While we think we’re pretty good at identifying trends and opportunities for our food and beverage clients, we can’t foretell the future with certainty. What we can see, though, is a number of smart strategic steps marketers and leaders of mission-driven food and beverage brands can be doing now to position their businesses to thrive over the rest of this year.
We’ve identified seven strategies aligned around three key positions you can take to ensure success in 2020: stretch, invest, and pivot. You can’t expect to do the same things forever and generate the same business results; that’s doubly true now.
Understand Key Roadblocks to Success in 2020
Before we get to the seven strategies, let’s first put our fingers on the hurdles you’ll inevitably face in leading your organization now.
We’re not talking just about fear of shutdowns and other risks unique to the current pandemic — rather, cultural and personal fear that always lingers in the background. Brand leaders fear that they won’t meet expectations (of customers, stakeholders, employees) and so they don’t stretch beyond what they know. They fear not just failure, but success. Fear can trickle through an entire organization, leading to a culture of, “we don’t do it that way” or “prove the concept first, then we’ll implement it.”
Of course, the bottom line is essential; without profitability, you’re out of business. But if you’re focused on preserving market position and minimizing erosion instead of growing, you’re missing opportunity.
There are too many inputs, too many unknowns, too much conflicting guidance. It’s hard to even trust your gut. TMI makes decision making difficult: which of the conflicting scenarios or forecasts can you believe?
7 Strategies for Food & Beverage Brand Success in 2020
Looking ahead to the end of the year, what are the things you can be doing now to ensure your brand’s good health as the economy emerges from its hibernation?
1) Ask better questions
Revisit the brand’s strategic foundation. What is your brand, really? (We define brand as the promise that you keep and the ways in which you keep it.)
Define where the real boundary is, not just the safe one. You can’t stretch beyond the reality of your brand promise (for example, your vegan brand can’t suddenly start making beef chili), but you can go right up to that frontier.
Ask your team questions like these to identify how far you can move in search of opportunity:
- What is our brand’s contribution to society? Why do we exist beyond products and profits?
- How can our brand create value for our community/tribe of followers?
- What does our brand have permission to do that our community cannot get from other brands?
- How does our brand evolve from good and services mentality to a citizen brand that provides a unique contribution to society?
- What are our brand’s core values? (e.g., community, social justice, loyalty, fun)
- Do our core values align with what we currently contribute?
- How is our brand willing to change behavior to better emphasize and deliver upon our values?
2) Do your research
You should have pre-existing research — usage & attitude studies, competitive audits, audience segmentation — and that information remains valid. Post-Covid, we’ll get back to that familiar territory. Once the supply chain resumes normal capacity and consumers feel comfortable getting out again, they’ll return to familiar habits. We live in a commerce-driven economy; that hasn’t changed. What we’re seeing now is a situational disruption, not a permanent national disruption.
Ask yourself questions like these:
- Who else can claim these exact values our brand represents?
- How are they behaving, taking action, delivering on their promises?
- What does our brand do that is different or better?
- Who is our consumer, and what kinds of products can we innovate that will meet their needs?
- Can we become even more relevant to the people who’ve already chosen our brand? Can we resonate more deeply in their lives?
- In a sea of sameness, how can we be meaningfully different by tapping into their emotions, not just their functional needs?
3) Stretch thyself
For natural food and beverage brands, stretching is all about determining what’s possible and removing the roadblocks (culture, fear, etc., as discussed above). Stretching is a quest for logical opportunity.
One of the exercises we conduct in client workshops is to have the brand group write a eulogy for the brand. We preface this exercise by a lengthy session that defines the capital-B Brand (the promises you make and the ways you keep them) and then envisions the brand’s future contribution to the world.
We then ask the team to articulate what people will say about the brand when it’s gone. It’s a powerful way to create clarity around the brand’s superpower. (For example Patagonia’s superpower is environmental justice; it enlists fans in the mission.)
Questions to ponder:
- What is something our brand is not currently doing that only it can do?
- What does our brand have access to that others don’t? (investors, distribution, ingredients, leadership)
- What is our brand’s superpower, and how can we use that to contribute to the common good?
- In what ways could our brand die?
- Write the eulogy: What will our brand’s legacy be?
4) Go for impact
Aspire to citizen brandhood, not commodity brandhood. As a mission-driven brand, you are a member of the very community you create, a shepherd and a guide and a protector. That role, combined with strong product features and benefits, is unbeatable. Let Maslow’s Pyramid guide you: First meet the consumer’s functional needs, then meet their desire to belong to a community, then appeal to their sense of self, then help them achieve their higher purpose.
Armed with consumer research and your stretch potential, consider:
- What role does the brand play in our tribe’s lives?
- How might it be relevant to future consumers, as well?
- Beyond features and benefits (like minty flavor of toothpaste), what does our brand help people be or achieve (i.e., a wellness-focused lifestyle built on natural products)?
- What wrong does our brand seek to right in the world? What problem does it solve? What fight does it fight?
- What’s possible, given our organization’s resources?
5) Craft a better story
Storytelling is the flavor of the month in marketing, and for good reason: People are hardwired for stories. Storytelling is the means of connecting the brand strategy with your target audience. You don’t have a story if your brand doesn’t have a WHY. And you don’t have a story if you don’t know who you’re telling it to.
This is an excellent time to revisit your brand’s narrative and the way you communicate it through the channels of the Brand Ecosystem.
- How can the brand’s narrative connect our products, company goals and values, ideology, ethos, to our specific community?
- How should the brand story (or tone of voice) shift in our current climate?
- Are we telling stories that our fans will be compelled to share?
- What do we want customers to walk away telling one another?
- How does our new story relate to the brand’s history?
- What and how do we want to tell this story?
Many brands are pivoting in their communication right now, with mixed results. A couple of examples of brands that are getting messaging right in times of crisis: Tide’s
“Loads of Hope” initiative is bringing laundry services to healthcare workers and first responders. And Frito-Lay has shifted from its usual “food for fun times” messaging to run a highly regarded TV spot that talks about how they’re hiring. Brands have passed the “we’re all in this together” messaging and are now focusing on what they are doing to help.
No doubt, brands will need to remain sensitive to their audience’s needs and flexible in tactics through the end of this year. Some things to think about:
- How are we leveraging social, digital, email, and website messaging to demonstrate empathy and mention how the brand is evolving, helping, contributing?
- Do we need to talk from a different perspective than we would ordinarily?
- Are there pillars of our brand platform that are not normally at the forefront but would be relevant to communicate now?
- If we look at pivoting as on an axis (not a leap forward or sideways), how should we shift?
Two ways to think about investment: opportunistic and short-term; and strategic and long-term.
In the short term, investing might look like one-off activities that support the brand and your messaging strategy. Think about giving product away to people in need: food pantries, school nutrition programs, healthcare workers, social service agencies. Or donating dollars to organizations helping those reeling from the pandemic and its fallout.
On the long-term, strategic side, it’s now time to get serious about innovation. Look at all those initiatives you were thinking about doing but have set aside for a while. Determine where and how your brand has permission to stretch and create an innovation pipeline that will expand your brand’s reach and long-term relevance.
Issues to think about:
- Is there a piece of equipment we could add to the manufacturing process to upgrade the product? (Something that might, say, take an ice cream bar from One-of-Many product to Beloved & Dominant treat.)
- While competitors are pulling back, what will our post-Covid campaigns look like?
- What visual or content assets can we assemble now so we’ll be ready to launch as the time comes?
- Can we break through barriers in the organization to innovation? What about co-manufacturing? What about investing in higher quality ingredients?
- Considering our audience, our brand foundation, and our stretch, what products do we need to develop now so they’re ready to go when things get back to normal?
Normal, of course, is a relative term. If you’re looking ahead to the rest of this year and beyond, we can help you find the right kind of opportunity. Let’s connect.