Jim Bean: Good is the Enemy of Great — Never settle. To create things you are truly proud of, you have to get used to putting yourself into the ‘uncomfortable zone’. We’re constantly pushing ourselves and our team to produce the best wines possible, which means going beyond what feels safe and familiar.
As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Jim Bean & Christine O’Sullivan, Co-Proprietors of BRAND Napa Valley.
Long-time Napa Valley residents, husband and wife duo Jim Bean and Christine O’Sullivan are the proprietors of Pritchard Hill’s iconic BRAND Napa Valley estate. O’Sullivan was born and raised in Southern Ireland before moving to Northern California, where she pursued a storied career in software engineering at Apple, managing the release of Mac OS X. Bean was born and raised in Pennsylvania, enjoyed careers in finance and business development, and eventually landed in the Bay Area managing international retail operations at Apple. Together, Jim and Christine have cultivated their personal and professional love in Napa Valley, and now bring their ambition and hands-on approach to the BRAND estate every day as they work to produce exceptional estate wines and unique tasting experiences that are inextricably linked to Pritchard Hill’s sense of place.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
O’Sullivan: I remember the moment vividly: 7:00 a.m. on a beach in Barcelona. I had left Apple years earlier, establishing a successful family venture fund in the interim, and Jim had just exited his role at Apple. We had acquired 65 acres of vineyards on the Napa valley floor and had become equally immersed in Napa Valley as we were in Silicon Valley. So, as we walked along the beach that morning, he asked if I was ready to do “one more thing,” and this time, to do it together. Little did we know how quickly that conversation would catapult us into the world of wine — six months, to be exact. Our July 2018 “what’s next” conversation led us directly to our purchase of BRAND Napa Valley, a stunning 110-acre estate atop of the infamous Pritchard Hill, in January 2019. I guess it was meant to be! We were very clear on what we wanted for our future and for our family-owned business, and the rest as they say is history…
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
O’Sullivan: It was a rookie mistake, but a fundamental one. Shortly after the purchase of BRAND, I was actively working on product placement with local on-premise accounts. A local restaurant agreed to sell our wine, but the official timing was unclear. We were frequent customers at the time, and one evening, we proudly brought a few of our wines to enjoy over dinner. The director of wine was very gracious, though obviously displeased, and called me a few days later to explain my ‘rookie’ mistake. While BYOB is very common in Napa Valley, bringing your own wine (as owners) when it’s on the wine list is not. I quickly learned 2 things: 1) be grateful for the feedback — many people would not take the time to give it to you — and 2) it’s okay to make mistakes — own it. It wasn’t clear that our wine was on the list that night, but we learned a valuable lesson and that same wine director has become a close friend and a wonderful supporter of BRAND.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Bean: Authenticity and leading by example. Knowing your business — and your customers — requires you to be hands on, which is critical to create a culture of innovation. In our case, you have to own your own vineyards and walk them every day. You have to physically show up, see what your winemakers are doing, and be a part of those decisions.
O’Sullivan: At BRAND, we work hard to earn your business and are continually learning from our customers. Early on in the pandemic, we knew we had to get creative and focus on our clients and our community. After hearing from the business world about how hard it was to host relaxed yet productive virtual business meetings where deals could be closed and client relationships could be fostered, we launched our “PRO Program” virtual tastings, specifically targeting CEOs and executives. After hearing our customers ask for ways to give back to front-line workers, we dedicated our time and resources to create the #FromBRANDwithLove giveback program in support of first responders. We pivoted quickly to ensure we were providing services and opportunities that were serving our clients and staying true to our identity.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
O’Sullivan: We are always working on exciting new projects! The most exciting unveiled earlier this winter: our new look and logo. The purchase of BRAND was significant, and making it our own — with our story and our vision for the future — was paramount. The concept of place was the overarching inspiration for this new project, which consists of three key elements: location, a physical point on a map; locale, the physical setting; and sense of place, which are the emotions we attach to an area. These elements derived a clean and contemporary new look for BRAND, a look that we feel identifies with the artistry and character of who we are and what we represent.
Bean: We needed a new look and feel in order for people to understand us and our vision for the future. At BRAND, it’s all about the wine and our customer experience, hence the enormous amount of energy going into the winery, the vineyards, and our winemaking practices. Our redesigned tasting room has an understated ‘wow’ factor, which is elegant, fun, and welcoming, and the new branding calls upon the estate’s deep sense of place. At the center of it all though is our wine. The reason we exist is to make phenomenal wine, and the exciting projects we’re working on in the vineyards and throughout the winemaking process will be reflective in our future vintages.
Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?
O’Sullivan: We think about this in a slightly different manner. In my opinion, the difference is that branding is recognition and advertising is relevance, and both are intertwined. When I worked at Apple, Steve would say that the difference between marketing and engineering was precision. I guess one could say the same applies to branding and advertising. Reflecting on Jim’s earlier comments regarding how our team and company are so different, marketing (branding) is a reflection of our core values and a key element for customers to resonate with, while product marketing (advertising) helps to surprise and delight the customer with a product derived from those values.
Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?
O’Sullivan: You won’t survive in the long term without it! We operate in a unique world today, and consumers are far more educated regarding purchases. In our business, there is lots of competition and the barrier to entry is low. Napa Valley has over 475 wineries and over 3300 labels. At BRAND, we take (brand) marketing to the next level. Our connection with the customer is integral to maintaining and growing our business. The connection goes both ways, and we learned during COVID-19 that our personal touch extended way beyond the sale. The lesson is simple: our brand must exude customer-centric thinking in everything we do. Surprising our customers with amazing wine is at the forefront, while continuing to solidify a consistent and rock-solid customer experience.
Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Challenge the Status Quo
– Bean: We learned at Apple that nothing comes before having an amazing product. We hold ourselves very accountable to ensure we’re constantly producing the best wine and pushing the boundaries, especially in times of adversity. You can’t differentiate yourself if you’re doing the same thing as everyone else.
- Say No
– O’Sullivan: Learn to ‘say no’ to good ideas that just aren’t right for your business or your customers. Saying no allows you to remain focused and carefully zero in on the right ideas. Sometimes you have to say no to good ideas in order to put the right amount of energy into the great ideas that produce something amazing.
- Stand for Something
– Bean: We’ve looked at the bigger picture — wildfires, energy consumption, and creating balance in the ecosystem — and we want BRAND to be part of the solution. In the last two years, we’ve evolved our farming to be completely organic and have implemented a number of new biodynamic practices. From an environmental and brand perspective, sustainability efforts have to be a priority.
- Be Fearless
– O’Sullivan: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Our new look and feel is a huge change and one we realize will invoke varied emotions. Nonetheless, we remain authentic and are not afraid to show the world who we are.
- Good is the Enemy of Great
– Bean: Never settle. To create things you are truly proud of, you have to get used to putting yourself into the ‘uncomfortable zone’. We’re constantly pushing ourselves and our team to produce the best wines possible, which means going beyond what feels safe and familiar.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
O’Sullivan: Chanel. I have long admired this company and have the good fortune to know a few of their senior executives. When I think of Chanel, I think of excellence. Aside from brand awareness, product distinction, and design, Chanel has impeccable execution. They focus on elements that we also care about deeply at BRAND: product, place, and people. The Chanel products are obviously wildly successful and their stores are a step above the rest, but most importantly, their people are masters of their trade. Whether they represent the product in-store or hand-stitch a one-of-a-kind gown at Rue Cambon in Paris, there is an astounding thread of excellence throughout this company.
In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?
O’Sullivan: We are in this business for the long haul, so it has to be our customers. Having an active and loyal customer base is everything. One can argue it’s easy to get a sale, but it’s not as easy to retain your customers and keep them coming back for more. You have to constantly be thinking of how to surprise and delight your customers.
What role does social media play in your branding efforts?
O’Sullivan: Social media is a wonderful communication forum and an easy way to advertise and control your message. Consumers are making purchasing decisions based on their social media feed, so it has to be part of the marketing equation in today’s world. Having said that, our focus has always been authentic and personal relationships with our customers. We will continue to develop a social media strategy that is consistent with our long-term vision, and will be curious to see how these technologies continue to evolve.
What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Bean: Be fearless — remaining engaged and excited by the work has so much to do with challenging yourself. Learn to say no — both in business and in life, because you simply cannot do it all. Finally, ask why — question everything, learn as you go, and challenge the status quo.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
O’Sullivan: Save the world and focus on climate change. Regardless of the debates, climate change is real and anyone who disagrees is kidding themselves. If we start with one small change — for example, drinking water from a refillable bottle — then we’re already making a difference by reducing the amount of plastic going back into the environment. Walk or cycle more, plant a tree, or start to compost. At BRAND, we’ve employed new organic and biodynamic farming practices to ensure that what is below the ground is as full of life as what grows above. There are many ways to help the environment, but start with educating yourself. Climate change is real.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
O’Sullivan: “Imagine what you could do, if you knew you would not fail.” I relish the opportunity to operate in the ‘uncomfortable zone,’ because it brings the greatest reward. I’ve always been fearless in business, but this quote continually guides me in taking risks throughout my life. For instance, I am scared of heights, and when I ski, this quote always pops into my head. (To be fair, it only helps me conquer that particular fear some of the time, so reader discretion is advised on this one!)
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Bean: Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk. These three game-changing leaders are focused on one of the most important and urgent topics impacting mankind — climate change — and I’d relish the opportunity to speak with them on the subject.
O’Sullivan: We are blessed with so many amazing leaders, and depending on the timing of this question, my choice would change. For now, I would choose Bill Gates. It may sound like a weird answer considering I spent my entire career at Apple, but as Jim stated, Gates is focused on a few of the world’s most important issues, including climate change. His new book ‘How To Avoid a Climate Disaster’ is scary stuff, but he is putting his money where his mouth is and drawing upon the resources available to him to endeavor to address this massive and imminent disaster.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.