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Your Brand’s Growth Opportunity Is Not Where You Think It Is

Whitespace gets its own square on the Business Buzzword Bingo card. Brand managers and C-suiters use it to describe an almost mythical place where their companies have room to maneuver at will, where their competitors can’t get a toehold.

I can assure you that whitespace is not a myth. You’re just looking for it in the wrong place.

Understand Where Opportunity Lies

The modern business concept of whitespace is usually presented as a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles representing your company, your competitors, and your audience. Conventional wisdom has it that the so-called whitespace is the piece in the middle of the overlap.


It’s actually northwest of that.

That piece in the middle? It’s an absolute war zone. Every other brand leader in your category is using the same Venn diagram to map the same opportunities in that same space. If you’ve thrown some new SKUs onto retail shelves and you’re wondering why a few of them win, and a bunch of them fail, it’s because everyone else is throwing darts at the same circle.

We’ve seen this kind of hit-or-miss product performance from large multinationals with extensive brand portfolios. These big players have spent the last decade realizing they are not good at innovation and disruption, but instead excel at dominance through distribution and ad spend. This has made a marketplace where companies are acquiring, not organically building, the next generation of the brand portfolio. Some have been wild successes and others have struggled and been sold off at a loss.

Perhaps it’s time to learn from this experience in order to incubate and grow organically toward whitespace.

The Retail Voodoo Whitespace Map

What if your opportunity was not in the middle, but at the intersection of what you rock at and what the consumer wants and buys? It’s hallowed ground: The place where your brand’s mission connects deeply with an audience that shares those values. What we call Beloved & Dominant brands meet important needs for their people, and do it narrowly and uniquely enough to define their category.

Pursuing opportunity within this overlap results in sharp positioning for your brand because you’re playing to both your strengths and your audience’s desires. Your brand will become virtually competition-proof, because other offerings in your space are just background noise to your core group of devotees.

When we work with brand managers seeking fail-safe, we’re-not-just-guessing-at-this opportunities, there are three paths we can follow:

1. Brand Positioning

If everyone in the category is leading with this feature or that benefit, what makes you different? Positioning is the distillation of your brand’s WHY — your promise and the way you keep it — and your audience’s needs and values.

Think of how you can extend an open invitation for people to belong to your brand, not just buy your products. Beyond product attributes — they like vanilla chai flavor — what does your brand bring to their lives? Who do they get to be when they’re with you?

Look at the outdoor outfitter REI, for example: Anything REI makes can be purchased online or even at Walmart at a lower price. But when you shop at REI, you belong (literally). And that belonging is worth driving to the mall, walking into an actual store, and knowing you’ll pay a bit more. Consumers have an elevated sense of personal responsibility that comes from their connection with the brand.

In our industry, the beverage category — alcohol, water, soda — is ripe for this kind of affinity positioning. Are you a Coke person or a Pepsi person? One is about, Life’s good! Whereas the other is about, Here’s the next cool thing! As canned colas, strictly speaking, Coke and Pepsi are commodities. But their positioning allows them to pursue opportunities based on their audience’s preference for one brand over the other. That’s capital-B Branding.

2. Product Innovation

Brands often look for whitespace when evaluating which new products to introduce. Using innovation as a portfolio management tool allows you to attract more net consumers to include your brand in their consideration set.

Again, let’s look at a massively congested category: Performance drinks. Monster is a brand that’s leveraged product innovation and line extension to find their whitespace and dominate the market. Monster used to be just three flavors of highly caffeinated drinks. If you had asked me two years ago if Monster should be in the coffee drink space, I would have said no. But now they’ve built out the portfolio in a way that all kinds of iterations make sense: the original Monster Energy plus a whole suite of subcategories like Monster Rehab (post-workout recovery drinks), Monster Muscle (protein), Monster Java, Monster Juice, and even a canned sparkling water. All of these product lines straddle a set of maxed-out categories, but together they ladder up to a bigger promise: The right energy at the right time … every time.

True product innovation is not about selling more stuff to the same people; it’s about getting more people into the brand. Monster’s leadership has thought this through and made a long-term play in a category that looks at 12-month increments, and it’s brilliant. When you walk up to a refrigerated case in a convenience store, the wall of Monster products is awe-inspiring; everything else is an also-ran.

3. Consumer Data

You probably have mountains of consumer and category data, and it’s probably languishing in a spreadsheet somewhere. What can the numbers tell you about whitespace? Plenty.

Using data as a pathway to opportunity means taking your time to gather insight into adjacent categories to see what the smart play is. Is the category still growing even if it’s crowded? Can you take a tiny part of it and win because of your larger brand story?

Usage & Attitude studies, which tell you how/when/where people are using your product, can point you to new products you haven’t yet imagined. Look at Califia. Leaders of this category-killing plant-based milk brand had data that showed that their stark-raving fans were making coffee drinks with their products. So that led them to RTD cold-brewed coffee — not just blended with plant-based milk but also straight-up coffee. The move gives the brand an opportunity to make really strategic small adjacent moves to get net new consumers, who may or may not be non-dairy milk drinkers.

Beyond Features & Benefits

The mojo of our alternative whitespace map lies in the overlap between your awesomeness and the consumer’s desires. It’s about finding an opportunity where you are not competing on features and benefits, but on something bigger: your brand’s WHY. The key to the win is claiming the emotional territory that nobody else can claim. If the brand itself doesn’t hold an emotional position, it doesn’t make sense to line-extend because you’ll get micro-incremental gains instead of charting new categories.As baseball Hall of Famer Willie Keeler said, “Keep your eye on the ball and hit ’em where they ain’t.” Play the whitespace game right, and your competitors won’t even get onto the field. If you’re on the hunt for opportunity, we can be your guide. Let’s get in touch!

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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Your Company’s Acquired a Brand. Now what?

Your organization’s portfolio of brands has just grown. And the new brand is about to land in your lap. Depending on your role, you might feel exhilaration … or panic.

If you’re with an equity company and about to become the manager of this new brand, you’re thinking: How fast can I move to scale this business?

If you’re a private investor taking over a young or underperforming brand, you’re thinking: How do I quickly determine what’s working so I can fix everything else?

If you’re a CMO at a multinational, you’re thinking: How can I make bold moves to make my mark on this brand?

If you’re a manager at a company that owns a suite of brands, you’re thinking: Great. Now what?

What You Know, What You Don’t Know

As you work to onboard the brand as quickly as possible, you’ll need to figure out a bunch of things:

People — the culture of the team you’re inheriting and how they sync with your org chart

Products — the lineup of products, whether it overlaps with other brands under the corporate umbrella, and how the mix needs to pivot to avoid cannibalizing your other business

Processes — where and how the products are manufactured and distributed, and how those systems play with existing operations

Opportunity —the potential audience for the brand, and the ways you can leverage existing retail channels to bring the new brand into new markets

Visual expression — how the brand’s packaging and external presence should be updated, either to fit within your family or to pursue new audiences

The due diligence process that preceded the acquisition likely answered this preliminary information. You’ll have access to bottom-line reports on the brand’s scalability and growth opportunity, and operational details about procurement and distribution.

In our work with brand leaders and investor groups, we’ve found that the information most relevant to marketers is often not a part of due diligence. The business, finance, and ops people driving the deal are less concerned with the “softer” discipline of marketing the brand to a real audience of real people. In fact, you might have surprisingly little relevant marketing info: probably some Amazon figures and shopper or sales data of some sort. But that data doesn’t look at the upside; it looks at history.

Tackle These Marketing Priorities First

If you’re the brand manager or CMO charged with shepherding this new brand, you must move quickly to gain the insight you need. These should be your top intelligence-gathering priorities:

Category Audit

Our work with food, beverage, and wellness brands typically involves a category traction audit, which answers several pressing questions, including who owns the market currently, where the market (channel) is, and who are the players you can take share from. The category audit frames your brand within the aisle you compete in.

Competitive Audit

This is our deeper dive into your brand’s world, probably the most valuable thing you can do for this new business. The name is a misnomer; it’s not about your direct competitors but rather about all the things competing for the shopper’s dollar. Suppose you’re an organic post-workout snack bar, for example. In that case, you’re not just competing with other nutrition bars … you’re competing with apparel and equipment brands and wellness products; basically, the entire pot of money the consumer spends on fitness and wellness. The competitive audit will reveal any disconnect between what you’ve been told about the brand and its cold, hard reality.

Audience Analysis

With the acquisition, you probably gained a high-level introduction to the brand’s core audience. But to grow share, you need to understand how these loyalists compare to the category and to the channel. Any disconnects will point you to the future audience.

Almost every time we advise a client, we encounter institutional bias within the brand team about who their target audience is. Marketers tend to assume that the larger universe of potential buyers looks exactly like that group of a couple hundred hardcore, longtime fans of the brand. You might have been told that the new brand’s audience is young women with a quirky sense of style; analysis might show that the core is actually senior citizens, and they’re using the products in a completely different way than expected. To build a bigger audience, you have to understand who your current users really are.

The Brand Manager’s To-Do List for an Acquisition

As they say, the only way to eat an elephant is bite by bite. So let’s outline the must-dos for several milestones in your leadership of the brand:

What’s Task One on Day One?

Your first priority is people, and there are three components:

1.Meet with the people who work on the brand you’re acquiring. Even though you don’t yet have firm plans for the business, be open, honest, and reassuring.

2. Engage with the stakeholders to identify and agree upon what success for this brand will look like.

3. Find a neutral third party to vet ideas and keep things honest.

What Are the Year One Priorities?

You’ll be focused on building. Use the full suite of consumer data tools at your disposal to build clarity and confidence that the prospective new audience you’ve identified is attainable. Create new design and marketing systems, put them in place, and dig into testing and learning. And get your sales team so jacked about the opportunity that they’re getting you in new doors.

What Does Year Three Look Like?

By Year 3, you should be seeing the truckloads of cash pull up to show that you’re right. If you don’t, you did something wrong — or, more likely, you didn’t do the right things. You didn’t invest in innovation, didn’t align the team with the new vision, didn’t follow the plan, didn’t do the deep brand strategy work. Instead, you just put a new face on the brand and thought that would do the trick.

Two Final Watchouts

We’ve coached plenty of marketing leaders and investors on how to steward a newly acquired brand, and we’ve seen two pain points you need to watch out for.

The first is communication. The people on both sides of an acquisition will be freaked out no matter what. The team associated with the business you’re absorbing may be REALLY devoted to the brand and feel like they’re lending their skills and dedication to the larger movement. Your existing team may worry about new colleagues, added work, losing their job because of redundancy. If you don’t communicate openly and frequently, the lack of information allows people to imagine the worst or assume the best, and both of these are probably wrong. Lack of communication about your intentions for the business creates fear and consternation, which translates to an exodus.

The second is design. Managers taking on a new brand almost universally want to quickly make their mark by jumping straight to rebranding and packaging. And that’s the biggest risk because it stands to wreck the brand if you don’t have the strategic foundation in place first.CMOs and investors in food, beverage, and wellness brands trust our team to guide them along the acquisition path and grow their business to unimagined heights. If a new brand is about to land on your plate, let’s get in touch now about what you need.

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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5 Consumer Research Tools & What They Tell You

As we dive into a new year, we’re advising the brands we work with to make bold yet highly calculated moves for growth. Revisit your retail strategy. Upgrade your product formulations. And reach for new audiences.

Finding new consumers — without losing meaningful numbers of your longtime fans — may seem like the biggest hurdle to food, beverage, and wellness brand leaders. Why? Because you know your current audience. You understand their needs, attitudes, patterns, why they buy, how much they’ll pay, how they talk about your brand to their friends.

New consumers are like strangers on the dance floor.

And you need to not only find them, but also understand their needs, attitudes, patterns, and so on. That’s where consumer research is useful. So if you’re going to identify them and figure them out, let’s look at the different research tools you have at your disposal.

Data Types for Food & Wellness Brands

Most consumer research tells you about the current state of your brand and the people who buy your products.

Syndicated research

This is the most basic. Syndicated reports use data gathered within specific geographic markets to give you some insight into the mind of the consumer. The most commonly used syndicated research providers in the CPG space are Mintel, Ipsos, and Pew Research Center, which provide data on geography, market size, category leaders, and general demographic and psychographic information on consumers shopping the category.

SPINS (focused on the natural channel) and IRI (covering conventional grocery channel, MULO, and Club) are largely used as subscriptions by brand owners to track sales volumes per week at the national level. The advantage is that you know who is leading the category and how your brand ranks in terms of share of dollars and velocity at the store level.

Nielsen and Numerator offer consumer data collected by surveying people through consumer panels or apps where users answer questions and provide information about their purchases. This research goes beyond demographics and sales data to help marketers understand who’s buying their products (and their competitors’). Marketers can buy adhoc reports or subscribe to a never-ending stream of real-time data — which can be helpful but requires a full-time employee to mine and distill it.

Layering retail data on top of consumer data gives you a view to your brand’s performance within the competitive set. And basket affinity — what products consumers buy in addition to or instead of your products — can be important information as you look to build your audience.

On top of the raw numbers, research companies try to help marketers interpret what they mean. The intel you get, depending on the category, is based on primary school-level survey questions; because the data is pretty simplistic, the analysis can sometimes be right and sometimes wildly off.

Companies like Nielsen and Numerator also offer customers access to their databases to slice and dice in all kinds of cool ways. If you’re a data geek, this will be your jam. But there are limitations to what this kind of data can tell you. You’re only hearing from consumers who’ve opted into the survey or panel (and they may or may not be your target audience). Also, the companies’ algorithms ultimately determine the data that’s presented to you. This can be interesting but not necessarily insightful.

Usage & Attitude (U&A) studies

These research options give you a picture of how consumers interact with your brand. Who uses your products? How do they use them? U&A research typically involves surveying your existing audience by email or online (using tools like Survey Monkey or GutCheck). It’s a great way to have a conversation with your buyers, and if they are stark-raving fans they’ll likely do it gladly.

We’re fans of this kind of research, but with a caveat: Because you’re talking to people who favor your brand, it’s kind of an echo chamber. U&A studies can reinforce your brand team’s existing biases and perceptions. A smart research partner can help you find the right people to survey (including, critically, people who stopped buying your products) and the right questions to ask.

Segmentation studies

These are helpful because customer segmentation alone often doesn’t provide enough input to properly inform marketing strategy and tactics. To ensure segments are distinct, sizable, and actionable you’ll need more information. A more meaningful way to approach it is to not only understand who your audience is (demographics), but learn what they do (behaviors), and probe into why they do it (psychographics). Tools like Suzy, Nielsen NPOWER, and others help you include psychographics in your segmentation, to incorporate attitudes, aspirations, values, and emotions to identify segments based on lifestyle, personality traits, opinions, beliefs, and interests.

Trend reports

Published by organizations like New Hope and Mintel, these are written by experts who follow specific categories and markets closely. We love them and have used them for years, but because they’re so popular now and so many out there are written by less savvy, less expert sources, we’re really selective about using them. Consumer trends can inform your product innovation work by showing what kinds of ingredients, eating patterns, and flavor profiles will be popular in the next year. Trend forecasters take existing consumer preferences and behaviors and try to project forward what they’ll like and do in the future.

Proprietary research

This customized option allows marketers to directly connect the dots between consumers and their brands. Using providers like Nielsen Bases, GutCheck, and Survey Monkey, you can quickly query consumers (both current and prospective) about initiatives you have in the works like new products or new positioning: “This is what we’re trying to do, would you buy it for $4.99?” For more complicated asks, you can move into consumer-led testing (focus groups) and in-home testing. At this high level, you can develop samples or prototypes and have people take them home and use them and tell you what they think.

Custom research yields a lot of meaningful information: Their interest in your product, feelings about your brand, intent to purchase, flavor preferences, price they’re willing to pay.

Love the Data, Beware of the Data

We love data. We use data. We have thoughts on data.

The first problem we see with consumer research is confirmation bias. Most research is backward-looking and includes current customers. So brand leaders often feel smart when they look at data because it confirms what they already know about the people they already know.

The second biggest problem we see is that brands get bogged down in data. They have too much information, or it’s spread out and hidden among business units. Which is a lot like having no data at all.

Problem number three is that marketers often rely on outdated research. You can’t use 2018 data to understand how a post-pandemic consumer thinks. Data is like house guests or fish: leave it around too long and it starts to smell funny.

But the biggest problem even market-leading brands have with consumer research is that they flat-out avoid it. There’s always a risk that when you ask consumers what they want, they don’t want your products. But you should not fear bad news. Bad news points to opportunity. And you can take action toward that opportunity.

By itself, research is just a bunch of numbers. It can offer you clues, but it’s like buying a vowel on Wheel of Fortune: You still have to solve the puzzle.

It takes expertise and nerve and vision to look at data and fill in the blank spots. You have to decide where the clues lead you. Do you triple down on what you know or go to a new space? Do you stop investing dollars in an aging audience? Find new people in a different income bracket?

The real power of consumer research emerges when you gain clusters of insight within all the spreadsheets. It takes a strategic mindset among your team to translate and respond to data. Ignoring data would be foolish—but knowing what to do with it, that’s the magic.Unsure about what data you have, what you need, or how to interpret it? That’s our specialty. Let’s talk.

David Lemley

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

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Attracting New Customers Doesn’t Mean Losing Longtime Fans

“Don’t lose our power users!” It’s the No. 1 concern we hear from brand executives who come to us for help building their business.

Here’s the problem, though: Your power users, your longtime fans, your core customers — they’re a fixed universe. Keeping them, and only them, happy is not the ticket to growth and long-term impact.

To thrive, food, beverage, and wellness brands need to constantly convert new believers. There’s a whole cohort of fans-in-waiting out there, ready to fall in love with your brand’s promise and products. You just haven’t yet sent them roses.

To grow your brand’s audience, you need to first get over your team’s institutional fear of failure, and then understand where and how to find new consumers.

Fear of Leaving Fans Behind

Brand leaders are charged with growth. That’s a given. But it’s a mistake to assume that growth can come from selling more stuff to a finite number of people. If your brand is duking it out on price, or can’t get invited on shelf because your products are too similar to what’s already there, then your target audience, no matter how loyal they are, may be in the way. Growth won’t come from your 250 die-hard fans spending 5 cents more; it comes from getting 250,000 more people to think the same way.

Unfortunately, most consumer products companies have a short-term financial mindset; data is judged in quarterly or semi-annual segments, and no marketer wants to be the person who’s responsible for losing share. A false sense of safety emerges from focusing on the core fan base; if you can keep them happy, that feels like a win.

The census of power users is often not big enough to matter, but brand leaders are so freaked out about losing them that they often don’t see beyond them. Growth means adding new consumers to the fold, and in appealing to those new people you risk leaving your early adopters behind.

Global brands with massive audiences are more adept at weathering these audience shifts. For mid-cap brands, potentially losing a few points in share in exchange for larger long-term expansion feels chancy.

Let me reassure you that building an audience is not a zero-sum game. You don’t lose an old customer for every new one you add.

There’s another fear at play here: Leaders and teams are fans of their brands and naturally think their audience mirrors their own preferences and behaviors. New audiences may scare marketers because they’re unfamiliar. Because they’re not exactly like you, you need to figure out who they are, what they respond to, and how to communicate with them.

Recognize, too, that there’s a natural evolution in a brand’s audience. Consumers mature out of brands, develop new need states, and live in a changing world. They expect brands to evolve alongside them. Don’t change for change’s sake; change for growth and relevancy.

Where Are Those New Customers?

Consumer preferences and behaviors are going through massive changes because of the fear of recession. For most people, their perception of the economy is more driven by the media and bad news than by lived experience. In short, consumer behavior doesn’t match consumer sentiment.

People are willing to pay more for products they like, open to trying something more expensive, and curious about sampling other brands. They’re looking for products that fit and reflect their values. So it’s a good time to capture new folks, especially since everything points to continued strong consumer spending despite downer economic news.

So how do you look for these willing-to-try-ers? How can you find a large group of people who will evolve into die-hard fans?

We’re especially skilled at helping brand leaders reimagine market boundaries, reinvent categories, and rethink their audience. This net new audience feels like a foreign concept when you’ve been focused on a core group for so long. It’s all about identifying a larger addressable market of people who will similarly be attracted to your brand’s promise.

Business schools teach the strategy of narrowing your addressable market; our approach to audience development goes in the opposite direction. We’ll start with that core audience and their needs and characteristics, then look at the broader category and draw threads that connect them to understand that there’s a huge audience of prospects. It’s not that you’re going to market to ALL of them, but if you get into the right channels and communicate your brand’s values, those people will pay attention to what you’re doing, and you’ll win over a good chunk of them.

Use Data + A Whole Lot of Insight

This model of building a group of net new consumers relies on data, sure. However, data is an artifact, historical by nature. It can tell you that a transaction occurred, not why it happened. It provides a road map of sorts, but it won’t point in a specific direction.

Audience development takes creativity and chutzpah, and an understanding of human behavior that data can’t collect. To borrow an example from streaming TV: Netflix has all the data in the world and they’ve sliced and diced it to create shows for all these segments. While AppleTV doesn’t yet have the viewership of Netflix, they’re great at making series nobody else would make because they can see beyond what the data says consumers would watch.

As a marketer, innovator, or brand manager, you’re will have to rely on experience and insight to expand your universe of customers. We often talk with clients about finding the white space — the place of real opportunity, where your competitors aren’t playing. Find where your brand’s superpowers overlap with consumers’ needs and wants. Project your core group’s characteristics onto a larger universe. You might appeal to yoga moms, but wouldn’t on-the-go outdoor enthusiasts love your products, too?That empty void looks scary, but it’s full of potential. It’s the only way you get to something (or someone) new. We’ve helped a bunch of brands navigate that white space and find the consumers they never could have imagined. So let’s talk about who you should be talking to.

David Lemley

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

Connect with David
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Recession Coming? Now’s the Time to Be Bold & Smart

It seems like every news outlet is full of doom and gloom: inflation, rising interest rates, a likely impending recession, global food scarcity, war. Media outlets are feeding our sense of despair — their business model is built on keeping us distressed so we tune in — and so society’s malaise is self-reinforcing.

Here’s the thing: We’ve lived through similarly tough times. Like, two years ago. Remember, in June of 2020, people were dying, businesses shut down, the whole world stayed home. But by 2021 the economy and the job market went into hyperdrive.

While corporate CEOs are bracing for recession, plenty of us in the food and beverage industry know, based on recent experience, that the next slowdown won’t last forever. We know that ultimately we will be OK. The normal ebbs and flows of our markets are just ebbing and flowing more abruptly and frequently these days.

Your leadership team may be tempted to lay low and wait this out — to “hunker down” (to borrow a phrase from 2020). But, as we recommended two years ago, now is not the time to sit idle. It’s the time to thrive.

Our advice to brands and businesses: Instead of panicing, use this time to discover, rekindle, or invent radical strategies that put daylight between you and your field of competitors. Get ready to capitalize on the opportunities that your insight and marketplace circumstances will create.

Fortune favors the bold (and well prepared). A solid brand foundation will serve you now more than ever.

This All Feels Really Familiar

The pandemic, you may recall, caused a brief recession in the first half of 2020. And, you may also recall, consumers exhibited confusing behaviors not unlike what they’re showing now. They didn’t stop spending, but shifted dollars. Experts are predicting a similarly short and shallow recession in the coming months; the key difference now is rising interest rates.

What did we learn from 2020’s mini recession? That the brands that won took their bravery pills and got to work.

Mega brands like Frito-Lay and PepsiCo exploded in every way, doubling down on product innovation and channel strategy. They got nimble in ways they hadn’t before and adopted entrepreneurial thinking — because they had to. Huge segments of their business, like restaurant and commissary sales, shut down literally overnight.

Mid-cap brands did the same. Some adjusted pack sizes, tweaked product formulations, or invested in online selling in response to shifting consumer buying habits and supply chain challenges. Massive disruption meant that anything was possible. It created the conditions for radical experimentation and breaking the old ways of doing things.

The brands that grew in sales and relevance over the last two years are the ones that took a long view of the game and started to ask, “What’s stopping us from doing X?” and “What would happen if we did Y?” They got serious about innovation and omnichannel sales, and then did the creative work to back that up. The winners had new plans, new products, and new outlets in just 3 or 4 months.

Remember? You and your team lived through this just two years ago.

So lean into the coming recession with the same mentality you adopted at the front end of the pandemic.

Take Advantage of the Uncertain Economic Picture

Whether you’re an early-career marketer or tenured enough to have led and survived at the helm of a brand in 2008 and 2020, you need to understand that this is the best time to be planning for competitive advantage (other than lower prices). It is the time to connect the dots, so your go-to-market strategy truly is omnichannel and oriented toward growth.

Brand relevancy is recession-proof.

So what are the four things food and beverage brand marketers must do now to ensure success as we move into 2023?

Understand current consumer behavior.

In our society, people want what they want when they want it — and they have enough self-confidence to figure out how to make it happen. If they want it they’ll buy it. Belt-tightening is hitting big-ticket items where rising interest rates are creating pain — major purchases like homes and cars and vacations — not so much what consumers put in their shopping carts once a week. In this time of uncertainty, consumers are using food, beverage, and wellness products to feel connected and relevant. And they’re sticking with their preferred brands. (Just look at Q3 2022 earnings in the category.)

Our recommendation is to lean into this consumer behavior. If you panic, you’ll lose the opportunity. Smart brands have learned that they can take advantage of the marketplace when it gets soft. When consumers are abstaining from larger purchases, leverage that.

Shift your messaging to meet consumers where they are today. Help them imagine how good they’ll feel when they spend time with your brand. Build a marketing plan that doesn’t go cheap or play on their pain, but that points to the hope and self-reliance and self-worth they’ll gain when they’re with you. And recognize that in this climate, shoppers are open to trial. Use packaging and point of sale to catch their attention.

Be proactive about innovation.

If the supply chain outages in 2020 prompted massive changes to your product lineup, borrow that same “what can we make now?” mindset and apply a proactive, not reactive, lens. Let your brand strategy guide your product innovation process. Look at 18-month, 36-month, and 5-year

horizons and use scenario planning to predict what your brand will be and who you’ll be for — and what you’ll need to be making for those people. Move fast and be brave.

Build a smart retail strategy.

Again, consumers are buying products that make them feel good and exploring new options. So we’re advising the brands we work with to invest strategically in placement in retailers where you know your current and prospective audiences shop. People are going back to brick-and-mortar stores and their impulse-buying habits; you have an opportunity to hold onto your current audience and gain new converts — or to lose them because you’re not paying attention and responding to their needs. Make good friends with your retail partners so you can work with them on placement and marketing; they can be your brand’s biggest advocates.

If fear and desperation drove brands to act nimbly and strategically in 2020, let bravery and intention guide you now. We tell clients all the time: When you’re making bold, visionary progress, that scale of change can feel scary to your team. So make sure your internal people fall in love with your plans — so in love that they’ll push through any obstacles they face in bringing them to fruition.

Our superpower is giving brand leaders the confidence they need to make seemingly risky moves because they’re deeply rooted in the brand’s mission and vision. If you’re looking for the right path during a time of uncertainty, we’re happy to be your team’s guide. Let’s talk about what this means for 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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What Looks Risky Might Actually Be Really Smart

On Black Friday of 2011, Patagonia famously placed a full-page ad in The New York Times with the headline, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” Below the fold, copy explained the company’s Common Threads Initiative, which emphasizes reduction, repair, reuse, and recycling of materials in its supply chain and manufacturing.

In one of my MBA classes recently, we discussed a case study of this campaign. And most of my classmates, all business leaders, agreed that the ad was really risky. Why would a company urge customers NOT to buy its products?

My perspective, though, was that it wasn’t risky at all. The anti-consumption message was totally on brand for Patagonia. And it would immediately resonate with their target audience — like-minded outdoor enthusiasts with a passion for saving the planet. Even more, it was a manifestation of the brand’s commitment that its products would be durable.

Patagonia’s customers would certainly not buy THAT jacket … but down the road, when they really, truly did need a jacket, they’d buy it from Patagonia.

Managing ‘Risky’ Marketing Based on Strategy

When it’s pinned to strategy, what looks risky isn’t risky at all. It might be ballsy or provocative or against the grain. But if a position or campaign fully supports the brand’s foundation — the promises it makes and the way it keeps them — it’s virtually assured to resonate with its fan base. And, in the swirl of attention that comes with something unexpected or controversial, it’ll likely pick up a new cohort of fans, too.

Patagonia’s environmental stance was nothing new in 2011. In the company’s early days, it felt more like outdoor enthusiasm with a sprinkling of environmental on top. But saving the planet became the brand’s North Star, and founder Yvon Chouinard built the business around it. Once they committed to being environmental stewards, it informed everything: what products they’d make, how they’d be made, out of what materials, and by whom. Patagonia built a “religion of dirtbags” — not just people who like to hike, but who are outdoors because of their deep commitment to the natural world.

It’s easy to love Patagonia these days because of their recent announcement that it would transfer 100% of voting stock to the Patagonia Purpose Trust and 100% of the nonvoting stock would go to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The news made headlines and generated a certain amount of “what do they think they’re doing” head-scratching among diehard capitalists. They’re giving away a $3 billion business?!?

But again: Totally on brand. Chouinard’s letter about the ownership transfer said, “Instead of ‘going public,’ you could say we’re ‘going purpose.’” Not at all a risk for a company built on Chouinard’s passion to develop mountain-climbing equipment that didn’t damage the rock he was climbing on.

If it feels like Patagonia has a history of going against the grain, it’s because bold positioning can capture the public’s attention repeatedly, over the long term. As a tiny regional startup in the ’70s, Ben & Jerry’s anchored their brand on a commitment to social and earth justice, using flavor innovation and product naming as opportunities to educate and inspire change. I love that the brand is playful and serious at the same time; the consumer gets to participate in the messaging and the mission. You can buy something like a classically fun Cherry Garcia along with something more overtly activist like Change is Brewing — a tasty coffee and marshmallow ice cream wrapped up in a message about voting rights, advocacy, and education. These days, especially, pegging a product to a political hot button would make any marketer squirm. For Ben & Jerry’s it makes sense because it’s so consistent with their values.

Strategy-based risk taking isn’t just for brands that have always zigged instead of zagging. Look at Danone, the multinational food behemoth. The company has pledged to secure B-Corp status across all their business units worldwide by 2025. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “B-Corp is ‘just’ a marketing strategy” or that it’s only for small- and mid-sized brands. This position would be risky — it’s a massive investment in dollars and resources — were it not for Danone’s vision of “One Planet One Health.”

Danone’s move flips the narrative that multinationals are destroying the planet, that it’s impossible to be profitable and do good. They get to be the leaders here and now all the other mega-companies have to play catchup. They’re the new case study for how an organization of that size can change the world for the better.

Working Without a Net is Risky

Every bloody marketer wants a buzzworthy/memorable/viral campaign. They want to direct a marketing effort that explodes sales and builds a radical reputation for the brand. These are career-making projects.

Strategy — not a visionary marketer or killer creative — drives success. Strategy as a discipline frees the marketing team up to be brilliant and ballsy because when you can see the strategy behind a wild idea, the wild idea isn’t scary. It’s easy to imagine that everyone inside Patagonia (except perhaps the finance people) looked at the “Don’t Buy This Jacket” headline and said, “heck-to-the-yes!” And consumers were more than happy to give their money and loyalty to the brand because they believed in what it stood for.

Throwing spaghetti against the wall is risky. Challenging the status quo when you haven’t done your homework is risky. Bold moves grounded in strategy are not.

When you’re doing something outlandish, you won’t know how brilliant it was for another two years; you might experience the initial cultural or media hype, but there’s a long tail to sales results. So as you’re evaluating a direction that pushes boundaries, ask your team: “What do we need to do so that when we’re sitting here two years from now, we’ll agree that this was a brilliant move?”

Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia show that a strategic commitment to being what looks like an outlier can lead to longevity. Danone demonstrates that risk can show up differently in different organizations. They look risky because it’s not status quo or just a different shade of mauve. Either way lays an easy path for the brand and consumer to travel together.

Brands that disrupt and get the lion’s share of the market set themselves up with a long runway to achieve a goal that scares the crap out of them, and then figure out ways to make it happen. The strategy should be big and gnarly enough that it takes time to execute — that’s the runway. Without a longer view of the initiative’s performance, you’ll sit around reading web analytics and other short-term data.

We’re especially good at helping brands find ways to go big with confidence because they’re so secure in the promises they make. The beauty of brand strategy is that it gives you a sandbox you can play in. As we say all the time to our clients: Stake a claim, be brave, and wait for the world to catch on to the big idea. Let’s do this.

Diana Fryc

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

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The Art & Science of Killer Brand Taglines

For a food or beverage brand, a tagline has the power to capture consumers’ attention in a fractured, fast-moving world. A killer tagline is also incredibly difficult to come up with — especially if you’re trying to bolt a magic phrase onto an existing (or nonexistent) brand strategy. 

We think of a great tagline as a Haiku that captures your brand’s essence and calls deeply to your present and future fan base. 

Our latest white paper reveals our process for developing a tagline and guidance on when and how to use it across your brand’s communication platforms. 

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 to Shape a Food or Beverage Brand’s Tone & Voice

If you’ve been reading our stuff lately, you know we’ve been on a mission to convince food and beverage marketers that creative expression must flow from brand strategy. Every. Single. Time.

For the most part, we’ve been talking about visual interpretation—design. Now I’d like to cover something adjacent but different: the brand’s verbal expression, language, and behavior, or what we call tone and voice.

Strategy, tone, and design are definitely in a relationship but … it’s complicated.

In the hierarchy of marketing, tone and voice flows directly from brand strategy, and it supersedes design.

Brand Strategy => Tone & Voice => Visual Expression

Let’s break this down:

Brand strategy is a mix of internal guideposts, mission, vision, and values. The language you use within your walls to discuss strategy can become consumer-facing, but more often it influences what you say and how you say it to consumers.

Tone and voice translates strategy into words, behaviors, vibes, and relationships you build with your audience. That audience may be consumers who buy your products, retail partners your sales team interacts with, or your suppliers. Tone and voice defines how you’re going to fulfill the promise your brand makes to the world. And it ensures consistency so that everyone speaks from the same phrase book.

Design, or creative, renders the tone and voice of the brand in a visual way that delivers on the brand promise and meets business objectives. Design is font choice, color palette, visual library of illustrations or photos, and so on. Design reflects tone, which reflects strategy. If your brand voice is soft, and comforting and casual, then your font choice shouldn’t be aggressive and angular.

How to Build a Food or Beverage Brand’s Tone & Voice

How to Build a Brand’s Tone and Voice

When we advise food and beverage companies on building a brand strategy playbook, we don’t go from the strategy work straight to the design execution. There’s a step in between: defining the brand’s tone and voice. So what does that look like?

Most brands have a design standards guide that governs things like logo usage and photographic style. We take it a step further and develop a brand bible—a rich, comprehensive document that incorporates everything from how the brand delivers on its mission, to how it talks with customers, to how it responds in a crisis. All that, plus typefaces and color palettes and other visual elements. The brand bible is literally that: A reference that defines every bit of visual and verbal communication.

In creating the brand’s tone and voice, we use the 12 classic brand archetypes. It’s a tool that marketers are familiar with, and a great way to use analogy to home in on the brand’s persona. Brand archetypes include the Hero, the Explorer, the Caregiver, and the Sage. By defining the archetype—either one of the traditional archetypes, a riff, or a combination—we can start to get a handle on the language, emotional tone, and communication style.

We also develop phrasing for the brand’s mission and vision. This might take the form of a manifesto (which could be used internally only or externally as well). It includes short, medium, and long versions of the mission for use in different ways. Some of this language should be consistently used verbatim, like gospel, but we also give people other language and tools so they can scat. These foundational words and phrases, married with the emotional tone and communication style, informs how we write every single bit of copy, from sales decks to social media posts.

From Verbal to Visual Expression

From there, we create a mood board, sort of a scrapbook that captures inspiration for how the brand looks in the wild. It incorporates imagery showing the consumer and their world, and how the brand fits into their lives. Out of that research emerges a visual system of type, color, and imagery.

In the olden days, design would pull the tone and voice forward, because design was stronger than writing. (Unless you were in the advertising business, where hotshot copywriters led the charge.) Today, the brand’s persona defines visual expression.

One watch-out though: Tone and voice, like design, must be anchored in the brand’s strategic foundation. I have seen it hundreds of times, when the copywriting is so creative and “cool” that the agency or internal team reverse-engineers the brand strategy to map to it. This is not brand strategy. A disconnect between mission, tone, and design is a recipe for confusing, alienating, and infuriating your audience. More to the point: When creative misses the mark, you risk failure in terms of meaningful performance (growing audiences, adding reach, getting velocity, and making a profit).

Successful brands understand who their potential customers are, how they think, what they need, and where they spend their time. Great brands that achieve long-term relevance arrive at these insights through a brand strategy framework that makes writing for said consumers intuitive rather than forced. Defining the elements below will help tone and voice deliver against strategy instead of redirect it:

• Purpose (why you exist)

• Promise (what will you do and how will you do it)

• Values (what will you stand behind even if it’s painful)

• Emotion (what’s in it for your employees, trade partners, consumers)

• Context (when, where, and how will someone know that they belong to your brand)

• Audience insight (what do they need to hear from you to opt-in)

• Competitive and category research

Case Study: A Brand with a Distinctive Voice

At an industry event in Chicago recently, reps from Hershey, Pringles, H-P, and Liquid Death shared the stage for a panel discussion. And those three mega-brands were agog at Liquid Death. Liquid Death’s countercultural tone and voice are so inclusive to a net new audience—they’re not about selling water; they’re an environmental company disguised as a water brand.

But the skateboard dude and tattooed mom don’t care about the brand’s mission to kill plastic packaging—they just care that the product is cool. They want the tall can with the logo that looks like it’s for a heavy metal band with rad type and skull graphics. The brand’s persona drives creative execution, all in service of the mission.

For more insight into how Liquid Death’s brand voice came to be, check out Diana’s Gooder podcast interview with Liquid Death’s CBO, Amy Friedlander Hoffman. Unsurprisingly, her personality was totally on brand.Need some guidance on shaping your brand’s tone and voice? That’s our thing. Let’s get in touch.

David Lemley

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

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Food & Beverage Brands: Stop Chasing Your Competitors

Imagine walking through a fully stocked grocery store where your food or beverage brand’s products are neatly and abundantly shelved among your category. You scan your competitors’ products, also neatly and abundantly displayed. Do you:

  1. Pull out your smartphone and make a voice memo listing all the ingredients and flavor profiles you need to get your product innovation team working on — stat!
  2. Move along with a certain swagger in your step, confident that your brand’s favored status among your customer base is enough to keep your sales velocity at a robust pace. 

(If you’ve been reading our stuff for a while, you know which answer is the correct one, right?)

The Perils of Brand Parity

So many brand leaders are just trying to keep up with the Joneses. Lately, we’ve been spending a lot of time with clients who are checking their neighbor’s paper and navel gazing, relying on what everyone else is doing and their own internal biases to make decisions. And all of those moves result in parity.

Brands that endlessly focus on their category peers are relegated to competing on price or on differences that either cannot be seen by consumers or don’t really matter because they don’t build velocity. It’s hard to stand out in a world of features and benefits. Faced with a shelf full of comparable chocolate-flavored energy bars, the consumer will choose on any number of easily copied features: flavor or package or price. Play the features and benefits game, and your products are destined to become commodities — if they aren’t already.

What’s more, this focus on competitors creates an internal feedback loop that reinforces your team’s safe decision-making. “Brand X is making this new organic adaptogenic product, and consumers seem to be buying it, so maybe we should make one, too.” Competing on benefits is a race to the bottom, a race that only deep-pocketed multinationals and store brands that can leverage favorable placement and discounting can win.

It’s a vicious cycle: 

Don’t Stand Among; Stand Out

Let’s go back to the pop quiz at the start of this article. What if you could get some of that swagger? What if you could all but ignore what everyone else is doing, in full confidence that what YOU are doing is right? What if your brand wasn’t a copycat but a disruptor?

Category disruption takes a programmatic discipline focused on seeking out the emotional territory of who your consumers get to be when they are with your brand. It means planting your flag on a distinguishing point of view, one that your consumers embrace, join in, and talk about with their friends.

This might be a shocking position in the CPG world, but I’ll throw it out here anyway: Purchase is not the endgame. Repeat purchase is only marginally better (because your brand might still be winning on price). The real endgame is to create stark-raving fandom among consumers of your products. And the pathway to that is belonging. It takes more than attributes to create belonging. It takes a well-defined and articulated Capital-B Brand: The promise you make and the ways that you keep it.

It’s Not About Competition, It’s About Education

And it also takes education. As I wrote in my book on branding, Beloved & Dominant Brands you need to understand that the purpose of customer education is not to sell them stuff; it’s to create evangelists.

Yes, you need to educate consumers about your features and attributes in order to convince them to buy. And yes, you need to innovate because consumers have become wired to expect a constant stream of new and different choices. The challenge is to integrate product benefits into a story that emphasizes belonging and community.

Consumers need to understand your brand in the context of the real world. They want to know what problems your brand will solve, why you make your products, and where you stand on issues they care about. When people do buy into your mission and your vision of how you’re going to improve the world, they’ll buy your products — loyally, repeatedly, with open wallets.

As a marketer, you may think that consumers will naturally gravitate toward your brand. They won’t. At every touchpoint, you need to teach the consumer why your brand matters, what wrong it exists to remedy, how it will help enhance their life, how they’ll feel when they stands with you.

Of course, this assumes you and your leadership team have done the hard work of articulating your brand’s WHY. (If you haven’t done that yet, start learning here.)

A powerful WHY is future-proof. It’s the secret sauce that everyone else will try to figure out how to copy — and fail because they don’t have the ingredients. If your competitors could get inside your boardroom and see all the positioning work you’ve done on the brand, they’d be terrified.

What you’re going to make, what you stand for, how you talk to people, where you sell, what you believe – if any of it feels ho-hum or sounds just like everyone else in your space, you have an opportunity to level up, think bigger, and disrupt.

We’re here for the disruptors. If that’s your aspiration, let’s have a conversation.

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 to Make Retailers Love Your Food or Beverage Brand

I talk with food and beverage marketing leaders a lot about what it takes for consumers to fall in love with their brands. I write about the topic a lot, too.

But there’s another audience you need to woo … and they’re essentially the gatekeepers who grant access to your ultimate fan base. I’m talking about your brand’s retail partners. Specifically, category managers or buyers who choose which brands and products appear on their shelves. These relationships are essential to your business, present and future. And woe be unto the CMO or CGO who undervalues or overlooks these keepers of the shelf.

Perhaps your company has emphasized direct-to-consumer channels and wants to expand into brick-and-mortar. Or your sales team is getting some pushback in annual reviews with retail buyers who question the strength and performance of your brand. Or, worse, slowing velocity has put your products at risk of being discontinued by one of your outlets.

If you’re running into any of these challenges, it’s time to build or shore up relationships with your channel partners.

When Brands Overlook Retail Partners

The lousy retail partnerships we’ve helped our clients resolve typically occur under two scenarios.

First, the small passion brand that is still in First and Only mode. It has come out of the gate hot, with a unique product that’s attracted a legion of fans. Led by a charismatic founder, the darling brand is killing it at Whole Foods, and when it debuts at a trade show it stops traffic. It’s getting tons of likes and shares on social.

But this brand lives in a bubble, surrounded by a cohort of fans that don’t represent a broader consumer base. The founder-CEO is convinced that her product is the bomb and that if she loves it, everyone else will, too. She doesn’t value retail partners—and their input or feedback—because they just don’t get the brand. She’s happy to sell DTC, so she doesn’t have to deal with grocery category buyers. She doesn’t recognize that the cost of customer acquisition through DTC is significantly higher than at retail, where people are literally walking past the product every freaking day.

Second, the brand is mature and not a darling anymore. It’s reached 100M in sales but still struggles to be profitable. It’s gotten onto the shelf at Target—yay!—but then faded, gone on discount, and been discontinued. The brand has lost relevance. The CGO senses that retail relationships may be the issue, but isn’t sure why.

It’s Not a Sales Issue

Food or beverage brands that face challenges at retail often turn to their sales team to build better relationships with buyers. But this is not a sales problem. It’s a brand problem.

Understanding how to expand your audience without abandoning your die-hard fans is key to changing the conversation with category buyers who may be losing patience with your brand. These buyers are under enormous pressure to constantly elevate the performance of their departments or categories. They’re looking for winners, period.

Convince them that your offering isn’t just a set of features and benefits (which are easily copied—by the retailer’s own label—and ripe for discounting), but a purposeful brand that resonates powerfully with a rabid and growing audience. Deep relevance means you attract a loyal buyer who seeks out your products no matter what and is willing to pay a premium. Those are the kinds of shoppers the retailer hungers for.

Remember, too, that the category manager is armed to the teeth with data—probably more than your marketing team has. When you can demonstrate that your consumer syncs with theirs, you reframe the conversation.

While it’s tempting to deploy your most charismatic salesperson to woo the retail buyer, that may get the product on the shelf, but it won’t make up for poor performance. The retailer will gain the power to dictate terms and placement.

Instead, position yourself as a partner in their business. There’s no retailer on the planet with a block of shelf space just waiting for your product to show up. You have to have a story that convinces them why they should displace something else that’s already there for your new or existing offerings.

Show Retailers You Mean Business

So what does a retail buyer need to understand about your brand?

1) That you understand the consumer. You know who they are and who they aren’t, what they currently buy, how your offering sits adjacent to that, and what else is in their consideration set.

2) That they have your undivided attention. The Target buyer doesn’t want you to talk about your grocery business; the Costco rep doesn’t want you to talk about Target.

3) That you understand their world. They’re responsible for driving velocity and margin, and the extent to which you understand the expectations they’re facing will go a long way in establishing a collaborative relationship.

4) That you’re in it for the long haul. The buyer wants assurances that you’re sustainable enough to last and that their channel won’t become overlooked as your business grows.

5) That you’ve done your homework around supply chain and cost. You understand how the global economy works, and if one of your key ingredients comes from overseas, you have a plan for what to do if it becomes difficult or costly to obtain. If you have a supply chain breakage that forces you to discontinue some or all of your SKUs, a solid retail partnership ensures that you can return to the shelf when it’s resolved.

By leading with your capital-B Brand and a deep understanding of your current and potential audience, you’ll gain influence. You’ll build a partnership with retail decision-makers based on a goal of mutual success between equals. Rather than allowing the buyer to dictate terms and placement, you’ll bring to the table a plan that outlines how the audience shops their channel and how you can make the retailer more money. Your category review conversations will focus on new products, additional opportunities, and favored placement. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Need some guidance on making your retail relationships work better? We should talk about it.

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