all Insights

Welcome to the Post-Natural Era in Food & Beverage

Remember the days before natural was a “thing” in food and beverage? Natural food stores were the province of hippies looking for patchouli oil and whole milk yogurt. The natural aisle (or perhaps half of an aisle) at grocery retailers was relegated to the back of the store, near the pharmacy. Natural products were packaged uniformly in brown cardboard boxes with green lettering.

Natural was fringe-y, virtuous, monastic, the kind of thing your crazy aunt who followed a macrobiotic diet was into.

Then, natural became a “thing.” Full grocery chains were built on the category, eventually to be gobbled up by the country’s largest retailer. Natural departments expanded in stores, specialty brands popped up, consumer demand for organic and non-GMO food spiked, keywords like ‘gluten-free’ and ‘plant-based’ became part of the average consumer’s lexicon. Natural went mainstream.

Now, we’re entering a post-natural era.

Natural Isn’t a Category Anymore

Consumers are changing the definition of natural and better-for-you. They still want organic, non-GMO, whole-ingredient, “clean” food. But today, those attributes have become product features and benefits, not category definers. And certainly not something you should stake your brand’s entire premise on.

We call today’s consumers “conscientious consumers” — they’re interested in brands that are clean, sustainable, fair trade, and all the other natural badges, but they’re not willing to sacrifice status or flavor or comfort or convenience in pursuit of those things. They’ll buy non-GMO snacks for their kids at Whole Foods, then hop into their SUVs to drive home. They’re flexitarians when it comes to the natural lifestyle.

This is a demographic shift from the conscious consumers of the 1960s and ’70s, who were devoted to saving the whales, eating whole food, and sticking it to Corporate America.

What’s more, these young consumers are willing to forgive or overlook certain attributes of a brand if it delivers a benefit they want. The consumer mindset has shifted from intrinsic reward (the satisfaction of eating healthily or supporting the environment) to extrinsic reward (looking great in those workout clothes). They’ll accept low-calorie products with fillers and artificial sweeteners if those products help them stay slim. They’re OK with organic and non-GMO products manufactured by huge global brands. They’ll sacrifice what used to count as “natural” in pursuit of diet goals, glowy skin, or brand status.

Better-for-you-ish is OK to them.

What’s Driving the Post-Natural Shift

Some of the demise of natural as a meaningful category — or word, for that matter — comes from consumers. But some of it comes from brands themselves. We’re seeing a number of experienced marketers leaving the big consumer packaged good (CPG) sector and jumping to small startup food brands, bringing with them the tricks of the CPG marketing trade.

Too, we’re seeing the influence of investor money coming from the tech community into the BFY food and beverage space. Backed by tech dollars, upstart food and beverage brands are chasing quick success in a dynamic market, and they’re willing to shortcut on values traditionally held by natural aficionados.

Perhaps more influential is the rise of celebrity culture globally — sparked by social media, especially Instagram, where consumers can see in real time what their favorite celebs and influences are eating and drinking and using.

Look at Gwyneth Paltro’s omnipresent Goop brand. It’s the avatar for the new, quote-unquote, naturals. Goop’s products are pseudo-science that features selective acceptance of non-BFY ingredients and traits.

And today’s better-for-you consumer freaking LOVES it!

What’s Next for Natural Brands?

So, what does this all mean for brands still playing by the rules of the natural game?

Let’s say you’re the founder or leader of an established natural brand, and you see one of these upstart post-natural brands screaming toward you in your rear-view mirror.

Your best line of defense is having an ownable, believable, authentic brand ethos — a defined way of being and behaving in the world. You must stand for something above and beyond your product, no matter how great that product is.

These new players are most certainly basing their brands on ingredients, which is an unsustainable approach to branding a BFY company. They’re content to cash in on the latest trendy ingredient, pocketing sales of Goop-endorsed, $38-a-box mushroom tea until mushroom tea isn’t a thing anymore. These post-natural brands will shine hot and bright — and quickly burn out.

For a great example of how a legacy natural brand can play in the post-natural world, look at Bob’s Red Mill. The company redesigned a large segment of its line to catch the post-natural consumer’s eye with an appeal toward vitality and energy and liveliness, not just wholesomeness.

Existing natural brands have an opportunity now — to have a bold, distinctive voice and to connect that voice to a younger consumer less concerned about being true to the natural ideal and more focused only on external results and identity.

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
all Insights

Better-for-you Brands are Missing Their Biggest Market Opportunity

If you’re working inside a natural food or beverage brand, chances are you’re a natural products fan, yourself. So you assume that the marketplace embraces natural, too.

But not everyone does. Not by a long shot.

That disconnect hit me during a recent business trip through the Midwest: Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas. As I usually do when I’m traveling, I popped into a grocery store to experience different retail environments and find different products from what I see here in Seattle. (Yes, I’m a retail nerd.)

Browsing the naturals section at a HyVee in Omaha, I spotted Ensure, the nutrition drink, shelved among the organic products. And I had an epiphany: There are people who think Ensure is a better-for-you product. OK, technically Ensure is better for you compared to Doritos. But Ensure would never be admitted to a natural products expo.

The experience sparked three major insights for me:

  1. Natural products play differently to different demographics in different parts of the country.
  2. Owners and marketing executives at natural brands, who tend to be West or East Coasters (either geographically or philosophically), communicate as if their entire audience is composed of similarly coastal-minded people.
  3. There is a huge market opportunity for natural brands in the country’s midsection.

Natural Products Means Different Things to Different People

According to Nielsen research, a staggering 20% of Americans are resistant nonbelievers. They refuse to believe that food and diet have an impact on health and wellness. And there’s another huge group of people who are ambivalent about it. Lots of people don’t care about making smart food choices or don’t know how to make them. Part of the disconnect is regional. Better-For-You (BFY) in Nebraska means Ensure next to organic crackers. BFY in New York means fair-trade, single-origin, farm-to-package, organic pumpkin seeds with hand-harvested Mediterranean sea salt. It’s also socioeconomic, psychological, and educational. Natural brands sell at a higher price point. Their packaging and messaging communicate in an arch style that doesn’t build relationships across demographics. And the perception that healthy food tastes like cardboard persists.

Natural Brand Leaders Have Innate Bias

We find that BFY brand owners are unaware of their confirmation bias, that the rest of the world thinks like they do and has the same standards for health and wellness. Yeah, you drive an electric car and meditate and gladly plunk down $5 for that packet of single-origin pumpkin seeds. Maybe your friends and colleagues do, too. So it’s easy to navel-gaze and project your own preferences onto your entire audience. Which means you’re missing a huge potential market — because you just don’t see them. When we started working with Essentia, the performance water, they were great at appealing to elite athletes and medical professionals who shopped for enhanced water at Whole Foods. The marketing team had built a set of assumptions about their niche, and they were only talking to those people — people who were like themselves. But we had ample consumer data that showed that non-white-athleisure-wearers were also likely to buy supercharged water. Our research identified new customer segments, including African-Americans and Hispanic men, who were interested in a hydrating product and would otherwise buy Gatorade. We created a prototypical persona: a Hispanic construction worker in Houston who needed a better option than plain water to keep him going. Based on those insights, we repositioned and repackaged Essentia for a broader market, with expectation-busting results.

There’s Huge Opportunity — But it Takes Work

If you seek to grow your brand beyond your current customer base — and sales will stagnate if you don’t — then you have to recognize that there are people out there who are not like you and your colleagues. And you have to build a relationship with them. How? Look beyond your glass house. Identify the geographic/demographic/
psychographic segments outside your base who are your strongest prospects. Understand their needs that your product meets. (Learn how to use U&A studies to find out what you don’t know.) Don’t assume they’re up to speed. These aren’t regular natural product buyers. You need to educate the consumer about why BFY products matter to them, and bringing these new customers along is a much longer journey. Your look, your package copy, your online presence, and your advertising all has to gently, respectfully educate. Know their biases. Remember those resistant nonbelievers Nielsen uncovered. They don’t see the benefits of BFY products. They have what we call a “sufficient quality” bias — they determine a product’s value by whether it’s just good enough for the money. They think natural food tastes like crap. You have messaging work to do. Preaching to the converted is easy — they’re already in your fold, they’ve bought in. But there’s no path to growth there. The opportunity — and the challenge — lies in evangelizing about your brand in the bigger world, convincing the skeptics, and winning over people who think a bottle of water, sugar, and artificial ingredients qualifies as a natural product.

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
all Insights

Food & Wellness Brands, Beware: How Redesigns Go Wrong

When you were a kid, you probably begged your parents to let you have cookies before you had dinner, right? You wanted the sweets before you ate your vegetables.

Now that you’re running marketing for a food, beverage or wellness brand, you want the good stuff (cool-looking, trendy identity, and packaging) before you’ve had the good-for-you stuff (business strategy).

We’ll be the grown-ups here and tell you: No design until you’ve done the strategy first.

This design-before-strategy trap is becoming even more prevalent: We’re finding that about 75% of our prospective clients just want something pretty and they want it now. Why the rush? These are the most common reasons we see for moving forward quickly with design changes:

  • Brands haven’t allocated appropriate resources (dollars or people) to develop a sound foundational strategy.
  • CEOs and CMOs have been burned in the past by hasty redesigns, and they’re not convinced they should spend the time or money to do it right. See the irony here?
  • People in business tend to overestimate their own taste and expertise; they’ve supervised design projects before so they think they can fast-track the latest one.
  • Design is a tangible outcome and research is not, and it’s hard for people to be patient enough to wait for that outcome.
  • There’s a false sense of urgency: the sales team wants the change now, retailers are barking at the door, and competitors are coming into the market.

We get it. Setting the stage for an effective design or redesign takes time: The process we walk our clients through typically runs six to eight months. It’s intimidating: Research might reveal mistakes you’ve made; category reviews might show that your competitors are trouncing you at retail. It takes resources: You need to allocate a budget and secure the commitment from your leadership team.

And it’s worth pointing out that brand strategy does not equal creative strategy; one comes before the other, which is important to keep in mind when you set your expectations for working with an agency.

The Problems of Redesigning without Strategy

Design becomes a beauty contest. Let’s line up three splashy new packaging systems and pick one. Which one? The one the loudest voice in the room (the CEO) favors. This is a great approach only if your leadership team knows exactly how to pick a winning, on-brand, culturally relevant design that not only appeals to current customers but also captures a huge new audience. (I have met just two in thirty years who could do this.)

Design is just guess. Without the appropriate competitive analysis, trend forecasting, white-space mapping, and brand-driven positioning language, creative execution is a total shot in the dark. How do you make design decisions that will stand out on shelf, attract buyers, and stand the test of time if you don’t understand what the market needs and wants?

Design is a short-cut solution. You’re under pressure from retail partners seeking greater velocity, and you need a redesign — fast. So you skip the three months of strategy work and go straight to picking colors and typefaces.

Design is knee-jerk reaction. You’re just chasing trends in search of a sales spike. So you redesign every 18 to 24 months in response to what’s hot in ingredients, graphics, or food photography.

Redesigning becomes an endless cycle. When the creative execution fails to move the needle, and it inevitably does, the marketing team takes another swing at it. Bad design begets bad design, and pretty soon everyone thinks it’s the design’s (and the designers’) fault. It’s the natural outcome every time.

What does a smart redesign in our space look like? Check out Kashi’s 2016 brand overhaul. They updated the logo, dropping the swishy rectangular background and emphasizing the leaf motif. The mark plays a more prominent role on packaging, yet it’s still familiar to fans. New boxes feature super-close product photography on a stark white background. A primary typography system reinforces the brand’s iconic green. It’s a pretty major redesign, but still completely in line with what the brand was before. The Kellogg team clearly built the redesign against Kashi’s existing brand strategy and in response to the marketplace, instead of changing for the sake of change.

And we’ll bet that Kashi’s marketers won’t be doing another redesign anytime soon.

You only have to look at Coke and Pepsi to know that a brand’s design can last for years. They hang on to those design systems because there’s so much equity — customers freak out if the brands make even the smallest tweak.

So, that last design your brand team unveiled … How’s that going? Not what you wanted? Thinking about a do-over? Let us guide you through it — the right way.

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
all Insights

Consumer Research: Ask the Right Questions of the Right People to Yield the Right Insights

Analysis paralysis.

It’s an affliction that’s all too common among marketers in the Wellness and Food & Beverage spaces. We’ve come to recognize the symptoms:

  • An overabundance of customer data, period
  • Misunderstanding of what that data is really telling you
  • Data that sits idly in spreadsheets, inactive in decision-making processes
  • Reliance on historical data to drive future plans
  • Overconfidence that comes when data confirms what you already know

To make smart decisions that grow your brand, you need the right kind of data, gathered from the right people, analyzed in the right ways, and used to generate real insight.

Seek the Bad News

The biggest problem we see with consumer research is confirmation bias. When the data tells you that every assumption you have about who your customers are and why they buy is correct, you feel smart. Like you know what you’re doing.

Marketers either avoid doing deep research or frame survey questions (consciously or not) that lead to known answers. We get that research is nerve-wracking: There’s always a risk that the data might reveal bad news about customers’ perception of your brand.

But here’s the thing: You want the bad news. Bad news is insight. And you can do something with insight.

Usage & Attitude Study: Just a Starting Point

Most marketers do a half-hearted job of understanding their consumers and their preferences, relying on the usage & attitude (U&A) study, a common research tool. It reveals:

  • Who uses your product, when, and how
  • How and why customers choose your product
  • How many people use it, and how frequently

U&A studies are effective at measuring certain aspects of the brand, both quantitatively (what’s going on) and qualitatively (why it’s going on).

But as it’s typically gathered, U&A data doesn’t give you the full picture. It tells you who has bought your product in the past, and why — but it doesn’t help you identify unmet needs in a broader universe of potential customers. More dangerously, it can reinforce your existing strategic assumptions instead of digging deep to discover what else is possible. Backward-looking U&A data — what worked to get you where you are — won’t get you to the future of your brand.

Reach Beyond Your Universe

If your goal is to increase sales and grow audiences — and it should be! — then you need to design your U&A study to help you understand not just your current customers, but also your lapsed customers and non-customers.

Two things to address here: 1) the survey group and 2) the questions.

U&A studies are commonly conducted by email or online outreach to existing loyalists, so the data is flawed from the get-go. You need to reach outside your database, working with a smart research partner with access to the right lists.

Then, you need to frame questions to address these non-buyers. Why did some people buy your product and then stop? Why do non-customers buy from your competitors instead of you? Probe for psychographic and behavioral insights, too: What do consumers think and feel about each brand? How do other products fit into their lifestyle? What might you do to change their minds? Again, a qualified researcher can bring an impartial eye to the survey design.

Look Backward & Forward

To give you a sense of the potential problem: One of our new clients came to us with customer insights that showed they’re in the top six brands in their category. But Nielsen and other channel data indicates that they’re not even in the top 15 nationally. Why the disconnect? They surveyed their own loyalists, a die-hard group of regional customers. Asking the wrong questions of people who already love your brand will give you broken data. Data that reinforces your own bias, that won’t guide you to growth.

When our clients have either zero or flawed data, we bring pure research companies we partner with into the mix. These experts have written hundreds of surveys and know what questions to ask. Most important, they’re agnostic about what they’re going to uncover, even it if looks like bad news to the brand’s marketing team.

Done right, U&A studies capture both backward-looking information about your loyalists and future-gazing data about the segments and psychographics of a broader audience. Then, based on what we know about your fans, we can invite other people into the tribe. The right questions asked of the right people yield the right insights that actually matter to your business. Paralysis averted.

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
all Insights

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

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

Plant-Based Protein

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

Sugar-Free or Low-Sugar Beverages

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

Ethnic Flavors

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

Biohacking

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

Root to Stem

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

Meal Delivery

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

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

Cannabis and Hemp Infusion

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

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

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

Diana Fryc

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

Connect with Diana
all Insights

Improve Testing by Leaning on Brand Strategy

Keeping your packaging design relevant and effective in an ever-changing market can be daunting. With the pressure on, we continue to see our clients look to consumer testing to guide their next move, looking for quantifiable metrics to help guide the way. The downside is that the results you get from testing could give you false security, and even worse, push you in the wrong direction. Don’t worry, we have some tips to help you get the most out of the testing process.

Start with a validated brand strategy

Before you jump into testing, take a look at your brand strategy. Is your leadership team in alignment around your mission, with a rock-solid understanding of why you exist as a company and what you stand for? Do you have a vision for where the company needs to be in 12 months or two years? If not, you have some work to do. Testing creative without tying it back to strategy means you’re building a flawed testing environment built on instinct instead of data. When you start with strategy, you remove subjectivity from the decision-making process and you gain a tool that should be used to drive your design systems, product innovations, and inform your testing process.

With strategy in place giving you a clear diagnosis for where your brand should move next, and a new set of creative that will get you there, maybe you still feel that testing the new against the old will give you the extra push you need to take that brave leap into new territory. In that case, beware of certain risks—like a dynamically changing leadership team, or an outside ‘expert’ brought in to guide the testing process. They may come in thinking they know best, but if that expert authors the questionnaire that helps lead your existing creative to a win on paper, but doesn’t address all the failings uncovered during strategy, is that really a win? Trust your strategy, and let it guide your decisions.

Don’t only rely on consumer insights to inform your next move

Retail reality is nearly impossible to replicate. What consumers say in a testing environment will never fully reflect their behavior in the real world. They will always behave differently in a controlled environment than when they are out living their lives, naturally interacting with the brands they know and trust. And under observation, people will most often try to give you the right answer instead of the real answer—they will say what they think you want to hear.

A recent client of ours whose packaging was failing at retail experienced this kind of thing firsthand, after going through the strategy and design process with us. After presenting new creative that addressed all the pain points uncovered during strategy, they were still hesitant to abandon their existing packaging. They were too emotionally invested in the current designs and the beautiful product photography. So, they decided to test the current packaging against the new, and the current designs won by two-tenths of a point. That emotional validation might feel good, but where does that get you?

Understand testing for what it is—fire insurance

Testing is not a silver bullet, but it is a great form of fire insurance. If it is something you decide to invest in, make sure you do things in the right order. Know your vision and mission, have a clearly defined “why” for your business and a roadmap for where you want to be in the future. Use elements of your brand strategy to inform your testing stimuli so you are asking the right questions.

Ultimately, when testing is driven by strategy, you are creating a much more valuable testing ground. You have a clearer understanding of what you are testing against, and your test subjects can help you prioritize features and benefits instead of splitting hairs over the design itself. Supplement your test results with other forms of data and research, and you will start to see the way forward. Because in the end, even with that testing box checked, you will most likely still have to trust your gut—and won’t it feel better to trust your gut with strategy backing it up?

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
all Insights

How to Use Form Factor to Powerfully Transform Your Brand and Disrupt Your Industry

Form factor can either be part of your brand’s selling mechanism or integral to the functionality of the products. In either case, it dramatically impacts how customers are attracted to and interact with your brand.

We can all recognize Coca-Cola’s signature glass bottle silhouette anywhere and can spot a Pringles can from a mile away. Coca-Cola’s glass bottle was created to sell. They wanted to disrupt on-shelf and throw off copycats. The company wanted to be so memorable, someone could feel it in the dark and instantly recognize the brand. The classic Pringles can, on the other hand, was born out of necessity. They wanted a resealable chip vessel to keep their product fresh and a cylindrical, structured shape so their chips would remain aligned and avoid being crushed.

Strategy-driven form factor does not always look this dramatic. Small, subtle changes can influence consumers on a large scale and revolutionize your brand or even your industry. The following examples of how brand strategy can translate into form factor show both sides of this.

Form Follows Function, Right?

Hilary’s Eat Well veggie burgers had a form factor problem the aisle audit revealed during our brand strategy work. Hilary’s veggie burgers were packaged in two-pack, freezer safe pouches. Once the customer purchased a package, the remaining pouches on the shelf fell over (often face-down). This posed a very large problem in terms of visibility on-shelf .

And while the company was aware of this issue, their previous attempts to remedy the situation were engineered too costly and received push-back from Whole Foods and other natural grocers.

The outcomes and goals identified during brand strategy drove the design of the simple recyclable box. This solution improved sustainability (after all, it is a vegan brand), shopability, flavor appeal, and provided room to tell the more compelling story of the brand’s true point of differentiation. The packaging educated customers about the product being convenient culinary and made free-from common food allergens. Who knew a cute little chipboard box could do all that?

Form Informs a New Way to Effectively Reach Your Target Audience

Reaching new audiences is all about understanding how consumers interact with your product. DRY wanted to be known as the go-to sparkling beverage for tastemakers but struggled to gain traction with key bartenders and chefs. This wasn’t because these culinary masters didn’t like the product or refused to use it, no. It was because of the limiting form factor. The small, non-re-sealable 12-ounce bottles made it difficult to work within a hospitality setting. To combat this, DRY created a larger resealable bottle.

Not only did DRY’s new form take off in the hospitality industry, but major retailers took notice as well. Now consumers who wanted larger bottles for parties or entertaining could purchase a re-sealable bottle as well. By changing the form factor, DRY reached new, powerful audiences and provided them with new ways to consume their product.

Form Informs Emotional Connections

Form factor can also be effective in communicating practical uses of products through storytelling. For example, Ruffwear’s mission was to create a deeper bond between people who love the outdoors and their dogs – allowing their companion to accompany them on their epic outdoor adventures. They made mountaineer-quality gear for dogs, but nobody knew this because they cost-engineered their packaging to be as thin and small as possible. It didn’t tell the story. Our brand strategy pulled at the powerful bond between owner and pet. Through emotion-driven customer education on the product attributes, we told their story.

Form Informs the Revolution of Your Industry

The wine industry notoriously feels stuffy – embracing exclusivity and the culinary elite. The beer industry’s reputation, on the other hand, feels more inviting and approachable. A large part of this is form factor of the two beverages. Canned beer is portable and seen as less sophisticated. Wine is known for being bottled and corked; saved for fancy glasses and sit-down dinners.

Underwood effectively flipped this norm on its head. The brand saw the craft beer industry beginning to infiltrate wine’s territory by becoming more of a gourmet, culinary experience – even paired with food on occasion. As the craft beer industry threatened to steal market share, Underwood decided to steal it back by canning their wine – subsequently making it approachable, portable, and unstuffy. Younger audiences can now have quick, adventurous experiences that involve wine without the barriers typically preventing them from consuming wine conveniently. Underwood used form factor to completely upend the industry.

Califia revolutionized their industry as well through form factor. Any shopper can recognize their signature bottle shape with just a quick glance. Their unique, elegant plastic bottle shape disrupted the milk category because the product no longer lived in just the paper carton anymore. The brand wanted to move into the natural, organic, alternative milk category, so their form factor emulated characteristics that would communicate those qualities and shared values to customers. The graceful and iconic shape feels reminiscent of glass milk bottles – evoking a feeling of farm-to-table and reminding customers of the benefit of organic farming. The brand elicits this emotion right from the aisle. Now, customers can find everything Califia (from cold brew to almond milk to juice) in the same form – building a brand connection between completely different areas of the grocery store.

We often get so caught up thinking about graphic design or digital experiences that we forget about the engineering of products and the vessels they live in. Form factor plays just as large of a role – if not more – in influencing consumer’s purchase decisions. It provides the canvas for storytelling and the correct mechanics to optimize performance. Shape, structure, and function can revolutionize an entire brand and even an entire industry.

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
all Insights

Ethos: The Value of Values in Brand Building

Brands, just like people, have values –principles they stand for and hold near and dear to their heart.

These principles form the reason brands exist. Brand values influence two important business assets – relationships and reputation. Relationships are built on trust and reputation is built on delivering on your promise.

In our over-crowded, me-too marketplace, points of difference that are function and feature based are no longer sustainable. Consumers today are tuning out marketing and tuning in to those brands that represent shared values.

Clifford Geetz, the Godfather of Cultural Anthropology… put it something like this… Ethos and worldview describe how cultures create a seamless, unified system. The ethos (an understanding of how we should act in the world) is supported by the worldview (a picture of how the world really is), and vice versa. In a sense, ethos and worldview are what differentiate one culture from another. And it is the culture that traditionally gives individuals their definition of self—who they are, what they believe, and how they should act.

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
all Insights

Get Leverage: Know Your Brand Archetype

Archetypal branding works because it appeals to all people. We all share a deep need to feel stability, belonging, discovery and achievement. In today’s world, many brands have taken on the role of building blocks we use to fabricate of our sense of self. For most of us, our self-identity is textured with personal and archetypal mythos.

The power of identifying a brand with one of these timeless stories is that the story already exists deep within our subconscious — it does not need to be created. The task for the brand is to simply tell the story through the lens of archetypes.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung identified seven of key archetypes, but said there were many more to be discovered. In their book, The Hero and the Outlaw, Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson expanded this thinking to identify twelve specific archetypes and showed how these could be used to guide brand strategy.

The athlete, the liberator, the rescuer, the warrior.

These are the universal retellings of what Jung called the Hero. The secret to the Hero archetype is that all heroes have something in common: vulnerability. Think of The Man of Steel and kryptonite, or the biblical tale of Sampson and Delilah, his lust and his hair.

The reason archetypal storytelling works so well is that throughout history all cultures have told the tale of the hero. Heroes are typically orphans called to a quest. Hero myths closely follow a recognizable story arc, regardless of the culture telling the story. In his Book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell described this as “the phenomenon of the universal hero masked in local details”.

Hero stories have existed through the ages because they deliver on very important emotional needs we all share. The hero story helps us understand our mortality and speaks to our desire to achieve great things. Such timeless stories bring understanding and meaning to our lives.

Archetypal brand-building starts with why.

All strong brands share a set of common elements: A Foundation story, Brand Pillars, a Defined Brand Personality and, most importantly, a Brand Promise.

Addressing these elements through the lens of your brand’s archetype helps everyone deepen our answers to why our brand exists and why our employees and fans should care.

Look for ways your archetypal story might show up to the world:

How would your business change if your products and services were considered vehicles the company creates in order to keep its brand promise? The strongest organizations know how to weave a strong story into their delivery.

Think of it as symbolic shorthand for your brand beyond your logo. Iconography might include: smell, sounds taste, feel or any other indirect signal that tells a subtle and suggestive story. Iconography can be almost anything, think of the sounds your computer makes when its boots up. Author Martin Lindstrom calls this philosophy “Smash Your Brand.

Reality exists in language. Movements grow, ideas take form and empires are overthrown all because of language. Whenever we can get a group of people to agree on an idea and share it, we have the power to change the world. This could be a tagline like “Talk to Chuck”, or a communication hook like the Absolut ads campaign that hasn’t changed in 25 years.

Think about how you order coffee at your local Starbucks. First you cue up, peruse the pastry case, enjoy the artwork and then when it’s finally your turn you blurt out something like, “Quad Venti Skinny with Whip Iced Caramel Macchiato”. Look for ways to make the purchase, consumption, sharing and re-use of your offerings more intimate, more interactive, more human.

Archetypes give shape to your brand’s intangibles.

People struggle to measure the intangibles of the brand. I think this list, while not exhaustive, puts structure to the conversation and helps us see of where and how archetypal storytelling both internally and externally become powertools.

Create a vision so crystal clear of your future that everyone in your organization sees it so compellingly that your employees can scat with it.

Attract and retain the brightest, passionate peeps in your planet. Today we know that people are looking for more than just a paycheck from their career. They want to belong to something bigger. Give it to them and let them help you tell the story.

Know what business you are in, what business you should be in and which business you should get out of to ensure long term brand viability. This self-awareness becomes even more valuable when success comes in like the tide. It helps us to avoid convoluted brand architecture that can get downright unruly when mergers and acquisitions are involved.

Using archetypes to tell a brand centered story works because consumers often cannot explain their rational decisions for the emotional choices they make with purchases and the brands they favor.

Stop competing on price. Brands that consistently tell one archetypal story perform better financially. Show your customers what makes your brand different and better. Hint it’s not the features and benefits. It’s whom your loyalists get to be when they are with you.

Archetypes help brands climb out from the shadow of powerful and well-funded competitors.

It’s always challenging for a brand with less advertising dollars, fewer products and less social clout to win at the me-too game. I have seen many brands struggle for years with this.

Brooks, Tully’s, and Eddie Bauer all come to mind because they live in my backyard.

Brooks used The Jester archetype to differentiate themselves from all the big brands at specialty running, where due to size and budget, they had no choice but to behave like a cult brand. This worked really well for a long time, but as Warren buffet said in June 2013, the secret to the stellar rise of Brooks came by focusing deeply and narrowly on the needs of runners. Now do you think they would have gotten the same traction trying to out-hero Nike, Reebok and Adidas?

Tully’s enjoyed success when they realized that they could only claim territory abandoned by Starbucks: Hand crafted Coffee from the Pacific Northwest. Tully’s as The Citizen. Tully’s got clarity and power to change their reason for being from a series of lofty and un-actionable goals (which were already being met by the likes of Starbucks and Pete’s) and boiled to down to “helping people have a better day”.

And then there is Eddie Bauer. I was quite excited to see that First Ascent jackets are private label of Eddie Bauer. It warms my heart to see Eddie Bauer getting attention and breaking the bonds of what can only be described as the dark years of Spiegel. My question for Eddie Bauer is this:  what makes you different from North FacePatagoniaMountain HardwareMarmot and the plethora of premium extreme mountain top focused Explorer archetype brands currently enjoying preference?

Perhaps Eddie Bauer could benefit from carefully linking their original explorer mentality with another archetype, just not one that would make them feel like a housewares brand. I have said before, if your brand sees itself as The Explorer and the competitive landscape is such that you are getting beaten regularly by other Explorers, you may need to look for another story to tell.

Our brains create brand shorthand from archetypes.

Archetypal brands rely on the brain’s preference for organizing things to remember in boxes. It helps that these archetype (boxes) have been around for centuries, that they are found throughout the world, and that they reflect some fundamental human emotional needs. Simply said, archetypes are very strong placeholders. The story of the hero, the role of the mentor and caregiver are so engrained in our culture and the stories we hear that they create a familiar pattern.
Brands that tap into archetypes’ powerful combination of being strong placeholders organized in a familiar pattern relieve consumers of the need to remember lots of information about their products.

Strong iconic brands evoke a timeless archetypal story. This story connects them emotionally with their fans. Brands keep the story relevant by retelling it over and over again in fresh, contemporary ways. And they pay attention to the little details because the little things a brand does often comes under greater scrutiny than the big things a brand says. Strong brands are fanatical about the consistency with which they tell the story because they know that it is easy for the spell of the brand story to be broken if the details do not resonate with what a loyal customer believes to be true about the brand and has come to know and trust.

When using archetypes, the role of the brand marketer is to evoke the story through cultural cues and the emotions that consumers seek to derive from the brand. The task of an established brand is to discover and clarify its core archetypal story. The task of new or undefined brands is to identify an archetypal story and stick with it.

Do you know your Brand’s archetype?

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
all Insights

Elevate Your Brand Through the Strong Use of Symbolism

What do lululemon, Starbucks Coffee, and Harley Davidson have in common with the Catholic church?

Watch this short excerpt from our webcast, The Cult Brand Value Equation, to discover how these iconic brands have all leveraged the power of symbolism to create a venue where we are not only aware of their mission but invite them into our daily lives.

If you would like to watch the entire presentation, sign up here to view it now.

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