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For Wellness & Better-for-you Brands, Gen X Spends the Most

Generation X: What a boring title for a group that ushered in the use of cell phones, home video games, microwaves, and cable TV. Gen X is that “old generation” now, creeping up into their 50’s, and uncool (clearly) to the younger generations. And in many marketers’ eyes, Gen X is even less relevant. In fact, most marketers do not even target this age group any longer. Our youth-obsessed culture is overlooking one of the most obvious targets.

Well, I’m here to say, we’re going to change that right now.

I’ll be honest, when I first started researching this article, I was pretty darn sure I was going to be searching for days to find data that supported Generation X’s spending muscle. How surprised I was when data point after data point surfaced, disproving my hypothesis. In fact, most research I found states that (at least for now) Generation X has the greatest spending power of all other generations – generating 31 percent of all U.S. income with only 25 percent of the population.

Generation X is a group of big spending tech fiends who were taught to break the rules.

Picture this: my friend’s basement in 1981, MTV comes on the air, blows our minds seeing artists transform music over the airways, and creates a visually-obsessed culture that legitimizes cable television as a new marketing platform.

The 1980s helped shape Generation X into people who are comfortable pushing boundaries, quick at adapting to innovation, and willing to spend their money to get the goods. Yes, Generation X spends more than any other generation. Home-based video games, MTV, cable TV, and microwaves brought a new definition of easy family living and entertainment, as well as access to lifestyles many had never seen before. Keeping up with the Joneses went up a level. We had a whole world of things we could buy.

What defines Gen X?

  • Education: More educated than any generation – 35 percent have college degrees versus 19 percent of Millennials.
  • Technology: While not digital native, innovation and technology became keys to their life (think cell phones, email, and personal computers).
  • Cultural revolution: More women going back to work meant women had power and money. We saw families on TV with moms that worked high-paying jobs as the new normal. Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show), Maggie Seaver (Growing Pains), and Angela Bower (Who’s the Boss) were different moms than we had seen before. Characters like an African American lawyer and a single mom advertising executive with a male nanny created a generation of people comfortable pushing boundaries and cultural norms.
  • Independence: An increase in single and working moms created a new, more independent youth.
  • Hope: As the first generation unrestricted by the cultural norms of the past, they believed they could have it all; and subsequently came crashing back to earth wondering about work-life balance and wellness.
  • Rebellion: Stuck between two large egocentric generations, Gen X revolted by creating grunge rock and popularizing dystopian novels like Shampoo Planet, by Douglas Copeland.
  • Materialism: A strong relationship with materialism meant Gen X was hit hardest by the Great Recession of 2008.
  • Career length: Despite the fact that Gen X currently holds a significant percentage of high-level jobs, the Great Recession, appetite for spending, and longer life expectancy means they need to remain in the work force longer to pay off mortgages, their children’s tuition, and save for retirement.
  • Age: America is a youth-obsessed culture and Gen X is no longer the youth.

What marketing trends does Gen X influence?

  • Better-for-you and wellness: While Millennials rank evenly with Generation X in their love of mission-driven brands, Gen X-ers spend significantly more on today’s do-gooder brands. Thus, making organic, ethically produced, and sustainable products a viable marketplace for everyone.
  • Email marketing: As the first group that opted out of print catalogues, email marketing became the norm.
  • Convenience: Online shopping’s confluence with social media: They are busier than heck – leading their companies, running kids around, and trying to stay healthy. Online shopping, social media, and on-demand services (such as streaming services like Netflix and meal-kit delivery systems like Blue Apron) are ever-popular with this generation.

How does all of this affect marketing to Gen X?

  • They are skeptical: They learned the hard way. These folks have been through two impeachments. They gave the world grunge music and modern marketing. They are today’s power brokers and executives. They don’t fool easy. They give trust to those who earn it. This is the generation who will research your brand in detail before committing to parting with their money. So, don’t try to win them over with glitz. Show them your true colors and they’ll respond. Gen X has a history of loyalty when it comes to authentic, transparent brands.
  • They are currently the parental generation: The youngest Gen X-er is just now entering into parenthood and the oldest have begun shipping their kids off to college. Almost every sale to a child is a sale to a Gen X-er too. If you’re targeting kids, you’re targeting their parents too.
  • They are premium focused: As professionals and parents with hard-earned money to burn, Gen X-ers put a premium on quality. They want to know that a brand is reliable, that a product is hardy, and that media is sophisticated.

Generation X is a true hybrid when it comes to marketing. As a brand owner, you are playing the long game. Simply put, ignoring this generation puts your bottom line at risk for the foreseeable future.

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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Frito-Lay is Changing the World of Business for The Better with Ciara Dilley, Frito Lay

Gooder Podcast featuring Ciara Dilley

Those of us outside the walls of Frito-Lay have not necessarily considered the brand aligned with natural foods, environmental stewardship, or considered a small business advocate. But little did we all know, that this mammoth tanker of an organization has been quietly growing a passionate army of stewards ready to take on some of businesses biggest issues including healthy food innovation, food instability, small and women-owned business finance and mentoring, environmental stewardship and so much more. The number of business initiatives PepsiCo and Frito-Lay has been developing to make a positive impact in business and the lives of the most marginalized is staggering.

Join Ciara Dilley, VP of Marketing, Transform Brands and Portfolio Innovation for Frito-Lay North America and I, as we discuss how she is harnessing the resources of a multi-national to affect positive change in the food and beverage industries — starting with the Stacy’s Rise Project and venturing into other initiatives. It turns out that Frito-Lay may be becoming the largest Citizen brand in our category, and they’ve got just the right person to lead the way.

When we support women-owned business – the world will become a better place. – Ciara Dilley

In This Episode We Learn:

  • Ciara’s passion for Female Founders and woman-owned business.
  • How she uses Frito-Lay strengths of brand, product, and voice to empower and support female founder brands.
  • The power of Stacy’s Rise Project and WomenMade initiatives.
  • Why Stacy’s Rise Project is bridging the funding gap for female-founded business.
  • How Ciara uses stewardship initiatives to grow employee engagement, retention, and satisfaction.
  • How the impact of the Frito-Lay initiatives complement and supplement the work being done in the Naturals industry.
Gooder Podcast

Frito-Lay is Changing the World of Business for The Better with Ciara Dilley, Frito Lay

About Ciara Dilley:

Ciara Dilley – Vice President of Marketing, Transform Brands and Portfolio Innovation for Frito-Lay North America, leads the company’s ever-evolving and diverse portfolio of Transform Brands – including Stacy’s, SunChips, Smartfood, Popcorners, and Off the Eaten Path. Also overseeing Frito-Lay’s portfolio innovation, Ciara is making it easier than ever for consumers to discover new flavors, ingredients and brands powered by purpose. Ciara also leads our Sustainability agenda, championing our focus on more environmentally friendly packaging solutions.

A seasoned veteran with more than 20 years of industry experience, Ciara’s passion is supporting women, both inside and outside the walls of Frito-Lay. In addition to being personally involved in a number of initiatives that involve coaching and connecting businesswomen, Ciara recently led the launch of WomanMade, a PepsiCo initiative developed to advance female founders in the food and beverage industry through funding and exclusive mentoring opportunities.

Since joining Frito-Lay in February 2019, Ciara has led Stacy’s Rise Project – a flagship grant and mentorship program by the female-founded Stacy’s brand – to flourish as an industry best-in-class initiative, awarding up-and-coming female entrepreneurs with hundreds of thousands of dollars in business grants and providing them with unprecedented access to PepsiCo people and resources to achieve long-term success.

In addition, under Ciara’s leadership, Smartfood popcorn added Smart50 to its lineup – featuring 50 calories or less per cup – and underwent a full brand redesign that involved a complete swipe of its social channels and packaging updates across the entire portfolio.

Prior to joining PepsiCo, Dilley leveraged her experience in communications and innovation to grow major international consumer brands including Diageo, Campbell Soup Company and Kellogg Company.

LinkedIn: Ciara Dilley,

Media Contact – Frito-Lay Brand Communications: Jen Crichton,

Show Resources:

Pepsico – An American multinational food, snack and beverage corporation headquartered in Harrison, New York, in the hamlet of Purchase. PepsiCo has interests in the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of grain-based snack foods, beverages, and other productsFrito-Lay – an American subsidiary of PepsiCo that manufactures, markets, and sells corn chips, potato chips, and other snack foodsStacy’s – Stacy’s Pita Chips is a brand of snack products based in Randolph, Massachusetts, specializing in various flavors of pita chips. Pita chips are slices of pita bread which are baked until crunchy.Stacy’s Rise – Created to help bridge the funding gap for female founders, Stacy’s Rise Project™ has been connecting and empowering women business owners for years. That’s why Stacy’s is sharing our resources with other female-founded businesses like those founded by these 30 women. Support them by adding their products and services to your cart.Pepsico Foundation – As we strive to become a Better company, we are helping nurture that potential all around the world by leading the way toward a more sustainable food system, from investing in sustained nutrition, to promoting safe water access, effective waste management, and women’s empowerment.Kelloggs – An American multinational food manufacturing company headquartered in Battle Creek, Michigan, United States. And the original plant-based well-being company.Greenhouse Accelerator – Support food and beverage entrepreneurs through a collaborative mentor-guided business acceleration program.Hello Alice –  Step-by-step guides, expert resources, and collaborative communities of fellow entrepreneurs to find funding opportunities and experts for small business.The J.E.D.I Collaborative – The OSC² J.E.D.I Collaborative of industry peers and experts is leading this project for the natural products industry to frame the business case for embedding justice, equity, diversity and inclusion into our entire food ecosystem. Our intent is to take a positive, forward look vs. a “fix what’s broken” position. We seek to understand the deeper issues and to devise an outline for the best solutions. We will clarify the systemic issues that require courage and thought leadership and define immediately controllable issues we all can address as an industry and in our day-to-day operations. We will develop a step-by-step approach to serve as a model to facilitate and inspire the industry to commit and take action. We will develop a reporting tool to demonstrate the impact of the project on progress. We believe the benchmark reporting will result in an increase in productivity in an increasingly multicultural marketplace.Untamed by Glennon Doyle – In her most revealing and powerful memoir yet, the activist, speaker, bestselling author, and “patron saint of female empowerment” (People) explores the joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet others’ expectations and start trusting the voice deep within us. Untamed shows us how to be brave. As Glennon insists: The braver we are, the luckier we get.The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates -A debut from Melinda Gates, a timely and necessary call to action for women’s empowerment.The Boss Network by Cameka Smith – Our mission is to promote and encourage the small business spirit and professional development of women of color. The BOSS Network is a community of career and entrepreneurial women, who support each other through content, online programs and event-based networking.

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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Food Techs Role in Reinventing the Joy of Everyday Foods with Karen Huh, Joywell Foods

Gooder Podcast with Karen Huh

American’s obsession with health and wellness and grown exponentially over the last few years. And gone are the days of “hippy” organics. The influence of food culture shows and celebrities and San Francisco’s technology industry has collided into a multi-billion-dollar world of better-for-you food and ingredient alternatives. As this part of the food industry grows and consumers continue to push manufacturers and retailers to mitigate impacts on the environment and better our health altogether, food technology is playing a huge role in meeting those needs.

In this episode, Karen Huh, CEO of Joywell Foods, and I cover the gamut of food tech. From fundraising during COVID to consumer adoption and leadership management style, Karen brings her start-up experience and dedication to servant leadership to this exciting (and exploding) category.

In this episode we learn:

  • The Joywell Foods genesis backstory, its mission and long-term plans to reduce refined sugar consumption.
  • Karen’s journey from Starbucks to Bulletproof to Joywell.
  • Who’s open to adopting alternative sweeteners in manufacturing.
  • The importance of developing a consistent brand experience.
  • The impact of food tech on natural and Better-For-Your products.
  • The impact COVID had on investment and capital raises.
  • How fundraising and investment has changed for the food tech and natural food industries in the last 18 months.
  • A little bit about Karen’s personal obsession with RTD’s and who she’s watching.
Gooder Podcast

Food Techs Role in Reinventing the Joy of Everyday Foods with Karen Huh, Joywell Foods

About Karen Huh:

Karen Huh brings a deep background in consumer, brand, and products from 15 years in the food and beverage industry. Prior to Joywell Foods, Karen served as Vice President of Product and Brand Strategy at Bulletproof 360, a food and beverage brand, where she built the consumer strategy and product portfolio to support the Bulletproof lifestyle while scaling teams across R&D, brand, marketing and product development. Prior to Bulletproof, Karen was at Starbucks Coffee Company for nearly 11 years in a wide range of roles including coffee innovation, launch of RTD and packaged coffee in international markets, and the acquisition of Evolution Fresh. Before joining Starbucks, Karen was an investment professional at two tech-focused venture capital firms.


Show Resources:

Joywell Foods – A food tech company focused on building new a new and exciting class of foods around the best tasting and healthiest sweeteners in the world.Bulletproof – A lifestyle brand that takes a science-based approach to nutrition and wellness. The original butter coffee brand. Bulletproof makes beverage, snacks and other health brands to help high performers hack their own biology to operate at peak performance.Starbucks – More than just great coffee. Starbucks in an American multinational chain of coffeehouses and roasters reserves headquartered in Seattle, WA. As the world’s largest coffeehouse chain, Starbucks is seen to be the main representation of the United States’ second wave of coffee culture.Whole Foods –  an American multinational supermarket chain headquartered in Austin, Texas, which exclusively sells products free from hydrogenated fats and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. A USDA Certified Organic grocer in the United States, the chain is popularly known for its organic selections.Beyond Meat – a Los Angeles-based producer of plant-based meat substitutes founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown. The company’s initial products were launched in the United States in 2012. The company has products designed to emulate chicken, beef, and pork sausage.Impossible Foods – A company that develops plant-based substitutes for meat products. Founded in 2011, and headquartered in Redwood City, California, the company’s state aim is to give people the taste and nutritional benefits of meat without the negative health and environmental impacts associated with livestock products.Burger King – An American multinational chain of hamburger fast food restaurants. Headquartered in Miami-Dade County, Florida and founding in 1953 as Insta-Burger King.Tech Crunch – [Article] Alternative protein raises $1.5 Billion in first 7 months of 2020DRY – 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.

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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Your Better-For-You Brand is Not a Commodity

Commodity (n.) — A reasonably interchangeable good or material, bought and sold freely as an article of commerce. Commodities include agricultural products, fuels, and metals, and are traded in bulk on a commodity exchange or spot market.

Is your brand a commodity? “Of course not,” you think. “Lots of people buy our product because they love us. We’re always launching new flavors so we can stay ahead of the competition. We’re killing it in Target stores.”

Based on your answer, though, we’d argue that you do think of your brand as a commodity. The CEOs and CMOs we meet who see their brands as a commodity are the ones who define success solely through margin and ROI and channels. They’re all about the facts and figures; they’re not thinking of the brand’s impact and relevance with the consumer. They’ve set out to make as much money as possible — and they’ve built a marketing strategy that drives profit over promise.

Look at the nutrition bar category — as ripe for commodification as any product sector. Nutrition bars are a hot category; they’ve evolved from yesterday’s oat-based granola bars to today’s protein-packed functional foods. They have a form factor and convenience that consumers need to eat on the go, and they’re relatively inexpensive to develop, manufacture, package, and distribute. Global companies and startups have discovered that they can make something of reasonable quality and charge enough money to make a decent margin. We call this the “Amazonification” of better-for-you brands.

But quality and margin do not make a brand. Your brand is not your product, your logo, or your tagline.

Rather, let’s use our preferred definition: Your brand is your promise and the way you keep it.

Building a Brand on Promise, Not Product

Look again at the nutrition bar category. Why do Clif Bar and KIND continue to dominate that category over such a long period of time? After all, they weren’t the first brands to feature clean, organic ingredients or or drizzle chocolate over nuts. They’ve survived and thrived because of their promises: Clif’s vow to fuel adventure and KIND’s mission to support a better culture and planet.

Both Clif and KIND lead with the brand’s impact, its reason for being. They stand for something other than, “This is a bar made from food that is wrapped in plastic that you can drop into a backpack.”

When BFY brand leaders come to us for guidance, it often becomes apparent that their business challenges — perhaps they’re struggling to gain wider audience or getting whacked by a new competitor — are bigger than they realize. They think they need a new brand mark; in reality, they need a brand WHY.

We ask key questions of our clients early in the process: What societal wrong can they change? Which enemy can they combat? What problem can they fix? How do they make people’s lives better?

Considering the brand — not just the product but the business itself — from that perspective makes a product offering that would otherwise be parity to the category into something unique and powerful.

Creating Greater Brand Value

A brand with purpose is future-proof, because it can withstand shifting consumer and retail trends. Commodity brands constantly have to churn out new flavors and ingredients just to stay relevant; purposeful brands have a true north that’s forever attractive to consumers.

What’s more, a brand’s value is based on its WHY. In a merger, sale, or acquisition, the company’s valuation — in other words, the potential value of this company in the future so we can understand how much to pay for it now — is based upon relevance and differentiation and acceptance, not just the current balance sheet.

Again, let’s look at the bar category: RXBAR was not worth on paper the $600 million that Kellogg paid for it; the price wasn’t based on current revenue ($130 million in sales at the time), but on revenue over the course of the ownership. RXBAR’s promise is “simple ingredients, no BS. The multiple of more than 4X is based on the brand’s promise and its relationship with its devotees.

The downside to being a commodity, of course, is the brand’s inevitable demise. Anyone can make and sell anything; somebody somewhere will knock off your product — and it won’t just be a competitor, but likely one of your important retail partners.

And the remedy for being a commodity brand is to dig deep into your DNA to understand your WHY. You have to know what your brand stands for and what the consumer needs; that is your brand, not just the new flavors or ingredients you introduce.

BFY brands follow a life cycle that our founder and chief strategist David Lemley has defined in his new book, Beloved & Dominant Brands. The company is first to market with an innovative product, then becomes one of many competitors — a commoditized brand. The way out, to what we call Beloved & Dominant status where you have an army of loyal fans and a position of category leadership, is to lead with your WHY.

Remember: Your brand is your promise and the way you keep it. And a promise can’t be commoditized.

If, by now, you’ve re-thought your answer to the question at the lead of this article, we need to talk. And you might be interested in checking out David’s new book, Beloved & Dominant Brands.

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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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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Transforming Your Brand into a Beloved Icon and Category Leader

When companies come to us seeking help, it’s often because they’re stuck in neutral. Their innovative initial product hooked fans, but then that popularity led to trouble as retailers and other companies introduced cheap knockoffs. Better-for-you brand owners and marketers (and their investors) want to return to glory — what we’ve dubbed “Beloved & Dominant” status — as category leaders with an army of passionate fans.

That trajectory, and the desire to achieve Beloved & Dominant status, is common to BFY brands. And that quest is what led us to publish “Beloved & Dominant Brands: The Brand Ecosystem that Drives Better-for-You Brands from One of Many to Category Prominence.”

Retail Voodoo founder/president/chief strategist and “Beloved & Dominant” author David Lemley, talks about what inspired the book and what it can teach marketers in the BFY space.

Diana: The book helps marketers win devoted consumers, build stronger retail partnerships, and achieve bulletproof dominance in their category. Why did you choose this topic to write about?

David: The BFY category is being flooded with opportunity, and a lot of that is coming through acquisition. Many of the investors coming into the space have experience in tech, but not in food, beverage, beauty, or consumer products. So one of the primary reasons I decided to write this book now was to give brand founder/owners, executive leadership, and the acquiring entity some common language that would update their thinking from small-to-medium scale tactics to the power that comes when brand strategy integrates big-picture business strategy.

 Why did you decide to publish the book now?

David: The pace of change in food & beverage category is astonishing. Marketing is different now than it was just two years ago. Because of this, we’re still talking to brand owners, investors and marketing teams that don’t have a consistent understanding of brand strategy — and how it’s different from branding — and what impact it has on their business. I’ll give you an example: Companies come to us with what they think is a packaging design problem; once we start to have conversations with them about the difference between brands, branding, marketing strategy, and marketing tactics, they often come to the conclusion that they really have a brand strategy problem.

Diana: How has your expertise evolved in this category?

David: Personally I became interested in the BFY category when my child’s pediatrician told me that I was loony because I suggested that some of his health struggles might be from food allergies. (This before gluten-free or free-from were even a thing, long before foods as allergens was acceptable to mainstream medicine, let alone consumers.) As a parent, watching my son suffer and working to manage his diet, I began fighting for theses ideas; that

1. you are what you eat,

2. food is medicine,

3. the food system was broken.

I became passionate about creating a platform to bring the strategic, brand, business, and creative tools that I’d been using to help multinational businesses dominate their categories to help companies that were committed to disrupting the food system for the better, by making products that are so much better for people and the planet.

In my career I’ve been blessed to have a “seat at the table” multiple times when really brave, smart business people and brave, smart marketers had deep conversations about culture and purpose. I learned a lot from literally hundreds of those conversations and had a high degree of confidence that we could help these do-gooder brands solve creative, business, and marketing problems all at the same time — in a highly collaborative, strategic way that’s very different from the typical agency. I realized that these brands have the opportunity to change the culture — corporate culture and consumer culture — in really powerful ways, and we could help normalize the idea that brands should use their power for good.

Diana: So, let’s talk about “Beloved & Dominant Brands” … David, can you give a quick overview of the book’s content?

David: We’ve built a holistic brand ecosystem that modernizes the traditional understanding of a marketing platform and reorganized it to connect deeply to the consumers who believe in the BFY world. Early feedback is that the book causes brand owners, executives, and investors to become introspective about their business while reading and then comes out asking a new caliber of questions about what’s possible with their business. (This is really humbling because, while writing I was so intentional about crafting the chapters to push the reader to think not just about their brand’s what but its why, not just your business’s now but it’s future.)

The book is broken into seven chapters that cover the Retail Voodoo Brand Ecosystem model — it’s a pyramid that includes all the external-facing components of your marketing strategy. The theory is stunningly simple: Everything needs to be in balance or your marketing will not drive performance and create preference. The book helps brand owners, investors, and marketers audit their brands to identify any areas that are incomplete or unbalanced. That’s where you should focus your attention. That’s where you find opportunity.

But I’ll say that marketers first need to do all the work below the waterline to be a brand that’s worthy of being Beloved & Dominant. Beneath the Brand Ecosystem pyramid lies the audience analysis, brand strategy, and positioning work that underpins not just all the marketing, but why the business exists. Essentially really powerful and effective marketing works best when it’s built leveraging the mind, body, and soul of the organization.

Finding your audience — your passionate current fans and your future adopters — and dominating the competition rely on a marketing strategy that’s built on knowing who you are as an organization. There are no shortcuts.

Is your brand stuck in neutral? Maybe we can help.

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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Essentia Water Brand Strategy Case Study: When the Revolution is an Evolution

The natural channel of better-for-you beverage brands is exploding. But it’s important to note that being the best-selling brand at Whole Foods in this category doesn’t necessarily equate to profit and meaningful growth. So how do you increase market share and grow your brand while keeping your loyalists (both internally and externally) and invite the rest of the world to join? The short answer: brand evolution.

But if your brand enjoys enough traction to even begin asking this question, it’s likely that people inside your business are becoming more inclined to make decisions based upon collective assumptions, internal bias, and outdated information – and then call it research. This is a recipe for disaster.

To avoid this, understand that data is the baseline that will take brand strategy from subjective hope and evolve it into clarity and the confidence to move forward so that you can grow your beloved brand and keep it relevant to your loyal followers while attracting a ton of new consumers.

It’s a matter of sequencing.

Insights that will impact your brand strategy looks like bad news

In our rapidly changing world, audiences, statistics, and truths evolve more rapidly than ever. Good data provides more than answers and statistics. It also shines a light on relevant opportunities and provides insights. These insights often look and smell like bad news. But, to the open-minded brand owner, this is truly good news – in the same way that complaints from customers and employees are a gift to the leadership of your company. These insights are a clear roadmap to effecting real and positive change.

Data has a shelf life

Due to technology, the pace of modern life, and our fast-changing lifestyle, the shelf life for data is fleeting. In the case of Essentia Water, the report on bottled water was only a couple of years old but dangerously outdated. Many small to mid-sized brands may only purchase these types of syndicated consumer data reports every few years, but that habit is risky.

What became evident during category and competitive audits with Essentia was a disconnect between the data reported and what was currently happening in grocery stores around the country. A newer version of the same report revealed a hint of what we were starting to see in the physical world. Their audience was shifting from predominantly female, Caucasian, yoga enthusiasts living in Los Angeles to a Hispanic, ethnically diverse, psychographic that transcends traditional demographics such as income bracket, race, age and education. The world was changing beneath their feet.

Key insights included:

  • Men, parents, and acculturated Hispanics are core users of bottled water.
  • 50% of all bottled water users prefer premium offerings.
  • A stunning 82% of net consumers want an additional function from their water.

In the case of Essentia Water, the insight (bad news) was that they had been spending their marketing dollars talking to a small census of people who loved them but couldn’t consume any more of their product. The good news was that from the new data we could see a much broader audience-to-be who was thirsty for but unaware of Essentia.

Audience segmentation helps keep your brand loyalists in the boat

Using the insights above led us to segment Essentia’s audience in ways that would allow them to keep their original core user of health-conscious yoga enthusiasts within a tribe of believers.

Use audience segmentation to force meaningful difference between your brand and its competitive set. This hard work will help you and the rest of your company get past comments, like, “C’mon, water is water.”

Further research into Essentia’s audience uncovered some commonalities in how this audience-to-be views the world and their role within it:

  • They focus on results and strive to be the best at anything they do.
  • They work hard and squeeze as much into their lives as possible.
  • And then they are grateful, viewing life as an opportunity to do more with their time, for others, and for themselves.
  • We called them, “The Overachievers.”

Trend analysis will help make sense of research and data

Research and data analysis needs to go way beyond purchasing, or searching for a free report. It needs to include scenario planning (the discipline of using data, market intelligence, and anthropology to answer the question of not “if” the future is going to be different but “in what ways” will it be different). In order to make a viable future for your brand to live in, we separate these scenarios into three areas;

  1. Things we cannot predict or control
  2. Things we can predict and control
  3. Things we can influence but not control

Now that we have some possible futures, we can establish brand positioning hypotheses using three critical components:

  • Reliable consumer and market research
  • The brand’s purpose beyond making and selling product
  • The business goals of the leadership team

Viewing the trends in category context keeps them generic. Filtering the trends through your brand positioning, makes them unique. Add to this the research that illuminates the most likely shifts in societal norms, your brand’s reputation, and its opportunity in a carefully crafted set of likely futures and “ta-da” you have unique and ownable brand.

In the case of Essentia, we found that nobody believed anything bottled water brands were saying about themselves because the market was flooded (pun intended) with unbelievable claims that none of these brands could prove. Including Essentia.

And this mistrust wasn’t limited to water, food & beverage. It seemed that the biggest trend we had uncovered is that companies and brands regularly misstate the truth and claim innocence (because everyone is doing it) and call it marketing. No wonder marketers get such a bad rap. As result, consumers automatically mistrust your claims unless your brand can prove them quickly and transparently.

A few years back Essentia participated in a clinical study that proved their water is twice as effective at hydration than the leading brands of bottled water. Essentia had never published the study because their legal team discouraged it and there was a general belief that loyalists would be put off by the study. My team saw the study as a silver bullet.

Armed with this information, our audience segmentation and current relevant data, we worked with Essentia to get the study published and accredited to the third party. So now we had proof. Cold, hard proof. It was time to pick a fight.

Pick a fight with the biggest, strongest enemy your brand can find

To most traditional marketers, this may sound like engaging in competitive warfare via the four Ps of marketing (product, price, place and promotion). That’s a wrong impression of this particular strategy. Instead we are talking about creating a movement that people can get behind. It goes beyond your product offering and the reason a brand engages in change: the need for differentiation.

For example:

  • Nike doesn’t compete with Adidas, Mizuno, and Reebok – instead Nike tackles racism, poverty and social justice.
  • Lululemon isn’t competing with Zella, Oiselle, and Prana. Instead Lululemon fights the stress of modern life on behalf of time-starved women everywhere.

This makes brand evolution into a brand revolution. The heart of differentiation is belief, credibility, and authenticity. Since reality exists in language, we work on changing the words that will come out of the mouths of the company, their leadership, sales teams, managers, and frontline employees. It all starts and ends with brand positioning and brand language.

In the case of Essentia, they took on youth empowerment and the future of water:

  • Essentia’s tagline: Overachieving H2O
  • Essentia’s brand positioning: The future of water
  • Essentia’s manifesto: We are here to put a flag in the ground and tell you that a better you starts with a better water.
  • Essentia’s call to arms: Join the #essentianation

All of this invites discovery, sharing, and inclusion in an optimistic life that transcends the marketing hype of other, well-funded, long-standing industry players.

How do I know? Essentia is posting jaw-dropping growth for its second straight year using this playbook.

According to Karyn Abrahamson, VP Marketing, Essentia Water, “Our team couldn’t be more positive or excited about the new strategy, packaging, and integrated marketing system. We are exceeding monthly numbers far beyond what we could even imagine.”

And it’s given shape to their causes and give back program, establishing The Essentia Foundation: Believe (to empower underprivileged youth). Their brand positioning along with the marketplace acceptance has given them a platform in a global conversation to feature their proprietary process (for creating the best water from any source) as the future of water. All illustrating that ultimately, your beloved brand and can be precious to a lot more people if you use data, discipline, clear communication, and gut instinct to invite other people to join your movement.

We helped Essentia Water disrupt the bottled water category. What’s your brand’s toughest growth challenge?

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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

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

Plant-Based Protein

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

Sugar-Free or Low-Sugar Beverages

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

Ethnic Flavors

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


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

Root to Stem

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

Meal Delivery

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

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

Cannabis and Hemp Infusion

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

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

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

Diana Fryc

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

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The Recipe Disney, Whole Foods & Adidas Use to Transform Employees into Brand Ambassadors

Good employees are hard to find. It’s an adage that seems to prove true with every generation. But as with all generalizations, there are caveats. As employers, we need to be aware of the influences that contribute to the success and failure of an employee.

In today’s economy, simply offering a job and paycheck isn’t going to cut it. “Golden handcuffs” (as we like to call them) aren’t what every person is interested in. Your brand must offer something else to create a truly loyal community of employees.

So many brands struggle to gain buy-in from their employees. Either they don’t care about your brand or they don’t understand it. If even your own employees don’t love your brand, surely customers don’t have reason to. In order to grow and retain an engaged employee fanbase, your brand will have to do some work internally.

In this piece, we answer the following common questions:

  • How do you make your employees your biggest brand advocates?
  • How do you use your brand to attract top talent?
  • What companies manage and retain employees well?
  • What are the key ingredients to keeping employees happy and engaged?

Let’s start at the beginning. If you have no vision, you have no future.

Everyone has a vision for their life. Or better said, everyone has a vision for some parts of their life. Some ideas are smaller than others, but a vision nonetheless. Employment is one part of that vision.

It starts very young. We are asked as children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We play sports, we join clubs, and we take on hobbies. And then one day, we are launched into adulthood and we try to keep our passion going. We align ourselves with brands and companies who either share our passions or at least foster them. And naturally, we envision ourselves working for the brands we love and know.

Given the choice, no one wants to work for a company that only wants to increase revenue. Everyone wants to be part of something bigger. We can look to Whole Foods, Adidas, and Disney as stellar examples of brands whose fan base includes employees. These brands know how to recruit, motivate, and inspire customers. And who else would be more qualified for the job than someone who’s already a customer?

A Sprinkle of Mission & Vision

Now, I’d like to introduce you to the BHAG. Originally outlined by James Collins and Jerry Porras in “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” BHAG is short for “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” Essentially, it’s a long-term goal that changes the very nature of a business’ existence. At Retail Voodoo, we use this term and point-of-view frequently when starting the brand strategy process. In fact, every company starts with a BHAG – it just gets lost in the P&Ls, M&As, and desire for the bonus at the end of the tunnel. But when a company and brand adheres to that BHAG in every aspect of their business, that’s when the magic happens.

Often, a company’s vision is expressed in their mission statement. Let’s look a couple of examples:

  1. Applegate: Changing the meat we eat.
  2. Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
  3. Starbucks: To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
  4. Walmart: We save people money so they can live better.
  5. REI: A national outdoor retail co-op dedicated to inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.

We know these BHAGs work because they adhere to the building blocks of a mission statement.

A quality mission statement should:

  • Include a goal that is an action
  • Avoid sentiment
  • Be specific and quantifiable
  • Change lives (stands for something other than simply selling a product or service).

If your mission statement can’t be easily memorized or is so full of “corporate speak” people can’t tell what company you’re talking about – you’ve got it wrong. Go back to the drawing board.

And if you need an example of a failing mission statement, look no further than Kroger: “Our mission is to be a leader in the distribution and merchandising of food, pharmacy, health and personal care items, seasonal merchandise, and related products and services.” It leaves you completely uninspired and speaks nothing of value to the customer, community, or soul of the business.

With a solid strategy-based mission statement, it becomes much easier to translate your operations and speak to your employees. Your mission distills your brand strategy into a simple bite-sized boundary that your employees can now easily buy into.

A Dash of Leadership

Leadership starts at the top and is visible all the way down to the frontline employees. Oftentimes, leaders like to see themselves as the smartest people in the room or smartest in their industry or the smartest at, well, everything. That’s not a good sign. If you rely on a few key people to be the smartest and best in your organization, you create a bottleneck.

Leadership should be more like coaching. Think of sports teams. That coach, being a good leader, knows they are there to inspire and groom members of the team. They are not out calling the plays or overseeing the medical staff – they inspire and grow another team of leaders who then go on to inspire each other and so forth.

Since they’re busy coaching and know how to coach well, they hire people they can trust to do the other work they might not have the time or experience to do. They know what they know and more importantly, they know what they don’t know. They hire people that best fill the gaps in their knowledge base. Good coaches encourage teams to work together and identify, nurture, and mentor future leaders.

Howard Schultz’s humble beginnings and his father’s experience with crappy employer/employee relations lead to the Starbucks BHAG. Schultz shares his passion so frequently that his employees own it, rally around it, and live it out through leadership that is almost unparalleled in any other employer with such a sizable minimum-wage force. Employees live the Starbucks vision at a corporate level all the way to the frontline barista making your grande latte with that triple shot of sugar-free vanilla syrup.

A Cup of Nurture & Care

If a company cares for its employees, the employees will care for the company. For sure. However, most companies translate a foosball table, an endless supply of snacks, and some health benefits as the ways to care for employees. And they are, but these items are table stakes. Let’s look at what Starbucks recently did after the natural disasters in Texas and Florida. Inc.’s Wanda Thibodeaux covers the situation well. After the storm, a total of 1,100 Starbucks stores were forced to close and approximately 15,600 workers and their families were impacted by the storms. In response, Starbucks offered catastrophic pay to employees who couldn’t work because of the storms and offered grants for additional aid to employees for rebuilding their lives. What a relief to these families, most of them frontline employees. Here Starbucks lives by their mission of nurturing the human spirit, and in this case, those humans are employees. Not all companies can afford this sort of support. That is not the point. The goal is to find a way that your company can take care of its employees that is a direct expression of your brand.

A Tablespoon of Career Paths

As most employees are on a personal career journey, brands should offer career paths that provide growth opportunities. Small companies have different career path opportunities than larger, more layered and divisional companies. Either way, be prepared for that conversation and even market the possibilities, like General Mills and Costco do. If you are smaller, it’s OK to have one person in a role. Leadership can still identify responsibilities that can be transferred to that role as the person grows. Knowing what a potential career path looks like, and then mentoring those employees is a very important part of employee happiness. Which brings us to our next ingredient.

A Teaspoon of Learning, Testing & Mentoring

The more you encourage employees to participate in shaping and implementing your brand experience, the more your employees will want to commit to the success of your brand. Career paths are great to have, but unless you have opportunities for learning and a pointed direction, the promise for advancement will fall flat.

At Retail Voodoo, we call it “Jedi Training.” It’s a little corny, yes, but Star Wars fans get the connection. We have the teacher and the student, and both know their roles. We tell all prospective employees during the interview process that our firm is a learning environment. And it needs to be one because we promise our clients that we will change the trajectory of their business (rather than just make cool stuff). Then we provide all employees with a set of books to read as part of their onboarding process. It helps level set and allows learning from the same sources as the rest of the team. Then, during quarterly reviews, we review their learning along with their performance, to make sure they continue to grow and push outside of their comfort zone. Our goal is for them to be empowered and stay with us. But if they do leave, they will be much smarter, better, and faster than when they came in. If for whatever reason they aren’t, then we have not done our job as employers who embody their brand.

You’re probably thinking, “I don’t have time for that.” We suggest you find the time. Employee turnover is a very expensive and labor-inducing process. Develop a plan around your brand strategy and mission and then spread the training and mentoring responsibility around to others on the team for added strength.

Those that embrace coaching will stay and become an indispensable, passionate part of the company. And those that aren’t coachable will leave. In the end, it will give you an opportunity to find a better fit. If your employees are coachable, that’s a great indicator of success and potential. Show them that you’re willing to invest time and energy into them, and they’ll do the same for your brand.

A Pinch of Empowerment

Empowerment is a strange beast. The dictionary defines empowerment as “authority or power given to someone to do something, or the process of becoming strong and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.”

In business, empowerment means that you, the leadership, hand over some responsibilities and decision-making powers to others in the company. It can also mean brands allow employees to be ambassadors out in the world on their behalf.

For brands that aren’t dialed into this thinking, there is typically a lot of middle management to wrangle and dictate the bulk of the employee actions on some of the most trivial issues. Leadership should only be involved in issues that cannot be resolved or are simply too challenging to tackle. The more successful a brand, the more those decisions should be parsed out using the mission as the guiding force and benchmark. The more empowered the company, the more powerful the brand.

Let’s look at Patagonia. Love them or hate them, you know exactly what they stand for. And so do their employees. Patagonia’s approach to empowerment extends so far beyond the boundary of retail that it’s sometimes hard to know where the brand ends.

Many brands approach this direction by trying to figure out how to fix what’s broken when instead they should leverage the strength of those key employees that personify the brand’s ethos and mission — And use their dedication and commitment as fuel to grow an employee base that can help solve those problems beforehand. The simplest approach is allowing your employees to make decisions in the best interest of the customer.

A Pint of Recognition

This is a tricky ingredient. Without a definition of what recognition means in your company, employees will rely on weekly meetings, daily attaboys or the oft-dreaded annual review. This isn’t very effective in growing long-term, passionate employees.

We helped to developed key employee rewards programs at REI to leverage their mission in a meaningful way outside of compensation. Our research showed that outside of the outdoors themselves, REI employees valued quality gear and time off to be in the outdoors. We helped REI define and market their President’s Award to give gear and paid time off to employees who significantly contributed to upholding the brand’s mission. REI also introduced another more elite annual award for managers and corporate employees who best channeled the spirit of founder, Lloyd Anderson.

A Cup of Co-Authoring 

The culmination of all the above ingredients is co-authorship. If your brand already has many of the above ingredients above, this is the cherry on your employee engagement sundae. Congratulations! If your employees are feeling the love from all your efforts, they now get to participate in “spreading the gospel.”

The expectancy theory says that people are motivated by how much they want a certain outcome and the chance they have of achieving it.

We look to Patagonia again as an example of a brand that thrives by encouraging employees to co-author the brand’s mission. It’s very much an activist company. They encourage employees to become involved in environmental campaigns and to give back to the community. They provide grants and support to employees pursuing the betterment of nature and humankind. This empowers employees to participate in shaping an organization that allows them to afford their values by bringing them into the workplace.

Combine All Ingredients to Create Powerful Culture

When you blend all of these ingredients together, you can see we’re really talking about company culture. Knowing what your company stands for will help your employees enroll in your brand and a clear vision will help better identify right-fit candidates. But the key to participation isn’t simply the employees, it’s a leadership-inspired, branded employee culture, which becomes a self-feeding machine. It all starts with your brand vision.

So, next time you ask yourself how to inspire employees, start with your brand. The ingredients above are the recipe you need for success.

Diana Fryc

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

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

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

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

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

The Good: What They Got Right

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

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

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

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

The Bad: What They Got Wrong

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

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

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

The Ugly: The Bottom Line

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

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

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

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

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

Diana Fryc

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

Connect with Diana