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A Multi-Part Exploration of Marketing and Design for Modern Families

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David Lemley

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.

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How Pirelli Turned the Staid Old Annual Report Into Future-Focused Marketing

Written by Robert Klara for AdWeek

Key insight: “The best annual reports are brand-driven documents that are equal parts historical report and battle cry.”

In the crush of news about the coronavirus, recession and racial unrest, comparatively few in the business realm (or anywhere else) are likely to take notice of something as pedestrian as a company’s annual report. Why would they? Securities laws make annual reports mandatory for publicly traded corporations, which is one reason why—unless you’re an analyst, investor or shareholder—they’re among the driest publications one is likely to find.

And while some companies have spruced things up with colorful graphics, sleek portraits of perennially grinning executives and even interactive video elements (for the online versions), these filings largely remain obligatory tomes. As the Watercooler blog of Baltimore agency Planit so aptly put it: “An overwhelming number of annual reports are decidedly dull. A letter from the CEO followed by some more words on pages, ending with numbers and charts. Yawn.”

But it’s a safe bet that the recent publication of the annual report from Pirelli, the 148-year-old Italian brand best known for making the tires on Formula 1 racers as well as BMW and Audi automobiles, did turn a few heads. After all, it was meant to. Not only did the company make a significant investment in the report’s design, it attempted to elevate the booklet to a cultural level that annual reports seldom occupy.

For the last decade, Pirelli has regarded its annual reports not just as securities filings, but as branding. And by signing on a group of world-class artists and writers, the company wants the booklets to say something about the values and culture of the company as much as disclosing cash flow and income.

In other words, the annual report is marketing.

“Some might think that an annual report is the least creative thing that a company produces—just numbers, figures and data. Not us,” svp of communications and consumer marketing Maurizio Abet told Adweek. The company’s aim, Abet explained, is to “go beyond numbers, because numbers cannot really capture the emotions, passions or even purposes a company can convey.”

That might sound a bit fluffy, but Pirelli has the goods to show for it. In producing its latest annual report, the company developed a theme—resilience, which it defined as “the ability to not only deal with change but to transform it into an opportunity”—then commissioned some high-profile writers and artists to explore it however they saw fit.

Pirelli asked Osgor to explore the concept of resilience long before Covid-19.Pirelli

“We choose a theme that is relevant or meaningful, directly or metaphorically, as the main feature of the year,” Abet explained, “…giving [the artists and writers] carte blanche to shape or reshape that theme.”

For this year’s report, novelist and filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère contributed a work titled “Everyone sees noon at his door,” a disquisition into how each of us regards this crisis period differently. New Yorker writer John Seabrook authored a piece called The Zoom Brigata, which draws a philosophical parallel between Boccaccio’s account of the pandemic of 1348 and the current one.  Meanwhile, London-based artist Selman Osgor created eight panels that explore the road ahead—“the changes awaiting the company and all of us,” is how Pirelli defined it.

Veteran brand consultant David Lemley worked on his share of annual reports in the 1990s before expanding his design firm into consultancy Retail Voodoo. Early on, “I said that the best annual reports are brand-driven documents that are equal parts historical report and battle cry. This holds true today.”

The risk, he added, is a highly produced report that’s beautiful to look at but fails to thematically relate to the brand in a way that will “arrest its viewer and enroll them to participate on a deeper level with the brand. Then it’s a missed opportunity.”

Pirelli seemed to be aware of that imperative: All of Osgor’s artwork, in addition to being futuristic and provocative, incorporates tires and automobiles as visual motifs. Each of his seven panels also elaborates on a concept that relates to an automotive future—smart mobility, sustainability, cities of the future—and, by association, puts the Pirelli name into that milieu.

The artist’s take on the City of the Future.Pirelli

Osgor was also told to pay particular attention to the theme of resilience, and while that might seem like the perfect feel-good theme for the Covid-19 era, Pirelli had in fact developed the concept and commissioned all the work long before the virus appeared. But now that we’re living in a world altered by a pandemic, resilience feels especially prescient.

Pirelli isn’t new to making its print assets do double duty as branding tools. Since 1964, the company has produced a glossy calendar that, with production limited to about 20,000 copies, has become a collector’s item. That doesn’t happen by showing the radial of the month. Pirelli hires a who’s who of photographers (Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber, Annie Leibovitz) to shoot a who’s who of, well… supermodels.

For many years, calendar was famous for showing young and lithe female models who were wearing not much, but Pirelli slammed on the brakes in 2016 and decided it was time to produce work with bit more social and intellectual merit—and more racial diversity, too. That year, “women of outstanding professional, social, cultural, sporting and artistic accomplishments” appeared in the pages, including U.N. Refugee Agency goodwill ambassador Yao Chen and athlete, businesswoman and role model Serena Williams.

Regardless of who was inside, however, the calendar’s purpose was to help imbue the Pirelli brand name with a sense of worldliness that helped distinguish it from its competition. Now, the company is hoping the annual report fulfills a similar mandate. Like the calendar, “our annual report [is] a unique project,” Abet said, “that shows how a company can use art and creativity to present and elevate every aspect of its business.”

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Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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Will DTC Actually Change Post-COVID Retail forever?

Written For Campaign US

“Your brand will need to remain smart (or get smart if you are lagging behind) concerning your ecommerce business unit.”

Many CPG brands selling direct to consumer are flush with cash from pantry stocking and hoarding due to the coronavirus pandemic. Credit Suisse has reported that food at home likely represents 80 percent of spending today compared to 50 percent typically.

Shoppers are currently craving nostalgia and comfort food with longer shelf life in today’s COVID world, and may be reaching for less healthy options. But, remember as you give one another virtual high-fives over this unexpected windfall, that this growth is random and opportunistic rather than strategic. Will the nostalgia trend last after quarantine? No way. Brands that haven’t invested in next generation products and relationships may not benefit long-term.

Direct-to-consumer brands are betting on the ecommerce channel, but while it’s very important, it’s one of many that consumers will love once we all can go out again. So, will the DTC bubble burst in a post-COVID world?

Kind of, because when we return to a normal ecommerce/retail world, DTC will remain an important part of an omni-channel experience centered around people and their needs. But for those brands that emphasized the channel rather than having a consumer focused, defensibly different position the new normal will feel like it burst.

Your brand will need to remain smart (or get smart if you are lagging behind) concerning your ecommerce business unit. Now, it’s the gravitational center for the business. However, while it won’t go away, things will change.

There are brands, including Heinz Catsup, that have experienced a renaissance in sales as people look to stock their shelves, eat at home and throw out that old dodgy bottle that has been sitting in the back of the refrigerator since 2015. Food and beverage brands have teams working around the clock to meet demand for product during these turbulent times. CPG and retail industries are reacting to acute changes in consumer behavior, shopper demands and supply chain challenges.

Then, there are others who are over-confident, tone-deaf to the human needs for clarity, certainty and safety. They’re not connecting their brand values to people. Opportunistic brands, like Costco, will see a dip once everyone stops hoarding and stocking up on supplies. Small brands say they don’t have time to think, they are just focused on selling, and thinking tactically and operationally. While these are important, this will ensure that they are going to stay scrappy to survive, but they won’t be beloved and dominant.

Leadership teams are struggling to find the time or bandwidth to think about the future, but that’s their job. They can either use this time to stick their heads in the sand and see what happens or take a stand for their brand in a post-COVID world. These next few months are your chance to take the learnings and windfall from your opportunistic growth and create a brand strategy that transcends channel.

After things begin to return to normal it will be challenging for brands that:

  • Have rested on their laurels.
  • Become over confident by the uptick in sales.
  • Hunkered down and waited for the crisis to pass.

Brands need to put these strategies in place now:

  1. Gather data – on what was happening before the pandemic hit and then who has purchased your brand during it. Then take this further than simply agreeing internally on what it means.
  2. Learn to Listen – Engage a loyal group of customers, craft a survey to communicate with them. Get feedback so that they feel they are being heard by you. Understand how they are feeling now and how they hope to feel in the future. What’s changed about their eating habits? Use the insights and your brand values to do a reality check and help you create more meaningful connections. Build a defensible value-based position – consumers need to hear themselves in the solve.
  3. Refine and Retool Messaging — identify where you see opportunities for innovation, i.e. the data shows that nobody is going to need more ketchup for another year, so what business should we be in or get out of based on those insights? Spend time getting introspective and work on positioning and do the hard work to be honest, and make sure your value system and your consumer’s value system come closer together. Set your brand up so you that in good times/bad times your brand stands for something more than flavor and ingredients.
  4. Big Prepared to Play Big – Use brand to become a building block in your consumer’s personal identity post-COVID as you did pre-COVID. Put values first and foremost and innovate toward them to build a deeper connection. Because if you don’t, somebody else will.
  5. Become More Human — Use this time to help your brand become more human. Think about your brand’s characteristics and your consumers and their need states and then connect the dots. Write and talk like a human. Show up real. Drop the ‘we’re all in it together.’ Brands that connect the most emotionally and with the smartest innovations will be the brands most beloved in 2021.
David Lemley

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.

Connect with David
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Is your nutrition brand a commodity, or is it a category winner? Packaging makes all the difference, an expert says.

Written for Nutritional Outlook

Competing in the explosive nutritional supplement category is difficult enough. Without a compelling brand strategy, one that woos customers via your packaging, you’re fighting with both hands tied behind your back.

Powders, tablets, gummies: any product you can make can be made and sold for less by a competing brand or private label. Search “protein powder” on Amazon, and you’ll find 5,000+ results. There’s so much swirl in this space that it’s hard for any individual brand to gain notice.

A “Capital-B” brand can help you compete online and on shelf in the red-hot world of dietary supplements and natural products. And the way you tell your story, within the confines and rules that govern packaging in this category, can elevate you above commodity to “beloved and dominant” status.

Brand Is More than Ingredient or Form

Many marketers in this space conflate product and brand. But a brand is so much more than the product—ingredients or health benefits or diet trends. Your brand isn’t a powder or a pill. Rather, your brand is this: your promise and the way that you keep it.

So many brands in this category lean on flavors (tastes like a milkshake!), attributes (grass-fed collagen!), and ingredients (live probiotics!). But it’s easy for leaner, hungrier companies to introduce those same kinds of products. Soon, everyone starts competing on price, retailers drop the poor performers, and consumers aren’t loyal to any particular brand.

When your brand stands for something—it empowers the consumer or changes the world or rights a wrong—it becomes competitor- and future-proof. It can withstand changing consumer whims or dietary trends, because people who buy the brand love it and stay loyal no matter what. A strategic foundation enables the brand to innovate without risk, gain the upper hand in retail relationships, and attract an audience who feels the brand belongs to them (and vice versa).

When your brand story is your key competitive advantage, it’s essential to leverage that story where your customers are most likely to see it: on your packaging.

Telling Your Story on Packaging

The retail shelf—both digital and physical—is likely the first (maybe only) place a shopper will meet your brand. In a crowded environment where your labels have to work extra hard to communicate a litany of information, knowing what’s important to consumers—and what can be subordinated to the back panel—can give you an advantage that creates white space in your brand block.

Brand blocking is essential in a category populated by packages (bottles or boxes) that are uniformly shaped and sized. When your product lives on a shelf you don’t control in an environment you don’t control, a unified collection of products grouped together on the shelf creates a billboard for the brand that allows people to navigate the product offering easily.

Brand blocking happens at the outer level of the “30-10-3 Rule” of packaging design, which holds that a consumer product package has three key moments at which to engage a consumer, whether in store or online. At 30 feet, it needs to define the category; at 10 feet, it needs to make the brand name and story known; and at 3 feet, it has the opportunity to whisper in the consumer’s ear.

In the naturals and nutritional supplements category, there’s a ton of information required on packaging—so the 30-10-3 Rule establishes an accessible hierarchy. Remember, brand blocking’s role is to capture the shopper’s attention within the context of the category, not to identify her specific need/want/flavor/ingredient.

Living Intentions is an example of a natural product line that uses the 30-10-3 Rule very effectively to help consumers understand that activated foods (made from sprouted and raw ingredients) and superfoods help people live more vibrant, healthier lives. The brand’s packaging balances the most compelling points on the primary display panel and relegates everything that requires an explanation to the back of pack. The design uses simple icons to communicate complex concepts like bioavailability, live enzymes, minimal processing.

Photo provided by Retail Voodoo

Design for Online

For online brands like You Are The Anser!, packaging has to look great in the digital realm—on the plain white background of an Amazon search page, on the brand’s own website, and on Instagram. While You Are The Anser! has its own direct-to-consumer platform where storytelling wins the day, the brand effectively disrupts the Amazon shelf with design cues that might feel more at home in a salon. This does two things quickly: It invites inspection and demystifies the features and benefits by making them simple, uniform, and iconic.

Wedderspoon is another wellness brand that plays perfectly online. The authentic raw Manuka honey products look like gourmet food items, while many of the brand’s competitors more closely resemble vitamin supplement products. The brand created a proprietary “KFactor” label that specifies the product’s sourcing, a label that goes beyond industry standards for origin and purity. That marker stands out in a sea of competing products in an online search for “Manuka honey.” Finer details shift from the primary display panel to other areas (lid, back, and sides) so as to not break a golden rule in CPG: Design informs price.

Photo provided by Retail Voodoo

In e-commerce, design language is more important than size of your logo, because people search by category (e.g., collagen peptide, ashwagandha, or protein bar) and filter by brand. And unless your brand has already made a compelling promise to them, they will likely shop on price and or user review.

Be Just Enough Different

As marketers, we’ve done a great job of educating customers about what a product category should look like. Women’s nutritional supplements feature pink or purple graphics, maybe a flower, or a white background to signal purity. Protein powders aimed at men come in black or dark-gray tubs with gym-style lettering. Kids’ gummy vitamins are packaged in whimsical and bright colors.

Category norms like these help shoppers narrow down their choices—but also create a sea of sameness on shelf and online. So, there’s a balancing act here, between similar and standout. It’s important to match the contemporary visual lexicon of the nutritional products category—that 30-foot level—and at the same time to step to the forefront. That’s how brands become disruptive at retail.

A comprehensive category audit can provide stark evidence of where your brand lives in the space. As you’re searching for this balance, envision a grid with axes labeled “Good” and “Different.” Look for that sweet spot where you’re just enough different from every other brand.

As more and more consumers seek products that can help them live healthy lives, nutrition and wellness brands will inevitably keep flooding the market. Most of those won’t really be brands at all—just products with features and benefits. A compelling brand story, told strategically on packaging that plays in digital and real-world spaces, will separate the winners from the commodities.

David Lemley, author of the new book, Beloved & Dominant Brands, has had a creative and strategic hand in shaping some of the world’s most iconic brands including Starbucks, REI, Pampers, Sahale Snacks, Kar’s, and Nintendo. As the founder and chief strategist of Seattle-based Retail Voodoo, David is on a mission to help better-for-you brands win customer’s hearts, minds, and souls. He partners with marketers, investors, and founder-owners to unlock the power of their brand’s promise to engage consumers, spark innovation, identify opportunity, and drive exponential growth. David has spoken and written for: National Retail Federation, BevNet, BrandPackaging, Adweek, and Nutritional Outlook, to name a few. Contact him: david@retail-voodoo.com

David Lemley

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.

Connect with David
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Natural Product Packaging Trends and Strategies

Written by Maureen Kingsley for Nutritional Outlook

As more wellness products enter an already crowded market, packaging remains paramount to marketing and branding efforts. Indeed, with packaging of these products continually evolving in a highly competitive atmosphere, one would be forgiven for wondering if there is anything new under the sun.

It seems that the answer is yes, there is, and the more wildly different and potentially disruptive, the better. “I believe what brands are looking for and what they need are two different things this year,” says Kevin Smith of Smashbrand, a packaging design and branding agency serving the natural products industry. He explains: “We get several calls a day with brands looking to refresh with the same on-trend, millennial-friendly buzzwords, such as healthy, sustainable, trustworthy, clean, and the like. I believe we are hitting a saturation point on-shelf, where too many brands look alike.” This sameness, he says, creates confusion and hesitation on the part of the consumer. To drive home his point, he wryly asks, “Have you seen a kombucha section lately?!”

David Lemley, president and head of strategy at brand-strategy firm Retail Voodoo, agrees that products must use packaging to “stand out,” while also balancing that goal with category convention. “The package is often the first and only salesperson for a health food and for functional foods and beverages,” he says. “In each case, the packaging needs to work hard to deliver brand beyond functional features and benefits while simultaneously clearly communicating those attributes.” (See photo at top right of packaging for Wedderspoon, which is a Retail Voodoo client.)

Gaia Herbs Director of Brand Experience, Frederic Terral, who was involved in the latest rebranding of Gaia Herbs products, adds that successful packaging-design execution for natural products “encompasses deliberate and calculated typography choices and rich or unique colors,” and displays a “general sensitivity to purposeful compositions.” To “intimately control” the company’s brand messaging, Gaia has created an in-house agency called The Hive to align its “verbal and visual identity” with its culture, mission, vision, values, and persona. Via The Hive, Terral says, “We know our people, we know our customers, and we know best how to express our brand in the most sincere and genuine manner.”


When Wedderspoon embarked on a rebrand for its number-one-selling Manuka Honey brand in North America, it wanted to emphasize how the brand stands out in the market.

How to Stand Out?

“It’s a tough market out there,” says Smashbrand’s Smith. “Nine out of ten new health and nutrition consumer products will fail within the first year. Usually, this has nothing to do with the product itself, only how it’s presented.” He reiterates that the majority of all first-contact and purchasing decisions are made “at the shelf” in retail locations. And for brands following distribution models, packaging is “the most critical marketing asset they have.”

2019 is the year brands “have a significant opportunity to be disruptive on the shelf,” Smith continues. “With so many brands competing for the same look and feel today, the landscape is ripe for smart competitors to take risks with strategic bolder design choices that can still tap into consumers’ shared values and beliefs.” Smith says he is beginning to see what he calls a “massive shift” in the industry, in which the riskier and more differentiated and disruptive concepts are outperforming the more-popular “on trend” ideas that brands say they want.

For Gaia Herbs’ rebrand, for which the company was seeking greater approachability and relatability among customers new to the brand and to herbal supplements in general, Terral began with a comprehensive three-month in-house brand audit, “complete with an anonymous questionnaire to stakeholders, a look into past and present branding strategies, an extensive competitive landscape study, and the creation of a dozen style and mood boards to gauge the collective aesthetic aligned with the leadership teams.” All packaging elements were carefully scrutinized.

The specific changes to Gaia’s packaging design included more-prominent macro herbs photography “to connect plants and people and to capture consumers’ eyes on shelves,” as well as a refined, more modern logo made clearly visible on the package. Gaia also replaced much of the white of the package art to nature-evoking greens.

Trace Minerals recently rebranded, too, and its marketing manager Scott Boyson says the company was seeking a “fresh new look” for the line, after ten years of the same packaging design. “Packaging was an important part of the rebrand,” Boyson says. “We did stay with our cobalt-blue bottles because we felt strongly that our consumers had identified our brand with that bottle, and we didn’t want to create any confusion since we knew we would be changing the logo and design.” The company understood that the blue bottle stood out on the retail shelf, so it left that one element alone. Instead, marketing and branding firm BrandHive-hired by Trace Minerals to lead the rebrand-simplified the front of the label, which had “gotten too busy with logos and other violators,” Boyson explains. BrandHive chose “clean,” updated fonts and bold colors, and a metallic “swoosh” to convey a premium look. Labels and boxes were switched from glossy to matte, and a soft-touch finish was applied to boxes as well. “We wanted consumers to see and feel that ours is different from other products, that it is higher quality than others on the shelf,” Boyson says.

Other Considerations

Retail Voodoo’s Lemley says that beyond the visual uniqueness and attractiveness of the packaging artwork, other packaging considerations include holistic sustainability, which he says includes everything from sourcing the packaging materials to discarding the empty container. He also points to an observed increase in the consumer’s desire for portability. “This could be a great opportunity for supplement, wellness, and functional-food brands willing to think about dosing as portion control and provide a sustainable answer to single use, travel size, etc.”

Trace Minerals’ Boyson calls his company’s rebrand one that pairs a “premium look” with environmental friendliness. “Almost all of our packaging is recyclable,” he says. “It is important to us to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.”

Alpha Packaging’s (St. Louis) vice president of marketing, Marny Bielefeldt, says her company is seeing increased requests for 100% post-consumer resins across a number of categories. “Sustainable packaging can reinforce a brand’s commitment to the environment and to clean ingredients,” she says. “We find that the companies that value recycled plastic most are those companies making commitments to sustainable practices across many areas of their business. Alpha makes bottles in food-safe PET or HDPE post-consumer resin for all the industries we serve.”

Compliance with labeling regulations is a consideration cited by Gaia’s Terral. “We follow the guidelines set by FDA with diligence and compliance,” he states. “We go above and beyond to grow and source the cleanest ingredients possible. We screen our ingredients at our Gaia Lab in Brevard, North Carolina, and we share the results online in our meetyourherbs.com traceability platform.

“The challenge in creating packaging for nutritional supplements,” he continues, “is to work within the strict confines of a highly regulated industry. Others may make claims on their packaging that we deliberately choose not to make. We do so for the sole purpose of not only ensuring FDA compliance but also to affirm with our customers our commitment to operating a business with integrity, confidence, and conviction.”

More on Nutritional Outlook

David Lemley

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.

Connect with David
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Russell Stover corrects ‘brand communication problem’, brings sales growth to sugar-free chocolate product

Russell Stover enjoyed years of market dominance when it first launched its seemingly ‘too-good-to-be-true’ sugar-free chocolate line in the ’80s. But lately, its sugar-free chocolate sales have wavered as it fell out of favor with consumers who perceived the products to be at odds with a growing better-for-you lifestyle.

“Our research uncovered the fact that many of these consumers felt that sugar-free brands were offering them the equivalent of a booby prize, so we needed to change perceptions about quality and taste,”  – David Lemley, founder/chief strategist at Retail Voodoo, the brand strategy firm that led the rebranding of Russell Stover’s sugar-free chocolate brand.

Read More on Food Navigator

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
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Russell Stover Redesign Reverses Three-year Sales Decline

Written by Anne Marie Mohan

New packaging graphics for Russell Stover’s sugar-free candies focus on appetite appeal and craftsmanship to change consumers perceptions about the quality of sugar-free brands.

For many years, candy, chocolate, and confections company Russell Stover dominated the sugar-free chocolates category. In recent years, however, changing consumer preferences and me-too offerings put a dent in their sales. To reverse the slide, they worked with brand strategy firm Retail Voodoo to redesign the package graphics for their sugar-free offerings.

“Our research uncovered the fact that many of these consumers felt that sugar-free brands were offering them the equivalent of a booby prize, so we needed to change perceptions about quality and taste,” says David Lemley, Founder/Chief Strategist, Retail Voodoo.

Reviewing the ingredient panel, Retail Voodoo suggested replacing Sucralose with Stevia, a plant-based, natural sweetener. Doubling down on Russell Stover’s identity as an American chocolate brand with a leading sugar-free portfolio, they reimagined the line through the lens of “Everyone Deserves Chocolate,” focusing on taste and childhood memories of chocolate, without the sugar.

Increasing appetite appeal became the focus of the redesign of the packaging. Prominently featured product photography pays homage to Russell Stover’s classic small-batch, hand-made heritage, providing a look of craftsmanship and quality not previously associated with sugar-free.

The new design system follows the overall master brand with color and typography, but with a clean, white background and a simple ribbon to draw the distinction between the core line and sugar-free.

Over 35 products in the line have been redesigned, and the changes have effectively reversed a three-year sales decline within 12 months. Says Marjolaine DeClaviere, VP, Marketing, Russell Stover, “We now have great impact on shelf, and the strategic changes made by Retail Voodoo have buyers excited once again.”

Read on Packaging World

Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

Connect with Diana
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Retail Voodoo Reimagines Russell Stover Sugar Free Chocolates

Eating chocolate is an indulgent splurge for many, with some studies suggesting that it contains antioxidants and may lower cholesterol and boost memory. But, for those with dietary restrictions and health concerns about sugar consumption, sugar-free chocolates may be their only option. After many years of dominating the category, changing consumer preferences and me-too offerings put a dent in Russell Stover’s sales. They called on brand strategy firm, Retail Voodoo, to help reverse the slide.

“Our research uncovered the fact that many of these consumers felt that sugar-free brands were offering them the equivalent of a booby prize, so we needed to change perceptions about quality and taste,” says David Lemley, Founder/Chief Strategist, Retail Voodoo (and a 2019 GDUSA Person To Watch.) Reviewing the ingredient panel, they suggested replacing Sucralose with Stevia, a plant-based, natural sweetener. Doubling down on their identity as an American chocolate brand with a leading sugar-free portfolio, they reimagined the line through the lens of: “Everyone Deserves Chocolate,” focusing on taste and childhood memories of chocolate.

Increasing appetite appeal became the focus of the package redesign. Prominent product photography pays homage to Russell Stover’s small batch, hand-made heritage, providing a look of craftsmanship and quality not previously associated with sugar-free. The new design system follows the overall master brand with color and typography, but with a clean, white background and a simple ribbon to draw the distinction between the core line and sugar-free. Over 35 products in the line have been redesigned.

Read on GD USA

David Lemley

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.

Connect with David
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David Lemley Named Person to Watch in 2019

Armed with a passion for ideology-driven companies and over 25 years of industry experience, David Lemley focuses his energy on leveraging design thinking and brand strategy, empowering clients to achieve their brand’s goals. As president of Retail Voodoo, David sets the standard for all research, brand strategy, brand positioning and design development for the firm. He spends most of his time working with brands that share the following: they are enlightened, sustainability-minded do-gooders hell-bent on being a force for good. Clients include: Brooks, DRY Soda, Essentia Water, KIND, PCC Natural Markets, Sahale Snacks, Walmart, Wedderspoon

Where Were You Born And Where Do You Live Now?

Born in Vegas… Live in Seattle

Did You Go To Design School?

Yes. Art Institute of Seattle

Lefty or Righty?

Lefty

Morning Person Or Night Owl?

Early career I was a night owl… addicted to the adrenaline that fear of failure produces. As I became more intentional about my career, I consciously chose a shift to the morning, in order to be more available to my clients and team members.

Fictional Or Historical Character You Identify With?

In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Bluebeard – Rabo Karabekian. I identify with him because he is always finding himself on the bleeding edge of his career (in art) at a time when his classical training makes him an oddball. Reality continuously gets in the way of his ideal career. Ultimately, he stops trying to become a someone in the art world and instead lets himself be a human that makes art.

Are You Musical And/Or Play An Instrument?

I love to sing, but am not a natural, I played guitar in school, and am learning to play piano now.

Favorite Book?

Jitterbug Perfume… “THE BEET IS THE MOST INTENSE of vegetables. The radish, admittedly … Perhaps it is mangel-wurzel that we see in Rasputin. Certainly there …”

Favorite Movie?

The Book of Eli

Favorite TV Binge Watch?

The Good Place

Favorite Social Media Platform?

LinkedIn

Favorite Podcast?

Tony Robbins

Favorite Fine Artist?

Picasso

Favorite Charity Or Cause?

Children, hunger, social justice

Favorite Free Time Activity?

Painting, abstract expressionism with the meaning still intact. (Encaustic collages on canvas and wood panel)

Collect Anything?

Art Books – I recently acquired an original edition of a Marc Chagall lithographs book from 1969

Which Area Of Graphic Design Is Growing The Most (E.g., Print, Package, Web, Ux, Video, Etc)?

I never answer a question with an absolute unless there is data… According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, graphic design is anticipated to grow more slowly than most other employment sectors over the next decade due to intense competition. That said, Amazon has about 3,000 openings for designers, so my guess is UX.

Design Mentor/Inspiration/Hero?

So many, but here are some foundational mentors…

  • Fred Griffin (college prof) taught me everything about design.
  • Anton Kimball gave me the courage to let my freak flag fly – and permission to not be the next version of him.
  • Tim Girvin and Modern Dog Design Co. gave me the courage to put a brush in my hand and call it design.
  • Brendan Potash helped me to become a producer.
  • Scott Bedbury and Wright Massey taught me how to take a punch and get back up.
  • Matthew Loyd taught me how to “rock at humility.”
  • Yuri Shvets taught me how to really speak English.
  • Robb Ginter taught me how to manage a crowded boardroom.
  • Robert Raible taught me that compassion is contagious.
  • The list goes on to this day…

Greatest Strength/Weakness As A Designer?

My greatest strength is having a beginner’s mind… it assures me that I will not have the answer going into the assignment. This is important because it frees me up to enjoy the journey of discovery and distillation. My weakness is that (some days) I believe that I have seen it all before.

Advice To A Young Designer Just Starting Out?

Study the world of business – without being able to communicate with people in it, you will be relegated to the “decorator.” Problem-solving skills beat personal style.

If You Were Not A Designer, What Would You Be?

Beet farmer

A Mantra Or Saying You Live By?

The only Zen you find at the top of the mountain is the Zen you bring yourself.

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Diana Fryc

For Diana, a fierce determination to pursue what’s right is rooted in her DNA. The daughter of parents who endured unimaginable hardship before emigrating from Eastern Europe to the U.S., she is built for a higher purpose. Starting with an experience working with Jane Goodall to source sustainably made paper, she went on to a career helping Corporate America normalize the use of environmentally responsible products and materials before coming to Retail Voodoo.

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How to Choose The Right Equity Partner for Your Natural Brand

If you’re a better-for-you food and beverage marketer looking for an equity investor, here are some expert tips on finding the right partner.

The “better-for-you” business flurry has a strong head of steam. According to an article last year from Food Business News, the number of food investors has doubled in the last five years, now outnumbering technology investments.

It’s great news for the world that better-for-you food and beverage has become the investment world’s industry darling. It is my belief that specialty and natural grocery is quickly becoming the new conventional grocery. This mainstreaming of transparency, authenticity, and clean-ingredient foods is why, today, it’s only the resistant, non-believer consumer who refuses to connect the dots between what we eat and drink and do to stay active and their direct impact on our health and vibrancy. When I tell these resistant, non-believers that conventional, less-than-healthy products will not be the norm or even around in a decade, many quip back, “What do I care? I won’t be either.”

And why bring this up when talking about finding the right equity partner?

Frankly, some of these non-believers are also equity investors who acquired their wealth during the technology boom and who are in a hurry to help fix your brands. And while this may sound great, I’m here to tell you to be mindful to make certain your investment partner doesn’t bring their Silicon Valley thinking to your brand. Here’s why.

What Investors Need to Understand about Natural Product Founders

Many food and beverage brand creators are likely to be drawn to reassurance in the face of investor bravado. Once contractually together, however, investors will often push for changes that the founder-owner hadn’t anticipated. This can be resolved during the due diligence phase if the founder-owner can look within and ask the following important (and often undervalued) question: Will my new partner possess and behave with the same moral compass that I used to build this business?

Food and beverage brand creators, particularly those who have built their audience based on the principles of natural products, have a common set of fears when it comes to equity investment. One of the biggest is that the industry may perceive the company as a sell-out, especially if the acquiring entity and/or investor does not allow the brand to continue operating with the moral compass the brand was built on.

So, while founder-owners are looking for capital to grow their organization, some are reluctant to bring in partners who have a track record of being heavy-handed in operations, equipment, HR, and anything other than sales and marketing, and of course, funding. This isn’t because the founders don’t understand these key areas as being critical to building meaningful, operationally significant brand systems. It’s more primal than that. Many founders, when faced with the specter of an investor putting multi-expert-hands in their proverbial pie, simply recoil. It makes many feel that potential equity partners or investors are exclusively about growth at all costs.

Investor Types: Which Is Best for Founder-Owners?

The fact is that many investors are driven by the longstanding practice of big companies buying startups to help them stay relevant. Some are out to get the first bite of your brand’s apple so they can help you grow it and flip it to a multinational food, beverage, or wellness holding company. And that is great, as long as all in your organization, including your equity partner, share the vision and brand strategy that you, the founder-owner, worked so hard to create, sweating through sleepless months or years to build your beloved brand into something you believe deeply in. To ensure you do find the right partner, use caution and avoid the following:

  • Investors who want to create only the minimum viable product to get it into the market quickly, earn revenue-and then fix the bugs along the way
  • “Moonshot investors” who have been involved in many rising-star brands-many of which were left to languish or fade away
  • Investors who believe people are a means to an end and that the end justifies the means
  • Investors who will view the founder as the most charming, smartest, insight-filled leader they have met…that is, until about one month after the deal closes

Have the foresight to prevent misaligned, unspoken expectations between you and your potential investor. Talk openly and early about handling conflict and who makes which decisions-well before the deal is signed. And it’s a good time for the founder-owner to step back and decide if this approach fits the culture of their naturals brand. You will sleep better if you know and understand your would-be acquirer’s investment strategy. Are they looking for quick flips? Will they invest strategically in building the company out the way you envision, or will they default to a specific point of view once the deal is inked?

As a founder-owner, you are hoping for an investor who can help guide you to greatness. People with a history in conventional food brands are really good candidates because they have a long view of the industry, have seen a few trends come and go, and are best suited to make acquisitions where they can not only invest, but shepherd your team to greatness.

Another Word of Caution

Is your brand a ‘cleaner’ version of a popular or pervasive household name? If so, look out for investors whose main objective is to make their marquee brand better, with your brand solely a means to their end. Founder-owners might think they can teach the old dog investor a few new tricks, but it’s risky if your ingredient and private-label business is significantly stronger-and the investing party has a ‘chop-shop’ mentality when it comes to IP. This is called an “aggregator investor.”

Moving Ahead

Most founder-owners want to stay involved once the investor is on board. But how does a founder-owner determine precisely what kind of investor they are talking to? We recommend having a list of prepared questions about the investor’s business practices and past wins and losses (as well as references substantiating both). And test their mettle when it comes to the values the natural products industry holds near and dear. Here is a starter question to ask a potential investor: “In the last three years, what has changed the most in our industry?” Investors should be able to speak candidly about the changing nature of consumers, the evolution of their preferences and behaviors-and connect these insights to your brand. Many other situationally appropriate questions can be formed through a meaningful SWOT analysis prior to getting into due-diligence conversations.

For both parties, a successful partnership is built on fierce, upfront dialogue. Be true to yourself and your vision from the very beginning. Listen, ask hard questions, answer boldly and with vulnerability, and whatever you do, don’t tell them what you think they want to hear.

David Lemley is president and chief strategist of Retail Voodoo (Seattle, WA), a creative agency that helps specialty retail brands launch and grow sustainably. Armed with a passion for ideology-driven companies and with over 25 years of industry experience, Lemley focuses his energy on leveraging design thinking and brand strategy, empowering clients to achieve their brand’s goals. As president of Retail Voodoo, David sets the standard for all research, brand strategy, brand positioning, and design development for the firm. He spends most of his time working with brands that share the following: they are enlightened, sustainability-minded do-gooders bent on being a force for good. Clients include: Brooks, DRY Soda, Essentia Water, KIND, PCC Natural Markets, Sahale Snacks, Walmart, and Wedderspoon.

Read on Nutritional Outlook

David Lemley

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.

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