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The Value of a Corporate Social Responsibility Program for Consumer Brands

If you had to decide between buying a bag of coffee from a brand that supports sustainable farming in Nicaragua or buying from a conglomerate giant, which would you choose? All else being equal, there’s almost no contest.

Statistically (and anecdotally) speaking, we know that consumers connect more deeply with and are more likely to purchase from brands that align with a social cause. In a crowded marketplace, your company’s commitment to a cause can be one of the only differentiators between your brand and every other brand selling products or services like yours.

If your brand is looking to pursue a bottom line that reaches beyond profitability (in other words, a “triple bottom line”), a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program is a great place to start. The real challenge comes with determining what your company will stand for — and behind — and making sure that investment is meaningful to your customers and employees alike.

How to Choose Your Cause

There’s a reason your brand exists. You know that. There’s a practical side of that to be sure, but it goes beyond what you do to earn money. All good brands are aspirational.

If you want to figure out where and how to invest in your community or in a broader cause, start with the story your brand is telling. Choose a cause that weaves into the fabric of who you are as a company and where you came from, and you can’t go wrong.

We recently worked with a brand called Essentia Water that decided after a particularly successful year to invest in a corporate giving program. After weighing different options and evaluating their company’s mission and values, the brand ultimately chose to fund after-school programs for at-risk youth.

If you’re a consumer who’s not familiar with the Essentia brand, you may find the connection between a bottled water brand and at-risk youth a bit of a stretch. But dig a little deeper and you’ll realize that this brand investing in this cause makes perfect sense. Just read the company’s origin story, which revolves around the idea that “we all start somewhere… there’s no limit to where we can go.”

By funding these after-school programs, Essentia Water is, in essence, allowing the kids and teenagers that participate in these programs to become “tomorrow’s overachievers.” After all, the brand’s tagline is fittingly: “Overachieving H2O.”

Profitability and Your Triple Bottom Line

It’s a myth that the ability of your brand to give back stems from your company’s age, size, or scale. What truly allows your brand to give back is its profitability. If you can afford your values (in other words, if you can pay for more than just keeping the lights on), you’re in the right place to consider implementing a triple bottom line initiative.

On its face, the idea that your brand needs to reach a certain level of profitability to give back feels selfish, almost callous. But picture sitting on an airplane and listening to a flight attendant give the pre-flight safety speech. What’s the one thing you can count on hearing (even if you’re admittedly largely ignoring the speech to read your Kindle)?

“Secure your own mask first before helping others.”

The same concept has to apply to your brand. Allow yourself to thrive first. Then help others do the same.

Giving Back at the Grassroots Level

Even if your company isn’t in the financial position to implement a triple bottom line initiative or massive give back program, it doesn’t mean you can’t start somewhere.

Take Atlantic Natural Foods, the oldest vegetarian brand in the world you’ve never heard of. Just a few years ago, they had the admirable yet far-fetched goal to fix the global food chain.

As a smaller company though, their ability to contribute resources to this cause was limited. But they wisely recognized that global issues are fixed at the grassroots level so that’s exactly where they started.

Atlantic Natural Foods is based in a small, rural town in North Carolina where the minimum wage is low and many of its residents live below the poverty line. This is a population that subsists on diets that, without a doubt, contribute to the food chain crisis. In light of the realities of their community, the company’s first initiative was to change their internal wage structure. Next, they showed their employees how to cook and eat the very food they were helping to produce.

The cultural shift that happened within the company as a result of these seemingly small initiatives was huge and almost immediate.

With no direct prompting from the company, Atlantic Natural Foods’ employees took the initiative to gather company trucks and food supplies and take them to communities that had been devastated by a recent hurricane in North Carolina. What’s more, they were able to transfer the cooking skills they had only recently been taught themselves to the residents in these communities — a gift that truly keeps on giving.

By empowering their employees, Atlantic indirectly created a culture of giving back that spilled into their community and beyond. That says something about their brand.

Outward Expression of Internal Values

The sort of wonderful thing about choosing a triple bottom line for your brand is that it’s not a science. There’s no right or wrong way to create a triple bottom line for your company, no formula to follow.

The key is finding a cause that outwardly expresses your mission and values as a brand and as a company, whatever that may look like.

The right cause will resonate with your customers regardless of age, education level, and socioeconomic status because it speaks to who they are and who they want to be. And that’s a powerful message.

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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Working with a Creative Agency: What to Expect

If you’ve even begun to dip your toes in the market for a creative agency, chances are you know something is broken with your brand. At the very least, you have the inescapable sense that something’s just not right, not working the way it should.

More often than not, the underlying issue with your brand is hiding in plain sight. But before you can identify what that is, you have to be on the lookout for the symptoms of your problem.

Perhaps your sales are flat or trending downward in a marketplace that’s growing, or you’re dealing with sales that are generally inconsistent and unpredictable. Maybe you’ve had success with an aging audience but are struggling to gain traction with new consumers. Problems with sales like these are typically a strong indicator that there’s a deeper strategic issue with your brand.

High turnover or changes in your company’s leadership or product line can also signal that you need help from a branding agency. Sometimes, particularly in the case of turnover, these symptoms can reveal evidence that your internal brand is broken. Other times, there’s nothing technically wrong with your brand, but new leadership or products mandate a change all the same.

The important thing is to be aware and acknowledge that you have a problem, even if you don’t exactly know what the root of the problem is. If you’re looking to hire a strategic branding partner with that knowledge in mind, you’re on the right track.

What a Brand Strategy Agency Is — and Isn’t

There is a lot of ambiguity around what a branding agency actually is, and that muddiness has regrettably caused misplaced mistrust in creative agencies as a whole. And why wouldn’t it?

You’ll find so many agencies that call themselves branding agencies, but what they’re really doing is brand application — for all intents and purposes, they’re graphic designers. Graphic designers absolutely have their place in the market, but if you’re looking for creative solutions to fix a more fundamental problem with your brand, you’re starting in the wrong place.

Maybe you know something is broken with your brand, or maybe you just need help figuring out where those weak links might be. Either way, you need a brand strategy agency, plain and simple. They’re the ones who will be able to strengthen your brand for future success and elasticity.

Brand Strategy and Creative Strategy Are Not the Same Thing

So many potential clients walk into our doors thinking they have one issue when they actually have another.

Case in point: We had a brand come to us asking for billboards they wanted to put up around town. As we got deeper into conversations with them, however, we realized that their problem wasn’t that they weren’t doing enough advertising — their problem was that their brand was fundamentally broken. We were blunt and directed them that if they fixed their brand first, a solution to their advertising woes would naturally follow.

Unfortunately, strategy can be a tough sell for our potential partners. Strategic consulting isn’t sexy, like a billboard or a magazine ad, and it can’t deliver instant gratification like a creative deliverable can. Combine that with upper management teams who tend to prioritize time and budget over all else, and the decision to hire a brand strategy agency can be a hard pill to swallow.

But if you want to strengthen your brand, you have to be open to beginning with brand strategy. Brand strategy births creative output, not the other way around. Don’t be afraid to invest in your branding strategy — you’ll be glad you did, and so will your superiors.

Ask the Right Questions

If you want to find the right branding agency (or really, if you want to know if it’s the right time for your brand to work with a strategic firm at all), you have to ask the right questions. When it comes down to it, we recommend you start with one fundamental question: “What is my end goal?”

Your end goal is not a packaging system or some other creative output. Your end goal is defining your target audience, finding new channels, or increasing turn on shelves. Make your brand strategy about an end game, not a deliverable.

It’s that simple. Instead of saying, “I need new packaging,” ask “Why do I need new packaging?” If you can ask the “why” questions, the right agency will know the right questions to ask in return.

Trust the Experts

So you’ve asked the right questions and found an agency with a history of growing and evolving brands through brand and creative strategy. Perfect. The foundation of trust has to begin with the hiring decision.

Very few of us would presume to dictate how our doctor analyzes our health or provides care when we’re sick — and with good reason, right? We recognize that a doctor is a licensed medical professional, and we, with a few exceptions, are not. The same level of trust should hold true when you work with a branding agency. Once your brand makes the decision to hire an agency, feel confident that you’ve hired an expert and trust them to do their job with the tried-and-true processes they have in place.

It may sound counterintuitive, but if you’re working with the right brand strategy agency, you should know off the bat that results will not happen overnight.

If you want immediate results, there are certainly agencies out there that can deliver Band-Aid solutions, (though they may not admit as much). But real strategy that produces lasting results takes time. You can’t hurry the process.

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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Outdoor Brands Need to Move Past Promises of Performance

As more people discover the serenity and beauty of the outdoors, the audience for outdoor products has shifted beyond the extreme outdoor athlete and rightfully started expanding to include more women, more urban dwellers, and more diverse people looking for some good times rather than a fierce 20-mile backpacking expedition through rugged terrain. With this new audience momentum, there is a real hunger in the marketplace for brands to use imagery and language that feels approachable and authentic. Momentum is shifting beyond performance promises and niche-sponsored specialists.

Brand identity is more than a logo or wordmark. A well-executed identity needs to be supported by brand values, brand mission, and the brand’s “onlyness.” The identity is the tip of the spear in winning the tribal audience all brands crave, but if the spearhead isn’t attached to anything it’s pretty useless. Identity can be a key differentiator in the clamor for consumers’ attention.

Outdoor Brands’ Top Performers: Identity & Messaging Analysis

Patagonia and The North Face have been clawing at the top of the mountain together for years. Both brands have enormous recognition, innovative high-performing gear, tremendous quality, and loyal followers. As a Design Director evaluating the two brand identities side-by-side, I would argue from a pure design perspective, The North Face is the winner. The simple Helvetica typography coupled with the abstracted representation of half dome from Yosemite is classic design. I love it!

However, Patagonia has done a much better job amplifying their mission with clarity to consumers and therefore their logo means so much more than a quirky slab serif typeface with a silhouette of a mountain range. Seeing the Patagonia wordmark on a hat or shirt immediately makes me think of “Cause No Unnecessary Harm” or reminds me of their commitment to being an environmental company first that happens to make outdoor gear.

The North Face tagline, “Never Stop Exploring,” may be exciting but just doesn’t elicit the same emotions. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a super fan of both brands, but Patagonia stirs me and inspires me.

A quick visit to the home pages of both companies illustrates another powerful brand moment and how messaging and language can further build meaning into brand identity. The North Face features a fairly expected picture of an outdoor athlete clinging to a steep wall with the headline, “Athlete Tested, Expedition Proven.” Clearly a strong argument for quality and performance, but with so many brands meeting increasingly stringent metrics of performance I’m left asking, “So what?”

Take a quick trip to the Patagonia website and the home page has a stunning image of a dam with an equally sparse yet powerful headline, “The Dam Truth.” Clearly standing behind their mission you are left with no questions as to where the brand is going. It’s provocative and satisfies many consumers’ yearnings for more than just a coat that can measure up to being walloped by a snow storm. I’m hooked.

Outdoor Disruptors to Keep an Eye On

Beyond the titans of the outdoor industry, marketing disruptors are proving the new outdoor audience cares about having a good time and wants to look good doing it. The North Face’s expedition-tested jacket isn’t that important to this crew. Enter Poler. I ran across this band of camp vibe disruptors a few years ago. Their visual identity is fun, hand-drawn, and not entirely fixed. All their visual expressions amplify their mission — enjoying good camp vibes with your friends. They are essentially pushing lifestyle over performance and don’t take themselves too seriously when they claim, “The world’s highest standard of stuff.”

The Poler website is filled with lush photo essays of friends adventuring in the outdoors, on road trips, sitting around the campfire, or cooking bacon over the camp stove. There are no features with intrepid mountain climbers or surfers on colossal waves — the elite athlete doesn’t play in their brand visuals or their brand narrative.

As mission and meaning become ever more critical in the race toward differentiation and attention, new brands are beginning to enter the marketplace in less traditional ways. A few years ago a company in Utah held an event they dubbed a Questival. The event is a 24-hour adventure race with tasks like “watch a sunrise,” “catch a fish outdoors,” or “donate blood while wearing dracula teeth.” Cotopaxi, the company behind the endeavor, is something of a hybrid event company, gear company, non-profit partner, etc. They tout the tagline “gear for good” and 10% of all profits on the outdoor, adventure gear supports various causes around the globe.

The simple silhouette of a llama head serves as a great symbol for their Questival event as well as the company identity. The llama — a hardy pack animal from the mountainous regions of South America — helps communicate their commitment to global adventure and is imbued with so much more as the company moves forward with its mission of bringing people together for Questival events and doing good. A brightly colored backpack from Cotopaxi is much more than another highly performing piece of gear — it signals a lifestyle.

Ultimately, brand leaders and brand disruptors are showing us that marketing outdoor gear never goes out of style! The demand is high and consumers are hungry. Highly technical gear and quality continue to be valuable, but consumers are looking for more. A unique, differentiated identity is imperative — one that’s shaped around mission and brand pillars that carve out a unique space for the brand to own and amplify.

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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Food Trends & Innovation: Branding Will Decide the Winners at Expo West

Trends. Are you tired of following the whiplash of what’s next in food? No? Me neither. My favorite trade show of the year, Expo West (or better known as the Natural Foods Expo), is just around the corner. This show touts itself on being “the world’s largest natural, organic and healthy products event,” and it is frankly THE trade show for food, beverage, health, and wellness right now. I love seeing our clients and partners, but I’m mostly excited about innovation – real innovation, not just flavor profiles. I’m talking about revolutionary thinking about food, nutrition, and extensions that align with brand positioning.

Plant-Based Protein

We can probably call this a mega-trend at this point. The continued desire to eat more plant-based foods is part earth sustainability, part health, and part animal-welfare related. The bigger guys are doing it well (I’m looking at you, Tofurky, Field Roast, and Amy’s – you guys are killing it with line extension right now), but we see a lot of up-and-comers continuing to move into this space too, like our friends at Hilary’s. Specifically, Beyond Meat has caught my attention. Yes, it’s super kitschy that the burger “bleeds,” but the strategic merchandising next to ground meat in the meat department is freaking brilliant. I’d like to shake the hand of the salesperson that convinced Kroger to do that. There’s your zag. This trend is going to be around for a while, and we are excited to see how it grows beyond soy-based products and outside some of the basic products.

Sugar-Free or Low-Sugar Beverages

I’m not talking Stevia or some other sweetening substitute. I mean removing sweet flavors from the palate completely. The continued sugar backlash is creating quite the demand for alternative beverages (AKA not soda or traditional juices). Add the sugar tax and you’ve got a beverage consumption shift happening that is going to bring us whiplash. I anticipate 2018 to be just the beginning. I find it interesting that many traditional beverages like water (yeah – the clear stuff) and tea are rising in popularity. I suppose that’s to be expected, everything old is new again. Add sparkling beverages like DRY and drinkable soups and broths and you’ve got a full-on rebellion happening. Coke and Pepsi are certainly watching and taking note – as is evidenced by Diet Coke’s recent rebrand, but I don’t know that they are moving fast enough. My bet is there will be several portfolio acquisitions in their future to offset decreasing traditional soda sales. If you’re a brand considering a purchase, now might be a good time to clean up your books.

Ethnic Flavors

Consumers’ demand for something interesting and new is extending away from earlier trends of Mexican, Chinese, and Thai. An infusion of Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, and African flavors are showing up on the shelves. As these are new flavors to the traditional American palate, it’s easy to position these as healthier options to the traditional Americanized version of our current “ethnic” options. While Korean and Vietnamese have been in my rotation for a while, I’m excited about the influx of “legit” Middle Eastern flavors becoming more accessible.

Biohacking

As consumers become more comfortable with the idea of using science to maximize the benefits of food, we are now seeing biohacking cross over into more conventional diets. From the more conventional Whole 30 to intermittent fasting, eating well has become a lifestyle. While Bulletproof and Soylent are my current brands to watch, I have a feeling Expo West will produce more food and snack options for those that have become comfortable with hacking their food for performance purposes.

Root to Stem

Eating the leaves of beets or the roots of cilantro doesn’t sound very exciting to me. However, if you are a foodie or a person interested in your environmental footprint, this might be for you. The flavors and nutrition from fruit and vegetable parts we have traditionally thrown away are becoming vogue. This trend is so new that I’m not sure I’m going to see any Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) on the floor just yet, but it is picking up speed in restaurants and homes of the more adventurous chefs. What I do expect to see are the beginnings of these conversations in the fresh produce sections of the show. How it will manifest for the average consumer (outside of maybe food delivery services and the produce section) is yet to be discovered. I’ll be curious to see how this trend might manifest in the next 12 months.

Meal Delivery

In the beginning, there was Schwans. Yeah – they’re still around, but being first to the market doesn’t make you the winner. Newer and hipper brands like Martha & Marley Spoon (sorry – Martha is my queen) will continue to grow. This category is getting incredibly crowded, and the winners won’t be the ones that have the best recipes, cheapest meals, or fastest delivery – it will be about the brand. Other than Martha (who is already a titan in the foodie world), the others will need to figure out their brand in order to stay in the game.

Instacart, Amazon, and even Kroger and Walmart will likely disrupt this category. They already have strong existing brand equity, supplier partnerships to support this area, and a robust operational infrastructure. They can deliver exactly what Sunbasket and others are doing with little heartache to their business. In the case of Instacart, the Uber of grocery shopping, they have a lot of flexibility because they are not limited to one retailer. The consumer that stays with them will be the one that wants to shop but is fickle about their commitment to a single retailer or brand and doesn’t mind paying for the convenience of having someone else do the shopping. (I love that my shopper texts me during their shopping trip to help me navigate inventory!) The newer brands will need to figure it out quickly and buckle up. It’s going to get bumpy through this transition. These brands will likely not have a booth at Expo because they sell direct to consumer, but they are on-trend and competing for those grocery and CPG dollars. They’ll probably be walking the floor looking for ideas or partner vendors.

Cannabis and Hemp Infusion

OK, OK, cool your jets. I am actually not sure this is a mainstream trend yet. However, with the growing number of states legalizing marijuana and the number of people that are warming up to the idea of it not being “the Devil’s drug,” cannabis and hemp seem like the next frontier for CPG. There is still a lot of research and development going into learning the health benefits of this product outside of recreational use. But one thing is for sure: It’s not going away, as evidenced by the financial investment into the high brand and packaging that is hitting the market. It will be interesting to watch how (and if) the recreational and functional (I’ll call it) parts of the product break apart for the different product shoppers. I fully anticipate Expo to be the place for this trend to break out into the CPG world.

As you can see, some trends may not be ready for CPG primetime, but it’s fun to watch the genesis transform. Sometimes you need to hit the floor and see the brands live before you really know if they’ve got legs. I’ll be sure to follow up after the show to reveal what mattered on the floor – not just what stood out.

By the way – if you are interested in seeing our work at Expo this year, here are the brands you should visit: Wedderspoon, Essentia Water, Second Nature, DRY Sparkling, Hilary’s Eat Well, Sahale Snacks, Living Intentions, Teton Waters, Alden’s Ice Cream, Atlantic Naturals, and Derma E. And if you want to meet up to chat, book a time today!

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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Diet Coke’s Rebrand: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Article after article has praised Diet Coke for making this “bold” move. However, most fail to recognize the flawed strategy behind the design and potential dangers in some of their design and messaging decisions.

Diet Coke’s new look aims to attract health-conscious millennials by adding four new flavors, modernizing the typography of the Coke logo, adding color and illustrations to the package, and introducing a slimmer 12 oz. can.

Although the brand seems to have good intentions, Diet Coke misses the mark in our books. This is a classic example of a brand attempting to target a particular audience without really understanding said audience and using faux innovation to cover up gaps in their brand strategy.

The Good: What They Got Right

The move to a sleek, slimmer can heightens the illusion of a “diet” soda being a healthier choice. This move, reminiscent of Sparkling Ice, gives off a lighter, high-end feel. Additionally, in most of their messaging the brand leaves out the word “soda” completely. Reframing the brand as a sparkling beverage instead of a soda positions it to seem healthier and more adult-friendly. The brand seems to have taken a page right out of DRY Sparkling’s book with this move.

As we all know, bottled water sales now far outpace soda sales in the U.S. and sparkling water is rapidly approaching that milestone as well. Strategically introducing four new fruity flavors to the Diet Coke line potentially threatens to grab market share from millennial LaCroix lovers. Targeting this booming demographic – although not necessarily revolutionary – is a smart move. Millennials hold tremendous buying power, so it would be foolish for a brand to ignore this influence.

“From the vector illustrations to the ‘fresh’ new flavor names, they’re screaming at a Millennial and Gen Z audience saying, ‘Hey, remember Diet Coke, the original diet beverage? We’re not a normal soda, we’re a cool soda.’” – Kat Simpson, designer at Retail Voodoo

Unfortunately, we’re not sure those “hip” new flavors (like twisted mango) will be used for what Diet Coke intended. Instead, we feel they’re just one step away from partnering with Smirnoff. These “feisty” flavors scream college party mixer. From their messaging, it seems like they’re trying to give consumers “what they wanted.” but it feels more like they are trying to re-engage those consumers that have already grown out of the soda phase of life. Although we don’t see the new flavors being consumed in a way Diet Coke intended, we can see them being used a bit more than the classic flavor is being used currently. But hey, at least we can see the flavors being embraced on some level – even if it’s not the intended one.

The Bad: What They Got Wrong

In terms of identity, Diet Coke failed to meet our expectations. The design and messaging changes feel disjointed and misleading. The flavor illustrations feel like an afterthought and destroy the only interesting new element of the can: the stripe.

“You can start to believe that the reduction of graphics and exposed can is like wearing a bikini after a diet, but those illustrations stop any dreamy visions you have like that.” – Eric Wyttenbach, senior designer at Retail Voodoo

The flavor naming conventions try to be young but just seem confused (twisted mango, zesty blood orange, feisty cherry, ginger lime). What’s so feisty about cherry Coke? They really feel like party drinks, not healthy and refreshing alternative beverages. And although as we stated before, this might potentially give a bump in sales, it won’t be among the target demographic nor will these flavors expand Diet Coke’s reach into new realms as this redesign intended.

The Ugly: The Bottom Line

A pretty new package, strong advertising, and fun messaging might be enough to briefly drop Diet Coke back into this audience’s consideration set. But when this audience takes one look at the label and sees that aspartame is still present, they’ll place it back on shelf and avoid it like the plague.

“News flash: Millennials and Gen Y are label readers.” – David Lemley, founder & chief strategist at Retail Voodoo

Although messaging and design updates attempt to communicate health, the brand still uses the harmful ingredients that repelled these consumers in the first place. Ultimately, Millennials will never replace their LaCroix (or any sparkling water for that matter) with soda.“This feels like a disingenuous move driven by a desire to pander to younger audiences and health-conscious consumers, but I predict both audiences will see through it and shun the can as a poser.” – Jacob Carter, design director at Retail Voodoo

Diet Coke’s VP of marketing is quoted in AdAge as saying that they didn’t want to change the formula for fear of risking their current loyal audience. They ignore the fact that nutrition and ingredient labels are important to most young people. Looking on-trend doesn’t matter when the product is full of unhealthy ingredients. If Diet Coke really wanted to make a bold move, they would have removed aspartame fully.

Diet Coke’s redesign is a prime example of why diet soda sales continue to fall. Brands focus on the exterior appearance of their products without addressing the real issues lurking beneath the surface.

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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Brand Strategy Checklist 2: Mental Strength for Purpose-driven Brands

In segment one of our brand strategy checklist, we explored the external forces shaping your brand. In part two, we examine the areas of your brand strategy driven by the psychology of your management team.

It has been said that the success, challenges, and struggles of any business are the direct result of the psychology of the leadership. This is where brand strategy expands the domain of marketing. It’s where the perception of marketing changes. It goes from being viewed as a mechanism for the organization to always be reaching outside itself for answers and ultimately customers and sales to begin to influence organizational development at the roots of the business. We believe this is one of the most overlooked areas of brand strategy.

In order for brand strategy to become a powerful driving force for your organization, you need to get out of your own head. This means that you and your team need language to describe the real and (hopefully) dramatic differences between your brand and your competitive set. Then, it is up to leadership to understand and evangelize the way your organization’s self-talk, behavior, and vocabulary shapes your employees’ and customers’ experiences.

We will look at:

  • The 12 questions you need to ask yourself to build a mentally strong, purpose-driven brand.
  • How and why to conduct a cultural assessment.
  • The importance of brand positioning.
  • Tips and tricks on how to meaningfully separate yourself from the competition.
  • How each of these components affects your brand’s known and unknown gaps.

Cultural Assessment

What is it?
A cultural assessment is a look at the driving forces within the company to understand historical preferences, passions and quirks, social, economic and marketplace bias, strategic assumptions, and marketplace performance.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We believe that the fish stinks from the head down. If there is a cultural problem, it’s almost certain to be a leadership problem. We conduct a cultural assessment as part of a key stakeholder survey. One of the outcomes is overall company appetite for change.

What you can do with it:
Once you understand your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, you can only get so far without C-level commitment and permission to affect change.

Questions to ask:
1. How is the psychology of your leadership team impacting your brand?
2. If there was evidence to suggest a change would be better for the growth of the organization, what would help you to feel safe about making a change?
3. What will happen to your brand, products, and people if you continue to do the same things you have been doing?

Onlyness

What is it?
Onlyness is the thing that only your brand brings to the world. This idea comes from Marty Neumeier’s book Zag: The Number-one Strategy of High-performance Brands. In the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Al Ries and Jack Trout also circle around the idea of onlyness with what they call, “The Law of Focus.”

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We believe in getting as specific as possible, so your brand is either number one or number two in its category. If you can’t be number one or number two, then you need a new category. We mix the what you make or do with your how and why in order to define your brand in people’s minds. This process can give the perception that becoming a brand with an onlyness requires the sacrifice of opportunity in the market. However, what we see with great frequency is that true onlyness empowers leadership to start new ventures and stop others that no longer make sense in the light of an articulated brand strategy.

What you can do with it:
Onlyness is a powerful confidence booster for your sales team. Spoken with credibility (and believed by the speaker), an onlyness will up your sales game and your marketing strategy.

Questions to ask:
1. Who else in your category could currently claim your onlyness?
2. What should your brand start or stop making or doing in order make your onlyness true?
3. How many subcategories or distinctions does it take to get your brand to become a category of one?

Positioning Statement

What is it?
It’s a clear statement of your brand’s market position in relation to the categories you play in and the competition. Positioning frequently starts with a product (such as a piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution or person). Given this, one might think “we make a better cup of coffee” is a fine position, but that is actually twentieth-century advertising thinking at its worst. It is a common mistake.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
Positioning is really about your brand’s promise becoming secured in the mind of your audience. This requires us to stop looking at the competitive set thinking that we are better. Superlatives such as “better” and “best” focus on subjective comparison. In order to find a hole or white space in the marketplace that can be leveraged to secure your brand in the mind of your audience, we don’t need to create something entirely new. Instead, we need a reality check. Once we fully see what already exists in the marketplace, we work to rewire the perception to focus on how the audience perceives the situation and how we help them.

What you can do with it:
A positioning statement helps retail buyers and your target audiences understand how you are different and why they should care or think about your brand at all.

Questions to ask:
1. Can your sales and marketing teams explain your positioning statement?
2. Who else in your category could claim similar positioning of your offering?
3. Do you understand the why behind your differences and similarities?

Gap Analysis

What is it?
A gap analysis involves the comparison of actual performance with potential or desired performance.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We focus our gap analysis on systems and leadership required to empower the organization to bring its new brand strategy fully to life. We look at performance and benchmark it against the new strategy’s potential through the lens of culture, daily behaviors, and technological know-how. The goal: unearth a prescription which emphasizes action, process improvements, product optimization, portfolio alignment, and personnel.

What you can do with it:
With a brand strategy-driven gap analysis in place, your brand’s leadership can establish an easy-to-use road map and follow it across a multi-year growth plan.

Questions to ask:
1. Why is your brand no longer getting the traction you once enjoyed in the marketplace?
2. What milestones, events, or marketplace shifts have occurred in the past two years?
3. Are you struggling with people, places, processes, and/or products in our brand?

In the third and final installment of our brand strategy checklist, we will discuss the areas that affect the soul of your brand. If you missed part one, we discuss the external physical forces that influence your brand, so be sure to check that out as well.

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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Healthy Food Movements That Will Gain Popularity in 2018

We live in a fast-paced world where we’re surrounded by innovation. It’s tricky to keep up with the hottest trends – especially in the better-for-you sector. It seems like every day, we’re hearing about a new advancement in food or beauty.

More and more, brands are making healthy living accessible and mainstream. Complex concepts like plant-based protein are becoming far more approachable for the average consumer. Niche products and trends previously reserved only for the “healthy elite” aren’t novelty anymore.

Edible Collagen

Functional foods boomed over the past year as consumers continue to become more impatient and demand more value from their foods. We anticipate edible collagen is the next mainstream extension of this movement.

Foods infused with collagen and amino acids (what collagen is composed of) have begun to spring up in the marketplace. Increasing your body’s collagen has been linked to diminished signs of aging (like wrinkles or thin skin), boosting metabolism, strengthening hair and nails, reducing cellulite, providing joint pain relief (especially in runners’ knees), and improving mental health.

Bone broth is the most notable fad we predict will take off in the next year. It’s an easy-to-make, convenient, and tasty vehicle for getting more collagen in your diet. Already, brands like Bonafide Provisions and BRU are making bone broth in consumer-friendly bottles ready for grab-and-go.

Floral Flavors

As the food industry moves toward healthier options, consumers demand more complex and imaginative flavors. Palates have stopped craving super-sweet, dense flavors as natural ingredients become more prevalent and common.

We predict this will impact the dessert and beverage industries the most. People already flock for lavender-flavored ice cream – but that’s just the beginning. Floral, fragrant flavors feel sophisticated, making consumers feel a heightened sense pride in their perceived culinary prowess. Additionally, the floral – rather than sickly sweet – aroma makes consumers feel like they’re making healthier choices.

This trend – seen as craft and niche until now – will become much more mainstream in the coming years. For example, Whole Foods’ 365 label already has a lemon lavender granola and violet marshmallows. Keep your eyes peeled for floral dairy, baked goods, beverages, soups, desserts, teas, and more hitting conventional grocery soon.

Hybrid Food

We’ve heard of the cronut craze, Doritos Locos Tacos, or seen pictures of coffee in a cone on Instagram. Although this trend might seem over-played, it has yet to ramp up in the health food sector. Until recently, hybrid food lives among desserts and comfort food.

Now, healthy hybrid foods are finally having their moment. Moving away from the decadence and spectacle of unhealthy hybrid foods, the health food industry masterfully engineers mash-ups to make healthy eating more diverse and enjoyable for all. For example, take Broffee (a hybrid of coffee and bone broth) – it’s a small tweak to combine two things people love. It combines the trends of collagen, alternative protein, and energy into a portable, tasty blend. These more subtle combinations and alterations on familiar staples are far more approachable and something consumers can adopt for longer than just a passing fad.

Plant-Based Protein

The rehabilitation of science has made people more comfortable with science and food engineering as long as it’s ethical and transparent. Scientific manipulations of food allow for endless protein alternatives. Now, instead of a rare novelty, plant-based protein prevails.

With increased consumer education, shoppers are understanding the benefits of plant-based protein. Although many consumers have yet to fully understand the concept, their shopping and consumption habits already align with the trend. Making the step won’t be too much of a stretch for most of them. For example, the Impossible Burger is a plant-based patty that “bleeds” just like a beef patty. It makes it feel like a much more natural transition from meat.

From tomato tuna to pea milk to avocado ice cream – plant-based alternatives are here to stay.

Functional Drinks

People are hacking the food chain little by little to maximize nutrient benefits and get the most out of their food. This goes beyond just eating a balanced diet – it’s all about eating the right combination of things and the right time in the right amount (also called “bioavailability”). Functional drinks have gained popularity because they combine many different nutrients in one easy-to-consume form.

Prebiotics (essentially the “food” for probiotics) are a terrific example of this concept. Combined, prebiotics and probiotics protect your body against harmful bacteria and promote gut health. One without the other just isn’t as effective. Functional drinks on the market are adopting prebiotics into their formulas to make sure their consumers reap the full benefits of the nutrients in their products.

Eating Evolved, Soylent, and Bulletproof are just a few of the companies leading the way in this movement. Functional drinks like this easily supplement healthy diets, appeal to the on-the-go consumer, and are growing in popularity by the second.

As consumers become increasingly aware of the benefits of new and exciting variants of ancient ingredients, we can’t wait to watch more and more of them take personal nutrition into their own hands.

These concepts might not become “popular” this coming year, but we see them becoming more mainstream and receiving increased media attention. Overall, we can’t always predict exactly which foods or movements will trend over the next year. However, our research, experience, and intuition can inform us so we can make an educated guess.

Keep an eye on the shelves, devour industry publications, and pick the brains of fellow thought-leaders to stay up-to-date on the most recent trends in your category. Use these rising movements and changes in consumer behavior to grow your brand and drive meaningful innovation.

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 and Why You Should Target Generation Z Through Branding

Predicting market trends and anticipating consumer shifts can make or break your company. However, we’re so often hyper-focused on what’s happening right in front of us, we forget to look ahead. Don’t let Gen Z sneak up on you – arm yourself early with data and resources to engage this consumer base effectively and powerfully.

You might not have the time or the resources to fully understand how this up-and-coming generation will affect your brand, so we’ve done the work for you.

Who is Gen Z?

Remember when Millennials overtook Generation X? Well, it’s about to happen again – but this time with Generation Z. Born between the years 1997 and 2015, this group currently makes up 26 percent of the population. Undeniably, marketers need to pay attention to this demographic before it’s too late.

Massive Buying Power

Although they’re young now, Gen Zers already have a combined buying power of $44 billion in the United States. If that wasn’t enough, they also influence $600 billion of family spending and by 2020, they’ll own 40 percent of consumer spending.

Digital Natives

Often referred to as “Digital Natives,” individuals in Gen Z cannot remember a time without Internet. Given this, they spend the majority of their free time online. According to Mediakix, with an eight second attention span, they value speed and ease-of-use.

Their media consumption behaviors differ from previous generations as well. Approximately 85 percent watch anywhere between two and four hours of YouTube per day. They prefer brands communicate with them there as opposed to anywhere else (like television or direct mail). On average, they use five screens – a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, and an iPad. That’s a lot of different screens communicating a lot of different messages.

Social Still Rules

Social media heavily impacts the way Gen Zers interact with one another and the way they view themselves. Because everything is so public and visible, personal appearances weigh heavy in their minds. Their parents – mostly Gen Xers – did not grow up with the same technology, so when it became available to them, they went all-in with snapping photos and sharing them with the whole world. Because, why not? Well, now we have an entire generation where their whole lives have been documented online. This is their “normal.”

Desire for Privacy

Since Gen Zers are accustomed to their whole lives being broadcast to the public, they crave privacy. More and more Gen Zers are setting up private social media accounts and being careful about what they post online. While Millennials like to share every experience and every thought with the online world, Gen Zers tend to share things among smaller, more intimate groups of people.

The “Instagram Effect”

The pressures presented by social media are encouraging Gen Zers to spend less on products and more on leisure services, such as vacations, dining out, and going out. This is what we call the “Instagram Effect.” Showing the awesome, cool, aspirational life they’re living draws more attention and satisfaction than just showing the latest, greatest product. Brand-name recognition holds far less credibility – in fact, many Gen Zers are extremely critical and less trusting of brands.

Money-Cautious

The older Gen Zers watched their families and older siblings suffer financially during the Great Recession. They see Millennials with thousands of dollars in debt and their parents’ businesses scrambling to get back on their feet. Although Gen Zers don’t have their own revenue stream yet, they have still felt the impact of financial crisis. This makes them far more cautious about spending money. They view college more as a time to hit the ground running to prepare for their career rather than a relaxing time of self-discovery.

What does this mean for my brand?

Brands can evolve to reach this new generation of consumers by following these steps:

Cater to Their Unique Shopping Habits

Gen Z individuals are twice as likely to shop on mobile devices – increasing the need for responsive websites and easy-to-navigate apps. Offering mobile-friendly shopping experiences and digestible product education is key. Convenience and visibility are critical here. If your site is too slow to load or difficult to traverse, Gen Zers will abandon ship quickly. More often than not, this generation will see your brand online before they see it on shelf.

This generation searches for information on their own, so proactive marketing will be most effective. Too impatient to wait for it to come to them, Gen Zers seek out to self-educate. They have a do-it-yourself, entrepreneurial mentality from being told “no” time after time during the Recession. They like to take things into their own hands.

Just as they look to their peers and influencers for recommendations on purchase decisions, they also love sharing their own knowledge online. This generation seeks out collaborative engagement and trusts peer recommendations before anything else. Influencing peers and sharing “insider” information on social media gives Gen Zers credibility among their followers. Brands need to give this consumer base easy ways to share this information digitally.

Since this generation lives with almost anything at their fingertips, they demand convenience. With the click of a button, they can have food delivered right to their door from their favorite restaurant in no time. Thousands of movies and television shows exist just beyond the tap of a screen. One-click smart shopping is a must.

Above all, Gen Zers demand speed. As they’ve grown up with quick load times and lightning fast streaming, they have very low tolerance for anything slow. Lagging apps or difficult-to-navigate websites will be the kiss of death for some brands. If a page takes too long to load, 60 percent of this generation won’t use it and will quickly move onto the next.

Put Values First

Gen Zers see themselves as do-gooders. As the most diverse generation, they believe people can coexist in society and want to make the world a more equal and fair place for all.

They’ve grown up seeing the Wall Street protests – rebellion against the establishment is practically in their DNA. They’re label-wary and challenge common “norms” like gender identity. Instead of relying on labels to define their personal identity, they actively craft their own personal brand through shared values.

This generation cares about transparency. They want to know how their beauty products are tested, who made the food they’re about to consume, etc. They will boycott a brand if the owner’s beliefs oppose their own or they don’t treat their employees fairly. Their money-conscious mentality makes them much more thoughtful about every purchase. If they’re spending their hard-earned money, they want to know exactly where it’s going.

With endless information always at their fingertips, anyone can be an “investigator” – looking for the truth behind veils of secrecy so prevalent in corporate America. When brands break their trust, they don’t forget that. Ethical and transparent brands that tell their story will resonate strongly with this generation.

Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

The Millennials paved the way for Internet-based innovation. As Gen Zers have grown up with innovation after innovation, they now expect it.

That being said, they’re far less impressed and excited by technological innovation. They crave something more – experience. In-store virtual and augmented reality shopping experiences will define the customer experience in the next few years. This experiential, interactive technology physically connects this generation to brands – therefore building a much stronger bond.

It’s important for brands to offer value beyond the product offering itself. In other words, brands must offer a lifestyle. These price-conscious consumers want to spend on experience, rather than material.

Although this generation has yet to gain their own revenue streams, we can already confidently identify certain characteristics based on behaviors, culture, and history. This generation craves security (in every sense of the word), convenience, innovation, and brands they can connect with on an emotional level. The Recession made them cautious with their spending, but they’ll become brand-loyal when they’re offered what they crave. Educating customers on the value beyond the product itself and providing meaningful experiences will tap into this generation’s massive buying power.

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 Brands Use Rituals to Meaningfully Engage Their Customers

If your target audience lacks engagement or community, ritual can answer that need by fulfilling your customers’ natural desire for routine and belonging. Embracing this type of behavior modification will allow you to not only capture their attention but retain it as well.

Ritual comes from an inherent human desire; we’re creatures of habit. We naturally look to routines for stability and simplicity. From an anthropological perspective, rituals are an integral part of the human species. While habits and routines are typically naturally-derived over time, rituals follow patterns of behavior developed by an external source (like a brand or an organization).

Primitive images of sacred, mystical, or religious rituals often come to mind when thinking about this concept. But more “modern” rituals can be just as powerful. Organizations use ritual to build loyalty, conjure a perception of exclusivity or secrecy, and naturally intertwine with the everyday behavior of its members. Rituals are reassuring, giving us a sense of security and belonging.

Brands tap into the power of ritual by leveraging simple behaviors they recognize in their customers. Involving customers physically in the brand experience helps build loyalty.

While marketers may salivate at the thought of a ritual that cements the brand into the cultural zeitgeist, know that it’s really hard to pull off. Nabisco didn’t have Instagram to show them that people were unscrewing and dunking Oreos; the ritual developed organically among the audience over time. We have faster, deeper-reaching tools into the psychology of our consumers, so why is it harder than ever to leverage these rituals?

If you’re eager to identify and elevate a ritual among your brand’s devotees, use our 20 questions to guide you on where to look for them and how to capitalize on them. To discover those 20 questions, please complete the short form below:

Which Brands Do Ritual Well

The following brands harness ritual in powerful and memorable ways that can be adapted to increase loyalty and engagement for your brand.

Corona

Corona and lime is a terrific example of how a brand can use ritual to elicit emotion. The smell of the lime evokes the tropical essence of the beach, reminding consumers to kick back and relax. Even the action of pushing that thin green lime into the golden yellow liquid screams sunshine.

This ritual transcends time, language, and culture. Without speaking a word, consumers acknowledge the “right” way to drink a Corona. This pseudo mutual agreement makes us all feel like “insiders.”

Kit-Kat

Think about it – you have a very particular way you eat a Kit-Kat bar. Think about it: You have a very particular way you eat a Kit-Kat bar. Why? Why do we feel so strongly about the correct or incorrect way to eat one of these candy bars? The brand has created a sacred consumption ritual reinforced by catchy ad jingles and clever marketing. They leveraged a simple, inherent behavior they recognized in their customers and made it into a memorable ritual known by all. It’s woven into the collective consciousness of the world — something few brands can lay claim to.

Oreo

This brand utilizes emotional storytelling as well. Their brand ritual of twisting the top and dipping the cookie into milk could be an individual ritual, but they have shifted the narrative to make the consumption experience an event in itself. Their advertising shows dessert time as a time to connect with family and the ritual experience as a bonding moment between individuals.

It also leans into consumption behavior that already exists. Marketers coined the “twist, lick, dunk,” but customers were already doing this before the ads came on television. The brand harnessed the power of a pre-existing behavior and ritualized it — powerfully bridging the connection between the consumption experience and the brand itself.

Starbucks

Starbucks is the ultimate example of brand ritual playing into human nature. The brand is rooted in emotion and behavior. The brand took the European ritual of drinking coffee and “Americanized” it. Until the conception of the “Third Place,” coffee was always an individual experience. The goal of the “Third Place” was to give consumers somewhere to go besides work and home. The brand created a place for people to gather, chat, read, listen to music, study, and oh, by the way, drink coffee. This collective ritual changed the game.

Not only did Starbucks harness the social routine of the “Third Place,” they also tapped into our desire for individualized rituals. Their drink customization system made customers feel important and in control. In personalizing their experience, they felt involved in the brand in a new way.

All in all, brands embrace human natures and behaviors — giving them purpose and meaning through ritual. Enhancing the brand experience through ritual involves customers, weaves the brand naturally into their lives, and builds an emotional connection.

In order to create a successful brand ritual, you must:

  1. Modify or take advantage of an existing behavior.
  2. Tell a story to elicit emotional connections.
  3. Physically involve the customer through action, smell, movement, etc.
  4. Personalize the experience.
  5. Keep it simple and easy to replicate.
  6. Be natural; don’t force it.

Adapt these lessons for your brand to powerfully engage your audience and foster loyal relationships.

And if you’re interested in a deeper dive into how you can identify and leverage consumer rituals around your brand, access our 20 Questions: Brands & Rituals worksheet.

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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Outdoor and Fitness Brands Ripe for Investment

Last month, we shared which food and beverage brands have potential to make it big. These brands have that something special, but have not quite made it “big.” This month, we’re going to do the same thing, but focusing on another category we work with – outdoor and fitness.

Let’s face it: if you eat healthy, you likely play healthy too. It is the reason why Retail Voodoo works in the intersection of outdoor, better-for-you food and beverage, and health and wellness brands. You’re not likely going to see a runner’s pantry filled with Cheezy Puffs and soda. On the flip side, healthy foods don’t typically sit on the shelves of couch potatoes and slackers. Ask the next teenager you see what they snacked on the last time they played a marathon session of their favorite first-person shooter game. Pretty sure Brad’s Kale Chips isn’t on the list.

The following brands make active lives fun, easy, and approachable. They don’t make you feel like you need to be scaling the Alps or running ultra-marathons to be healthy. They’re not just cool products, no. Each one addresses an unmet need in the market and has the potential to make it big. With private equity and the right strategic help, these brands can really shake up the outdoor and fitness industry.

Kammok

I was immediately fascinated with this brand when I first saw them in the back tents of Outdoor Retailer a few years back. Their Kangaroo logo grabbed my attention and differentiated them in the category. Their products easily stuff into a pouch-like pocket – making a memorable brand association. Their hammocks are made from lightweight stuffable material and python straps – but that’s not what makes them stand out to me as a leader in the industry.

Growing up, my family lugged around a heavy, military-grade canvas hammock when we camped. It required a degree in engineering to figure out where to hang it and the strength of an ox to actually tie those 100-ton ropes in a way that not only held us in the tree but didn’t destroy the tree in the process. But during my first camping trip using the Kammok hammock, I noticed a fascination by the adults at not only the ease of use, but also the joy and glee of this “cool swingy thing” that the kids could nap and relax in. It’s now a necessity for every future outdoor trip. If we go too long without an adventure, I end up strapping it up on our porch for an extended weekend of relaxing, where it brings the memories of camping home in the few short minutes it takes to set up.

This brand has what it takes to grow so much bigger then it currently is. The versatility and portability of their products meet a gaping need in the marketplace. The ease-of-use makes them approachable to the average Joe and high-tech aspects make it desirable to the avid adventurer. The brand’s rock-solid mission, money-back guarantee, and superior quality make it prime for take off.

Tentsile

This brand takes camping to a new level – literally. When I look at these suspended tents, I immediately think tree forts. If you look at their website, you see amazing images of multiple tents stacked like apartments in the trees, allowing groups of people to share sleeping quarters in the sky, sort of like Ewoks or the creatures in Avatar.

So, let’s talk comfort. Back in my backpacking days (pre-kids), I would have loved this option mostly because no matter how amazing the pad, sleeping on the hard ground after a long hike sometimes just didn’t cut it. I imagine the feeling of being suspended in the trees without the rocks and bumps as near nirvana. I could see my kids finding these fun sleeping quarters incentive to go camping and hiking with great frequency as well.

Again, this brand looks really cool, but it also solves one of the biggest issues with camping: sleeping on the cold, hard ground. It eliminates the need to find a flat surface, opening the world up to all sorts of adventures and possibilities. When you’re no longer confined to a flat space on the ground, the options are virtually limitless. If this brand gets a bit of strategic help, it can easily become a household name.

Tiger Tail

Every active person I know has been to a physical therapist, massage therapist, or chiropractor to either fix an injury or correct a problem. Sometimes they just need general relief from their activities or life stress. This use-at-home, complete set of massage tools is easy to understand and not terribly expensive. It enables people to self-treat in the comfort of their own homes and on their own schedules.

As I’ve been watching this brand navigate a very convoluted market, it reminds me lot of compression socks and how those have become the go-to product for athletes and exercise fans. It fills a hole by bringing affordability and convenience into the marketplace. Physical therapy becomes less daunting and scary. Athletes and busy-bodies alike enjoy feeling empowered and independent (especially when something is out of their control) – Tiger Tail provides just that. It won’t be too long before everyone and their sister needs to have a set of these tools to help with body recovery when they can’t get to a therapist.

Oiselle

I’ve been following this Northwest brand since I met the founder on the floor of Outdoor Retailer a few years back. This brand has much stronger positioning than the others I’ve mentioned. They anchor themselves in sisterhood first, then a running brand second. The brand focuses on the needs of women athletes – but not in a dainty, “this is the ‘girls’ version of a masculine brand” way. However, despite their strong positioning, they fail to actively leverage it in their communication. This brand has the legs to compete heavily against the lululemons of the world. It’s almost there – it just needs that extra push.

Outdoor and fitness brands often suffer with brand positioning. They want to be coolest, hard-core-est, intense-est, or planet-loving-est brand in the market. Everybody looks, feels, and sounds the same in this industry and newer, smaller brands all default to the same positioning. But this strategy feels easy, safe, and ultimately, not ownable. Not every brand can be an Arcteryx or Leatherman, nor should they be. In order to truly stand out, brands need to not only make category-defining products – they need to stand out from the crowd in a meaningful way.

All of the brands highlighted here have fallen into the trap of buying into the default position – and they don’t need to. Their products are awesome and unique. The brands should take a stand and own it. To be clear, I’m not saying they shouldn’t feel like an outdoor or fitness brand and go completely off-track. But I am saying those are table stakes. Look to brands like Patagonia who started with table stakes and then went one step further to create something that people want to be a part of (or don’t). From there, with a little brand adjustment and maybe additional capital infusion, I see significant growth potential for these brands.

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