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Increase Shelf Presence for Your Food and Beverage Brand

When your packaging lacks clear visual hierarchy, consumers become overwhelmed, confused, or simply disinterested. Your package is a mini-poster informing and attracting potential consumers. Strategy-informed visual hierarchy on front-of-pack will help your product shout to effectively cut through the clutter around it.

Top Packaging Priority: Declutter

Consider the KonMari methodology for decluttering your home that encourages cherishing things that spark joy in your life. If a belonging no longer sparks joy, it is acknowledged for its service and thanked before being let go.

Like people’s homes, packages over time tend to get over cluttered. Strategic foundational work before the design process can help inform the messaging hierarchy and establish which communications and visuals should be first in placement priority. Some items need to be let go to avoid trying to say too much on front-of-pack. Establishing a mission statement, brand pillars, identifying audience, and other strategy exercises will naturally help you choose one simple thing you want to say first and then organize information from there in order of importance.

As the number of potential claims, benefits, and certifications keeps going up, it becomes increasingly important to weigh carefully the value of each item and whether it is appropriate for front-of-pack. Too many benefits and claims become white noise to consumers. Establishing good hierarchy with these bits of information will make them effective communication tools. Grouping elements or creating smart pods of information can help the consumer make sense of the disparate elements.

The work we did for Hilary’s is an example of grouping elements and simplifying design in order to speak more clearly to consumers at retail. The product was invisible through the freezer door due to the lack of discipline in the messaging on the front-of-pack. Through strategy and research, we refocused their messaging to get back to living their mission to heal the American diet through sustainable farming, alternative grains, and plant-based protein. We helped them pivot away from strictly appeasing the vegan crowd, which helped simplify messaging and identify the elements to remove from the front of the pack. By grouping elements into more digestible pods of information, the new package stands out on shelf and blocks well in the freezer door.

Think of Your Package as a Poster

Consider the rule of 30-10-3. What does your package say from 30 feet away? Is it sufficiently bold to speak from across the room and does it clearly signal product category? From ten feet away is there a brand message or visual? Once I’m within three feet, am I rewarded and enticed to pick up the package because of the visual appetite appeal and the features and benefits? Thoughtful brand strategy helps inform the order of content and how it can best be presented to the consumer.

Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop is an example of a brand that works great as a mini-poster at retail. The brand uses a palette of delightful colors and bold typography to establish a light, fun, and sassy brand personality. From 30 feet away the viewer sees the brand name with the giant Boom Chicka Pop name dialed up in volume. From ten feet away, flavor name is easily legible as well as circle bursts with key benefits called out such as “calories per cup” and “whole grain energy”. At three feet the consumers engage with the Angie’s brand logo and read the bottom of the pack message “Real, simple ingredients. Nothing fake.” Boom Chicka Pop chose to shout brand name first celebrating an unconventional name that amplifies the fun in snacking.

Take Category Cues into Account

There are visual tropes on packaging within each industry category, whether you are selling ice cream, snacks, or canned vegetables. In order to achieve visual pop at shelf, you need to find the right balance between embracing some of the common cues in the category while disrupting other expected norms. A robust shelf audit and analysis before design will help identify these important commonalities within a category and inform the creative brief.

There’s a constant tug-o-war between disruption and category cues. Finding the right balance is important. Understanding the brand vision, mission, and values will help you know where to push and when to lean into category norms.

In the ice cream category, most packages include a photo of a scoop or bowl of ice cream. Halo Top, a low-calorie ice cream offering, dispensed with any images of the ice cream in favor of an enormous silhouette of an ice cream scoop with the calorie count featured larger than the brand name. The design treatment is a smart translation for a young female audience looking for a fun, alternative ice cream choice that also has a low-calorie count.

The Final Packaging Details

Good hierarchy helps with shop-ability and legibility. Your goal is for consumers to be able to quickly understand what makes your product different.

Make your packaging sing like great music. Not every instrument should be loud — you need to achieve a good mix of loud and soft. Using good strategy in tandem with the design process will help inform what elements should be loudest and what others should be softer.

David Lemley

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

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The KPIs that Matter for Lifestyle Brands

When it comes to measuring business performance, so many retail brand owners live and die by the numbers.

Revenue, profit, same-store sales margin, ratio of assets to debt — these are the types of key performance indicators (KPIs) that years of experience and a business school education have taught you are the best and likely only ways to measure the success of your brand.

But what if there were other KPIs you should be using to measure your brand’s health and scalability? What if the performance indicators that really matter to your brand are more qualifiable than quantifiable?

The secret to uncovering these hidden KPIs is to look out for the six indicators that could signal a performance problem for your brand:

6 Signs of Brand Underperformance You Didn’t Know You Should Look for

1. Employee Disengagement/Culture Problems

Strangely enough, we often find employee disengagement and culture problems most prevalent in companies that, for all intents and purposes, should be thriving.

Maybe the timing is just right for their brand or product line to come into the marketplace. Or perhaps there’s enough operational significance to ensure widespread manufacturing and distribution. Whatever the reason, from the outside looking in, these are companies that look like they have it together.

On the inside, however, these companies have a culture problem. Maybe employees are scared to speak up for themselves and their customers. Or perhaps leadership has created a culture of insularity. Whatever the reason, these employees can no longer be relied upon as brand ambassadors.

The key lesson here? Disengaged employees will ultimately lead to disengaged customers — and that’s something that will, without a doubt, impact your bottom line.

2. Innovation Overload

Brands that have been around for a few decades are the ones most prone to excessive brand extension. After so many years in business and with manufacturing capabilities at an all-time high, it’s easy for the products to start piling up. Many times, these brands don’t even realize how oversaturated and unfocused their product line has become.

The issue with innovation overload is that it so often signals a problem with positioning. An enormous product line doesn’t strengthen your brand — it dilutes it. You’re better off with a small, targeted product line that considers who your audience is and what they need from your brand.

3. Innovation Stagnation

When we talk about innovation stagnation, we’re not just talking about a drought of ideas. Any brand can dream up a new product. What we’re really talking about is a lack of strategic innovation — an inability to come up with ideas for products that logically extend into your customers’ lives.

Let’s say you have a product that’s selling well and bringing real revenue to your company. This product has been your bread and butter, but you know there’s an untapped opportunity to capitalize on your brand’s reputation in the marketplace.

The natural next step is to extend your brand with a new product line or offering, right? But simply creating a new product is not going to fix an innovation stagnation problem. To generate real revenue for your brand, your brand extension has to be strategic.

4. Limited Distribution

We work with a decent number of lifestyle brands that have rightfully gained a cult following — just with a small audience and only at a handful of retail chains. For some retail owners, limited distribution may make sense. But success on a limited scale can be problematic.

We recently partnered with a health food brand that had for many years sustained their business as a top seller at two big-name retailers. Fast forward a bit and the marketplace for their product became flooded; so much so that they could no longer hold their #1 spot at these two retailers. Because they had put all their eggs in one basket, they were left scrambling to convince new retailers to carry their product — but to no avail. Their limited distribution threatened to become their biggest downfall.

Think about distribution like portfolio diversification. You can put all your stock in one company, but if that company fails, you’ll have nothing to fall back on. In the same way, diversifying your retailer distribution minimizes the risk that a sudden change in the market will jeopardize your brand’s viability.

5. Fragmented Messaging

Fragmented messaging is a good signal that your brand is off course. If there are 47 different versions of your brand message floating around, there’s no way for your brand to differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace. Why would customers decide to purchase your brand over a competitor if you haven’t given them a reason to?

A cohesive brand message speaks volumes. It says you know who you are, who you’re for, and what you’re about. Brands with focused, thoughtful messaging are the ones that reap the greatest rewards.

6. Emotional Attachment

One of the most obvious signs that emotional attachment has crept into your brand is SKU proliferation. It’s natural for a brand to equate quantity with quality; but more often than not, an extensive product line says less about your production capabilities and more about your lack of positioning.

Speaking from experience, we know that most retail owners/operators truly care about the products they’re manufacturing and selling — to the point that they often let personal opinion get in the way of strategy.

Having a vested interest in your products is not a character flaw. By all means, be passionate about what you’re creating. But don’t let emotional attachment derail your brand’s purpose.

If your brand has a SKU proliferation problem, simplifying your product line is likely the solution. Evaluate each product in the context of your target market and brand promise. If that product doesn’t speak to what is true about your brand and your customers, it needs to go. Plain and simple.

David Lemley

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

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How and Why You Should Target Generation Z Through Branding

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

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

Who is Gen Z?

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

Massive Buying Power

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

Digital Natives

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

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

Social Still Rules

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

Desire for Privacy

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

The “Instagram Effect”

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


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

What does this mean for my brand?

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

Cater to Their Unique Shopping Habits

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

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

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

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

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

Put Values First

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

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

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

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

Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

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

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

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

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

David Lemley

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

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How Brands Use Rituals to Meaningfully Engage Their Customers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Brands Do Ritual Well

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Lemley

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

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Brand Strategy Checklist 1: Strengthen Your Brand’s Body

We all agree that brand strategy is vital to your business. Profit, loss, fame, or ruin all hang in the balance. Since getting it right is critical and fortune favors the well-prepared, Retail Voodoo created our own brand strategy checklist toolkit to drive all client engagements.

Why is Retail Voodoo’s brand strategy checklist in three parts?

Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of clients evolve their businesses through brand strategy. So, we’ve learned a few things about how to make it stick. And we believe the journey of developing a comprehensive brand strategy is best broken down into three realms:

  1. The physical (external forces) that influence your brand.
  2. The mental (the psychology) of the organization.
  3. And the soul (the spirit) of the brand.

Just like people, when your organization’s brand strategy has clarity and alignment in these three realms, the outcome is strength and confidence, powerfully focused on the future. In this first installment of our brand strategy toolkit, we explore the physical, external forces that influence the mechanics of your brand. The external forces or physical aspect of brand strategy will help us see the way toward meaningful and long-lasting differentiation.

For brand strategy to be successful and lucrative, your team not only needs to understand but collectively buy-in to the ways in which the outside world shapes your brand’s reality. Let’s look at the difference between a competitive audit and competitive advantage with the goal of using both to put shape to audience mapping through the lens of trend analysis.

Competitive Audit

What is it? 
The basic version is a review of all the competing brands in your space and how they communicate. But this is just the beginning. A meaningful competitive audit also looks at offerings, events, and circumstances competing for your audience’s attention and dollars.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We assess all of your competitors with this checklist. We study their social media streams, public relations, consumer-facing communication, in-store, and online experience. We then benchmark your brand against that information.

What you can do with it:
When armed with a robust competitive audit, your company’ has the power to change from emotion-based marketing to differentiation based communication. It also lays the foundation for seeing innovation from a strategic perspective rather than merely opportunistic.

Questions to ask:
1. Do we know our real competition?
2. What adjacent categories are consumers looking at when considering our brand?
3. What other businesses and products might we make if we had clarity?

Core Audience Map

What is it?
A comprehensive profile of who currently purchases your brand.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
A meaningful core audience map goes beyond demographics by placing the people currently buying your brand into an audience-to-be universe. We use primary research to map this and find out who is different and where things overlap.

What you can do with it:
A research-driven core audience map gives a company new power. Not only does this allow for easier persona creation in sales and marketing, but helps leadership and product development get into new businesses and get out of others.

Questions to ask:
1. What primary research are you using to build your current audience map?
2. Who else in your category shares the same audience?
3. Who would you include in an audience-to-be map?

Competitive Advantage

What is it?
Admit it, you think this one is obvious. But remember, there are 300 choices of toothpaste. But competitive advantage isn’t simply what you make, who you are, and how good you are at the 4 P’s of marketing (product, price, place, promotion). In our world, it’s much more.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We look at competitive advantage as a three-legged stool. First, we determine what your company does or makes better than anyone else. Then we look at whether you have proprietary ingredients in your matrix, or not. Finally, we look at who is disrupting you – along with how and why. And when appropriate, we look at which competitors and adjacent categories your brand can disrupt.

What you can do with it: 
Once your team understands your distinct and ownable differences in the competitive landscape, your brand has a chance to move from competing on price and being in the right place to being sought out and commanding a premium at the same time.

Questions to ask:
1. What market conditions exist to give us clear competitive advantage?
2. How and why are we different than others with similar offerings?
3. What needs to change internally or externally for our brand to have a stronger advantage?

Trend Analysis

What is it? 
Trend analysis for branding is different than the financial world. In branding, history does not necessarily repeat itself. In brand strategy, trends are social proof.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
Since brands and branding run on the backbone of modern culture, it is imperative to anyone crafting a brand strategy to have insight into what’s coming next. But that takes more than following the Kardashians on Instagram. We believe data, shopper insights, and emerging cultural preferences are the strongest predictors of trends that brands can leverage.

What you can do with it: 
A validated trend report provides management with confidence to move boldly toward a new future, create new offerings, and stop producing items that no longer fit the cultural norm.

Questions to ask:
1. How do our products and services fit into modern society?
2. What social proof do we use when evaluating our innovation pipeline?
3. How might our business change and grow by paying attention to trends as part of strategy?

In our next installment of our brand strategy checklist, we will focus on the psychological aspects that shape your brand.

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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Making the Most Out of Your Trade Show Investment

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

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

To Quote Simon Sinek, “Start with Why”

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

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

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

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

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

The Basic Block and Tackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diana Fryc

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

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Using Values to Differentiate & Define Your Brand

Brand values impact relationships and reputation – two key business assets that are earned (rather than bought). When the marketplace is cluttered and consumers have tiny attention spans, brands must bring something more valuable to customers than their product or service. They must connect with consumers through shared principles.

Ethos can best be described as beliefs and behaviors that advance an ideology. Brands, just like people, have values they hold near and dear to their hearts. These principles form the reasons that brands exist.

In our profit-driven world, many brands consider emulating values as an afterthought. It’s easy for leaders to have tunnel vision focusing on the bottom line instead of turning their eyes internally to reflect on the company’s original mission. But just as the marketplace changes, the consumer changes. The individuals with the highest spending power care less about the “what” or the “how” and more on the “why.”

Brand values influence two important business assets:

1. Relationships build loyal customers and organic brand ambassadors

Relationships are built on trust, and trust is built on delivering on your promise. In our overcrowded marketplace, points of difference that are function- and future-based are no longer sustainable. Consumers today are tuning out marketing and tuning into those brands that represent shared values.

2. Reputation forms the basis of an enduring brand legacy

Reputation revolves around respect and legacy – both are earned, rather than bought. This highlights the importance of companies putting values first rather than profits. Since many companies fail to do this, a brand that excels at earning respect and creating a meaningful legacy will earn a stellar reputation.

Clifford Geertz, arguably the godfather of cultural anthropology, put it this way: Ethos and worldview describe how cultures create a seamless, unified system. The ethos, which is an understanding of how we should act in the world, is supported by the worldview, which is our 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.

Let’s take REI for an example of an ethos-driven company. Through equipping customers (and employees) for adventure, REI promotes a love of the outdoors and stewardship of nature. REI is an employee-centric operation meaning they attribute the success of their company to their workers and offer incentives for them to live out the brand promise of engaging with nature. These values translate into happy and passionate employees, which then permeates every aspect of their business to create a strong, loyal customer base.

When employees live out brand values, those principles naturally translate to the right customers.

Patagonia thrives by wearing its ethos on its sleeve as well. The company’s Common Threads initiative converted people into customers based on the shared desire to do more with less. Leading with “reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, reimagine,” they speak to consumers’ interest in sustainability and doing good for the planet. It is aspirational and inspirational. They even launched an e-commerce recycled clothing site called Worn Wear to encourage a “sharing is caring” mentality. Not only does this subtly remind consumers that their high-quality products last a lifetime and commitment to sustainability, but it also encourages storytelling around the adventures the brand equipped.

Ethos-based brands value their purpose more than their profits. They eliminate a sales-first culture and focus on things money can’t buy. They live their convictions, rather than conform to the convictions of the marketplace.

Ethos-driven brands listen more, and market less. They elevate the quality of life for their cult followers.

Shared values form the basis for all relationships. Wherever we go in business, and in life, we bring our own values along. When others share our values, this becomes a powerful and attractive force to bind us closer together. Enlightened brand owners realize that in our busy days, most of us have little time for things and people that don’t really matter to us.

For brands to matter, the customer must believe the brand is bringing something more valuable to them than the money they spend.

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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Brand Purpose: The Key to a Cult Following

It’s no secret that everybody yearns to be a part of something greater than themselves, their loved ones and their work. But it does seem to be a secret to many brands.

So let us tell you: not only can brands do well by doing good; they can, in fact, create devoted, avid cults around them if they commit to a deeper mission or raison d’etre. People respond to brands that inspire, give back and work for more than profits.

Who doesn’t want to support brands that do good things within their communities or to the larger world community? Some brands that started small grew in a big way due to the quality of their product, their business practices, and their philanthropic bent. Don’t kid yourselves: all of these things matter.

For example, Ben & Jerry’s support of environmental and social causes is legendary; it goes to their earliest days and the heart of their brand. They also practice sustainability within their business and give back to the local community. The consistent quality of their product, and the innovative way in which they launch quirky new products are hallmarks of their brand. These are all of the ingredients in the secret sauce that keep a brand relevant… a brand that continues to grow and maintain a cult following.

Our friends and fellow Seattleites, PCC Natural Markets, support local and organic farming, embrace sustainability and work to establish standards of the highest quality for the food products that it offers to the community. PCC is also a major donor to the PCC Farmland Trust, a non-profit that seeks to preserve farmland and move it into organic production. The brand talks the talk and walks the walk.

It’s transparent and it’s authentic; a top priority if brands want to create a cult following. Note that PCC is also deeply committed to a cause that’s greater than doing business profitably. Even cooler: it’s set up on the co-op model with 10 stores and 52,000 members and counting, who have a stake in PCC Natural Markets. Nothing inspires a community like having direct ownership in a brand that has a larger mission.

Why B Corps Rock

We’ve always been fans of Benefit Corporations, better known as B Corps, because inherent in their brand DNA is the desire to do business at a higher level. Sure, they’re in business to turn a profit and that’s great because if they’re not profitable they’re not going to stick around for very long.

These are brands that show the value of “conscious capitalism”. They build sustainability into their business models. They support worthy local, national and worldwide causes. Many support Fair Trade initiatives and small producers locally, nationally and abroad, and in doing so help to create shared economic growth while taking better care of our planet. These kinds of initiatives resonate with consumers and employees. In a big way.

There are other benefits, too. B corps can lead new movements. They differentiate their brands from competitors and pretenders – the brands that talk in a big way but do little in reality, other than an occasional local donation to a worthy cause. B Corps also have a way of generating PR without having to do all of the grunt work themselves. And they attract and engage real talent; people who want to work for them and contribute in meaningful ways because of who they are.

There are many solid-performing B Corps aside from Ben & Jerry’s. Method, Patagonia, Etsy and Warby Parker are all rock stars within the B Corps constellation. Almost 1,000 companies, large and small, from across the globe are certified B Corps, and the movement continues to grow.

New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado is a new breed of B Corp. Founded in 1989 by Jeff Lebesch and his wife, Kim Jordan, they set out with a core mission of crafting world-class beers while being environmental stewards. The company states that they “Look for ways to be less wasteful, be more efficient, recycle and reuse”. Reducing waste and water usage while lowering energy costs are cornerstones of the brand. Employees and owners work together to give grants to organizations that support sustainable agriculture, environmental advocacy and water conservation, among other worthwhile causes.

To top it off, New Belgium Brewery became 100% employee-owned in 2012 after the company set up an ESOP or Employee Stock Ownership Program and is all about full transparency in its business dealings and financials. Quality and innovation are equally important. To reiterate: all of these things taken together are components of the cult brand value equation. And it’s proof that you don’t have to be the size of a major corporation to create a cult. Local and regional companies, small and mid-sized, can create their own rabid fan bases.

Corporate Karma

There’s no mystery as to why brands like these create enthusiastic cults around themselves, right?
Their uniqueness starts on the inside and draws attention and devotees from the outside, making these brands grow exponentially.

You know the adage: “It’s better to give than to receive”. Ironically, those who give the most tend to be gifted in a far more significant way. We call it corporate karma.

And, hey, if your brand is lacking the richness and core meaning that lead to creating a meaningful cult and greater value, no worries. It’s never too late to reinvigorate your brand with a deeper purpose and mission. If the guys at Unilever are reevaluating their business model and becoming more community-oriented, why aren’t you?

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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What’s Your Language Saying about your Brand?

If language builds and binds cultures, why shouldn’t it be used to build and bind cults around brands?

Think about the power of words. If I use specific words in a specific way, it builds an image in your mind. It paints a picture. It has meaning. Words tell stories and humankind responds to storytelling, as we all know, in an emotional way.

Now think about some of the world’s top brands. They know the secret of using the right kind of language to amplify who they are and what they’re all about.

That’s why it’s puzzling to see that so many brands aren’t effective communicators. If you’re going to use bland language, don’t be surprised when your target audience isn’t energized. When has lackluster, uninspiring language ever gotten people excited?

Another big no-no is misused language. You know: words that say one thing while the brand proves it’s something else in every action that it takes from the inside out—with its employees and with every customer facing aspect of its business. Look, nobody’s perfect and maybe we have a brand mission that’s tough to live up to 100% of the time, but misleading is never acceptable. Because then the brand is labeled as a fraud and avoided like the plague.

So moral of story: be selective about the words you use for your brands. And find the right ones and use them in the right context, too.

What about the grand majority of brands, the ones who aim to be compelling but cannot seem to supply the language? Well, brand language has to come from the creation of a unique, one-of-a-kind brand to make a meaningful impact. So let’s start there. And let’s have a real proposition to offer; one that can inspire. Then our words and story will fall into place.

Oh, so you have a commodity product line and there’s just no way for you to generate the kind of excitement we’re talking about? Think again.

Let’s talk about Johnny Cupcakes. What kind of cupcakes are Johnny’s? They’re not cupcakes at all. They’re T-shirts. T-shirts with cool art and wording on them. They happen to be sold in the brand’s own retail stores that happen to look like old, funky bakeries. They’re also sold online. And they’re packaged in bakery boxes.

A 19-year-old kid named Johnny Earle started up the brand in 2002. He had an idea, and a passion. He knew he could sell his T-shirts and he did; out of the trunk of his old, beat up ’89 Toyota Camry. Then he opened his first retail shop in 2004.

“When it came time to open a store, I really wanted it to be an unforgettable experience,” he said.

Some people just get branding in their bones, don’t they? And then more shops opened. And then Johnny got the idea to do some fun events and pop-up shops around the country.

It took a while but the way he used language, visuals and ideas to build a brand is pretty breathtaking. And you know what happened? Johnny Cupcakes developed a cult following around the country. By 2006, JC was getting all kinds of press—radio, TV, print—all about his brand. Free PR that has only fueled more interest in his brand. Wow—right?

“What blows my mind even more is that Johnny Cupcakes brand has been a case study in several branding and business books,” Earle is quoted as saying on his website. Maybe he’s surprised, but once you see his website and understand his vibe, you won’t be.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Earle is busy collaborating with a host of other brands: musicians, famous people and licensors to crank out more unique T-shirt designs.

As the icing on the cake, Johnny Cupcakes donates its time to community organizations in need and supports sports teams and other local groups in their hometown of Hull, Massachusetts as well as local charities. Plus: they donate T-shirts to fundraisers across the country.

Yep, we’ve always said it: the truly great brands are good corporate citizens.

So there you have it. Quirky brand, quirky brand owners and employees, cool tees. What’s not to love? Check out how to create and really rock a unique brand at But remember: this language set is taken. Just use this to get inspired and go find your own.

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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Conventional is the New Specialty Grocer

If you’re the owner of a natural/organic food brand you know the roller coaster. Natural product stores, from Whole Foods to the smaller independents, might love your brand today and discontinue it tomorrow. Let’s face it, shelf space is always at a premium and brands are subject to getting bumped for a variety of reasons. If turns are slow at first, out you go. If another brand comes along that looks sexier, you’re gone. If the retailer decides on private label offerings in the category, finito. It isn’t easy to get into most retail stores to begin with, but it’s easy for them to give your brand the boot.

These are the scenarios at retail. You know it and we know it. The question is: what to do about it? You have to recognize as the entrepreneur of a small brand that distribution is key to survival and that means having a presence in different channels. You might not like the idea because you think your natural/organic brand belongs in natural product stores, but that kind of thinking will hamper your chances of success. In 2015 the number of organic items available in traditional grocery stores was up between 35 percent and 50 percent, according to estimates from investment bank Piper Jaffray.

Never put all of your eggs in one basket, right? While the traditional natural product shopper continues to buy at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and their local health food stores, there are plenty of other customers who are buying natural/organic products in other channels. They may not be as hardcore, as educated about the products, or as dedicated to buying whole foods and clean products all of the time, but there are millions of these consumers shopping in mainstream retail stores. And having access to products that they know are intrinsically healthier choices influences buying decisions.

That’s why your goal has to be to take your natural/organic brand and cross over into mainstream retailers both online and off. Sure, some conventional shoppers are dabblers. However, others will try your brand, like it, and become loyal consumers. They’ll tell their friends and that buzz will help build your business.

With eggs in multiple baskets, it isn’t a disaster if a major player in the natural/organic industry drops your brand, either. You can sustain that and look for more distribution as you go along. Revered brands like Traditional Medicinals did this a long time ago. They’ve got a presence in natural food stores and supermarkets, including Wal-Mart, specialty/gourmet stores, drug stores, and among e-tailers. More recently Alden’s Organic Ice Cream and Hilary’s Eat Well – purveyors of veggie burgers, salad dressings and snacks – made the same leap. They have gone from exclusive distribution in natural product stores to stocking their products in supermarkets. Smart.

The natural/organic category is no longer an afterthought for retailers, but a powerful part of their over overall merchandising strategies. There’s a commitment to expanding these categories like never before.

Enter the trendsetter for non-traditional consumers: Target

We all know that when Target gets behind a category and niche, the retailer has the power to move the needle in a big way; it’s been no different for consumers seeking better-for-you alternatives. In a recent article in Business Insider, Target CEO Brian Cornell is quoted from a November conference call: “We’ve been very focused on assortment changes and bringing more natural, organic, local items into many of our categories, and we’re seeing the guest react very favorably.”

Given its M.O., Target will experiment, bring in the unusual, merchandise creatively, and go after natural/organic in a meaningful way (i.e. go after Whole Foods in a meaningful way). They’re not alone, although they’ll likely do it best. Hence the title of the article in Business Insider: Walmart, Target and Aldi are addressing a huge weakness—and it’s turning into Whole Foods’ worst nightmare.

Reread: There’s great potential growth in mainstream retail stores; the consumer is primed and ready for it. Natural/organic can be attractively priced against specialty retailers without sacrificing quality while still enjoying much better margins than the average fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands.

There’s an interest among the nation’s largest food retailers to source more local products and brands, as well – the former bastion of natural product retailers. With the lines continuing to blur, consumers expect to find these products where they shop in their daily life. Things are going to get even more interesting; stay tuned.

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