Not Everyone Is Your Brand’s Audience, And That’s OK

You can spot fans of the Grateful Dead from across the street: by the way they dress, the stuff they ingest, the wheels they drive. They’re devoted followers who travel with the band and share bootleg recordings via online discussion groups. Deadheads can spot fellow Deadheads (even discreet Deadheads) in an instant.

But the Grateful Dead aren’t for everyone. And that’s OK.

As a food or beverage brand, your goal is to cultivate your audience like Deadheads. That means you’re not for everyone. And that’s OK, too.

Why a Base of Core Believers Matters

One of the core principles of using brand strategy for growth is building an inner circle of true believers that see themselves as different from others. Successful brands don’t appeal to everyone; they call to those with shared values.

You’re thinking: But wait. Isn’t the goal to sell lots of stuff to as many people as possible?

It isn’t. The goal of any brand — that isn’t selling commodities on price — should be to attain cult status among a key group of consumers. Here’s what that gets you:

1) When you have stark raving fans they prefer you over competitors. You’re not just in their consideration set; you’re their choice, always

2) Your fans are willing to pay a premium for your product. Not just because they like its taste, but because they like who they are when they engage with your brand. You drive more margin even as you’re selling to fewer people.

3) Your fans are also compelled to brag like maniacs about your brand. They take pride in their fan status and will evangelize on your behalf, and all of those people in their world who opt in will become fans too. They do your marketing for you; it costs less to recruit and maintain these consumers.

If you’re a brand without any differentiation, you need millions of people to care. If you’re a brand with a purpose, you need a focused group of fans to care. Here’s the math: Consumers who believe in what you stand for will buy on the order of 40x more than the average consumer — that’s according to a proprietary report we purchased from Mintel.

Knowing Who Not to Pursue

If your food or beverage brand is cultivating a community of superfans, then, by extension that means you’re keeping some people outside the ropes. And a lot of marketing executives we work with get squeamish about that. When I first started talking about this idea with clients several years ago, they either laughed or shuddered. And it’s still an outlier philosophy.

Today there is a lot of rhetoric aimed at brands, marketers, and business leaders to emphasize inclusion. This is good for people and society, and I’m personally all for brands doing their part to make a better world. But I’ve seen this emphasis on inclusion cause the best marketers in the world to second-guess themselves when it comes to shepherding their brand’s flock.

Being inclusive can mean different things. As you build your brand aimed at a better world, checking the inclusivity box, or the organic box, or the insert cause/certification box is not a differentiator. There’s more. When you get clear on your audience, you’ll also get clear on which audience is not yours.

Here’s the strategic way to think about this: Your goal is to create affinity, not exclusivity.

That means gathering rather than rejecting. Consumers who align with your brand’s mission are like moths to a flame. Mission is the wrong you exist to right in the world, the fight you fight, the good you do. People become superfans not because they like your products, but because your goal is theirs, too.

In other words, they’ve evolved beyond buyers to become believers. Believers don’t care about price, which yields a healthy margin on your products. They’ll remain loyal; you’re not one of 20 different brands they may rotate through their shopping carts.

How to Appeal ONLY to the Right Customers

You cannot have a group that subscribes to a set of behavioral doctrines and sticks together through thick and thin if you don’t excommunicate those who will never belong (because they don’t value what you value). The decision to forego a segment of the population to focus on your core fans requires that you and your leadership team know and agree upon what you believe in and who you are for — and, as important, what you do not believe in and who you are not for.

Again, the goal is to include and not reject. So how do you focus your audience without posting a “you’re not invited” sign in the window? Here are three tactics:

1) Maintain a laser focus on your brand’s mission. It should provide a True North for internal alignment, decision making, team behavior, and interaction with partners and customers. Other brands can copy your packaging and products, but they cannot replicate your mission and your dedication to pursuing it.

2) Steer all product innovation toward your fan base and away from the masses. Your brand’s mission should underpin every new product decision. Think of a Venn diagram with two circles representing the consumer’s need and the brand’s mission: Your opportunity for innovation lies in the overlap.

Venn Diagram - Your opportunity for innovation lies in the overlap.

3) Make it easy for your target audience to find and choose you. Create messaging and storytelling that resonates deeply to people who share your brand’s ethos. When you trumpet your passion far and wide, the folks who don’t get it will simply not opt in. In my book “Beloved & Dominant Brands”, I write about the Bat Signal — a message that only those in the know will see and respond to.

Honing a tightly focused fan base is the difference between lowercase-b branding and capital-B Branding. If you’re a brand, you need millions of people to make your P&L. If you’re a Brand, you make a ton of money off your group of true believers.

If you’re not sure how to sell this strategy to your team or you’re concerned about dismissing a segment of would-be buyers, we should talk. We’ve helped brands like Essentia and HighKey go narrow and go big.

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Founder, President, & Chief Strategist
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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