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Better-for-You Brand Marketers: Don’t Ignore Boomers

In most marketer circles, it’s not sexy to talk about marketing to the Baby Boomer generation: they seem too old, stuck in their ways, out of step with modern ideas. Instead, brands chase millennials — the on-the-go tastemakers who are all over Instagram — and Gen Zers, whose world views align with mission-driven BFY brands.

Each of these cohorts has distinctive demographic and psychographic characteristics. And growing a brand with a Gen Z or Millennials is tough, as they tend to be price sensitive and fickle. So are you missing out by overlooking Boomers?

Why Brands Overlook Boomers

The “OK, Boomer” meme sparked by Gen Z to diss their elders might as well apply to marketers, too. Why do brands dismiss these consumers?

It’s human nature that we’re always looking for the new and next. In a business sense, marketers think they already understand all they need to know about the customers they’ve been talking to for years. And many companies mistakenly think that the path to growth moves beyond their current demographic into others.

In addition, millennials were just so difficult for marketers to figure out (in part because most of those marketers were likely Boomers themselves until fairly recently). Millennials are disillusioned and pessimistic: they came of age during an economic downturn and are overloaded in debt and technology. Marketers were initially taken aback by this cohort because they were so different, and it took so much research to understand them.

Here’s What Marketers Should Know About Boomers

Your brand may not be actively communicating with your existing Boomer audience, figuring you’ve already got them in the fold. Or you may not see them as a growth opportunity. Worse, your startup BFY brand may not be targeting them in any way, at all. We’d suggest that all of those strategies are misguided. Here’s what you need to know about this generation:

They’re not old. First, let’s remember who the Boomers are: Born between 1946 and 1964, the youngest of them are now in their mid to late 50s. They’re hardly old. The Greatest Generation was old at age 60; there’s a bias about Boomers—but they’re incredibly active, they’re big spenders, they’re traveling and going to the gym and even still working.

They’re the original “naturals.” Remember: Boomers launched the conscious consumerism movement in the 1950s and ’60s. At that time, teens and young adults were concerned about pesticides, animal welfare, and Big Ag. They read “Silent Spring” and started the first natural foods co-op stores. They embraced whole foods and vegetarianism. Their children, the millennials, took the movement mainstream. But if you’re a BFY brand, Boomers are your first-line audience.

Boomers are redefining aging. Nutritional supplements, expensive skincare products, gym memberships, cosmetic procedures — Boomers are embracing everything at their disposal to look, feel, and behave like their younger selves. Just as they did in the 1960s, Boomers are disrupting culture; this time, they’re disrupting age. They’re reinventing their lives so they can live another 30, 40, or 50 years on their own terms.

They are big spenders. Baby Boomers account for more than half of U.S. spending. They take between four and five leisure trips a year. They’re renovating the family home or furnishing new downsized condos. In addition to spending on health and wellness products, they’re big snackers — as empty-nesters or solos, they don’t prepare big dinners at home anymore and tend instead to snack heavily.

They value experiences. Boomers favor brands that deliver great experiences that align with their interests. And they’re willing to pay a premium for products that deliver.

Finally, Boomers behave like younger consumers do — more than you may think. The difference is that they’re not building the platform they’re going to live their life on; they’re looking to optimize the lives they’ve built. Boomers are influenced by the younger generations of their kids’ and grandkids’ age. They’ll bring home those products their kids and grandkids like, and then they’ll sample and adopt those products. Too, Boomers behave more like Gen Z on social media: They’re more plugged in because they have time, but their preference for personal interaction vs. digital mirrors Gen Z’s habits.

How to Market to Boomers

As with any demographic, you need to understand how to talk to and persuade Boomers. Here are some smart tactics:

  • Appeal to their caregiving nature — having raised kids, they’re still looking to nurture, whether it’s a pet or a relative or a neighbor. Brands can leverage the fact that Boomers are used to spending money on others.
  • Don’t call them old — Boomer consumers don’t want you to start talking to them like an older person, i.e., “Hey, Boomer, we know you need these comfy shoes …” While their Greatest Generation parents saw themselves as old at a relatively early age, Boomers don’t think of themselves that way. Speak to them honestly, but appeal to their sense of younger self and their appetite for staying forever young.
  • Play up the premium — Remove obstacles to a premium experience, even if you don’t have a premium brand. Take the friction out of the process of buying and using your product. They’ll remain loyal to brands that deliver the experience they expect.

Remember: Boomers aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They represent 20 to 30 more years of sales for brands that can catch their attention and stroke their youthful egos. Does your brand need to take another look at your target audience? Let’s Chat.

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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Better-for-You Brands: Quit Playing Small

Occasionally in our work, we encounter a curious phenomenon: We’ve completed deep-dive brand strategy work with a client in the better-for-you space, and laid the foundation for them to achieve growth. Everyone’s committed to the new strategic direction.

And yet when it comes time to execute — a packaging refresh or marketing strategy or advertising buy — the client team hesitates.

Often, it’s not because of budget concerns — but because of fear. Marketers and executives are afraid to actually make the big moves they need to on design, innovation or activation, often to their brand’s detriment.

Why Marketers Fear Success

Setting strategy is largely theoretical; execution is where it gets real, where the risk lies. Some people are more comfortable playing small instead of going big, because it’s familiar and safe.

Our philosophy on the perils of playing small comes from this quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

The founder/leaders of entrepreneurial BFY brands are perceived to be so bold and brave. So why the hesitation to bring the brand fully to life through execution?

Commonly, we see that the companies that hesitate on execution are those whose culture avoids change or risk. We hear comments like this: “Prove it first, and then we’ll fund it.” “That’s not the way we do things.” “That’s not how we spend our marketing dollars.” “We’ve never had to do this before.”

Conversely, bold brands operate on a test-and-learn mentality and are open to incremental risk. They look to meaningful event horizons in the future and ask, “What will it actually take to make this big thing happen?”

To take the big steps that spark meaningful growth, you have to make smart educated guesses about what years three and five look like. What’s the likely future you’ll move into based on trends and scenario planning? Only when you take that long view can you get comfortable with risk and rationalize the resources it’ll take now to achieve that future.

Clients often ask us what it will take to execute the strategy we’ve developed together. After a few years of experience, we’ve determined that companies should anticipate spending 1 to 5x for the first year of the strategy cost in order to leverage the opportunity. It’s not a small figure, but neither are the stakes.

Your Responsibility is to Make it Big

Re-read this part of the quote above: “Your playing small does not serve the world.”

Customers want — and sometimes need — your product. So quit downplaying how awesome your brand is. Your company wants your brand to succeed in a big way, not just make enough to cover hard costs.

You have an obligation to follow through. What’s the point of coming up with amazing ideas and then not sharing them? Remember:

If you go small, some other brand will go big and you’ll be left in the dust — this has proven true 100% of the time.

In fact, all the encouragement you need is right there in your brand strategy: your brand’s WHY, its mission or passion or reason for being. Brands that know their WHY and institute it culturally aren’t afraid to play big. They have a different mentality around everything than brands that are just trying to hit growth targets. When you have a powerful WHY, you can’t let the mission die. You can’t play small.

Our client Loma Linda is the best example we know of a brand that wasn’t afraid to go big.

Loma Linda is the world’s oldest vegetarian brand, you’ve probably never heard of, founded in 1890 by J.H. Kellogg and owned until 1990 by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. When they came to us, Loma Linda was a small brand embraced by a specialized cohort of loyalists. But they were seeking to expand their audience beyond church membership and tap into the growing plant-based food trend.

We helped the marketing and leadership team listen to their loyalists and identified a key brand value — sustainability — that would appeal to a wider consumer base. With that strategic foundation, we then helped them build a new message that conveyed the brand’s heritage: “Vegan before being vegan was a thing.” We reformulated products and reimagined packaging to suit the modern consumer (for example, shifting from cans to pouches). We kept a core group of beloved long-time products and introduced new global flavors.

Loma Linda’s team was so committed to the brand’s mission that they knew the products had to be available everywhere, to everyone.

Their big play paid off: Loma Linda’s customer base grew from about 2 million church members to 50 million global customers, a larger distribution network including big-box retailers, and a growth trajectory that was 10 times what they anticipated.

Whether your brand team is ready to go big, or you need a bit of encouragement, we’re here to help. Let’s talk.

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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Is Your Brand Speaking Consistently to Everyone, Everywhere?

As a marketer in the better-for-you space, you may recognize that your brand is fractured in the real world – that it delivers different experiences to customers in different channels. It’s a common affliction for BFY brands, especially those that are in startup mode or emerging from that phase. These brands tend to have limited marketing budgets and small teams, and they are moving fast to execute rather than taking time to set a strategy.

Reasons & Symptoms of Inconsistent Brand Activation

To confirm your hunch that the brand shows up inconsistently to consumers, you can conduct a casual audit. Look at all seven platforms of the Brand Ecosystem:

Shop the aisles yourself, view your website on your mobile device, snoop on the brand on social, and ask a few friends to do the same. Look for signs like these:

  • All the media coverage of the brand focuses on how you’re saving the cheetahs, but your packaging spotlights flavors and features
  • Your web content is thoughtful and serious; your social media presence is casual and irreverent
  • You’ve positioned the brand as premium, but you’re on convenience store shelves at a deep discount

There are two primary reasons why BFY brands wind up looking scattered and disconnected to their markets:

  1. They don’t have a strong foundation of brand strategy that’s driving the business. Without it, marketing efforts are all over the map, and they’ll never yield the results you need. Too, there will be internal disagreement on key business decisions, like whether you should sell into a certain channel or pursue an expensive marketing tactic.
  2. When your messaging doesn’t resonate the same way across communication platforms, you may be looking at each platform of the Brand Ecosystem as a distinct bucket, with different owners and different solutions — solutions driven by what’s new and trendy and cool, and not by the brand’s WHY. Cool is fleeting and unsustainable, but the brand’s mission and passion are timeless and transcendent. If you’re not taking a truly systemic approach to marketing, you’re probably in a cycle of running campaign after campaign, wondering why they’re not quite gaining traction. And the prospect of launching yet another one may fill you with dread instead of enthusiasm.

When There Isn’t a Brand Strategy

Let’s look at a couple of examples, two consumer brands that operate in very different ways.

Pepsi spends millions of dollars on print and television advertising. It spends millions more on tent-pole events like halftime shows and pop concerts. Its social media feeds are filled with celebrities, influencers, and “stunning Pepsi visuals” (whatever that is). Its website spotlights the product in the can or bottle.

But there’s no underlying strategy driving the human connection or guiding the brand to behave in a certain way. There’s no “Pepsi ethos” other than pop culture. In fact, you could remove the Pepsi mark and replace it with a Coke logo and be hard pressed to tell the difference.

Pepsi can outspend everyone else in the category and sponsor halftime shows — and it has to — because its strategy is: sell more soda, generate more revenue, make shareholders happy. Pepsi is a marketing-driven brand (more to the point: an advertising-driven brand) than an ideology-driven brand. By the time the consumer gets to the soda aisle, the pop culture stuff and the halftime show don’t come into the store with him, and he may choose Coke because both brands are just commodities.

By contrast, look at KIND Snacks. The brand’s WHY is crystal clear — to encourage people to be kind to themselves and to others. That human message is the throughline for every channel: packaging, which shows off the product’s natural ingredients; media coverage of the brand’s backstory; video advertising; and engagement with social causes.

KIND uses the customer education and PR platforms of the Brand Ecosystem to drive brand relevance. Its social and direct and web platforms are all about the WHY: the contributions they’re making to the world and inviting you to make a contribution in your busy life, too. KIND is what we call a “citizen brand.” When a consumer goes to the snack aisle and faces that wall of nutrition bars, she feels the brand’s presence. The cohesive marketing messages — based on that strategy of kindness — makes her feel like she’s a citizen of KIND. (Does anyone feel like a citizen of Pepsi?)

If your casual assessment of your brand’s activation reveals inconsistency, and if your ongoing marketing activities aren’t moving the needle, then it’s time for a deep-dive competitive audit that benchmarks your brands against others — not just other brands in your category, but every brand that competes for your customer’s dollar. It’ll reveal outages and opportunities for you to harmonize your brand’s messaging, everywhere.

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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Doing Brand Strategy: When Can You Delay, When Must You Act?

Marketing is a discipline of campaigns and deployment and deadlines, so it’s easy to get caught in the swirl of urgency and lose sight of what’s important. The world moves fast for better-for-you brands, especially emerging ones, so leadership tends to bypass one of the most important tasks: building a strong strategic foundation for the brand.

Brand strategy is essential, but it’s also time- and resource-consuming, so marketers and executives stick it on the back burner while they focus on urgent needs like distribution and promotion.

Understanding Urgent vs. Important Opportunities for Brand Strategy

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Eisenhower Principle: President Dwight Eisenhower said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Eisenhower organized his time by focusing on tasks that were important, not just urgent.

In business, you’ve probably seen this concept translated into a decision-making matrix, where the X axis goes from urgent to not urgent, and the Y axis moves from important to not important.

It’s our position that brand strategy is the most important initiative a BFY brand can undertake, because it underpins every marketing effort in the Brand Ecosystem.

But in specific situations, it’s less urgent for some brands. So let’s take a look at the instances when leaders can “kick the can down the road” and delay the intensive work of brand strategy. (But take note: You can’t survive indefinitely without defining your brand’s true mission, passion, purpose, persona, and tribe.)

You Can Delay Brand Strategy If …

1) You are a new-ish or startup brand and have a sales goal or financial benchmark that you need to hit in the very near term. If you don’t have a brand strategy in place, you can get by for a time by being scrappy and opportunistic. Your brand’s position in the market may yet be undefined and your sales team may be lean or unstructured, but you can chase any old opportunity that promises revenue. In the future, a strong brand strategy may necessarily close the door to some of those opportunities — those that don’t coalesce with the brand’s ethos. Without strategy, opportunity represents possibility; strategy can narrow your lane and shave off opportunity, but for now, you can reach for all the brass rings.

One caveat: Chasing every opportunity means your brand will be diffuse and distracted, which sows confusion for consumers and creates lack of focus for your team.

2) You’re content to be under another brand’s umbrella. A great example of this is BarkBox (or any of the -Box brands, which aggregate other branded products and auto-ship them to subscribers). This subsidiary positioning does nothing to build your own brand, really, but it generates plenty of revenue so you can sleep at night.

One caveat: If you aspire to a Beloved & Dominant position, you’ll have to define your own brand and bring it out from under the umbrella.

3) You’re a huge company with bottomless funding. Deep-pocketed BFY brands can let the market leaders take the hits — defining new audiences, innovating new products, shaping a category — and you can follow later. You’re big enough to compete on price or placement or promotion, so you can delay the work of deep strategy for a while.

One caveat: Without a brand strategy driving your business strategy, kicking the can will come back to you; whether it’s in a quarter or a year depends on how good a punter you are.

You Cannot Delay Brand Strategy When …

1) Your competitors are eating your lunch. Sales erosion over any meaningful reporting cycle, (back-to-back quarters or back-to-back years) moves brand strategy from important/not urgent to important/urgent. It may be easy for brand leadership to point to an identifiable reason for the drop-off: a lull in production or distribution, for example. Ultimately, though, it’s a strategy problem. When consumers are becoming your non-customers, it will kill your brand.

2) Your sales team and marketing team are misaligned on how to grow. Without a defined brand strategy, you’ll spend more money and continue to invest in marketing tactics and relationships and channels that won’t deliver the results you need or expect. Strategy facilitates business planning, because it identifies the right kinds of opportunities. Everyone understands what the brand stands for.

3) Consumers are flat-out asking for new products or a new direction from your brand. They may be reaching out to you directly via social channels, or cultural trends may be pointing to an obvious direction, or perhaps it’s showing up as softening sales as consumers elect others instead of your products. Regardless, you’re not seeing it. But a brand strategy will make these consumer-driven shifts or pivots totally obvious.

Know that any delay — intentional or not — in developing a brand strategy will catch up to you. The pain you feel from the delay may be chronic and slow to build, but once it becomes acute, the symptoms will be dire and you’ll scramble to apply bandages and duct tape to keep the business from falling apart.

What’s more, lack of brand strategy means that when a big opportunity arises, you can’t press the gas and go. You’ll have to spend six months to a year to figure out what it will do to your business and whether it’s the right path. Strategy dictates whether an opportunity is a good fit or not, and it allows you to pursue it on your own terms. It may not be urgent now, but brand strategy sure is important. So make the time to do it right.

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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Building a Strong Strategic Foundation for a Better-for-You Brand

Your marketing team has deployed a super-creative social campaign that’s generating lots of likes. Your brand has been the recipient of some positive media coverage over the past year. Maybe you’ve invested in a packaging refresh.

And yet, these communication efforts aren’t translating into the sales boost your leadership is expecting.

If you feel like your company is capable of executing a solid marketing plan but not seeing the business results, it’s time to look at what lies beneath that plan.

A Strong Foundation for Marketing

In his book Beloved & Dominant BrandsDavid dives deep into the seven platforms of what we call the Brand Ecosystem. It’s a road map for strategic marketing communication that includes these channels:

Social media
Direct marketing
Website
In-store
Advertising
PR
… all built upon an effective consumer education program

The Brand Ecosystem encompasses all the various marketing touchpoints at which consumers learn about, choose, interact with, and talk about your brand and products. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline is a fully formed brand strategy that underpins and transcends all other business activities, including marketing.

We call these two components — the seven platforms of the Brand Ecosystem built on a three-part strategic foundation — the Brand Quadramid.

Why Brand Strategy Matters

The Brand Ecosystem can’t hold together or drive success if you don’t have the foundation; in fact, nearly all of our clients come to us without it. Many leadership teams, particularly in the better-for-you space, operate from the fire-ready-aim mentality and haven’t done the hard work of establishing a lasting brand strategy. They’re moving too quickly in pursuit of opportunity and haven’t taken the time to develop a deeper reason for being, or they simply discount the importance of strategy to the brand’s long-term success.

Without a strong foundation, brands inevitably fall from category leader to commodity.

So let’s look at the three bedrocks of the Brand Quadramid:

Body
This represents the world external to the brand: competitors, cultural zeitgeist, retail environment. Just as your body is affected by the environment surrounding you, brands are as well — and there’s a lot of stuff out there you can’t control. Building a healthy body requires looking outside, around, and forward. A competitive audit — the most important step we take when working with brands — takes an impartial, data-driven view of the brand’s world.

Soul
Mission, promise, pillars, archetypes: this is the soft, squishy stuff that marketers don’t learn in business school. Yet a brand’s soul is its essence. If you don’t know what your mission is, you’ll fail. If you don’t articulate your promise to consumers and keep it inconsistent ways, you’ll lose their trust. If you don’t establish pillars to guide the brand’s actions, you’ll drive off the road.

Mind
This is the psychology of the organization — culture, leadership, the ways that every single employee lives and breathes the brand’s mission. Just as our own beliefs and attitudes affect our behavior, the company’s mindset influences its effectiveness. They say that business is 20% mechanics and 80% psychology, and that’s certainly true of BFY brands. If your organization is not of sound mind, you’ll always make decisions that compromise your brand promise. Cultural assessment and gap analysis can reveal organizational roadblocks, differences between the brand’s internal and external behavior, and the team’s appetite for change.

Marketing leaders are more likely to have a handle on the brand’s body than on the other two components. Or, they believe that they do. Because they have easy access to consumer research, they assume they know their audience. (Worse, because they use the product, they think the audience is exactly like them.) But historical data without smart analysis can’t tell you who your future customer will be.

A brand’s biggest challenges lie in the mind. BFY brand leaders assume people who join the company have already embraced the mission and don’t spend any time building a powerful culture. And organizations headed by visionary founders can be slow to evolve. It’s easy to settle into a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality; the founder, convinced by the early success of her own ideas, can be the biggest obstacle to growth and innovation.

Signs of a Weak Strategic Brand Foundation 

Symptoms of an ailing body, soul, and mind can be acute or chronic. You might be experiencing one or several of these pain points:

  • Your latest marketing campaign, creative as it is, isn’t generating the kind of traction you expected
  • A competitor with a similar offering that’s a little more purpose-driven is stealing shelf space or forcing you to lower your price
  • You’re working all the platforms of the Brand Ecosystem but you’re losing share
  • Your employees are missing key opportunities or dragging their feet on implementing new products or plans
  • You’re hoping your competitors make a big enough mistake so that your mistakes don’t look so glaring

As a marketing leader, you’re probably tired of chasing results your plans can’t possibly deliver. But the problem isn’t your marketing plan. It’s deeper than that. The good news is that it’s fixable. It takes effort. And we can help you do it.

Ready to rebuild your brand’s foundation? 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.

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Confessions of a Marketer Podcast: Marketing Starbucks (2 of 2)

Featuring David Lemley

On Episode 98, David Lemley is back to continue our chat about retail marketing. This time we focus on his time early on at Starbucks, which taught him a lot. He takes that education with him today to help him current client roster. There are some valuable lessons in David’s story—plus he gives us a look at the future.

Listen on Confessions of a Marketer

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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Confessions of a Marketer Podcast: Marketing in Retail (1 of 2)

Featuring David Lemley

On Episode 97, we have David Lemley in to chat about marketing in retail—he calls it retail voodoo. David was an early employee at Starbucks, and that experience taught him a lot. His company, Retail Voodoo, does brand strategy for specialty food and beverage brands. David’s expertise in brand strategy, innovation, consumer markets, and consumer behavior is deep, so I wanted to talk to him about retail marketing, what the retail landscape looks like, and of course Starbucks (which we get to in part two). But in part one, we get the low down on Retail Voodoo.

Listen on Confessions of a Marketer

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 Marketers Can Influence Innovation in Better-For-You Brands

Innovation is the lifeblood of any brand hoping to achieve long-term relevance. After all, how can you pursue meaningful growth if you’re not offering products that appeal to consumers beyond your current audience? How can you keep your devotees in the fold if you don’t delight them with new things they didn’t know they needed?

Perhaps because the stakes are so high, we’ve seen that innovation can challenge a brand both internally and externally. When pursued without the right underlying strategy, there’s a risk that innovation might:

  • fragment your points of distinction in customers’ minds
  • confuse or alienate your loyalists
  • distract leadership and marketing teams from the laser focus required to achieve long-term growth
  • destroy the equity you have earned over time

Ground New Product Innovation in Brand Strategy

In order to fuel year-over-year growth, not just incremental short-term sales bumps, innovation has to move beyond basic line extension. What products would truly rock your customer’s world? What are the gaps in the market that no other brand is filling? How far can you realistically expand your offering?

When a better-for-you brand seeks our help identifying new products and new opportunities, we begin by gathering their team for an innovation workshop. Together, we do a deep-dive analysis that looks at:

  • a detailed, data-driven map of the brand’s current audience
  • the category landscape
  • a competitive audit that identifies adjacent products that compete for your customer’s time and attention — and, therefore, dollars
  • what we call the “range of acceptable stretch” — how far your brand can innovate in a way that makes sense to your audience. (In other words, a hospital brand can’t logically extend to the funeral home category.)

Innovation isn’t just a function of whatever cool new thing your R&D team can come up with. It lies in the center of a Venn diagram where audience need, market opportunity, and brand strategy overlap.

We can’t overemphasize the importance of brand strategy in innovation. It is the Rosetta Stone for translating the brand’s promise from its current state to the future, from current audience to prospective audiences. Without it, you’ll risk peeling off your longtime fans as you chase new ones.

Get Marketing and R&D on the Same Page

Developing new products doesn’t just impact your external audience; it can challenge your internal culture, as well. As we coach clients on innovation, we often find a disconnect between marketing and R&D. Staffers on the innovation team are fearless and scrappy and more focused on making an impact on the world than they are on their own careers. Marketing people used to be like this — think of the “Mad Men” era. We may be generalizing a bit, but we find that marketers today are typically afraid of screwing up and cautious about swinging for the fences.

In many modern BFY companies, R&D has a seat at the table, while marketing is on the sidelines. Tools of the marketing role — consumer insights, market research, futurecasting — are commonly used by product developers. What’s more, innovators are typically BFY consumers themselves, so they’re creating new things with their own lives in mind.

More than ever, we advise our clients’ marketing and R&D teams to work hand-in-hand. As the steward of the brand, the CMO ensures that new products or lines won’t confuse or alienate your loyal audience. Marketers should pivot their ideas about product developers — they’re not simply the crazy colleagues who foist off oddball ideas; they’re valuable collaborators. Suspend disbelief until you have a viable new product in hand, then determine if it fits within the brand, you have or a sub-brand, or a new brand altogether. Share data across all layers of the organization so everyone understands the audience and the market. Know that the process of creating new products can reveal gaps in the brand strategy, and vice-versa.

The only way to future proof a brand is to have ambitions that go well beyond what you’re doing today. R&D teams and marketing teams will have greater success at launching on-brand products when they understand how the two disciplines need to communicate.

Done right, innovation — whether it’s a line extension or a leap across categories — whispers all the right things to people who already love you and waves a banner that invites new folks into the tent.

Are your brand’s new product efforts poking holes in your marketing strategy? Are you chasing the wrong opportunities? Let us help you define the future of 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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Your Brand Isn’t a Marketing Asset. It’s a Business Essential

We’ve been thinking (and writing) about brand a lot lately. Not just because it’s the heart of what we do, but because so many really smart people we encounter misunderstand or misinterpret the concept. They interchange the words ‘brand’ and ‘branding,’ mistaking the thing, a strategy-driven business asset, for the activity, the tactical approach of deploying that asset via marketing.

(Remember, we define a brand as first, a promise, and second, the way in which your company keeps that promise.)

As a result, many people misdirect the ownership of the brand. Worse, they skip past the strategic brand foundation and go straight to marketing.

We often meet with marketing executives who think they’re solely in charge of the brand. They’re not. Instead, they are the stewards and architects of how the brand plays out in the world.

Rather, the organization owns the brand.

The Relationship Between Brand Strategy, the Business, and Marketing

Because our culture is built on consumerism, it’s difficult to elegantly unpack business, brand, and marketing from one another as they are so intertwined. Each cannot exist without the other, but there’s a distinct hierarchy. Brand strategy must underpin the business and inform marketing efforts.

Brand strategy touches all aspects of the business: HR, sales, R&D, operations, merchandising mix, real estate acquisition strategy, vendor preferences, and more. It unites often competing business units behind a single goal. In a marketplace of equals, it gives consumers a reason to buy.

Marketing needs to help the business identify strategic opportunity, and the business needs marketing to keep and communicate the brand’s promise.

The Role of Brand Strategy in Modern Marketing

Modern marketing is a holistic, adaptive methodology that connects brands with real customers and drives business results by blending strategy, creative, technology, and analysis. It’s a process of measurement, testing, and refinement until you get a combination yields a measurable increase in sales.

This all sounds like 20th century tactics, so what is the difference?

Modern marketing no longer revolves around the traditional 4 P’s: product, price, place, promotion. Today, consumers expect the brands they favor to have morals and values beyond merely great products. We call this the 6 P’s of Modern Marketing: purpose, people, planet, passion, personality, and profit.

You might summarize the old approach to marketing by citing a movie line: “If you build it, they will come.” Modern brands have to tell customers why they need to come. The competitive landscape now is so crowded that simply having a product is not enough.

To paraphrase author and speaker Simon Sinek, that means thinking about your why, not just your what. Why do you do what you do? Why do employees and customers align with what you do? Why are your products, your brand, and your organization essential to the world?​

If marketing has pivoted beyond product, then the underlying brand strategy is more essential then ever. Brand strategy no longer an exercise in features and benefits that move SKUs, but an exercise in cultural anthropology that helps customers understand why a product is uniquely different and especially suited for them.

Brand strategy helps ensure that marketing is driven by the heart and soul of your purpose rather than focusing on commoditizing attributes such as flavor and function. It provides a framework to ensure that your marketing efforts are supported by an established, purpose-driven vocabulary. It guides you to authentically communicate with your tribe, instead of just broadcasting a lot of noise.

Based on a brand strategy, one that’s shared across the entire business, marketing is all about deploying that strategy and using real data to determine successes and opportunities. We’ll say it again: Marketing requires a test, learn, and refine mentality.

Brand Purpose Practically Applied for Impact

Your brand — your purpose, your social benefit, your reason for being — is a valuable business asset. Edelman’s Earned Brand Report suggests that brand purpose is as powerful in driving sales as a multimillion-dollar advertising spend plus earned media, combined.

When we engage with our C-suite clients, we talk about brand strategy as a form of organizational development. It helps you know what business you should be in, who should be on your team, what opportunities you should go after, what partners you should align with, what needs your company should solve, what products you should develop. And, yes, what marketing channels you should pursue.

Want to bounce some ideas off us? Drop us a line.

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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Founder Fears Associated with Private Equity and Acquisitions

Better-for-you food and beverage has become the investment world’s industry darling. And with good reason. All but the most resistant non-believer understands that what we eat and drink and do to stay active have a direct impact on our health.

Combine this with the pace of change that technology affords entrepreneurial business, combined with the appetite for change of the typical technology-minded investor and it is just too fast for most incumbent brands. That’s why the longstanding practice of big companies buying startups to help them stay relevant is in high gear. And there’s no reason your company can’t be one their acquisitions and tomorrow’s breakout brand.

This white paper discusses a set of often unspoken expectations that minority investors, would-be acquirers and founder-owners need one another to understand in order to help you avoid getting swallowed up by anxiety.

The white-hot world of better-for-you food and beverage has more players from the equity world looking to get in before “old guard food brands” can discover the next rising star. A lot of these new players are holding companies and tech investors looking for a way to transition from Silicon Valley thinking to something more holistic.

This better-for-you flurry has got a strong head of steam. According to foodbusinessnews.net, the number of food investors has doubled in the last 5 years. Food has so much interest that its seems as though food & beverage investments now outnumber technology investments.

But this capital-infused high comes with its own challenges.

Food & Beverage Brands’ Key Investment Players

The tech investors tend to make their money by pushing people and systems to the edge. They are not accustomed to being in the people business and, sometimes, can have the attitude of disposable people and disposable relationships. Tech investors love ABC’s Shark Tank and sometimes fancy themselves as the sharks (and that is okay as long as the brand’s founder is aware).

Founders create a gem of a brand with their own tears, blood, and sweat. They live and breathe their company culture (even if it’s bad). So, while they are looking for capital to grow their organization, they are often reluctant to bring in partners who have a track record of being heavy-handed in operations, equipment, HR, and, well anything other than sales, marketing, and funding. This isn’t because the founders don’t understand these key areas as being critical to building meaningful, operationally significant brand systems. It’s more primal that that. Many founders, when faced with the specter of an investor putting multi-expert-hands in their proverbial pie, simply recoil. It makes many of founder-owners feel that potential equity partner or investor is only about growth at all costs — and when they don’t talk openly, the relationship is bound for the therapist’s couch (at best).

To work through this, the founder needs to ask questions of the core acquisition team and talk to other brands in their past and current portfolio. This is the only way to discover if the investor’s normal mode of growing an acquisition fits well with the culture of the current brand.

What Investors Need To Understand About Founders

Food and beverage brand creators are running on emotion and will likely question their gut instinct in the face of investor bravado.

Once contractually together, investors will often push for changes that the founder owner hadn’t anticipated. This can be resolved during the due diligence phase if the founder owner can look at and ask the following important (and often undervalued) question. Will my new partners possess and behave with the same moral compass that we used to build this business?

Food & beverage founders face a common set of fears when seeking investors.

  1. Founders fear that the industry may perceive them as a sell-out, especially if the acquiring entity and/or investor do not allow the brand to continue with the moral compass they created.
  2. Founders are weary that the earn-out portion of the deal may remain unattainable if the acquiring company’s pro forma is merely lip service in an attempt to calm the their nerves. The founder is concerned that the EBIDTA demands of the acquiring entity will put pressure in places inside the organization that will change the company’s stance on ingredients, sustainability, and hard-earned business relationships. So, in a worst case scenario, the founder could be labeled a sell out, not get paid, and be seen in the industry as having been bamboozled by people with deep pockets and a shallow conscience.
  3. They are not gonna “get” me, and I will be stuck reporting to a room of accountants and analysts who don’t believe in the brand beyond the balance sheet.

Investor Types: Which Is Best For Founder-Owners?

As a founder owner of a food & beverage brand, you will sleep better if you know and understand your would-be acquirer’s investment strategy. Are they looking for quick flips? Will they invest strategically in building the company out the way you envision or will they default to a specific point of view once the deal is inked?

Here is a simplified view of common equity partner philosophies.

  1. Moonshot investors think like Google and Apple. These investors buy a bunch of thought-leading brands and let them fight it out in the court of public opinion, believing that, eventually, one of them will be amazing and a must-have for everyone. The other brands are left to languish, fight for resources and ultimately go away. After all, there can only be one Siri.
  2. Spendthrift investors search for brands in distress so that they can acquire them at a bargain. Hostess and Necco Wafers and are great examples that happen to share the same acquiring investor. Roundhill Investments has made a name for itself by acquiring and growing nostalgic brands that have fallen out of fashion with consumers. Hostess is well on its way, It will be fun to see what they can do with the beloved Necco brand.
  3. Aggregator investors are looking for ways to make their marquee brand better. This is great if you have an ingredient-focused brand, or have  product that is more than the sum total of its ingredients. But it gets risky if you think you have a consumer-facing brand but are making most of your revenue in bulk or private label.
  4. Shepherd investors look for brands they can guide to greatness. As conventional food companies see more consumers choosing innovative natural, organic, and better-for-you products over legacy brands, they are seeking ways to meet that demand from acquisition to early-stage investments, and they have demonstrated a willingness to pay high multiples. These conventional food organizations are best suited to make acquisitions like Hormel (acquiring Applegate) and WhiteWave foods (acquiring Vega).

Obviously the best kind of equity partner for a founder-owner who wants to stay involved is the shepherd investor. But how does a founder-owner determine precisely what kind of investor they are talking to?

We recommend having a list of prepared questions about their business practices and their past wins and losses (as well as references from both). Here is starter question to ask a potential investor:

In the last three years, what has changed the most in our industry?

They should be able to speak candidly about the changing nature of consumers, the evolution of their preferences and behaviors, and connect these insights to your brand.

Many other situationally appropriate questions can be formed through a meaningful SWOT analysis prior to getting into due-diligence conversations.

For both parties it comes down to fierce, upfront dialogue. Be true to yourself and your vision from the very beginning. Listen, ask hard questions, answer boldly and with vulnerability, and whatever you do, don’t tell them what you think they want to hear.

Looking for a branding partner that has helped investors navigate founder brands – you found us. Drop us a note and 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