for growing a sticky brand.

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