Repositioning Your Brand to Adapt to the Changes in Category, Competition, and Consumer Preference

When the pandemic struck many brands felt like they were crushing it as they struggled to keep up with pantry stocking demand and channel disruption. Others saw their market opportunity dry up overnight. We thought now would be a good time to share some of our brand positioning power tools to help your brand find new opportunities. In this webinar we cover the:

  • Category Analysis
  • Competitive Audit
  • Trend Analysis

You’ll learn about:

  • Burning Platforms
  • Tiffany – Walmart Effect and
  • How how a burrito was competing against a theme park

You will also hear how these tools helped us reposition brands like DRY, CircusTrix, Sahale, and Kar’s Nuts. Regardless of which camp your brand finds itself in, one thing is clear, now is an important time to rethink your brand positioning. This webinar can help you navigate this ’New Normal’. If you would like to talk about your brands needs in further detail, let us know. 


Diana Fryc

Hello everybody was great to see so many people joining us right now. Hi I’m Diana Fryc, I am responsible for sales and marketing here at Retail Voodoo. I’ve been working with David for 16 years 15 years in various capacities. Retail Voodoo is a branding firm that specializes in growing, fixing and reinventing brand for food, beverage and wellness companies. Our expertise is in positioning, branding, package design and activation.

David Lemley

And, I’m David Lemley. I’m the President and Head of Strategy here at Retail Voodoo. While I’ve been doing this kind of work with food, beverage brands for more than two decades and have decided it’s time today to share some of these tools with you. So thank you for your time. I hope you find it to be valuable.

Diana Fryc

Yeah, great. Since our time is short. We’re going to start the webinar now. So David and I are going to disappear from the screen. We’ll just have our slides up until the end when we do a Q and A.

So, before we begin, we’ve got a little bit of housekeeping that we want to make sure everybody’s just up to speed. At the end of this webinar, we will be providing a recording of this. So, if you want to listen to it or share this with other team members, you can.

Alright. So, here’s an overview of what we’re going to cover. We are going to review three tools that our team uses as part of brand repositioning. Particularly in a situation that we’re in right now where things are changing, and you want to be able to know how to adapt and how to make changes that are going to work for you and your brand. There are the three tools – the Category Audit, Competitive Audit and the Trend Analysis

And then we’re going to go to a Q&A. So stay tuned for that.

So what are we defining as the new normal today? Really the new normal is a whole set of changes happening that are impacting our ability tokeep up with consumer demand. We are gathered here because COVID-19 and social unrest have turned 2020 into a year that we just could not have predicted.It’s changed how we see business, how we see the world in some instances, and has us questioning some fundamental aspects of our business habits.

None of these things that are up on the screen are really a surprise to anybody that’s here. But what we want to do is just kind of say – Listen, there’s a lot of things that are impacting us.

We’ve got emotional eating, people are down spending, employment is rocky for particular certain job segments. Other segments, not so much. We have employment insecurity, as well as supply chain being in impacted by employment (from both from a safety perspective and then finding employees that can help us), particularly in manufacturing. Consumer behavior is a little erratic and oh by the way we’ve got these new DTC e-commerce platforms that we’ve all had our eyes on for a while and have been growing. However the opportunities and growth have accelerated and have caught some of us off guard.

So this is what we’re dealing with. Now, how do we start moving around it?

David Lemley

Or like as I said, it’s holy shirt balls, what’s next?

Diana Fryc

We just want to say, the thing that we know about brand development and positioning is actually bad news gives us new opportunities. And so the reality is, that for those of us that have grown during this pandemic, we can’t really declare our brands success until we get through this (which we’re looking at 12 to 24 months before we’re going to get back to some sense of stability and normality). For those that are struggling, there’s a lot of opportunity. So let’s go wake it up!

Alright, let’s start with a Category Audit. So, a Category Audit is one of the primary tools that we use in our brand development process. David, why don’t you tell us what it is and how people can use it as part of brand repositioning?

David Lemley

Great, thank you. So, a Category Audit is basically an analysis of all the brands or products that have similar or like features in a set of offerings. It’s typically limited to a single aisle and it is research and data backed.

A Category Audit collects the data about the brand and its competitive set at retail or in DTC and then it evaluates it strictly through the lens of brand, which we define as “the promises you make and the way in which you keep them”. So we use Category Audits to bring data into what is often subjective. Many organizations rely on emotion and perception (internal perception) to gauge the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. But we want to get it beyond likes on social media or raving fans or high fives from your agency partners and get it into a set of tools you can use.

This is what the Retail Reality part of Category Audit looks like. This is when we go out into the world and we’re looking at combining Retail Reality from multiple locations across your stratosphere, as well as an online, and we’re looking for outages. We really get out there and shop and literally get out there and look at the category conventions and the key adjacencies.

So, a way to think about this is, let’s say you’re a bread bakery. A Retail Audit like this will help you examine the communication conventions that all brands are using on shelf. It looks at the design and positioning trends amongst the competitors’ various bakeries, it also compares the brands to one another directly. It will help you also to see which brands are in the strike zone. Who’s got premium positioning, which brands are moving on deal and what the section looks like to consumers, along with the other data that you can kind of see in the image. So, when you combine this with your SPINS and your IRI data, you have a really great picture of what is going on.

My favorite example about how a Category Audit can help reposition a brand comes from our friends at DRY Sparkling. As I tell you a quick little story, it’s important to note that when we worked on this project, what I’m calling sparkling water and LaCroix hadn’t happened yet.

What we discovered during the Category Audit is that there were some concerns around adjacency. See, it was being merchandised near craft and big soda versus more similar like-products. It was nowhere near sparkling waters. But we were also able to see is that they had an aggressive high/low strategy, which was getting them to hit certain things with their retailers. However, what we found is that nobody bought when they weren’t on deal. And so, it was a self-cannibalizing challenge that was faced there. And then when we started looking at opportunities for better placement away from big soda. We found some insights in the liquor aisle and we noted that there was an opportunity for experimental flavor palettes and premium pricing related to premium flavors – so we stole our cues from there. And that was really great because the brand was founded by someone who wanted to be able to create a sophisticated, tasty beverage that could be served with or without alcohol at a cocktail party.

So, here’s some stuff around a Category Audit. We took it and basically broke it down for you. This is what it can and what it cannot do. It can very simply give you all of your rankings. You can see your competitive set. You can see the competitive adjacencies. You can also see things like stocking concerns and making sure that you are being merchandised properly. And it can show you all of the category conventions. But what it can’t do is tell you why people prefer your brand over someone else or converse to that. It also can’t tell you what the categories are you have permission to grow into. And it cannot provide you alternate details on merchandising placement, and it cannot forecast. It’s not a forward-thinking tool.

Now, here are some key learnings that we have gotten over time from Category Audits. Category Audit alone cannot answer key questions around your brand, including things like “Where should we focus our efforts?” “What do we not see?” “How do we need to talk to our customers?” or “Does our brand story work?” It also has taught us over the course of time, that if you’re competing on price, features, and benefits, you’re in a high-risk business and it will be temporary. The last thing that is taught us, that we wanted to share with you, is that design is a visual cue to drive engagement into your brand story. Without a brand story, you are a commodity.

So, the next tool that we want to share with you as a Competitive Audit. Category Audit – Competitive Audit.

A Competitive Audit is really about comparing your brand to other categories that compete for the same share of mind, wallet, and stomach. It provides a realistic unbiased assessment of your current state and your opportunities, based upon competition, your company culture, and your brand strengths and weaknesses. This analysis, combined with a deep understanding of the changing nature of consumer preferences, (like we’re in today) provides the platform on which brand strategy can be built.

Here’s a simple way to think about it. If you’re a nutrition bar, you can move beyond comparing yourself to other nutrition bars and start thinking about comparing yourself to snacks that provide nutrition quickly. In a Competitive Audit your competition moves from the bar aisle or the wall of bars, to things like protein drinks, whole nuts, or trail mix. It also helps you see what the consumers might be considering as part of their purchase.

If you’re interested in that, we actually wrote a whole book about that called Beloved and Dominant Brands, where this ecosystem comes from. So what we do is take some of this information and benchmark the Seven Musts of Marketing against that expanded competitive stomach, mind, and wallet space and then come back and give a report and say here’s the opportunity, here’s the strength, here’s the weakness.

My favorite example of how Competitive Audit has helped a brand see opportunity from our work. It was with CircusTrix, which they are in the trampoline park business. And we had a mind-blowing moment when we were on a site tour and got an opportunity to interview a 16-year-old jumper who said this experience is competing with Chipotle. He said, “I can go to Chipotle twice for the same cost. So, I get to hang out with my friends twice.” We took that information, turned back to our client and said “Our trampoline park is competing with a burrito…”

Competitive Audit – what it can do for you is identify your non-analogous competition. That means stomach, mind, wallet, share stuff. It can also help you see what else consumers consider, in addition to your brand. What it can’t do is tell you what’s coming. It cannot predict the future, it cannot predict social change, it cannot identify competitive adjacencies like the Category Audit can, and it cannot help you understand why a consumer chooses your brand over another or vice versa.

So, here’s some key learnings we’ve had around Competitive Audits. No brand owns a set of customers or a target audience and they never will. And then understanding where your brand or product lives within the consumers consideration set is more valuable to helping you understand where you can go, what’s next, how you can play, and how you can win.

It has also taught us that purchase, use, and consumption are often radically different needs states. People consume certain brands for certain occasions; some planned, some are impulse, some with good intention, but no follow-through. We’ve also learned that people won’t buy your brand just because it tastes good. (Sorry if that’s what you’re hanging your hat on.) And the last thing is that we learned is that people buy into brands before they buy into products. If you notice what the 16-year-old said, he said, I can go to Chipotle twice. We had to ask him what he ate. It was about the experience that he was buying into, the brand.

The third tool we want to share with you today is a Trend Analysis. A Trend Analysis is a cross section of leading trend reports, things like Mintel, New Hope, Nielsen, Ipsos, Pew, etc. And we weight across culture, both your internal culture and the cultural zeitgeist that is happening around you. And then press that against your competitive landscape in order to get an X-Y-Z access vector that we call landscape scenario planning. This is, in an almost certain future, we could do X, and an uncertain future, we could do Y. And it helps you start to have some confidence in order to figure out how to move forward.

Trend reports are written by thought leaders who give us their best guess at what they think is coming from a flavor, ingredient, or product perspective. If it sounds tricky, it’s because it is. It’s why we pull from so many sources and overlay it with Competitive and Category Audits in order to even begin to think about how to solve the problem.

It’s also really important to remember. Anybody can buy these reports, but it’s important to know that it only works within the context of your company culture and your category.

An example we wanted to share today was from our work with Kars. They are a nut factory (brand). They’ve been around forever. And what we learned from working with them using the trend reports is that the category of trail mix is pretty sleepy in the C-store and pretty sleepy in the back of the natural food channel. Because their product has candy-like jewels that are M&M based, the question that came up is “Is this a burning platform?” And the argument that came out was “health-conscious consumers do not eat trail mix” traditionally and it’s because of the sugar content. However, the Trend Analysis helped us see that those same consumers would eat and pay more for sweet and salty snacks that had additional functionality and unique flavors.

So, what that told us, in this case, is that this brand would need to retarget from everyone’s ideal target of a female between 26 and 42 years old is who is perfect in every way, shape and form to men, kids, and families. Another thing that we’ve found during the Trend Analysis is that nostalgic flavors and Americana would work well in this category.

As we started to remix what we were doing, we used flavor trends to bring new ingredients and functionality to a sleepy category and help them gain a national audience.

Diana Fryc

David, would you mind really quick on that Kars. You mentioned burning platform just so everybody’s on the same page. Could you give us the high level on burning platform?

David Lemley

Oh – sure. A burning platform is when you have a product or an ingredient that may be coming out of favor – if you based your business on products or ingredients that do not keep up with changing preferences of consumers. So in this case, the nutritional content of this product is very similar to that of a Snickers bar. There’s a certain segment of people that will eat that way and the burning platform is what happens when the next generation comes up? Will they continue to eat this way and outside of current circumstances? I would hazard decreasingly so. However, the current circumstances of pandemic have more people maintaining Snickers bars and sugary snacks than they have in the last 10 years.

Is that answering the question sufficiently?

Diana Fryc

Yeah, it looks like it. Thanks.

David Lemley

Great. So, to a Trend Analysis. What it can do is it can expose your brand’s current limitations. It can also help you see new markets; it can help you decide where to play and it will imply how you can win there and it will also give you some of those event horizons, which are that XYZ coordinates. We like to think of those in terms of two-year, three-year and five-year event horizons. We should have this resolved by two years; we should have this resolved by five years. And what I like to say, and at the time we’re living in currently is, a good evidence for that. I like to say that we can fairly well predict what’s going to happen from a consumer preference program. Over the next two years, three years, it starts to get into dream and at five years could be a really strong hallucination, because you don’t actually know what’s coming. So that is a really good way to think about how to plan.

What a Trend Analysis can’t do is guarantee future success and it also can’t predict the future, but it can give you some very strong clues as to what you should maybe start considering and what you should maybe stop doing. Especially if it identifies that your products are a burning platform.

The last thing, it can’t do is build you a roadmap for any of the stuff that’s really important to marketers, such as innovation, brand, or marketing. Some of the key learnings around Trend Analysis is that… here’s the best definition, Diana, of burning platform. unless you control the source, every product is a burning platform because it’s subject to change.

Another thing that trend analyses have taught us over the course of time, is there something called the Tiffany / Walmart effect, which accelerates for brands that don’t innovate in uncertain times. The Tiffany / Walmart effect is premium or cheapest – everyone else in the middle is on report, or subject to change, or needs to think about the future differently.

So that ties into the last thing that we wanted to share about it, which is that unless your brand stands for. Something that people care about beyond your functionality or you are the cheapest you are likely either near a smoldering platform or perhaps standing in the middle of a burning platform.

Diana Fryc

Is it possible that the platform might be in question right now just simply because of the changes that are going on?

David Lemley

Yeah, absolutely. So, it might be that your platform smolders. That’s why I chose that word. It could be smoldering in that in 12-month’s time, should there be a vaccine, we may find ourselves people returning to the habits they had just in 2019, because that was a combination of 20 years of constant evolution of consumer eating habits. So, it could be something that only smolders during this unrest time or this uncertain time that it returns to normal. However, if it’s a trend like ‘Sugar vilified’, I’ll go out on a limb and say that is going to be going on, regardless of what happens in the world for the next three to five years.

Diana Fryc

Great. And these tools are going to help define it.

David Lemley

Yeah, so my opinion that I just stated, comes from being inside of so many brands and using these tools repeatedly to see that zeitgeist. I know that sugar is, while people love it and it’s an essential ingredient in so many things, it is going to be vilified through the various categories over the next foreseeable event horizons.

Diana Fryc

Got it. Okay, thanks

David Lemley

So that’s it. The key takeaways that we want you to have is that that the three tools, the Category Audit, the Competitive Audit, combined with a Trend Analysis, can help you navigate this new normal.

And in case we didn’t say it, there will be a next new normal. And that we want to encourage you and say that opportunity rests inside of problems and that our hope is that these tools help you have some confidence to go wake them up.

Diana Fryc

Ok we’ve got a couple of questions here. “So how do we know that these tools are going to work during uncertain times? Do you have an example?” Can you provide examples from your past of brands that we’ve worked with during kind of a similar type of situation? And how did you help that brand or those brands?”

David Lemley

Yes, I’d like to begin by saying that we’re really humble about this and a student of this. We’re learning about change in this current situation right alongside all of you.

That said, the tools that we’ve shared with you today and why we chose to share them specifically is because during the Great Recession, as it were, we were able to use the same sets of tools to help a handful of brands, not only pivot but become beloved and dominant and they are to this day still doing very well by leveraging these tools.

Some examples of brands that we helped think that through in the Puget Sound area greater Seattle area there’s something called PCC Natural Markets we helped to reposition them during the Great Recession and emphasize community over earnestness and organic and transitional farming as a way to manage costs and also still keep their values in place.

We also helped the Home Depot become more shoppable to women during that time, because that was a key insight that during the Great Recession, a lot of women were empowered to go tear stuff out of their house and so creating a helpful shopping place that was not so dude-ish and bro-ish was very important.

Others that come to mind off the top of my head would be REI and Sur la Table.

Diana Fryc

Great. Do we have an example of a CPG, those are all great brands, but they’re retail brands? Can we think of a CPG brand off the top of your head?

Is that like Essentia? Well Essentia is newer.

David Lemley

It is newer.

If I were to actually think of the brand that’s sort of the poster child for coming out of the Great Recession kicking and swinging and becoming a beloved and dominant brand – it would be Sahale Snacks.

That was one where we started our dialogue when they had a price point that was difficult to overcome because people had been out of work, etc, etc, and that there was a slow return to the notion of premium and that the way they were talking about their product, it was very difficult to understand how to use it. And we were able to turn it into something where we were identifying key ingredients and creating value and appetite appeal and helping them build story into their products and as we know, that took off. Smuckers purchased them after they grew from $12 to $48 million in the first year. Is that a good example?

Diana Fryc


David Lemley

Okay, okay.

Diana Fryc

If anybody else have any other questions, feel free to ask. You’ve got one or two more here. “How should brands adjust who their audience is in this new normal. Should we ride the wave of the new consumption habits or talk to whole new audiences?”

David Lemley

That is a really great question. And I’d say the answer is complicated. My position is that you should never abandon your loyalists you should bring them along and keep your core happy and solid. However, now’s a good time based upon what’s happening, to see if there are any audience-to-be’s.

Are there new spheres of influence you can add to your consumer base? Think of it like that rather than saying, oh my gosh, we used to be natural and healthy and since people are main-lining Cheetos and Coca Cola right now, should we get into that world? And I think the answer is no – ride that wave out, stick to your core, but start thinking about things you could do to address people where they are.

Diana Fryc


See, there’s a question about our services here that I think I will address outside here. It’s whether or not we do just this portion of brand strategy outside of the context of a whole. So, the answer is yes, but we’ll talk about it a little bit more offline.

I don’t see any other questions here.

This the end of our webinar. And we really want to thank you for your time. We’ve got another webinar that will be coming up in July. We’ll start promoting that in the next week or so. If you have any questions about who we are, what we do, more defining questions about what we’ve presented today, feel free to reach out to David or me.

Those are our email addresses. There’s also a lot more information about what we’ve covered today and other tools outside of this that you can find in Beloved and Dominant Brands, there is a Chapter One Download at the link that we provided there and then you can see I’ve got a blank URL. That was my error, you can actually buy the book online, but we’ll be sending you a code to get that for 99 cents.

Be expecting and a follow-up email here shortly and unless there’s any additional we’re going to thank you for your time today. We will format this webinar and make it available to you shortly and provide you some follow up materials here by the end of the week.

David Lemley

Thank you everyone. Have a great day.

Top Insights

Top Insights

Read Our Minds

Sign up to receive our insights directly in your inbox.
Contact Us
Founder, President, & Chief Strategist
David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

Contact Us

Let’s get this party started.

Contact Us