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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 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.”


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.


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 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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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Making the Most Out of Your Trade Show Investment

While the benefits of participating in trade events are well-documented, trade shows can be an expensive investment. Standing out and delivering a memorable impression on the floor at Expo WestFancy Foods, or even Outdoor Retailer can seem daunting. And yes, the pressure to deliver on ROI goals – while ever-present – can be elusive at best. As a strategic consulting firm and long-time attendee of these shows, we’ve seen a lot and learned a lot over the years. Through it all, we’ve emerged with a point-of-view on how to get the most out of these investments.

Before we dig in, a little context might be helpful. It’s hard to argue with the efficiency of these events. The ability to meet in person with current and future buyers, suppliers, and team members from around the country makes for a powerful argument to attend. That said, I’ve yet to meet a CMO or brand owner that doesn’t wish they had “just a little deeper pocket,” or more time, or just a few more resources in which to compete. Since many exhibitors are smaller (think 10×20-foot size booths), private meeting space is a premium and often these brands don’t have the budget to update their appearance as frequently as they would like. It goes without saying, show floors are crowded with high competition for attention and attendee quality can be mixed (more samplers than buyers). Okay, so what’s the big reveal?

To Quote Simon Sinek, “Start with Why”

Why does your company exist? What are you solving for and how do you deliver tangible solutions? Once you know your “why,” your team can confidently talk about your brand, what you do, and how you make a difference. After dozens (if not hundreds) of conversations later, we’ve learned that exhibitors’ needs can be distilled down to just a few key things:

Make progress with existing accounts – That means writing business, connecting face-to-face, getting in front of issues and problems, uncovering new/future opportunities, and connecting socially to further solidify relationships. Foster these connections by reaching out before the trade show and having conversations to better understand their mission and vision.

Open new accounts – Nothing is more important to the company and gratifying to salespeople as opening new accounts. Sales leadership needs to set goals, acknowledge progress, and celebrate the wins.

Encourage team building and support – With sales reps distributed around the country, trade shows become an economical way to get everybody in the same room. These events are a chance to align teams on strategy, current product, and service talking points. This knowledge-sharing and dose of camaraderie all make for a well-functioning sales organization.

The other stuff – Trade shows are a great opportunity for assessing competition, identifying trends, and taking advantage professional education and development opportunities. While you’re at it, be sure to schedule time to get out of the booth to engage in panel discussions, lectures, and networking events. Stop by the press office to distribute any press releases, and encourage reporters to stop by your booth. Leverage social media (especially Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) – most conferences have a specific hashtag you can track – to contribute to discussions and hot topics at the conference. Participating in these ways establishes you as a leader in your category.

The Basic Block and Tackle

Determine who you’re targeting and set your goals – Who are your best customers and your most desired prospects? Media, brokers/distributors, and other industry analysts should also make this list. Knowing who you’re for and who you’re not is a critical step in being efficient with your time and message. And if it isn’t obvious, capturing leads is why you’re here. Whether you use a lead retrieval device or the traditional pen and paper method, having a system you know you can rely on is very important.

Plan your engagement strategy pre-event, onsite, and post-event – Start early by defining your selling strategy and key messaging, and researching trends and competitors. It’s important to engage marketing early in the planning process as well. Start with the company website, blog, social channels, and email. Establish campaign cadence pre-event, during the event, and after. Empower your sales reps to be social by equipping them with content they can post online throughout the event.

Get your story baked (not fried) – It’s important to remember the value of a good first impression. Everybody on the floor needs to be on the same page. I’m often surprised of the lack of basic product information and the amount of inconsistency between salespeople at the same booth. Remember your “why,” and be proficient with your product and service talking points.

Invite interaction and make your booth approachable – Duh…Your booth strategy, design, layout, and messaging all need to work in harmony to attract your prospect, engage the uninformed, position your offering, and above all, set the table for a selling conversation. According to CEIR (Center for Exhibit Industry Research), 80% of what visitors remember the most about their visit to a booth is their interaction with the exhibit staff. Keep it simple and make it easy. And lest we forget, a well-designed booth has back-of-house function as well. From storing inventory to creating conversation spaces, smart booth design is worth the investment.

Ask for feedback – An accurate assessment of a prospect’s “intent to act” is everything. Beyond a typical qualifying conversation, if you can get attendees to fill out a quick survey, that data could prove invaluable. You can learn important information about the buyers in your industry, and also get a better understanding of why and how attendees come to these types of events. You’ll walk away with benchmark data, allowing you to make better informed decisions in the future. Also, your new customers will see that you care about their feedback – further improving their experience with your company.

Follow up with leads – It’s shocking: according to CEIR, 87% of leads captured at trade shows are not followed up on properly. Plan ahead to make sure you have a good process in place to follow up with leads. It is important that you follow up as soon as possible after the show so that your prospect feels valued and remains engaged.

Integrate and activate your social platforms at the event – There are only two forms of marketing that take place in real time — events and social media. Take full advantage of your event and combine the two to optimize exposure and extend your reach far beyond the trade show’s doors. There are many ways for you to interact on social media during your event. Here a few ideas:

  • Think of a memorable hashtag to create a buzz around your booth and encourage feedback from those that stop by. Include it on display material so that everyone sees it. Attendees will feel more involved in your brand, therefore increasing favorable relationships and loyalty.
  • Tweet to guests that have stopped by your booth with a simple thank you or nice to meet you to keep the conversation going after they walk away. This makes them feel special and appreciated – creating organic evangelists for your brand.
  • Highlight those that won a game or raffle at your booth to strengthen connections and get other attendees excited about stopping by.
  • Search Twitter to find individuals tweeting at the event and encourage them to come stop by your booth (in a human, non-marketer voice).

Other things to remember – Exploit opportunities for pre-show publicity. There are lots of overlooked ways companies can promote themselves before they even get to a show. It’s worth investigating publicity options across pre-show media and marketing material, social networking, sponsorship, speaking opportunities, and show floor activities. This will help drive traffic to your stand and encourage relevant attendees to seek you out.

In addition, the shows I mentioned earlier all have sponsorship packages to maximize your company’s exposure to qualified decision makers. These onsite marketing opportunities may include advertising in the program guide, award submissions and winners presentations, hosting user group meetings, participating in short course presentations, or sponsoring exhibition giveaways.

Start early, employ these strategies and tactics, eat right and get enough sleep. A trade show may seem daunting to some and trivial to others. But if you follow these recommendations, I’m confident you’ll get the most out of your trade show investment and see a ROI you can take pride in.

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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The Seven Musts of Marketing

Retail Voodoo has developed a diagnostic tool around what we believe are “The Seven Musts of Marketing.” We use this series of seven critical marketing disciplines to benchmark our clients’ brand within their respective category. This process simplifies the communication strategy across multiple channels and streamlines the messaging into a cohesive, ownable narrative that delivers a brand’s message to critical audiences.

Over the course of time, this tool evolved into a pyramid because it helps everyone involved to see clearly how each of these marketing disciplines ladder into one another. The theory is simple: a strong foundation is the key to any structure (whether physical or abstract). In the case of the “Seven Musts,” an outage in the foundation will cause the communication hierarchy to collapse like an imbalanced pyramid.

During our work with many, many brands, we have had the good fortune to refine and optimize this diagnostic tool to make it useful to even the most academic of CEOs and skeptical CMOs in the world of food and beverage, wellness, and outdoor fitness. The “Seven Musts” have evolved with technology and our focused practice of brand transformation, through our strategy-first philosophy (e.g. advertising used to be much more important with multiple channels and social didn’t exist when we first started crafting our theories over 20 years ago).

While reading through this Retail Voodoo Pink Paper we hope you consider your own brand, its narrative arch, and ponder the impact of holistic brand strategy across your marketing systems.

We ask a series of simple questions for each of the “layers” or “musts” in the pyramid. The answers are then used against a rubric of what perfection could look like for each brand. We then compare all the communication musts a brand needs to compete effectively in its given category. When complete, we compile the answers into a version of the pyramid and benchmark our client and its competitive set within the context of those answers.

This article is written from the top down, so you as a reader can experience the gravity of how the layers connect. We believe this will aid you to think of your own brand while exploring the layers. However, our work actually occurs in reverse order based upon a different kind of gravity – just like ancient civilizations, we must build our pyramids from the ground up, one layer at a time.


Social media sits at the top of our pyramid because it’s low cost and easy to do. But because it’s cheap and easy, a lot of people get it wrong.

Brands become overconfident with their content and spend too much time mimicking the competition. They start thinking they can buy engagement (or buy likes). But we all know that likes – and even engagement – do not necessarily translate into sales. They simply give the illusion of this.

Think Your Content is Unique? Swap Logos with a Competitor and Think Again

Brands fail to have a successful social media presence when their content isn’t ownable. In other words, we see brands lacking a point of view or a unique tone of voice. One of the tests that we run to check for this involves swapping out logos of products in different posts with their competitors’ logos. If you can replace the brand’s logo with any of its competitors,’ then the content lacks originality and won’t stand out to consumers. This perfectly highlights how much like their competitors they look, so they understand the need for change.

It’s remarkable how each category tends to have its own distinct generic look and feel. Once brands break out of this mold and define their perspective, they demonstrate how their product is meaningfully different in the marketplace.

Show How Your Product Fits into Your Audience’s Lifestyle

We often see brands aligning their product with too many lifestyles – diluting their message and lacking consistent storytelling. However, success stems from focusing in on a specific, targeted audience. Instead of showing your product simply existing in a lifestyle, share how it lives and fits within that lifestyle.

Our partners at DRY Sparkling nail the concept of a “lifestyle brand” perfectly. They use social to drive engagement and have a clear and distinct reason for why social exists for their brand. Their strategy is rooted in a deeper understanding of their audience. During the brand strategy process we identified the DRY audience consisting of a metropolitan-minded woman (amongst other attributes). We mixed together different lifestyles that made sense when put through DRY’s filter – a little bit of foodie with a little bit girls-night-out thrown in. Their consumers look at their social media and instantly see how DRY fits into their everyday life and understands them rather than just pushing product at them.

Vary Your Content to Speak to Individual Niches

It is important to have a variety of content to speak to different audience segments and address different needs. For example, if you were to have ten posts; we would prescribe two should be educational, four should be aspirational around life, and four could be about product. A healthy mix keeps your audience interested and engaged.

When we started with Sahale Snacks, they had a powerful social channel, and when we assessed them, the top of their pyramid was completely glowing yellow. However, the brand struggled to create trial-and-use education. They integrated lifestyle into their marketing, but the depiction of too many different lifestyles confused their customers. As a result, they just didn’t know how or when to enjoy their product.

Now, the brand focuses on engaging consumers and educating them on how the brand fits into their daily life. They show how their products can seamlessly jump from one life situation to the next, while maintaining that gourmet, friendly feel.

So, how do you measure if your social strategy is effective and provides value to your brand? If you are growing organically – not through purchased engagement or exchanging coupons for likes – it’s a good sign. You want people sharing your content and actively talking about it.


Before the days of email and text messages, direct marketing simply meant post cards and snail mail. Today, direct has evolved into an opt-in, subscription-based world. This type of Direct gives brands the power to engage in conversations with consumers in a longer format and on a more intimate level. It provides the opportunity to tell your brand story in a way that you cannot do with social. Since you’re taking the time to get people to engage beyond the deal, this is not the place to be couponing.

Invite Consumers into Your Narrative

Let’s use the example of Alden’s Ice Cream’s newsletter. While they used to just share a photo of someone enjoying ice cream on a sunny day because it’s hot, they now provide value beyond the product. Instead of saying, “Hey, it’s hot! It’s July! You should eat tons of vanilla ice cream!” they now say, “Here’s how to make an ice cream birthday cake from this product.”

Then they introduce you to the 40 family farms they created relationships with  to sustain multi-generational organic farming, making consumers feel like do-gooders by association. All they have to do is eat ice cream – tough break, right? Telling this type of deeper story helps the audience feel like they contribute to that family farm. As a result, price no longer becomes an issue.

We see a huge opportunity for companies to adopt “old school” direct in a new way. This includes producing bespoke pieces that have a higher production value. Think of versioning and back-end marketing integration that speaks directly to the customer and invites them to have a them-focused conversation about your products and services.

Although direct mail is also easy to do, it takes a little bit more effort than social media. However, it gives brands the opportunity to be more intimate and have a conversation with the key consumers. Your brand must take the time to get them involved in why you exist beyond product.


The digital world and the physical world come together on websites. They need to be deep, robust, and chock full of information, where people feel they can spend time learning about your brand. You want your customer to be able to come to your site and dig deep into who you are, why you exist, and how they can get involved. Use your website to move visitors from merely buying products to a place where they can get involved in everything your brand stands for beyond the transaction.

A Website Should Not Be a Brochure

Your website should be alive and constantly changing so that people have a reason to come back to it. Since users will come to your site from any page, we see websites as a powerful way to encourage users to “choose their own adventure.” This way, no matter where a visitor enters, they can easily navigate to information that is relevant to them, all while being surprised and delighted along the way. This means brands need to think about the kind of content they produce, how it’s getting out into the world, where people are likely to find it, and how they might come to the site. Once you have customers on the site, you must figure out how to drive them to your calls-to-action. When users take these steps, your brand will increase loyalty, overcome price resistance, and ultimately make sales.

Offering website visitors promo codes and deals dilutes your message. You’ve already done something of higher value to get visitors to site in the first place, so to have the discounts and coupons be the thing that they connect with makes them less likely to engage in why you exist beyond the deal. That is really what your website should be all about; why you’re here beyond the deal, why you’re here beyond the transaction, and why you exist in the world beyond making money. That is the key to helping people move from customers to stark-raving fans.

Living Intentions does a terrific job of integrating storytelling, design, and values-based communication into their e-commerce platform. They help the consumer understand why the ingredients are so expensive, what they mean when they talk about sustainability, and why their particular approach is so rare in the world. By having their own e-commerce platform, they control pricing much more easily as well. While they also sell on Amazon and do well there, they cannot control the prices of third-party vendors or other retailers. By having their own e-commerce platform and being able to have their story right there, it reduces the possibility of mistrust.

On the other hand, selling from your own website is not always the smartest business choice. Let’s take DRY for example. Before we worked with them, they were shipping cases of product directly to clients, and it was eating into their margin. Shipping individual cases of soda in glass bottles across the country is expensive. Our recommendation for DRY was actually to move to an Amazon platform because that way, the price included the shipping.

All-in-all, websites should not be brochures but interactive engagement beyond the deal. It’s your chance to tell your huge story about why you exist in the world and why people should care.


As we look at in-store, we look through the lens of brand – specifically focused on packaging design systems where you have products on the shelf of a retail experience when your brand doesn’t own the store.

30-10-3 Rule

Our basic guideline to evaluate the strength of a brand’s in-store presentation is called the “30-10-3” rule. Here is how it works:

At 30 feet, your packaging should help identify the category.
At 10 feet, your consumers should be able to read your brand’s tradedress or core identity (and ideally your logo) in order to navigate to it from feet away.
At 3 feet, your story, features, benefits, and purpose should be so compelling that consumers pick up your package and allow it to whisper in their ear. After all, once your product is in a person’s hand, they’re more likely to buy.

Category Navigation

The simplest way to make category navigation understood is to have you visualize looking for milk in the grocery store. The vessels, varieties, and design language all work together to instantly telegraph milk.

Now let’s think about how this might work at REI or Dick’s Sporting Goods. Our partner Body Glide is a great example of this. They used to disappear on shelf; they looked like every other product within the category. We helped them revolutionize their look and we set them up so that now they are – without any question – the category navigator for athletic anti-chafe balm at 30 feet. You can drive straight to it. The color system and the new identity we built for them makes their packaging the de facto category navigation. And this all happens within seconds, without the consumer realizing.

Brand Blocking

When your product lives in a box you don’t control in an environment you don’t control, brand blocking is crucial. Essentially, this is where a consumer can easily identify your product and all offerings within that line. Color and identity come into play here. This works even if you only get three facings. If you have a good system, you’ll stand out.

While walking through the Philadelphia Airport recently, our team noticed a brand with a significant number of facings – so many that it’s actually intimidating (their sales team are true rock stars). Unfortunately, their packaging is recessive and looks like a value-priced generic version or low-end private label. Subsequently, all of the smaller brands with stronger packaging, better brand blocking, and more legible identities stand out and disrupt the shelf more effectively.

Design Aesthetics

When we think about design aesthetics, we want your brand to look like it belongs in the life of today’s shopper (and does not look frumpy, old, outdated, or that the particular item could have been sitting on the shelf since the 1980’s). Yes, an outdated look implies to today’s busy shopper that your product may have been sitting on that shelf for the last 37 years. It’s important to match the contemporary vision lexicon of your product category, while trying to be at the forefront of that. That’s how brands become disruptive at shelf – whether you like it or not. If you can’t disrupt, your brand will likely compete on price (and nobody wins on price, except Walmart).

Packaging That Whispers In Your Ear

In-store is your first, best, and most-likely sales person. Sometimes, the shelf is the only touch point the consumer has with your brand. You need to make sure your brand can show up in a meaningful way to get your potential consumers to give you permission to whisper in their ear.

Teton Waters Ranch packaging is a good example that follows the 30-10-3 rule all the way through. They use an intentional mix of visually compelling imagery and iconography combined with easy-to-use information (such as the check-list of “no baddies”).

This package excels in storytelling, brand building, and overcoming price resistance. We call this passing the “flip test.” The flip test is best demonstrated while waiting in line at Starbucks. Next time you are there, take notice the carefully curated offering of innovative snacks. Then, notice how intimate their packaging feels. Pay attention as you instinctively flip the package over in order to engage in its ingredients, nutrition content, brand promise, and narrative.


Advertising is an essential tier of the pyramid, but is losing relevance quickly. Marketing is moving away from “Command and Control” methodologies – pushing your offering out to a world that had little choice but to receive your message. In today’s world, many users choose not to engage in media where advertising exists at all (think Netflix). Modern humans have rewired our brains to ignore invasive communications like banner ads.

That said, advertising needs to provoke people to think about your brand. It’s about stopping consumers in their tracks and demanding attention. It’s repetition. But it really is more of an art than a science.

Brands need to communicate how they are meaningfully different in a show-stopping way. Similar to social, when benchmarking a brand’s advertising, we will swap out competitor logos and put them on the ads to see if they are interchangeable.

We find that each category tends to have this insider baseball conversation happening, which is great for all the marketers within that category, but it doesn’t often translate for consumers. With this strategy, there’s no opportunity for brands to grow or new audiences to stem from it.

Who’s in Your Tribe and How Will They Recognize Your Call?

Once you identify who’s in your tribe, you have permission to kick everyone else out – which feels very counterintuitive at first. But it’s the best way to see real growth and it invites like-minded humans to come to you.

This is where advertising gets more into the art versus science. Successful advertising that speaks to your tribe comes down to tone and voice. You must make sure your tribe can recognize your unique call. This is what a good friend of ours calls “the dog whistle.” Only those you’ve identified as members of your tribe will hear your brand’s silent call, and leave all others unable to hear it and therefore, unable to opt-in to your brand.

To make sure your ads are in front of the right people, you need a terrific media buying partner. This person will show you the data of how your tribe lives, works, and shops.

Essentia is a terrific example of using advertising to invite people to join a movement. While the category has grown steadily for the last four years, Essentia experienced twice as much growth as everyone else in this category. They attribute this to the repositioning of their brand and a deeper understanding of their ideal audience (and then having a smart media partner).

In advertising, be brave but be values-based. Be who you really are based upon what you can do for the world, and don’t just be a product.


Public relations sounds so easy. After all, it’s really just placing stories and getting respected third parties to talk about you. But when viewed through the lens of brand building, PR is is an integral foundation of all of the other “Marketing Musts.”

A concentrated, focused PR campaign should be part of every brand relaunch. Developing an advertising campaign, in-store experience, direct and or social program that includes a supporting PR arm is far more effective than one without.

How do you create naturally occurring (organic) evangelists for the brand? For people to swear by your brand, your story needs to be good. Really good. It must be way beyond just explaining the technical functionality. Earned media touches on emotional storytelling and human connection, followed by functionality, features, and benefits. Yes, you can get into the nitty-gritty details, but it needs to have a personal story to it as well. Otherwise people won’t care.

Make Technicalities Easy-to-Digest

When you have something that has a technical component to it or a complex benefit structure, getting third party experts to speak to the benefits in a scientific, yet human way can be extremely challenging, but still most effective.

All the medical, nutritional claims (whether real or imaginary) overtly expressed or implied will be met with the hint of skepticism if your story doesn’t include, well, your story. Instead of pushing the nutritional education or science on the public we advocate that you get personal with your origin story and then let it compel people to discover the science of your offering on their own.

If you insist on weaving science into everyday life, make it tangible. Don’t tell us what happens in a laboratory (or worse, in a focus group). Instead, share with us how it worked on a weekend trip with your family and friends.

People Say All PR is Good PR, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Smart PR

Ask yourself – is this a compelling story? Are we easily gaining earned media? We caution all founders, brand owners, and people looking for a PR agency: just because you get your brand mentioned in stories doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right placements. Quantity does not necessarily equal quality.

Recently we had a new client that was featured in the same issue of a nationally respected health magazine in two different articles. While the PR firm was busy high-fiving over cocktails to celebrate their double-placement, we had to gently point out to the client that the first article was about the evils of their category (listing them as least evil) and the other was about which health benefits were absent in their product.

Know who you are as a brand, what promises you will make, and then how you want to show up. Ultimately, you have to know your target audience and how they consume media.


In an era of eroding trust for brands and hyper-choice in nearly all categories, customer education forms the foundation of our entire “Seven Musts of Marketing” pyramid. It plays to the other “Musts” because without customer education, your pyramid will topple over. Customer education is your opportunity to explain why you exist in the world beyond your products, and then to weave the reasons into your “why” (why your business exists beyond making a profit). It’s your brand’s chance to get people to buy into your mission and your vision of how you’re going improve the world.

This is also the place where you can make any complex or technical functionality easier to understand. We see this at play frequently in highly technical outdoor gear, functional foods, and complex consumer goods. Brands often make the mistake of drowning people in information to the point that consumers cannot hear or absorb what they’re being told.

The opportunity to explain your technical details gets more meaningful when you clarify what your brand stands for and how you integrate your mission into your products. If you do this in a completely jargon-free way, your brand will be stronger at overcoming price objection.

One of the things Essentia struggled with for years was how to explain the benefits of their product without sounding like either a bunch of hype or a rigid scientist. It got to the point where people who had never tried the product were responding with strong skepticism to paid media. When Essentia simply told their founder’s story and connected his humble beginnings to the idea behind their overachieving H20 tagline (and offered an invitation to join their movement), it encouraged people to connect the idea of superior hydration to their lives.

In conclusion, customer education is really your first and best opportunity to explain why you exist in the world and what your products and your brand stands for beyond featuring the benefits. You can then bring features and details into that conversation and talk about your brand in a way that helps customers evangelize for you.

A strong foundation in customer education is the key to any branded messaging structure. Then a robust and highly focused PR campaign will build a platform so that your customer education is readily available. Advertising is an important part of any growth plan, but care should be taken to make certain it’s delivering against what makes your brand unique. In-store is critical because it’s often the first and only expression of you brand a new consumer will see. Lastly direct and social are the ways to converse with your audience.

Retail Voodoo’s version of the “Seven Must of Marketing” is best viewed holistically as a series of critical marketing disciplines we use to benchmark our clients’ within their category. Our goal is to simplify their communication with a unique narrative that works across multiple channels.

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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Four Packaging Trends to Look for at Expo East

We’ve been on the lookout for the most compelling packaging trends coming up in the food and beverage industries. Just as consumer behaviors constantly change, so do design trends. Oftentimes, we identify trends after they’ve come and gone. Brands must think one step ahead at all times. Being a leader of an emerging trend gives your brand an enviable competitive edge.

As the better-for-you food and beverage industry continues to boom, it’s no wonder why CPG brands are fighting tooth and nail to stay relevant. Packaging is often the first (and only) touch-point connecting consumers with brands right from the shelf.

With Expo East right around the corner, we’ve pulled together our top predictions of what you’ll be seeing this fall.

1. Overhead Photography

The Instagram flat-lay knolling trend has crept out of the digital world and taken over CPG. There are two key strategies within this trend – detailed, slightly messy table setups and strictly ordered, grid-like layouts.

The messier setups emphasize the authenticity and home-cooked feel of products. Instead of overly edited and produced close-up shots, consumers see the food as how they might actually see it as they prepare it in their own kitchen. This point of view transports the product from the shelf right to their table.

More organized, structured overhead photography shots play to the consumers who love order. They associate clean lines and organization with wellness – both in the mind and body. Timbuk2 pioneered this concept with their unpacked bag flat lays. Each item to be packed into one of their stylish bags lay on the ground, organized in a neat grid. This simple, clean photography style illustrates the capacity and functionality of the bags. The same concept applies to food and beverage products, so we expect to see plenty of this style of photography in the coming months.

2. Natural Colors are King (Still)

Pantone declared “greenery” the color of the year for a reason. Color is a universal language we can use to communicate with customers. Certain colors activate appetite, signal danger or emulate peacefulness. Triggering emotions through the use of colors builds a stronger connection between a product and its consumer.

Green represents health, well-being, eco-friendliness and sustainability. Earth tones signal natural and wholesome ingredients. These colors heavily impact the perceived healthiness of the product.

The one caveat to this trend is that consumers expect these colors in the specialty food sector, so it is important for brands to innovate their packaging to stand out on the shelf. Thinking beyond color will be crucial as the specialty food sector continues to grow.

3. Keep it Simple

While minimalism has been a packaging design trend for a while, there is a difference between minimalistic design and simple design. Minimalistic design can be trendy and clever whereas simple design is more straightforward and honest. Ultra-trendy packaging screams desperation. Brands embracing extremely complex or hyper-minimal design are perceived as try-hard and unsuccessful – especially in the specialty food sector.

Health-conscious consumers tend to be more skeptical of packaging. They are more likely to pick up the product to read the label. When brands revert back to simplistic design, it is asking the consumer to do less work to get what they want. They do not have to decipher a clever design or illegible text to understand the product’s function and contents. In today’s busy world, consumers find relief in design simplicity because it takes less time to translate into information.

Now, simplicity does not mean you have to put “HERE IS A BAG OF CHIPS ” in black text on a white bag. Simplicity can even be unique geometric patterns or an interesting texture. The packaging just needs to elevate the product instead of distract from it.

4. Breathe Authenticity

The word “authentic” seems to be the buzzword of 2017. Anyone and everyone is scrambling to crown themselves the most authentic of their category.

In the packaging world, authentic means unique and honest. Hand-drawn lettering, for example, signals the natural and hand-crafted nature of the product. When lettering looks like handwriting, it humanizes the brand more – enabling consumers to emotionally connect.

Narrative illustrations conjure playful and nostalgic feelings of innocence. Using illustration to create a narrative tells a story to the consumer. As consumers seek for a deeper connection to the brands they purchase, a product telling a story will pull at their heartstrings.

Vintage inspiration is another piece of this trend that resonates with consumers. It comes from diving into the roots of history and uncovering the greatness that lies there. When we think about authentic food, it often comes from specific regional recipes or family traditions passed down from generation to generation. Vintage design and authenticity go hand-in-hand.

We’re looking forward to seeing lots of authenticity, simplicity, natural colors and overhead photography on the shelves this fall. If you’re going to Expo East, let us know – we’d love to meet you there and chat all things marketing! Shoot us an email or give us a ring to set up a quick meeting.

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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