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Pioneering the New Tea Culture in America featuring Sashee Chandran, Tea Drops

Gooder Podcast featuring Sashee Chandran

“Luck is hard work and opportunity meeting.” – Sashee Chandran 

This week on the Gooder Podcast, I had the pleasure of talking with Sashee Chandran, the founder, and CEO of Tea Drops. We discuss the historical colonial influence in American tea culture and how her diverse background has encouraged her to create something new: Tea Drops. We also learn about the tea category shaking innovation of Tea Drops’ products and some of the trends her brand is leveraging. Along the way, we get to hear the inspirational story of a diligent and humble entrepreneur who transforms the traditional way of enjoying tea. 

In this episode we learn: 

  • About the history and inspiration of Tea Drops. 
  • The surprising A-ha moment of her product idea. 
  • About her go-to-market alternate channel strategy, and why it worked.
  • Where Sashee’s passion and drive for risk-taking come from.
  • What Tea Drop’s give-back program has been doing to tackle the global water crisis.
  • Diana and Sashee’s personal stories about their love for tea and how tea has helped them connect to their loved ones. 
Gooder Podcast

Pioneering the New Tea Culture in America featuring Sashee Chandran, Tea Drops

About Sashee Chandran: 

Sashee Chandran is the founder and CEO of Tea Drops, which creates bagless whole leaf teas using a patented process — shedding about 15% less waste than traditional teabag packaging. Tea Drops has become a favorite among new and experienced tea drinkers alike, launching innovative tea experiences that merge flavorful blends, food art, and edgy design. Tea Drops an omnichannel brand, selling D2C and also available in 1,500 retailers — loved by Oprah Magazine, Chrissy Teigen, and former first lady Michelle Obama. Sashee is a 1st Place $20K Women Founders Network pitch winner, 1st Place $100K Tory Burch Fellow Grant winner, and the 1st place $50K PepsiCo WomanMade Challenge winner. She has also raised over $3.5M in VC funding for Tea Drops. 

Guests Social Media Links: 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sasheechandran/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sasheechandran/?hl=en 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sasheec 

Email: sashee@myteadrop.com 

Website: https://www.myteadrop.com/ 

Show Resources: 

Loose leaf tea is tea that does not come pre-packaged in tea bags. Because the leaves are not crammed into a tea bag, the tea maintains a higher quality and aroma while offering the best possible health benefits. 

eBay Inc. is an American multinational e-commerce corporation based in San Jose, California, that facilitates consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer sales through its website. eBay was founded by Pierre Omidyar in 1995, and became a notable success story of the dot-com bubble.  

Bubble tea is a tea-based drink that originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s. It most commonly consists of tea accompanied by chewy tapioca balls, but it can be made with other toppings as well. 

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is an agency in the U.S. Department of Commerce that issues patents to inventors and businesses for their inventions, and trademark registration for product and intellectual property identification. 

Tory Burch Foundation competition Designed to provide women entrepreneurs with the tools and platform necessary to grow their business. 

8Greens is an effervescent dietary supplement tablet, packed with enough superfoods to give your healthy diet a green boost.  

United Natural Foods, Inc. is a Providence, R.I.-based natural and organic food company. It is the largest publicly traded wholesale distributor of health and specialty food in the United States and Canada. UNFI is Whole Foods Market’s main supplier, with their traffic making up over a third of its revenue in 2018. 

Nordstrom, Inc. is an American luxury department store chain. Founded in 1901 by John W. Nordstrom and Carl F. Wallin, it originated as a shoe store and evolved into a full-line retailer with departments for clothing, footwear, handbags, jewelry, accessories, cosmetics, and fragrances.  

Neiman Marcus Group, Inc., originally Neiman-Marcus, is an American chain of luxury department stores owned by the Neiman Marcus Group, headquartered in Dallas, Texas. 

The Thirst Project is a non-profit organization whose aim is to bring safe drinking water to communities around the world where it is not immediately available. The Thirst Project collects money and builds wells all across the continent of Africa where villages do not have immediate drinking water.

Diana Fryc

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

Connect with Diana
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The Movement of Natural’s and Better-For-You Products and Brands featuring Jessica Lyons, PCC Community Markets

Gooder Podcast featuring Jessica Lyons

“It’s important to be able to leave a footprint and get to know an impact.” – Jessica Lyons

This week on the Gooder Podcast, I had the pleasure of talking with Jessica Lyons, the Director of Promotions and E-Commerce of PCC Community Markets. We discuss the history of PCC Community Markets – the nation’s largest community-owned food market. We also learn more about PCC’s initiatives in building relationships with potential brands and what they do to drive organic as a standard. Along the way, we get to hear the amazing story of an inquisitive and resourceful relationship builder who continuously creates a thriving community around her.

In this episode we learn: 

  • About PCC Community Market and their involvement in the monumental changes within the food industry at a national level. 
  • About the vendor partner program that Jess is managing and some common misconceptions about this program. 
  • Customers’ high demand for product’s transparency in the food and naturals industry.
  • How the vendor partner program has helped underserved and underrepresented communities in the food/naturals industry.
  • About Jessica’s emphasis on creating a community, and following passions.
  • Diana and Jessica’s personal stories about imposter syndrome and how to transform that into positive energy which creates growth and self-awareness. 
Gooder Podcast

The Movement of Natural’s and Better-For-You Products and Brands featuring Jessica Lyons, PCC Community Markets

 About Jessica Lyons: 

Jessica (Jess) Lyons has built her career following her passions. She’s been successful in a wide range of experiences throughout her nearly two-decade-long career, making her a valuable Swiss army knife in any workplace. Jess currently serves as Director of Promotions and E-Commerce for PCC Community Markets, the nation’s largest community-owned food market. In this role, she lives out her foodie fantasies with a company centered around community and scratch-made organic food with a sustainable twist. Her greatest achievements at PCC include project managing an overnight co-op-wide rebrand, overhauling the in-store sign program, and developing a strategic, revenue-generating vendor partnership program. 

Prior to PCC, Jess’s enthusiasm for running was the starting line for 15 years in the outdoor industry. She gained retail and sales expertise during her 10 years with Finish Line and Fleet Feet Sports before joining Brooks Running Company to lead the retail marketing team. Her time with Brooks Running also included sales and customer acquisition, event marketing, and community partnerships. 

A native Texan, she proudly builds upon her hands-on experiences and is a self-starter by nature. When she’s not working or running, she can be found leading community fitness, hanging out with her husband and son, or cooking up something plant-based in the kitchen.

Guests Social Media Links: 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessicaelyons/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lyonsqueen117/?hl=en 

Email: jesslyons117@gmail.com 

Website: https://www.pccmarkets.com/ 

Show Resources: 

Brooks Sports, Inc., also known as Brooks Running, is an American sports Equipment Company that designs and markets high-performance men’s and women’s sneakers, clothing, and accessories. Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, Brooks’ products are available in 60 countries worldwide. 

Ventures: they’re a nonprofit group in Seattle and they work with entrepreneurs. A lot of them are low income or people of color or immigrants or women that are basically incubated to launch their products. 

Consumer packaged goods (CPG) are items used daily by average consumers that require routine replacement or replenishment, such as food, beverages, clothes, tobacco, makeup, and household products. 

UDaB‘s mission as an alternative breaks program is to create a variety of issue-based, service-learning experiences. Our programs are available to undergraduate students of all backgrounds and incomes during spring and winter breaks. 

Hint Water is an American beverage company based in San Francisco, California, as an alternative to soda and sugar beverages. It was started by former AOL employee Kara Goldin. 

The November Project is a free, open-to-the-public exercise group founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 2011. The name “November Project” comes from the Google Doc that the founders shared to track their progress in November 2011. While sessions occur year-round, the name stuck.  

Recovery Café Network (RCN) is comprised of Member organizations committed to serving people suffering from homelessness, addiction and other mental health challenges using the Recovery Café Model. 

Lily’s Sweets is a line of delicious chocolate bars, baking bits and baking bars that have less than 1 gram of sugar per serving.

Diana Fryc

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

Connect with Diana
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Food & Beverage Companies: Time to Go from Bland to Brand

If you’ve walked the health and beauty aisle at Target in the past few years (back when leisurely strolling a retail store was an everyday occurrence), you’ve seen the rise of a particular brand aesthetic.

Lots of whitespace, sans serif type, an absent logo, soft modern colors. Designers and marketers have dubbed this aesthetic “blanding” — a sort of no-brand branding. Lots of successful brands have adapted this style: Brandless (the exemplar), NativeHey Humans and others. Target’s newly launched Favorite Day brand of 700 (!) indulgent food and beverage products is another example.

The personal care and natural food/beverage categories are ripe for the blanding approach: The aesthetic is right for wellness or better-for-you brands because the whitespace and cleanness echo an old-school pharmaceutical look that implies health and purity.

Why Brands Embrace Blanding

Brands favor this blanding style because it plays well on social media, it’s scalable for different digital channels and screens, and it’s easy to systematize. Blanding is essentially a kit of parts: Pick a sans serif typeface — or, if you want to parrot Goop, a quirky, cute serif — add Pantone’s color of the year, no need to design a logo, and you’re cooking.

Online, this less-is-more bland style pairs with perfectly imperfect lifestyle photos — all midcentury modern and luxury décor and rose gold and other visual cues that appeal to Millennial shoppers. Millennial consumers especially like to curate their lives, with products that have a complementary look that they can display on a bathroom vanity or kitchen counter. For that reason, blanding is purpose-built for Instagram, which is highly visual and focused on beauty. Consumers get to associate with that vibe and imagine themselves immersed in the images they see in their IG feeds.

Too, there’s a sort of faux consumer confidence that emerges among lookalike blands. “If my snack bar looks like my deodorant looks like my vitamins, then it must be good.”

Because it’s a) super popular right now, so a proven creative concept, and b) really easy to pull off without hiring a high-fee design agency, many startup and direct-to-consumer brands have adopted the blanding approach right out of the gate.

But there’s a real challenge for these companies. As a FastCompany article puts it, “Blands are like teenagers. They dress the same, talk the same, act the same. They don’t have a defined sense of self or, if they do, they lack the confidence to be it. It’s a school-of-fish mentality where the comfort and safety of the familiar outweigh the risk of attracting too much attention.”

Blanding is simply a visual style. It’s not branding. And without a capital-B Brand, your product risks becoming a commodity. By Brand, I mean a mission or purpose: a wrong that your company and its community strive to remedy, a higher calling, a better way of life for your customers.

Blands recede into the swirl of other similar products on the shelf; brands — especially Beloved & Dominant brands — stand up, stand out, and stand for something. And to do that, you have to use your own voice.

Graduating from Bland to Brand

I get the appeal of blanding. When done well, it can be quite attractive. It’s why so many charismatic entrepreneurs in food and beverage start-ups leverage the style: Their product looks great, their packaging looks great, and by association they look great.

My sense is that this design trend would have passed already were it not for the pandemic, which forced emerging DTC and ecommerce brands to rapidly ramp up their consumer presence in the first six to eight months of the quarantine.

You can get away with a bland for a while, but as the brand matures and starts to stand for something, this one-of-many design style becomes useless. The challenge is that just like emerging artists who haven’t yet gelled their own style, these young brands emulate their peers.

When the quarantine is over, people will go out to shop more frequently and more leisurely than they do today. And the blands will quickly start to feel like private label.

Bespoke brands understand how to stand out enough to become Beloved & Dominant category leaders. The first step is to look critically at the ecosystem of your consumers and then work to becoming a one-of-a-kind standout in their world. If Instagram frames your worldview, then you’ll land on the same visual construct that other players in your category are using.

Blanding is normcore — it’s riskless, you don’t have to stake a claim to meaning, it’s the easy path. Branding is unique — it’s risky, pegged to an idea, and demands a deep understanding of your consumer and their world.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with blanding as the tool kit that your startup incubator gives you; a beautiful package might get you into a conversation with retailers or investors, especially if you’re riding the passion of a charismatic founder.

I think of blanding as a “fake it ‘til you make it” business strategy.

But once you’ve lost velocity or aren’t selling through or can’t get meetings with new channel partners, then you’ve outgrown it. If Target wants you on the shelf but your products don’t move and then they make a private label version of your offering, then it’s time to hit “eject” and move on.

The good news is that you’ve already begun to build a following. Now it’s time to do the work to establish a strategic foundation before you get to the cool stuff like making a logo and choosing a color palette. That includes:

— Defining the brand’s mission and values

— Articulating a brand story that’s bigger than your product

— Identifying places where you want to play, outside of Instagram but in the real world of sales

In order to become a category leader you have to exit the superhighway of blanding and go offroad to seek your tribe who will love you forever and will pay what you ask in order to deliver on your mission.

Elevating from one-of-many bland to Beloved & Dominant Brand takes guts, vision, and leadership. It’s a massive, exciting opportunity because it means you’re ready to grow up and out. We can help you take those steps, so let’s connect.

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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7 Tips to Expand Your Better-for-You Audience Without Losing Your Fans

It’s the No. 1 concern for every better-for-you company we talk to: How do we rebrand without alienating our current fans? This is an existential question — because growth always means adding new consumers to the fold, and in appealing to those new people you risk leaving your early adopters behind.

Marketers mistakenly worry that building an audience is a zero-sum game: for every new customer you lose an old one. But it’s possible to grow and retain. In a marketplace that’s moving at breakneck speed, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you know what you’re doing. If you do your job well as a marketer, you can’t possibly blow this. (Read on for strategies to manage a big brand change with your audience.)

Brand Changes that Consumers Care About

So what kinds of brand changes may be off-putting to your longtime fans? Let’s look at four big ones:

Identity — Particularly for “badge brands” whose logo has become a marker or status symbol for consumers, a change in graphic identity should be done with care. For positive examples, look no further than professional sports, where teams regularly update uniforms and tweak color palettes, and fans flock to team stores to buy the new versions.

Packaging — Any packaging design change other than an evolution, without any preview and explanation, make consumers wonder what else is changing (i.e., ingredients, cost, company ownership).

Formula — This is a big change, and it can be risky for brands that have anchored their positioning on a singular ingredient or flavor profile. Mission-driven brands will have an easier time altering the product itself, so long as the change upholds the larger reason for being. A compelling case study for shifting or expanding formulation is Krave Jerky, which made a logical stretch from meat-based protein snacks to include plant-based products.

Size — Even if your audience isn’t value-conscious, they’ll notice a downsize in packaging, especially if you’re the only player in your category making the change.

Avoid the arrogance of thinking, “Our consumers will figure it out; we don’t need to explain it to them.” The worst-case scenario if you pull major changes on your brand loyalists without communicating to them is that they’ll abandon you for an alternative. You may fear social media backlash, and in fact, some of your fans will call you out for changing a brand they love. That’s actually a golden opportunity, however, because you’ll hear the complaints and be able to respond and make your fans part of the solution. But without a dialog in which you acknowledge their concerns and educate them about why you’re making the change, you’ll lose them forever. The essential ingredient in any brand change is communication.

7 Considerations & Strategies for Brand Change

As you contemplate a brand change that you think may have repercussions with your loyalists, consider these points:

1) Your current consumer may not really be your real target audience. Marketing to your current consumer means you are always looking backward and inward. You probably think, mistakenly, that the customers who buy your product are just like the people leading the brand. Instead, you need research and analysis to identify future consumer needs, habits, and trends. For example, Essentia came to us with the notion that their target audience was primarily athletes and fitness buffs who needed to replenish water lost in workouts. But our research identified a whole new universe of people across all kinds of interests who wanted superior hydration to fuel their work and interests.

2) Change is easier when you’re leading. From a marketer’s perspective, the ideal opportunity to do something big is when you’ve had such consistent and tremendous success that you’re now faced with having to stay ahead. The worst time is when the brand is on life support and you know it.

3) Marketing cannot supplant change when change is necessary. You may fear you can’t do anything meaningfully different from other brands in your space, or do anything your original customers won’t like. That you have to stay in your lane and just work to out-market the competition. But you can’t out-market the competition — especially store brands — because they’re simply copying what you do at a cheaper price point and stealing your thunder.

4) It’s nearly impossible to over-communicate with your audience when you make a change. There are three platforms of the Brand Ecosystem to leverage: in-store (packaging in particular), social media, and your website.

5) Start communicating change with a bug or banner on your existing packaging. The best example of communicating change came from Chobani: They added a “new packaging coming soon” message to the inside of the lid, so it was unmissable to existing consumers.

6) Use social media to build anticipation and excitement before the change. Look at how your loyalists engage with you and tell them through that channel that change is coming. By the time it happens, no one will be surprised; in fact, if you bring them along they will embrace and advocate for the change.

7) Marketers commonly make the mistake of waiting to update the brand’s website until the change is already happening. Instead, make that your first communication platform to share the news, so that if the loyalist sees something about the change they can go to your website and understand why it’s happening.

When brand marketers and executives consider a pivot — a new mark, revised packaging, whatever it may be — they may fear a loss of share that never materializes. When fear overrides opportunity, you’ll swirl in a constant cycle of incremental tweaks instead of making great growth strides. Remember: Your original tribe will never entirely go away — as long as your brand stays true to its core values, the risk of losing your core consumer is small if they see that you’re upholding your brand promise.

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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Does Your Naturals Brand Have a Mission? Or Just a Mission Statement?

Type “how to write a mission statement” into Google’s search field, and it’ll return 434,000,000 results. Clearly, there’s a lot of advice out there for writing a mission statement.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about capital-M Mission: Your brand’s true purpose.

It’s easy to have a mission statement. It’s harder to live a true Mission. If your operations team or customer service team don’t know how to do their job against your company’s Mission, you’ve got a marketing tactic, not a vision for the brand’s higher calling in the world.

The Difference Between Mission and Mission Statement

You’ve done this at some point in your marketing career, right? Been part of an internal task force to develop a mission statement for the brand. Someone on the team Googled “how to write a mission statement” and you went through the steps. Maybe you even stenciled the resulting copy on the conference room wall. Mission statements are Marketing 101.

But a mission statement without a Mission is BS. “Ensuring stakeholder value” does not a brand Mission make.

Mission, rather, is the very soul of your brand. It is your promise and the ways in which you keep it. It’s the wrong you exist to right in the world, the fight you fight, the good you do.

Why does Mission matter? Because no matter how good your product is, eventually, someone’s going to come along with a cheaper version. David outlines how this happens, inevitably, in his book Beloved & Dominant Brands.

And if you aim to rebound from One of Many to Beloved & Dominant status, then your Mission is essential. It’s the foundation of your brand strategy. Remember: People don’t buy products. They buy brands.

Mission is a Holistic Business Strategy

Your brand’s Mission doesn’t just guide how you market the product to consumers. It flows throughout the entire organization:

  • Does your corporate culture match? Do people in the organization treat each other according to your higher values?
  • Does your payroll match? Can your employees afford your products?
  • Does your decision-making match? Are the strategies and initiatives you pursue in line with your Mission?
  • Does your ops match? Is your ingredient deck as clean and natural as possible?
  • Does your philanthropy match? Do you work to solve real needs?

Every employee, from the C-suite to the folks taking customer calls and the marketers repping the brand in social channels, should understand how their work advances the Mission. It’s like the guy sweeping the floor at NASA in the 1960s, who knew that his role was essential to getting people to the moon.

When your Mission is clearly defined, it serves as magnetic north on your corporate compass; you can say no to all the stuff that falls outside the lines. Mission builds internal alignment, team trust, and momentum. If you’re working in a company that has a mission statement without a Mission, you know it: Every decision is hard, marketing campaigns don’t land, the organization is dysfunctional, and your product development is all over the map.

What a Strong Mission Looks Like

When we consult with a struggling brand, we often start by helping them identify or refine their Mission. A Mission should be a BHAG — a big, hairy, audacious goal. Furthermore, there are four key attributes to a strong Mission:

It must be an action – it leads with a verb to describe what the brand does toward the goal.

It must be specific and quantifiable – you need to have a dashboard on it so you can track how you’re delivering on your promise.

It must change lives — it’s not just about selling stuff and returning value to stakeholders.

It must avoid sentiment – you need to develop language that is not so emotional or self-focused so you can’t enroll the broadest audience both internally and externally. [Note: When you translate the mission into marketing, it can become highly personal and emotional.]

The magic happens, of course, when your Mission resonates so deeply with so many people that sales naturally follow. Consumers so thoroughly buy-in that they will stick with your brand over all others, no matter what. That’s Beloved & Dominant. (And that’s what we do!)

Organizations often write mission statements so they can check that box on the “what companies do” list. But there’s no there there.

Frankly, you can get by if you have a Mission without a catchy mission statement. But the opposite is not true. You can’t Copywrite your way out of a lack of Mission. No matter what those 400 million Google search results might suggest.

Diana Fryc

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

Connect with Diana
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Naturals Brands: Is Your Charismatic Founder Helping or Hurting the Business?

We’re just gonna make a bold statement here: If the sole reason for your company’s success is the actual, physical presence of the founder — during visits with retail partners, sales meetings at trade shows, in-store demonstrations — then you have a branding problem.

Because when that charismatic founder/owner isn’t in the room, the wind goes out of your sails.

It’s a challenge that we see frequently in the natural food and beverage space, which is populated by brands launched by individuals who developed products that initially met their own needs. (Think: an avid hiker needed an energy bar to power through day-long treks; a parent with a kid with a food allergy needed a clean snack.) Typically, a brand rides to out-of-the-gate success on the back of that passionate, visionary founder.

But as the brand grows and the founder/owner can’t be everywhere at once, a few gaping holes begin to develop. While the sales team is capable of selling the brand’s offering to retailers, the product itself doesn’t match the hype. Consumers don’t see the brand as meaningfully different from competitors and choose lower-priced options. The brand loses velocity and risks discontinuation. It’s exhausting to rely on charisma, and it’s expensive to not get the sell-through you need to stay profitable.

When the Founder Becomes a Liability

In the lifecycle of a brand I describe in my book Beloved & Dominant Brands, the risk of founder-as-brand shows up when the brand tips from Beloved by Default (still riding the visionary’s coattails) to One of Many (lost in a churn of copycats).

First & Only — an innovative, world-changing newcomer

Beloved by Default — a niche brand attracting a growing audience of fans

One of Many — a once-darling brand copied by cheaper competitors

Beloved & Dominant — a category-crushing superstar so favored by consumers that it’s competition-proof

Two fundamental truths about entrepreneur-led brands are at play here: One, the founder can’t replicate herself, and as she spreads herself too thin her influence wanes. Two, and perhaps more important, the leader and her executive team assume, wrongly, that they ARE their customer. They fail to see that consumers’ needs are different, and that the product doesn’t fit as well into their lives. They think: “Everyone must love this brand as much as we do.” We see this especially in competitive categories where the barriers to entry are lower (e.g. snacks) and where look-alike products are hard for consumers to differentiate.

Faced with dipping sales, the marketing team often steps in with quick fixes: tweaks to the packaging design or sometimes even positioning. The deeper the bias of the founder or leadership about their product’s superiority (when for retailers and consumers, it’s parity) the smaller and more frustrating the moves. Marketing is often unsuccessful or merely produces a short-term bump prompted by ad campaigns or discounting. Meanwhile, the brand struggles to meet minimum velocity hurdles. Sales and marketing are doomed to fail if the brand and business are hinging on the charisma of the founder.

Separating the Brand from the Individual

So, how can marketing executives steer the brand away from the founder’s persona? Very gently.

First, it’s important to remember one definition of brand:

Brand is what they say about you when you aren’t in the room.

That’s because it’s about them, silly, not about you.

Perhaps the smartest thing you can do is to enlist an external ally to help identify the issue — the primacy of the founder/owner is creating serious branding and business problems — and to deliver the difficult news and take the heat for saying so. And yes, there’ll be some heat. (We’ve been in that chair, and we’re well-versed in sharing tough news with grace.)

Just as important, you must frame the situation not as a complaint about the founder, but as a natural, growth-related challenge that has a strategic solution.

Think of other brands pegged to an individual founder: Bob, Barbara, Justin, Annie … it’s been a long time since Bob or Barbara was in a regional retail sales meeting. But Bob and Barbara still project a halo of wisdom and a promise of quality over the brands, even those that are now owned by large multinationals.

As a spunky, entrepreneurial naturals brand grows, the role of the founder/owner must pivot away from hands-on, in-every-meeting doer to benevolent guide. The founder/owner becomes a shepherd for the brand rather than the brand itself. She shows up like a pastor or chairman emeritus; the brand stands for itself and its mission, and the individual hovers above in a sort of endorsement role. Like Justin or Annie, the founder’s presence serves as confirmation that the brand is a real thing based on real people.

Think of the founder/owner’s position like a patronus. (“Harry Potter” fans will recognize the patronus as a magically conjured apparition that guides, protects, and inspires a person in his moment of need.) The founder, then, doesn’t fight the fight, but serves as a beacon.

When we advise founder-centric brands on evolving the brand beyond the dynamic individual, we help turn the liability into a strength by involving the founder in the journey from lead warrior to champion. It often takes some coaching, but rarely have we seen the founder resist the move. Typically, he recognizes his responsibility for the business impasse, feels the pain of decreasing sales, and embraces his new role as vision-giver and mentor to the brand.

And then the whole organization breathes a sigh of relief. The overtaxed founder gets to step out of the day-to-day and focus on work that adds value. Product development responds to real market opportunity rather than the owner’s whim. Marketing moves the needle because the brand’s values align with consumers’.

Apple is often celebrated as a brand with a powerful connection to fans, and it’s also a case study in how dominant leaders can and should behave. In Apple’s darkest days, Steve Jobs was in every meeting, weighing in on every decision, driving every aspect of the business. When he stepped back to let other exceptional minds shape the company and instead became a spiritual guide and external presence at product-launch events, Apple soared.

If you’re working with an in-the-weeds Steve Jobs when you need a product-unveiling Steve Jobs, give us a call. We’ve traveled this path and can help founders find their most fulfilling and difference-making roles.

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 RIGHT Strategic Partner for your Naturals Brand

There are times when even the smallest business decision feels like life or death. When, despite your experience, smarts, and leadership position you hear that voice that says: What if I get this wrong?

Happens all the time. We’ve seen companies delay (often for years) committing to an initiative or innovation because executives can’t make up their minds or fear making the wrong choice. The same goes for beginning a branding project or even choosing an expert partner to help with the work.

Sound familiar?

Perhaps you’re in charge of a brand and it’s clear that you and the company need to make some changes. But you’re not exactly sure what the problem is, and so you’re challenged to choose the right team. You might delay getting started, or break a big project into small chunks that don’t effectively tackle the larger issue you need to resolve. (We understand; we’ve coached marketing leaders in your chair before.)

Recognize What’s Giving You Pause

If you’re hesitant to engage a strategic partner or commit to a project, it might be helpful to first understand why. A few insights:

Some organizations are built for comfort, not for speed. Even if your brand was founded on passion, innovation, and entrepreneurship, the growth of the organization may have dampened those early risk-taking tendencies. As the company has added staffers, won fans among consumers, built retail partnerships, and grown revenue, decision making becomes more difficult. The stakes feel higher. Your butt’s on the line, and you’re afraid of making the wrong choice.

Two, growth tends to throw even upstart brands out of alignment. When your organization isn’t aligned to a common cause, personal agendas overwrite the brand’s mission and purpose. Decision making is tainted by individuals’ preferences and interests. The more people you ask for input, the harder and more confusing it is to make the right decision.

Let’s also acknowledge the immense anxiety that’s pervading society and, by extension, business right now. Uncertainty breeds fear and indecision.

What to Expect When You Engage the Right Strategic Partner

Which marketing strategist is the right group for us to partner with? Do we even need outside help? What should we hire them to do? What if we make the wrong choice?

If uncertainty is in the way of your decision, then knowing what to expect may help sweep that aside.

Imagine what is possible when the brand is surrounded by a team of internal and external experts who are passionately committed to the cause. When you bring to the table expertise that your bench doesn’t currently have and an objective point of view that your internal folks can’t possibly possess.

An outside partner — the right outside partner — will help you see the opportunities right under your nose that you’re too in the weeds to see. They’ll walk alongside your team, sharing expertise and experience, helping you make the decisions with confidence and bravery. They’ll give you tough news gently and cheer your wins enthusiastically.

When you build a team that includes both internal and external experts, you establish a think tank around you that elevates your own expertise. You have weapons and systems at your fingertips that you didn’t have before.

A strategic partner can also help you undertake challenges that your team has been struggling with for years. They can diagnose problems and prescribe solutions quickly so the organization can spring into action. In our experience, any hesitation that marketers feel about letting outside experts in the door evaporates as they see the big picture, understand what they need to do, and become hopeful instead of skeptical about the future.

When prospects make the decision to enlist our brand strategy help, they become lighthearted, relieved, open to change — frankly, they’re jacked out of their gourds. (To be clear, we’re not for everyone, and that’s okay.)

As a sign-off, I’ll share a bit of reassurance: The risk isn’t choosing the wrong outside partner. Because even if it’s not the right fit, you’ll still gain a ton of valuable insight. The risk is to not engage at all.

So …

Trust your instincts.

Reduce the number of people you’re talking to about this initiative to your mentors or closest business partners. The more you shop around a decision like this, the more conflicting opinion you’ll hear.

Be afraid and do it anyway. Any fear lies in the decision-making process, not the decision itself; you just need to get over the hump.

Understand the reality of what you can and can’t do. When you hold off making a bigger commitment to a strategic partner, you may instead try to chip away at your business problems piecemeal.

Know that in any engagement with outside expertise you’ll gain intelligence and insight, change the way you think as an organization, and start to see your blind spots. You can’t really blow this decision.

Ready? Give us a call.

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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Brand Slam | Call For Entries for Season Two

Retail Voodoo is recruiting participants for Season 2 of Brand Slam – Episodes starting March 2021.

CPG brands spend a lot of time telling consumers how different they are. And with the brand world changing faster than ever, the fundamentals of brand building are receiving scrutiny. What is a brand anyway? A logo? An idea? An ad campaign?

We have decided to answer those questions, in real-time and have created a monthly workshop for food, beverage, health and wellness company founders looking to gain insights on how to use brand positioning, language and strategy to gain unfair advantage in the market. Learn what opportunities and details Retail Voodoo looks for when building a strong brand and how your brand must use these tools to educate consumers about it.

Our Brand Slam Brand Tune-Up will start by auditing and benchmarking your brand against competitors in your categories to develop a powerful platform for brand growth. Our goal is to help you think about building a stronger brand by giving you tools and examples from a live case study.

Each month, Retail Voodoo’s David Lemley will choose one entrepreneurial brand (maybe yours?) to showcase the lessons and strategic thinking that go into building the heart of a brand – in a live broadcast.

Are you ready for a Brand Slam?

Application Criteria

  • Must be a food, beverage, wellness, or fitness brand
  • Applicants should be $2M or less in annual revenue
  • Must be in market a minimum of 6 months
  • Must be based, and doing business, in North America

Watch Previous Episodes:

Sign Up To Apply – Deadline: January 15, 2021

We can’t wait to meet you!

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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Big Plans for Your Naturals Brand? Start With a Strategic One

Yes, 2020 has been a … well, we’re not sure what kind of year to call it.

While it’s still not business as usual, businesses still have to do many of the usual things, like planning for 2021. And if there’s one thing you should have on the to-do list for your natural food or beverage brand in the next year—before product launches or new channel strategies or investment opportunities—it should be brand strategy.

That’s because none of those initiatives stand any meaningful chance of long-term success without a strategic foundation supporting them.

Brands in 2020 are placing too much emphasis on commercialization and not enough on strategy.

Look, I recognize the importance of selling products or services and getting to market ASAP. But it’s risky business because it is less disciplined to chase an opportunity than it is to create opportunities based upon clearly defined strategic goals. By focusing on strategy-first, businesses can take the lead on branding and positioning, then translate those needs into new products, services, experiences, and personalization opportunities to grow both revenue and positive consumer-relationships.

Brand Strategy as a Smart Business Investment

If you’re going to spend dollars anywhere, brand strategy is where to spend them first. This is where your ROI will come from; every initiative that is strategic in nature will generate a return. Strategy anchors every decision your leadership team should make about the brand and every tactic your marketing team should deploy.

When you know the brand’s DNA, you can confidently make bold moves that might look risky to outsiders. You can stretch your product offering in just the right way that will a) make sense to current customers and b) attract newcomers into the tribe. You can renovate the brand’s identity or packaging so that it stands out in the category. You’ll be highly attractive to investors because you deeply understand who you are and have your act together.

The Process of Developing a Brand Strategy

Natural-brand companies that come to us for guidance have a shoot-first and aim-second mentality. They’re facing a challenge or crisis: Competitors are taking their lunch money, or retailers are shelving their products on the bottom row, or investors are sniffing around but shying away from a deal.

Perhaps you’re in a similar position.

In which case, allocating time to “do” strategy feels like you’re stuck in the starting blocks while the rest of the runners are halfway down the track.

Our work with naturals brands, though, is more like a cross-country race than a sprint. Without the right plan, you’ll come out of the gate too hot, burn out, lose your footing, or pull a hamstring. All are sure-fire ways to lose—or not finish—the race.

So what does this strategy work look like with our clients? It starts with our competitive audit. Not a category audit, mind you, which only looks at the other products in your immediate category. We look holistically at everything—necessities, experiences, luxuries, and other stuff—that competes with your brand for your core consumer’s dollar, time, and attention.

We look at all seven platforms in what we call the Brand Ecosystem to see where your brand wins or struggles.

Our brand strategy work looks externally to audiences, both those you have and those you hope to reach. Brands, especially those founded by visionary CEOs who pioneered a novel product, have a tendency to think that a consumer thinks about their brand 24/7. Most only think about them in the moment of need—at purchase, or when a product is needed to solve a problem (it’s raining; I need my Patagonia jacket). When brands forget that that moment of inflection with consumer happens on an infrequent basis, they over-inflate their importance to the universe. What’s more, leaders at naturals brands really believe in their products, and so they think that consumers automatically do, too.

It also turns the camera on the internal corporate culture. Your brand’s success is limited or unleashed by the people within your organization; we help companies align their people to their purpose.

It takes a fair, unbiased, honest perspective to bring actionable insights—instead of just guessing or making assumptions based on what you see in front of you. That’s what we bring to the table. We’ll help you discover what you don’t know.

A strategic brand foundation focused on body (the competitive environment), mind (your promise and the way that you keep it), and soul (your people) renders your business essentially future-proof. It makes decision-making easy.

A solid brand strategy is like a flight plan. Sure, you might eventually fly the plane from LA to New York, but without a navigational plan and waypoints, weather data, technical inputs, and the right fuel load, you have no idea where or how you’ll get there.

You run every other aspect of your business with a plan—finance, operations, sales. Why operate without a plan for the brand itself?

We can help you research, aggregate, analyze, and create a plan. It’s what we’re good at, and our clients see phenomenal growth when they dedicate the right time, investment, and people to building a strategic brand plan. Ready to go? 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.

Connect with David
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Marketing is Easier Because We Know Our Audience Interview with Diana Fryc

The Benefits of Specialization

Diana Fryc traces the origins of her current role as Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Retail Voodoo to some pretty diverse places. From working with Jane Goodall to bringing an environmental focus to strategic marketing, the binding agent has been focus. She’s learned that the only way to have an impact — regardless of where you are in the market — is to know your audience intimately.

“Marketing is easier now because we know who our audience is — we know who we’re talking to…Specialization allows us to speak to exactly what’s happening with our prospects at their business-level.”

In this episode, Mark speaks with Diana Fryc, Partner and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Retail Voodoo, about how her firm has evolved over the years, culminating in focused expertise in brand strategy for natural and wellness brands.

Diana Fryc

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

Connect with Diana