Struggling Brand? Fix Your Strategy, Not Just Your Packaging

We know how easy it is for Food & Beverage brands to miss the mark on brand strategy, too often mistaking it for design application, or even marketing strategy or activation. When your brand is faced with a problem — and time, budget, and business are on the line — the alluring promise of immediate results from new packaging or marketing tactics feels like a silver bullet.

But marketing tactics and creative deliverables alone can’t fix what’s wrong with a struggling brand. Brand strategy has to be at the heart of every decision your business makes; from what you’re selling, to how you’re selling it, to who you’re selling to. It is the single driver of company culture, product offering, and marketing translation.

Is Your Brand’s Problem Tactical or Strategic? 

When we first met with Russell Stover, their sugar-free line had lost momentum. After owning that niche in the marketplace for many years, they were suddenly being pushed aside by new competitors that looked fresher and more attractive to potential consumers — and retailers were taking note. “Change your packaging!” was the resounding mandate.

It’s true, Russell Stover’s packaging needed work. It was nostalgic in an old-fashioned way. But the packaging wasn’t the real problem; it was just a symptom of a bigger issue with the brand.

Figuring out what was actually wrong with the brand and putting a new plan in place required strategy and time. This was not a situation a new logo or a simple tagline from a copywriter could solve.

The Brand Strategy Journey

The good news is that waiting for big results from your brand strategy engagement doesn’t mean you won’t have wins and “Aha!” moments along the way.

Brand Strategy Win No. 1: Recognizing Challenges and Opportunities

When we worked with Russell Stover, the first big “Aha!” happened during an early meeting with the client — just four weeks after our engagement with them began.

Within a three-hour window, the original project goals outlined by the client team evolved — from a simple packaging facelift aimed at reversing a downward sales trend, to seeing their brand change for the better right in front of their eyes. We facilitated this by introducing brand strategy and landscape scenario planning as the catalyst for change.

Ultimately we showed a future state where Russell Stover Sugar Free could bridge the gap between traditional boxed chocolates and the better-for-you consumer’s desire for sugarless offerings. By unpacking the preferences of three crtitical audience segments, we set the table for an honest conversation about ingredient profiles, brand quality perceptions, and brand stretch. Our client left the meeting commited to larger-scale changes including product reformulation, positioning, package design, and long-term planning for a new brand.

Brand Strategy Win No. 2: Developing New Creative

The next moment of validation typically happens two to three months into our engagement when we unveil the creative deliverables we’ve produced to our clients for the first time. This is when the new brand strategy begins coming to life, and our clients finally have a tangible, visual manifestation of all the research and conversation we’ve done so far.

Just a few months into their work with us, the Russell Stover team got the new packaging they really did need. But instead of a quick-fix solution, they now recognized this deliverable as a vital piece of their brand strategy. The symptom they’d originally noted was remedied by addressing their larger brand problem.

Brand Strategy Win No. 3: Building a Future-Proof Brand

For companies working with us on brand strategy, the real turns start happening between months 12 and 18.

For Russell Stover, those final shifts meant a change in their product’s ingredient deck and buttoned-up inventory control, which subsequently led to globally positive feedback from retailers and their most successful sales period in quite some time.

We repositioned the brand as “America’s Favorite” sugar free chocolate — celebrating the brand’s legacy and welcoming consumers of all ages and interests into the Russell Stover audience. As consumers responded and velocity rebounded, retailers were thrilled by the brand’s performance.

In just 12 months, a precipitous decline in sales reversed to yield 33% growth. According to IRI, Russell Stover Sugar Free leads the category in Velocity, Velocity Growth, Repeat Purchase, Dollar Volume, Dollars Per Store, Dollars Per Buyer, Percentage of Household Buying, and Product Trips Per Buyer. It’s a Beloved & Dominant brand.

A one-off packaging redesign simply could not have delivered results like these.

When Does Brand Strategy Deliver ROI? 

When a brand reaches what we call One of Many status — competitors are lurking, sales slack off, and retailers start to worry — it’s tempting for marketers to look for quick-ish fixes like packaging. The reality is that meaningful strategic solutions take time to produce measurable, lasting results.

Depending on the size of your company, you should expect to see big-picture returns from a brand strategy engagement at the 12-to-18-month mark.

If that timeline seems daunting, we absolutely get it. But take a step back and consider that real brand strategy implementation often requires changing your brand — and perhaps even your company’s culture, systems, and production — from the inside out. That’s not a simple task. But if you can commit to the work required, it’s always worth the investment.

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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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