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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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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.

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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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Brand Strategy Checklist 1: Strengthen Your Brand’s Body

We all agree that brand strategy is vital to your business. Profit, loss, fame, or ruin all hang in the balance. Since getting it right is critical and fortune favors the well-prepared, Retail Voodoo created our own brand strategy checklist toolkit to drive all client engagements.

Why is Retail Voodoo’s brand strategy checklist in three parts?

Over the years, we’ve helped hundreds of clients evolve their businesses through brand strategy. So, we’ve learned a few things about how to make it stick. And we believe the journey of developing a comprehensive brand strategy is best broken down into three realms:

  1. The physical (external forces) that influence your brand.
  2. The mental (the psychology) of the organization.
  3. And the soul (the spirit) of the brand.

Just like people, when your organization’s brand strategy has clarity and alignment in these three realms, the outcome is strength and confidence, powerfully focused on the future. In this first installment of our brand strategy toolkit, we explore the physical, external forces that influence the mechanics of your brand. The external forces or physical aspect of brand strategy will help us see the way toward meaningful and long-lasting differentiation.

For brand strategy to be successful and lucrative, your team not only needs to understand but collectively buy-in to the ways in which the outside world shapes your brand’s reality. Let’s look at the difference between a competitive audit and competitive advantage with the goal of using both to put shape to audience mapping through the lens of trend analysis.

Competitive Audit

What is it? 
The basic version is a review of all the competing brands in your space and how they communicate. But this is just the beginning. A meaningful competitive audit also looks at offerings, events, and circumstances competing for your audience’s attention and dollars.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We assess all of your competitors with this checklist. We study their social media streams, public relations, consumer-facing communication, in-store, and online experience. We then benchmark your brand against that information.

What you can do with it:
When armed with a robust competitive audit, your company’ has the power to change from emotion-based marketing to differentiation based communication. It also lays the foundation for seeing innovation from a strategic perspective rather than merely opportunistic.

Questions to ask:
1. Do we know our real competition?
2. What adjacent categories are consumers looking at when considering our brand?
3. What other businesses and products might we make if we had clarity?

Core Audience Map

What is it?
A comprehensive profile of who currently purchases your brand.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
A meaningful core audience map goes beyond demographics by placing the people currently buying your brand into an audience-to-be universe. We use primary research to map this and find out who is different and where things overlap.

What you can do with it:
A research-driven core audience map gives a company new power. Not only does this allow for easier persona creation in sales and marketing, but helps leadership and product development get into new businesses and get out of others.

Questions to ask:
1. What primary research are you using to build your current audience map?
2. Who else in your category shares the same audience?
3. Who would you include in an audience-to-be map?

Competitive Advantage

What is it?
Admit it, you think this one is obvious. But remember, there are 300 choices of toothpaste. But competitive advantage isn’t simply what you make, who you are, and how good you are at the 4 P’s of marketing (product, price, place, promotion). In our world, it’s much more.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
We look at competitive advantage as a three-legged stool. First, we determine what your company does or makes better than anyone else. Then we look at whether you have proprietary ingredients in your matrix, or not. Finally, we look at who is disrupting you – along with how and why. And when appropriate, we look at which competitors and adjacent categories your brand can disrupt.

What you can do with it: 
Once your team understands your distinct and ownable differences in the competitive landscape, your brand has a chance to move from competing on price and being in the right place to being sought out and commanding a premium at the same time.

Questions to ask:
1. What market conditions exist to give us clear competitive advantage?
2. How and why are we different than others with similar offerings?
3. What needs to change internally or externally for our brand to have a stronger advantage?

Trend Analysis

What is it? 
Trend analysis for branding is different than the financial world. In branding, history does not necessarily repeat itself. In brand strategy, trends are social proof.

The “Retail Voodoo Way:”
Since brands and branding run on the backbone of modern culture, it is imperative to anyone crafting a brand strategy to have insight into what’s coming next. But that takes more than following the Kardashians on Instagram. We believe data, shopper insights, and emerging cultural preferences are the strongest predictors of trends that brands can leverage.

What you can do with it: 
A validated trend report provides management with confidence to move boldly toward a new future, create new offerings, and stop producing items that no longer fit the cultural norm.

Questions to ask:
1. How do our products and services fit into modern society?
2. What social proof do we use when evaluating our innovation pipeline?
3. How might our business change and grow by paying attention to trends as part of strategy?

In our next installment of our brand strategy checklist, we will focus on the psychological aspects that shape 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.

Connect with David