In my New York University class on products vs. brands, there’s one topic that always seems to stump the students: distribution.

I think it’s because they assume that distribution is fairly obvious -- companies simply stock products on retail shelves and their work is done.

When you look at distribution from a product perspective, those students are probably right. As a business owner, you should indeed find the most appropriate “shelf” to house your products where you know your customers will be looking.

That tends to be the usual sorts of distribution outlets, most likely right along side your competition. This is true unless you have your own retail outlets, but then your challenge becomes getting people to make it a destination. That’s called marketing dollars!

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Case in point: need a pain reliever? You go to CVS or any other drug chain and there you have it.

Need a couch? The distribution channels are fairly obvious including brick-and-mortar stores, catalogs, websites and trade showrooms.

Need to book a flight? The “distribution” is fairly straightforward with toll-free numbers, websites and travel agents.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to find a product or service when you need it. Then, of course, there’s always Google.

But looking at distribution through the lens of your product alone is far too limiting. You should think about distribution from your brand’s perspective as well. Now we’re talking!

To figure out these kinds of distribution opportunities, first ask yourself a few questions as it relates to your brand:

  • What does your brand stand for?
  • Why do your customers engage with your brand?
  • How do your customers live their lives?

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When answering these questions for a pain reliever, for example, you may add distribution outlets such as Home Depot to your list, where people suffering from the pain of home improvement projects shop frequently.

“Brand distribution” is why you see furniture companies put up displays at home shows, participate in designer showcases and do pop ups in high traffic areas. There’s always a kiosk or a sales person nearby to order what’s been featured.

Southwest Airlines created an entire outdoor oasis in New York City's Bryant Park so that weary New Yorkers and tourists could find respite amidst the urban hustle. It’s complete with a coffee bar and easy access to book a trip. Now that’s distributing a brand!

These are all examples of well-crafted brand distribution. They’re not the most obvious places to put a product or service, but they are brilliant ways to distribute the brand where there can be effective and meaningful engagement with consumers.

To have a successful business, you need to create both product and brand distribution opportunities. Product distribution will likely generate the bulk of your sales, putting you in the right place. But brand distribution will likely build greater engagement, at the right time.

Right place, right time -- that’s complete distribution.

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