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Your In-Store Sampling Program is on Hiatus. Now What?

It sounds like the plot of an up-by-the-bootstraps movie: The young entrepreneur creates a food product to address her kid’s nutritional needs; she hands out samples of her energy bar at her local farmers’ market and health foods store, and everyone tells her how great it is. Soon her business takes off, and as it does she’s always there at the market or the store, giving away samples and basking in the favorable comments.

In fact, many natural food and beverage brands share this kind of origin story. The passionate founder-owner takes the role of chief evangelist, bringing the product to the people. These niche brands rely heavily on product trial to drive purchase. Sampling is their primary (or even only) marketing activity.

Sample is a Solid Tactic Until…

For the past six months, we’ve been living a situation where product sampling isn’t possible, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Even Costco had abandoned its weekend sampling program that’s beloved by consumers. (It was returned in a limited capacity in June.) But it isn’t just the COVID-19 pandemic that’s put the kibosh on sampling; it simply isn’t effective or practical as a stand-alone marketing tactic.

If you’ve relied heavily on in-person product giveaways to generate sales, you’re immediately and acutely feeling the loss of this channel. If that’s what you’ve been hanging your hat on … COVID has blown a hole in the heart of your marketing plans.

Sampling is a challenging undertaking even in ordinary circumstances. It seems like an ideal opportunity to introduce new people to your product: They don’t have to pay for it; your brand ambassador gets to share a little sales pitch and hand over a taste and maybe a coupon. In that interaction, the consumer tells the brand rep how great the product is (perhaps she really thinks that, or perhaps she’s just being nice).

But sampling doesn’t create brand affinity; it’s merely a way to initiate trial. You can’t know whether it creates long term fans of the brand. There’s a danger, too, that the conversations that happen in-store create a false sense of success and an inaccurate portrait of your audience. It’s easy to hear positive feedback from consumers who are tasting your product for the first time and extrapolate that into widespread adoption. (Everyone tells us how great it is, so it must be great!) It also exposes the brand to a very narrow set of consumers—people who shop at that market or store or chain—and marketers risk defining the brand’s entire potential audience based on that tiny segment.

What’s more, it’s simply a demonstration of features and benefits. As we know, your brand is not your ingredients or flavor profile or “free-from” position; you have to have a reason for being other than, “We make a really good snack.” Your brand is a promise and the way in which your company keeps it.

Finally, scale presents another challenge. It’s time-intensive to “prep and schlep” those product giveaways, to hire demonstrators, to do those meet-and-greets. If your brand has growth plans, it has to evolve beyond sampling as a marketing avenue and taste as a brand strategy.

Introducing New Consumers to Your Product

If you’ve relied on sampling and now your marketing activities are frozen because you can’t get into stores, or if you’re thinking of adding some kind of sampling program to your 2021 marketing plans, know that there are ways to do it well.

Sampling can be a small-player tactic, but larger brands like our client KIND also use it. When the brand secured funding, the investment came with a caveat that it be used to give away product. That introduced the product to new consumers and helped KIND achieve Beloved & Dominant Brand status.

At this point, let’s differentiate between sampling and giving away product. Sampling means just a bite in a little cup in a store. Giving away means whole product, sealed in its original package, for the consumer to take away. Product giveaway has a longer marketing tail, because the prospect may pocket the product, take it home, engage with the packaging, and consume it later.

Giveaways can happen via various channels, such as a digital coupon for a freebie or a handout at an event or a product mailed to the home (direct mail – remember that?). We have a couple of clients launching new brands and products this year, that require a bit of product education for consumers to understand how the brand fits into their everyday lives. So they’re planning to tip-in a sample of the product into targeted magazines to get it into people’s hands.

It’s harder for perishable items to employ the above sampling/giveaway options. For these brands, we’re seeing an increased interest in partnering with brands like Instacart and participating retailers and even meal delivery apps to include targeted samples into delivery orders. While there have been a few trial iterations of these programs they’re are still a bit fledgling – and we continue to keep our eye on these.

Another tactic worth considering is approaching a key retail partner and getting into their promo calendar. Couponing may seem like quote-unquote a thing of the past, but it still has traction; both online and traditional retailers like Instacart and Kroger hyper-segment their communications and coupons to customers by demographic or shopping habit, so you’ll reach people who are likely to be interested in your product.

It’s worth noting that KIND has a solid brand strategy foundation upon which to layer product giveaways as a marketing approach. Without that, a brand is simply a commodity—and you can’t give away enough product to make consumers fall in love and part with actual dollars.

The ways consumers shop, find new products, and make purchasing decisions are probably going to be upended for some time. If your brand has relied on sampling and has to pivot, or if you’re seeking to increase trial, we can help you reach the right people with the right offering.

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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Changing Consumers Behavior Around Happy Hour with Sharelle Klaus, DRY Soda Company

Gooder Podcast with Sharelle Klaus

In our current culture, alcoholic beverages have traditionally been the center of all celebrations. It’s how we wind down our day, relax and give ourselves a moment to rest. That is until now. Generation Z and Millennials are bucking those habits and finding better and healthier ways to relax. Part of it is self-awareness, the ability to recognize when alcohol is a crutch – rather than a treat, and some of it is “I’m not doing what my parents did”. They are normalizing alcohol-free celebrations, getting real about mental health, and creating an inclusive environment for everyone. It’s time for the sober revolution.

Sharelle Klaus and I walk through her journey of self-discovery, and the ins and outs of finding her and her brands true north. We discuss her passion to create inclusive celebrations for all people. And that sometimes, you just have to start all over.

In this episode we learn:

  • Sharelle’s aha moment that turned into DRY.
  • The story of teaming up with Sans Bar.
  • How Millennials and Generation Z are changing our relationship with alcohol consumption.
  • How to educate, socialize, and enroll behavior change for consumers.
  • How “bad news” can be the path to opportunity.
  • To trust your gut, even when you’re the only one in the room that believes it.
Gooder Podcast

Changing Consumers Behavior Around Happy Hour with Sharelle Klaus, DRY Soda Company

About Sharelle Klaus:

Sharelle Klaus is the Founder and CEO of DRY Soda Company  As the visionary behind DRY Soda Company, Sharelle has always had a passion for the culinary world and celebrating each part of a meal – including the beverage. After having four children, she didn’t want to let a lack of wine or cocktails stop her from being a part of the party. Klaus recognized an absence of refreshing, clean, non-alcoholic options in the market, and became determined to create the first line of botanical bubbly that was worthy of meal pairing. She believed savory and sweet flavors more commonly used in cuisine could offer exciting compliments to her favorite meals. In 2005, Klaus crafted the first batches of DRY in her home kitchen and officially launched DRY Soda Co. a few months later.

Klaus brings over two decades of entrepreneurial, financial and technology industry experience to her role as CEO at DRY, and oversees all marketing, strategic planning, and innovation for the brand. With guidance from some of the Pacific Northwest’s best chefs and a savvy corporate team, Klaus pioneered a new category of sparkling beverages, fearlessly leading DRY’s aggressive growth in a male-dominated industry. Prior to founding DRY, Klaus worked as a consultant for Infrastructure Management Group and Price Waterhouse. She also served as president of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, where she drove strategic development of programs, events, and fundraising for the organization’s 250+ Seattle-area members. Klaus has been featured by Huffpost, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Imbibe, and others.  Klaus has also won several honors including, Seattle Business Magazine’s CEO of the year, Puget Sound Business Journal Women of Influence, and PSBJ 40 under 40.

With a keen appreciation for humor and wit, Klaus is an avid supporter of entrepreneurship and frequently speaks at professional conferences, workshops, and the University of Washington Business School, where she also participates as a judge for the Michael G. Foster’s School’s well-known business plan competitions. She is also a board member of the Aliados Foundation that builds resilient community business based on biodiversity in the Andes and the Amazon—and connect them to markets across the globe.  Klaus graduated from Seattle Pacific University with an undergraduate degree in political science and currently resides in Seattle, Wash.

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/sharelle-klaus-1804078/

Show Resources

DRY – Welcome to DRY Botanical Bubbly! The non-alcoholic sparkling soda perfect for celebrating any occasion. Enjoyed on the rocks or in your favorite zero-proof cocktail.

Sans Bar – We are a growing group of average people who recognize that life can be fun without alcohol.  We are sober, we are on the move, and we believe that real connection happens when people are sober.  We want to create a space that is free of alcohol and welcoming to all.  We believe that the best version of anyone’s life includes healthy socialization, helping others, and taking care of both mind and body.  Sans Bar is composed of people who want to change themselves and the world around them.  We believe positive change can happen in the smallest ways, and still yield a tremendous impact.

This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life (Book) – offers a new, positive solution. Here, Annie Grace clearly presents the psychological and neurological components of alcohol use based on the latest science, and reveals the cultural, social, and industry factors that support alcohol dependence in all of us.  Packed with surprising insight into the reasons we drink, this book will open your eyes to the startling role of alcohol in our culture, and how the stigma of alcoholism and recovery keeps people from getting the help they need. With Annie’s own extraordinary and candid personal story at its heart, this book is a must-read for anyone who drinks.

BevMo – a privately held corporation based in Concord, California, selling mainly alcoholic beverages.

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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White Paper: Navigating Brand Disruption

Covid Series: Vol 01

Why it’s time to develop a brand-driven strategy to future-proof your brand.

Learn why food, beverage, and wellness brands are rethinking their fragmented strategies that hinder their marketplace performance in the face of unexpected disruption.

Businesses who are relying on the four P’s of marketing are especially subject to disruptions in the age of Covid.

By switching to a brand-driven strategy, better-for-you brand owners are future-proofing their business and retooling for growth.

Download this white paper to learn how to:

  • Plan for distribution hiccups and eliminate lost opportunities.
  • Reduce ingredient dependence in favor of brand-driven benefits.
  • Outpace copycat competitors by delivering on brand purpose.
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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Pivot Your Brand to Thrive in a Down Economy

“We are here for you.”

“We are all in this together.”

Claims of unity and common purpose are ubiquitous across all marketing channels now (accompanied by soft piano music and photos of people smiling behind their face masks). It’s hard to differentiate brands and campaigns; everyone’s singing from the same song sheet.

But what comes next?

As soon as we’re over “we’re all in this together” it’s going to be “all about me” again.

In the book Beloved and Dominant Brands, we discuss the five roles of good advertising — and two of those concepts in particular point the way toward a post-pandemic communication strategy for better-for-you brands.

5 Pillars of Great Advertising

In the consumer brand space, good advertising is …

A badge or password. Advertising can, through repetition, pair a brand with a graphic mark that fans can wear or a tagline that they can repeat to show they’re in the tribe. Think of “Dilly Dilly” and the Nike swoosh — catchphrases and totems that people use to identify themselves and connect with others in the tribe.

A visual ‘snack.’ In digital channels, advertising has to be super quick to catch the eye and easy to consume. The days when advertisers could be clever and ask their audiences to read, let alone think … those are long gone.

A prompt to action. Advertising doesn’t have to tell the full story; it needs to inspire those who know just enough about the brand to be curious, and those who think they may be ready to join the converted.

The next two roles for advertising in the BFY space are key to our discussion of “how does our strategy shift after this crisis?”

An extended hand. BFY brands tend to be, by nature, a bit exclusionary — targeting vegans or health-conscious moms or outdoor aficionados. But to grow, they need to leverage smart advertising to welcome those consumers who may be circling just outside the group awaiting an invitation to join.

And that’s the state of all brand advertising right now: an extended hand. “We’re all in this together.”

The catch is that when all brands are saying the same thing, it’s impossible to stand out. And so — when the public health crisis eases and instead we’re deep in an economic recession — savvy BFY brands will turn (or return) to this type of advertising:

A velvet rope. Once you identify who’s in your tribe, you have permission to keep the nonbelievers out. Advertising can function like a bouncer outside a fashionable club who casts a discerning eye and waves the right kind of guest into the party. This may feel counterintuitive at first — why would a brand want to turn people away? But it’s the best way to generate real growth because it invites like-minded humans to come to you.

The brands that will have deep, resonant, recession-busting traction will be the ones that effectively move from the currently ubiquitous “extended hand” strategy to the “velvet rope” strategy.

Advertising to a Select Audience

Why does the velvet rope strategy work? Because humans are tribal. If we cannot break off into real factions and splinter cells, we invent them (think: pescatarian, keto-kings, foodies).

Brands that play to the masses will be reduced to One-of-Many, not Beloved and Dominant status. Your job as a brand marketer is to give consumers a story worth sharing in the future.

You’re wondering, “Isn’t it kind of mean to tell people they’re not invited to the party? How do we communicate exclusiveness in a way that isn’t too alienating?” Let’s look at some tactics:

First, your current messaging should be helpful, optimistic, supportive, and true to your brand’s authentic voice. Show your audience small acts of love.

Beware of simply bolting that “we’re here for you” messaging onto a brand story—like the car dealers in our region that are promising contactless transactions to keep people safe but are still selling you the dang car.

BFY brands that are getting this “extended hand” strategy right include Patagonia and Chobani. They were among the first to market with new messaging about helping consumers and employees get through this crisis. As they continue to do their good works (saving the planet, supporting food banks) it feels genuine because it’s part of their brand expression.

To survive the coming recession, though, both Patagonia and Chobani will lean heavily on their “velvet rope” strategies — whispering in believers’ ears. Patagonia speaks the language of outdoor activity and environmental activism; Chobani of health and vibrancy. Nonbelievers need not apply.

The key to “velvet rope” advertising is tone: It’s about identity and belonging and “us” rather than superiority and snobbery and “them.” Your messaging has to be unique to your brand — like a bat signal, only some people can see it or are drawn to it. REI gets this tone right: Anyone can shop there, after all, but membership in the co-op lets you in on the secret handshake. REI’s marketing language speaks to a passion for the outdoors and human connection to nature; that language is like a dog whistle to lifelong believers.

Some brands are naturally super exclusive, not in the sense of cost but in lifestyle or interest. If that’s your brand — say, you’re a vegan brand that’s most definitely not for the Standard-American-Diet-eating consumer — then your velvet rope messaging might lean on humor to balance out a tone of earnestness and clan-ism.

Finally, your messaging needs to be inclusive, not exclusive. Create the opportunity for the customer to opt into your club. It’s not your decision about whether they get in or not; it’s theirs. Furthermore, becoming part of your tribe shouldn’t disqualify them from others. Don’t tell them not to buy potato chips or candy bars. Your messaging should be more about “we know a better way, so come with us,” not “don’t go over there.”

When your brand is built on a strong strategic foundation — your promise and the way that you keep it with your people — it’s an easy pivot from “everyone” to “just us.” And that pivot will be essential as you seek to survive any recession.

Do you feel your brand could use some positioning or messaging fine-tuning? Let’s talk.

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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Confessions of a Marketer Podcast: Marketing Starbucks (2 of 2)

Featuring David Lemley

On Episode 98, David Lemley is back to continue our chat about retail marketing. This time we focus on his time early on at Starbucks, which taught him a lot. He takes that education with him today to help him current client roster. There are some valuable lessons in David’s story—plus he gives us a look at the future.

Listen on Confessions of a Marketer

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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Who’s Your Real Competition? You’d Be Surprised

Brands today face fierce competition, strict velocity hurdles, and a retail landscape that’s been called “apocalyptic.” Brands that stand out are those that attract a tribe — a group of admirers who embrace not just the product but the ethos.

It’s nice to be loved, but why does this kind of consumer fervor matter to your business? Because these are your no-matter-what, forever-and-ever buyers.

Tribes aren’t focused on a product’s features and benefits; they know that the brand’s values ensure that the product will meet their needs and expectations. They aren’t worried about price; they’ll pay more for brands they’re personally aligned with. They aren’t interested in other products in the category because they’re card-carrying members of the tribe. That’s why even your direct competitors aren’t your enemies. Not really.

Us Against the World: A Powerful Message

These successful cult brands forge an “us vs. them” mentality among their loyalists that isn’t pitched against other brands in the category—the traditional business view of competition—but against some perceived ideology they consider adversarial.

As humans beings and social creatures, we are hardwired to split up into groups. (If you need proof of concept, just consider religion, politics, and sports.) Humans love the classic us vs. them struggle, and we instinctively polarize ourselves into groups based upon our ideologies and the badges associated with them. (Think: religious symbols, red state/blue state, and team jerseys).

This works for brands, too. But in order for a brand to overcome price resistance and become a category of one, leadership needs to move beyond thinking that companies are enemies (as in sports rivalries) and instead view ideas as enemies (like religion).

At Retail Voodoo, we recognize the power that people feel when they’re united in a common purpose. So we advise clients to make ideas, beliefs, and wrongness in the world their enemies.

How Lifestyle Brands Prosper Against Ideological Competition

Identifying an ideological enemy for your brand’s tribe to rally against will…

Trigger emotions, both among your employees and among your customers. Know that these strong emotions can be positive and negative; you may repel as many people from your brand as you attract. And that’s OK. Cult brands aren’t for everyone.

Create a platform for meaningful storytelling and character development. The hero’s struggle is a classic narrative archetype that you can apply in your communication.

Produce unexpected allies. It opens the door to logical partnerships with like-minded brands and organizations. Patagonia, for example, donates 1% of annual sales to support environmental groups around the world and funds get-out-the-vote efforts.

Strengthen the bonds people already have with your brand. In a world where it’s easy for individuals to feel they don’t have much impact, aligning with others who collectively support an ideology makes them feel empowered as part of a group.

Transcend sales position. People like to root for the underdog. But when a brand leads its category, it loses that “little guy” appeal. When the enemy isn’t others in the marketplace but a larger wrong in the world, it doesn’t matter of the brand grows to dominance.

Brands that Fight the Good Fight

Let’s look at several cult brands that have thrived by uniting their followers around a shared ideological competitor:

Harley Davidson

Audience: rugged “guys’ guys”

Enemies: The Man, corporate life, social conformity, suburban niceness

How it plays out: Harley Davidson’s messaging is all about freedom, individuality, and power. It doesn’t sell product; it sells a lifestyle.

Lululemon

Audience: modern women

Enemies: the stress and imbalance of modern life, self neglect, the dual responsibilities of work and family life, being too busy to have friends

How it plays out: Lululemon’s appeal is not reliant on activity; everyone can relate even if they’re not die-hard yoga practitioners. Looking at the athleisure category, Athleta is competing against Lululemon; Lululemon is competing against life itself.

Nike

Audience: strivers

Enemies: losing (the opposite of winning) because of under preparing; inequality in class, gender and race

How it plays out: Nike’s core message, “Just do it” empowers fans to believe that if they work hard enough — in spite of any physical or societal obstacles — they’ll be capable of winning, whatever that looks like. After 40 years, the brand still captures attention.

If your brand is competing with the other players in your category, you’re competing on features and benefits. That’s a losing game because you’ll inevitably cave on price. Without a meaningful brand promise, you lack ways to connect with people’s emotional state.

Modern cult brands thrive because they’ve reconsidered their competition and reframed how they talk about it. They’ve focused on how humans think and behave instinctively, creating a tribe united around righting a wrong. “Us against the world” creates an unbreakable bond between the brand and its fans.

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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7 Questions Passion Brands Should Ask Before Investing in a Rebrand

Rebrands are expensive and can be well worth the effort. But marketing leaders only look at 1-2 indexes to determine the optimal timing and core components that should be in place to increase the likelihood of success.

This white paper (pink paper) breaks it all down to seven critical questions that need to be answered affirmatively in order for rebranding to move forward. When brands have these questions clearly answered, their rebranding efforts will be more than skin deep. Retail buyers are more likely to get behind a brand with a deep, resonant story over those that are merely skin deep design. And products will move off the shelf without deep discounting or any other sales and marketing ploys.

1) Does my sales team have a compelling brand story that opens doors and wins shelf space?

When a brand doesn’t have a clear and compelling point of difference in the marketplace, they often rely on charismatic founders and/or salespeople to make the sale or succumb to an overly aggressive high-low pricing strategy. This is limiting when your brand is a seen by the consumer, and therefore the buyer, as an “also-ran brand”.

2) Have we conducted an exhaustive competitive audit of multiple markets?

This will help you overcome the obstacle in question 1 as well as offer a reality check. Most people think their brand is more unique and uniquely positioned than it is. A category audit with boots-on-the-ground is the cure.

3) Have we performed a SWOT analysis on our own internal culture to assess our appetite for change?

If it looks like your team is too far out of alignment to manage change, we suggest looking for the typical suspects: conflicting agendas that fall within functional silos and out-of-touch benevolent dictators. The evidence looks like infighting, high turnover, and low employee satisfaction.

4) Do we have a comprehensive map of our existing consumers and an objective, data-driven overlay for future consumers?

Many passion brands attract employees who are dedicated to the lifestyle the brand projects. This is the most common reason the company’s untested opinions and assumptions become perceived as data. It’s easy to assume that your target audience is just like you. The problem with this sort of closed-loop thinking is that without research and an outside perspective you will tend to believe your ideas are in alignment with the marketplace needs. The first step is admitting that opinions are not data.

5) Does our brand currently own an emotional territory that no other brand in our category owns?

Brand lives in the heart and mind as a collection of feelings or emotions based upon a promise your company made and the manner in which your collective team kept said promise. If you are trying to build brand story out of product features and benefits, you are likely a commodity, not a brand.

6) Is our mission clear, concise, actionable and measurable?

Many mission statements feel like the product of a committee, watered-down, inoffensive and in-actionable corporate babble. And long… if every last one of your employees can’t remember your mission without a prompt, then it needs to be refreshed. We believe in the power of language and that a simple, memorable, measurable mission is the only way to get and keep your team, well, on mission. To test this theory, go ask the first three employees you find to recite your brand’s mission statement. How’d that go? Did they get it right? Did they struggle?

7) Is innovation part of our brand’s culture?

If your team is in the business of repackaging your core offering multiple ways, I have some bad news. That isn’t innovation. Meaningful brand-building innovation stems from a strategic plan and is not simply opportunistic. It should be easy to ideate new products and services that are a logical extension of your brand (promises made and kept) when you are operating from strategy.

Missing any of these items likely means your brand strategy is missing enough critical elements that a packaging design refresh is not likely to produce the results your company wants. We suggest you start at the beginning.

Check your score.

  • 6 or more and you are good to go. You clearly have a plan and a strong team in place.
  • 4-5 and you are close to ready. Make some bold strategic decisions prior to undertaking a rebrand.
  • 3 or less, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate your reasoning, then give us a call.
Diana Fryc

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

Connect with Diana
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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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The Definition of Brand Has Evolved, Has Your Company Kept Up?

What is a brand? This question persists even within the walls of our agency. I have enjoyed the various perspectives and truth bombs my colleagues and clients have shared with me. If we boil it down, there are typically two schools of thought: the 19th century definition and the 20th century definition. However, at Retail Voodoo, we have a 21st century definition that challenges everything said about brand up until this point in time.

19th Century: Brand was First a Trademark for Corporate Property

Way back when, branding referred to the searing of cattle with a permanent, prominent scar that claimed said cow for life and helped keep it out of the hands of thieves. Then, as a by-product of the Industrial Age, it became a legal term that helped protect breweries in Great Britain from counterfeiters selling inferior knock-offs.

From its inception, branding was used to identify and differentiate based on ownership.

20th Century: Brand was the Appearance of the Company (Logo and Visual Identity)

Two fundamental shifts in business culture occurred during the 20th century that evolved the definition of branding. Post-war prosperity gave rise to the ubiquity of manufacturing. This resulted in the business philosophy that “he who has the factory gets the gold.” It was no longer about innovation but about controlling the manufacturing process.

So, in a world of parity products, something needed to change in order to help companies differentiate their offerings. Enter the graphic designer as a cultural influencer. Think Mad Men.

From 1950-1999, if you had the factory, sharp logo, cool packaging, and clever slogans, your business won – and in turn, likely won business. Everything was based on features and attributes. During that time, everyone with capital built factories and product proliferation became the new normal.

21st Century: Brand is the Feeling or Meaning (Values and Purpose)

In response to hyperchoice, the Experience Economy was born.

Now we buy as a form of self-actualization. Consumer culture has moved beyond purchasing merely on the basis of need or utility. Consumption has become meaningful, and brands are often used as building blocks for the construction and maintenance of our personal identity.

Most brand owners have spent all of the 21st century striving to bring human attributes to their offerings in order to create, define, and evolve the relationship they have with customers. As such, brands have now become distinct markers of human identity. Complex symbols no longer simply represent ownership, features, and attributes – they now also represent complex ideas, values, and company mission.

What’s Next: The Purpose-Driven Economy

In response to people using brands as building blocks of their own personal identity, contribution is the name of the game. This makes it more important than ever before to understand why your organization exists beyond what you make and how you generate profit.

So, it comes down to this: In the 21st century, your brand is what they say about you when you are not in the room. To put it another way, your brand is the gut feeling people get by the manner in which you and your company keep the promises you make. Your identity is the graphical elements (logo, type color, etc.) that people will use to identify your brand’s offering in the marketplace, but your brand is a feeling.

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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Three Ways to Honor Your Brand’s Heritage While Looking to the Future

In a world where Amazon-Whole Foods and Apple are now the old-guard brands, how can your brand’s past become an asset that connects with employees and customers living a modern life?

Heritage brands today are losing relevance as newer, more transparent, baggage-less brands capture the modern consumer’s imagination. These new options can feel more authentic than those who could claim category original.

In many cases, a company’s history powerfully shapes the way its leadership thinks about vision, strategy, and brand. Heritage is a strength unless decisions made in the past put constraints on the solutions of the future.

When we started our work with Derma E, they were a skin care expert with a 30-year-long reputation as one of the original players in the natural channel, yet they struggled to connect with a younger audience. Despite their strong, ethical point-of-view, their old-school, clinical look felt outdated. We helped them reposition their brand so that once those messages were translated into package design, contemporary consumers could confidently display their products on the bathroom sink.

Real purpose will never go out of style, especially in today’s world. Beyond product and brand positioning, here are three ways to honor your brand’s past while leaning into a fast-paced future.

1. Kill the sacred cows with a pen.

If your brand has any history at all, there is room for your heritage to create a set of unspoken and untouchable rules. Every organization has some version of “we’ve always done it this way” echoing throughout their leadership and employees.

I believe this is because most brands see their heritage as a set of laws, rather than a permission slip to innovation. Anything not written down can be misinterpreted. Innovation begins when you write down all of your brand’s oral history and then edit it mercilessly.

2. Link your brand’s values to your culture.

Brand values are the beliefs defined by what Simon Sinek calls your “why.” When clarified, written down, and shared as part of the culture, brand values guide behavior, actions, and communication throughout your organization and externally to the public.

Your company’s culture and core values are the bedrock of innovation, communication, and effective teams. Today, the most successful companies are the ones that don’t just have great products but are also deeply focused on culture.

In order to win in the market, you need to win in the workplace first. REI is a great example of a heritage brand that continues to enjoy marketplace relevance and an avid fan-base driven by happy, engaged employees who understand how to share the company’s values with consumers.

REI is a brand with a true heritage that honors the past and looks to the future. They have created an internal culture that encourages employees and customers to “be one of us” and go deep. It is personal enough so that people want to share the story, contribute to helping make it real, and express it as one-of-a-kind heritage brand living in the present.

3. Care about human needs more than market opportunity.

In other words: Love your people as you love yourself. REI’s #OptOutside campaign is a great example of a brand using company values to push against the grain of what has become of our annual Thanksgiving holiday. By keeping their doors closed on Black Friday, they have taken a stand for their employees, promoted their values, and accomplished more sales than many of the retailers who opened at 4 a.m. and worked their people into the ground on day one of the holiday season.

For Derma E, once they embraced the realities of a changing consumer and acknowledged that what worked 30 years ago might not be as effective anymore, they saw dramatic results. Their leadership began thinking like their target audience and found a way to share their brand’s values and preserve the history while simultaneously evolving. Streamlining their offering, telling their story, and repositioning their focus to ethical beauty resulted in 45 percent growth in just 12 months. What was once seen as an outdated, medicinal brand now stands worthy of sitting on the vanity countertop of a contemporary woman.

As a business with heritage, you have an opportunity to turn your origin story into a powerful differentiator. As you go, remember that people seek out brands with authentic stories and a purpose beyond the bottom line. The strongest version of your brand story includes the past, present, and future of your how, what, and why.

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