Your latest campaign isn’t driving the velocity you expected. Instead of growing your sales, the new flavor you’ve introduced is cannibalizing your legacy product. Your leading retail outlet is preparing to launch a private label version of your offering.
If your food or beverage brand is facing headwinds, do you know if the problem is your marketing tactics? Or your brand strategy?
To find a fix, you need to understand the cause.
Identifying Tactical Problems & Fixes
If your sales and marketing teams are throwing a bunch of “stuff” against the wall to see what sticks, it can be difficult to isolate what’s working and what’s not.
Let’s look at some common problems that arise from sales and marketing tactical misfires:
- Lack of awareness — you struggle to reach beyond your core audience of longtime fans; while they’re loyal buyers, they aren’t going to grow your bottom line.
- Emphasis on product attributes — your messaging leads with features and benefits, not who, what, and why you exist. You’re on your way to becoming a commodity if you don’t retool your consumer communication.
- Product cannibalization — your new flavors, sizes, or packs are eating away at your strongest offerings. When you emphasize attributes, not mission, you’re likely to grab consumers’ attention only with something shiny and new.
- Placement and pricing friction — your products only move when on deal. Again, if your marketing doesn’t shout your brand’s mission from the rooftops, the consumer thinks, “well, this is a cheap option this week” instead of, “I need this brand in my life.”
To address a lack of consumer awareness, you might start with research (a competitive audit, category audit, and audience analysis) and then evaluate and refine your messaging based upon those insights.
If a marketing review reveals that your messaging is overly focused on your products’ attributes (Low carb! Now in vanilla!), then you need to retool your communication to explain your features and benefits through the lens of the brand. Let the brand’s WHY lead the dialog.
When you have a product cannibalization problem, the tactical fix is pretty straightforward: Develop the discipline to say no. Don’t make more varieties just because you can. Use consumer research, flavor trends, and retailer insights to anticipate consumer demands beyond just a copycat line extension.
Finally, if you’re facing pressure on pricing and placement, then leverage your consumer insights to help your retail partners understand that your audience is their audience. Knowing who your consumer is and how the brand fits into their lives will change the conversation about placement and channel strategy.
Brand Strategy Problems & Solutions
While product-specific data might reveal issues with your sales and marketing tactics, broader insights related to your consumer base and your performance against your competitive set are flashing red lights that you have a brand strategy problem.
We’ll dig into these warning signs in a couple of different business categories, and look at some potential strategic fixes.
- Brand erosion (loss of brand relevance)
- Loss of key, long-time loyalist consumers
- Lack of new audience cohorts
- Misunderstanding among your internal team of what matters to your consumers
In short, there’s a disconnect between your brand and your customers, one that goes both ways. Your team doesn’t understand who they are (or who they could be) or what they need. They, in turn, don’t get (or have forgotten) what you stand for.
Chances are, your company is sleeping on consumer data, ignoring it, discounting it, or thinking the brand is immune to changing consumer preferences. So research is the place to start fixing an audience strategy problem.
First, you need to look backward to understand the audience you have and how you got them, looking at SPINS data, syndicated research, or a Usage and Attitude Study.
Second, you need to look forward to identify an untapped group that doesn’t yet know they need your brand in their world. Decide who you want to reach out to, who you have a right to talk to, who you want to invite into the group — and then find ways to create linkage to them.
Remember: Your brand doesn’t have to be for everyone. If you’re an undifferentiated brand, you need millions of people to care. If you’re a brand with a purpose, you need a focused group of fans, both current and future, to care.
Always, your capital-B Brand — the promise you make and the way you keep it — drives decisions about who you’re inviting into the tribe. Defining a new audience should not change why you exist; why you exist should illuminate the new audience.
- You have unhappy retail customers
- Low velocity means category managers are days away from dropping your brand
- Your business is not solving your retailer partners’ main problems
- New competition is taking significant market share
- You compete on price rather than value
- You have low profit margins
- You’re seeing stagnant ACV (Annual Case Volume) in key accounts
Your salespeople are charismatic folks who could sell water to a drowning person. But they need more than personality; they need tools and language to explain why your brand exists and how it fits into the retailer’s universe. Just as you work to win your consumer’s affection, you need to woo your retail partners.
This retail relationship-building effort involves knowing your existing audience and working to expand it. (See above.) Retailers want to see that you’re constantly driving shoppers to their shelves to find your products: More fans for you equals more business for them. Emphasize, too, your brand’s mission and its power to attract devoted fans who’ll seek you out and pay a premium.
Armed with data and brand strategy, your sales team can build partnerships with retailers based on the goal of shared success. When you work as equals, you’ll face less price pressure, threat of discontinuation, or dictation of shelf placement.
- Competitors’ products or services are no different from yours
- Your product offering is outdated and no longer desirable
- You’re behind in understanding new industry standards, consumer preferences, and competitive moves
Throwing new products on retail shelves simply in response to trends or competitive moves is a recipe for becoming a commodity — because every other brand can make those same products. Pumpkin spice is not a brand strategy, it’s an opportunistic product play that may get you a spike in November but is not sustainable.
When you anchor R&D to your brand strategy, you’ll make things that only you can make. Things that are so attuned to your fan base’s needs that they can’t say no.
Consider the promise your brand makes and and how you keep it: What items in your current lineup deliver on that promise? Are there outages or opportunities that you’re not serving? Where do you have permission from your audience to introduce something new? That’s the target area for innovation.
- You’ve lost track of (or never identified) your brand’s mission: why it exists beyond just making a product
- You have difficulty finding and keeping talent
- Your product offering doesn’t match its promise
Really, there’s only one thing to do if the brand does not stand on a strong, defensible mission: Go to Chapter 1 of our book Beloved & Dominant Brands and do all the homework.
Without a mission, you shouldn’t be innovating. Without a mission, you’re selling to the masses instead of singing with the choir. Your competitive advantage isn’t your product features and attributes, it’s the flag you’ve planted in the sand.
Without a brand strategy built on a singular mission, the savviest marketing plan and the most persuasive sales team won’t move the needle.If your brand is struggling with strategy, that’s our superpower. Let’s talk about what you need.