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7 Things You Should Do Now to Ensure a Successful 2020 for Your Naturals Brand

While we think we’re pretty good at identifying trends and opportunities for our food and beverage clients, we can’t foretell the future with certainty. What we can see, though, is a number of smart strategic steps marketers and leaders of mission-driven food and beverage brands can be doing now to position their businesses to thrive over the rest of this year.

We’ve identified seven strategies aligned around three key positions you can take to ensure success in 2020: stretchinvest, and pivot. You can’t expect to do the same things forever and generate the same business results; that’s doubly true now.

Understand Key Roadblocks to Success in 2020

Before we get to the seven strategies, let’s first put our fingers on the hurdles you’ll inevitably face in leading your organization now.

Fear

We’re not talking just about fear of shutdowns and other risks unique to the current pandemic — rather, cultural and personal fear that always lingers in the background. Brand leaders fear that they won’t meet expectations (of customers, stakeholders, employees) and so they don’t stretch beyond what they know. They fear not just failure, but success. Fear can trickle through an entire organization, leading to a culture of, “we don’t do it that way” or “prove the concept first, then we’ll implement it.”

Safety

Of course, the bottom line is essential; without profitability, you’re out of business. But if you’re focused on preserving market position and minimizing erosion instead of growing, you’re missing opportunity.

TMI

There are too many inputs, too many unknowns, too much conflicting guidance. It’s hard to even trust your gut. TMI makes decision making difficult: which of the conflicting scenarios or forecasts can you believe?

7 Strategies for Food & Beverage Brand Success in 2020

Looking ahead to the end of the year, what are the things you can be doing now to ensure your brand’s good health as the economy emerges from its hibernation?

1) Ask better questions

Revisit the brand’s strategic foundation. What is your brand, really? (We define brand as the promise that you keep and the ways in which you keep it.)

Define where the real boundary is, not just the safe one. You can’t stretch beyond the reality of your brand promise (for example, your vegan brand can’t suddenly start making beef chili), but you can go right up to that frontier.

Ask your team questions like these to identify how far you can move in search of opportunity:

  • What is our brand’s contribution to society? Why do we exist beyond products and profits?
  • How can our brand create value for our community/tribe of followers?
  • What does our brand have permission to do that our community cannot get from other brands?
  • How does our brand evolve from good and services mentality to a citizen brand that provides a unique contribution to society?
  • What are our brand’s core values? (e.g., community, social justice, loyalty, fun)
  • Do our core values align with what we currently contribute?
  • How is our brand willing to change behavior to better emphasize and deliver upon our values?

2) Do your research

You should have pre-existing research — usage & attitude studies, competitive audits, audience segmentation — and that information remains valid. Post-Covid, we’ll get back to that familiar territory. Once the supply chain resumes normal capacity and consumers feel comfortable getting out again, they’ll return to familiar habits. We live in a commerce-driven economy; that hasn’t changed. What we’re seeing now is a situational disruption, not a permanent national disruption.

Ask yourself questions like these:

  • Who else can claim these exact values our brand represents?
  • How are they behaving, taking action, delivering on their promises?
  • What does our brand do that is different or better?
  • Who is our consumer, and what kinds of products can we innovate that will meet their needs?
  • Can we become even more relevant to the people who’ve already chosen our brand? Can we resonate more deeply in their lives?
  • In a sea of sameness, how can we be meaningfully different by tapping into their emotions, not just their functional needs?

3) Stretch thyself

For natural food and beverage brands, stretching is all about determining what’s possible and removing the roadblocks (culture, fear, etc., as discussed above). Stretching is a quest for logical opportunity.

One of the exercises we conduct in client workshops is to have the brand group write a eulogy for the brand. We preface this exercise by a lengthy session that defines the capital-B Brand (the promises you make and the ways you keep them) and then envisions the brand’s future contribution to the world.

We then ask the team to articulate what people will say about the brand when it’s gone. It’s a powerful way to create clarity around the brand’s superpower. (For example Patagonia’s superpower is environmental justice; it enlists fans in the mission.)

Questions to ponder:

  • What is something our brand is not currently doing that only it can do?
  • What does our brand have access to that others don’t? (investors, distribution, ingredients, leadership)
  • What is our brand’s superpower, and how can we use that to contribute to the common good?
  • In what ways could our brand die?
  • Write the eulogy: What will our brand’s legacy be?

4) Go for impact

Aspire to citizen brandhood, not commodity brandhood. As a mission-driven brand, you are a member of the very community you create, a shepherd and a guide and a protector. That role, combined with strong product features and benefits, is unbeatable. Let Maslow’s Pyramid guide you: First meet the consumer’s functional needs, then meet their desire to belong to a community, then appeal to their sense of self, then help them achieve their higher purpose.

Armed with consumer research and your stretch potential, consider:

  • What role does the brand play in our tribe’s lives?
  • How might it be relevant to future consumers, as well?
  • Beyond features and benefits (like minty flavor of toothpaste), what does our brand help people be or achieve (i.e., a wellness-focused lifestyle built on natural products)?
  • What wrong does our brand seek to right in the world? What problem does it solve? What fight does it fight?
  • What’s possible, given our organization’s resources?

5) Craft a better story

Storytelling is the flavor of the month in marketing, and for good reason: People are hardwired for stories. Storytelling is the means of connecting the brand strategy with your target audience. You don’t have a story if your brand doesn’t have a WHY. And you don’t have a story if you don’t know who you’re telling it to.

This is an excellent time to revisit your brand’s narrative and the way you communicate it through the channels of the Brand Ecosystem.

  • How can the brand’s narrative connect our products, company goals and values, ideology, ethos, to our specific community?
  • How should the brand story (or tone of voice) shift in our current climate?
  • Are we telling stories that our fans will be compelled to share?
  • What do we want customers to walk away telling one another?
  • How does our new story relate to the brand’s history?
  • What and how do we want to tell this story?

6) Pivot

Many brands are pivoting in their communication right now, with mixed results. A couple of examples of brands that are getting messaging right in times of crisis: Tide’s
“Loads of Hope” initiative is bringing laundry services to healthcare workers and first responders. And Frito-Lay has shifted from its usual “food for fun times” messaging to run a highly regarded TV spot that talks about how they’re hiring. Brands have passed the “we’re all in this together” messaging and are now focusing on what they are doing to help.

No doubt, brands will need to remain sensitive to their audience’s needs and flexible in tactics through the end of this year. Some things to think about:

  • How are we leveraging social, digital, email, and website messaging to demonstrate empathy and mention how the brand is evolving, helping, contributing?
  • Do we need to talk from a different perspective than we would ordinarily?
  • Are there pillars of our brand platform that are not normally at the forefront but would be relevant to communicate now?
  • If we look at pivoting as on an axis (not a leap forward or sideways), how should we shift?

7) Invest

Two ways to think about investment: opportunistic and short-term; and strategic and long-term.

In the short term, investing might look like one-off activities that support the brand and your messaging strategy. Think about giving product away to people in need: food pantries, school nutrition programs, healthcare workers, social service agencies. Or donating dollars to organizations helping those reeling from the pandemic and its fallout.

On the long-term, strategic side, it’s now time to get serious about innovation. Look at all those initiatives you were thinking about doing but have set aside for a while. Determine where and how your brand has permission to stretch and create an innovation pipeline that will expand your brand’s reach and long-term relevance.

Issues to think about:

  • Is there a piece of equipment we could add to the manufacturing process to upgrade the product? (Something that might, say, take an ice cream bar from One-of-Many product to Beloved & Dominant treat.)
  • While competitors are pulling back, what will our post-Covid campaigns look like?
  • What visual or content assets can we assemble now so we’ll be ready to launch as the time comes?
  • Can we break through barriers in the organization to innovation? What about co-manufacturing? What about investing in higher quality ingredients?
  • Considering our audience, our brand foundation, and our stretch, what products do we need to develop now so they’re ready to go when things get back to normal?

Normal, of course, is a relative term. If you’re looking ahead to the rest of this year and beyond, we can help you find the right kind of opportunity. 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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How to Navigate Brand Change, When Your Sales or Operations Team Dominate the Conversation

Some of the organizations we work with are veritable marketing machines, built on the strategic thinking and specialized discipline that drive modern better-for-you brands.

Others are operations- or sales-centric, focused on chasing opportunity and ROI. Not that there’s anything wrong with either, of course. But in ops- or sales-driven corporate cultures, marketing takes a backseat, which means that the brand and the consumer often do, too.

If you’re a marketing leader with one of those companies, you and your team likely feel like order-takers, consigned to producing yet another sales brochure or tradeshow booth. You may lack the influence to pursue a comprehensive brand strategy. And your management peers probably don’t value the thinking you bring to the table (if you’re at the table at all).

When Brands Lack Marketing Discipline

In our experience, it’s easy to spot BFY brands that don’t place what we consider the proper amount of emphasis on marketing. Some of these companies were founded by process-minded entrepreneurs who thrive on the challenge of making a product, without worrying about how to build an audience around it. Some brands start out with a focus on building a wholesale business and are unconcerned about the end consumer. Organizationally, some companies bolt marketing onto another department, like HR and communications. Some brands are led by “numbers people” who don’t bother with “soft” disciplines like marketing.

In organizations where so much of the business rests upon sales or operations, the marketing team just produces what sales team needs. Rather than working as strategic partners, marketers are stuck in reaction mode: strategically underutilized, demoralized, and overtasked with chores that don’t move the needle.

But then, something in the business changes. A wholesale-only brand shifts to a consumer model or launches a companion consumer brand, or a company starts selling direct-to-consumers. These shifts require a strategic marketing approach, and if management doesn’t understand or value marketing, the battle to build a consumer audience is long and uphill.

If marketing doesn’t have a seat at the table when the business climate pivots, there’s a risk that the brand goes “rogue,” speaking in different ways about different things to different audiences. The brand loses internal and external relevance. Sales stagnate and growth is stymied. There’s a significant loss of potential, and the brand won’t fulfill its destiny.

How Marketing Leaders Can Gain Influence

If you’re a marketing executive in a company that doesn’t emphasize the discipline, or if your organization is facing a shift that makes your work more important and visible then it’s previously been, we can offer several suggestions for how you can gain influence.

First, start with the end in mind, instead of only the next step. So, for example, if you’re working toward a financial target, look at that, not at what your first sale will be. If you need to build an audience, do the research to identify and understand that audience. If you’re starting a consumer marketing strategy, look at what we call the Brand Ecosystem (seven essential communication platforms) as a whole, not just one tactic; like building a social media campaign.

Second, consolidate opportunistic and strategic needs as much as you can. If the sales manager asks for a new section of the website to communicate to a key retail account, can you also deploy resources to build out the consumer side? Can you use project requests as opportunities to do broader research? This approach to building influence and understanding of marketing involves “Yes, and …” conversations. Rather than declining a project request from the sales team, say, “Yes we can help you, and of the five things you’re asking for, here are two key projects that best mesh with our brand strategy.”

Develop the art of reflective listening. This tactic has proven highly effective whenever we encounter client organizations that distrust or devalue marketing. We teach our partners to use internal stakeholders’ own language when they talk about marketing solutions. When we gather all the client’s department heads, we model how the marketing leader can communicate to her peers in a way that makes them feel heard.

Wrap your conversations with other business leaders in strategic language. Always be talking about how and what other departments are doing and how they fit into the brand strategy. Gaining influence in an organization is like parenting a small child — you have to fold each interaction into a larger goal. Acknowledge their needs and start to bend their requests to your larger objectives. The more they feel you’re an ally and the more you use their input, the more they’ll feel like they’re being heard. Give them guidance on strategic thinking without cluing them into the lesson.

Enroll a small number of key people in strategy conversations. Enlist influencers within the corporate culture to advance your brand initiatives instead of hosting an “all-hands” meeting where egos will take over and the group is harder to corral.

It’s an eternal struggle for marketers to prove ROI on their work, but to the extent that you can, try to quantify your team’s impact. Beginning every project by setting goals and metrics that will define success is essential, especially as you’re building influence. At the end of programs or campaigns, recap goals and planning conversations so that you can point to outcomes. You’ll further advance your cause if you admit when you’re wrong and an initiative didn’t perform as you’d expected.

Finally, enlist your entire team in building a reputation for marketing in your organization. Set your own private agenda for every meeting with internal clients and stakeholders to make sure they feel heard and supported. Advancing the cause of marketing is all about managing up and around you.

If you’re seeking an outside partner who can advance your marketing agenda and spark growth for your brand, we’re here to help. Just 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.

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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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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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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
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Change is Hard. These Seven Tactics Make it Easier to Manage

“Things change.” “Change is good.” “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Platitudes about change abound, but here’s one thing you won’t see on a motivational poster backed by a scenic mountain photo: Change is hard.

It’s supposed to be. Change is risky, scary, inconvenient, messy. And we see it all, up close. Food and wellness brands come to us when they’re on the brink of change or in the thick of it — change that they haven’t anticipated and don’t necessarily want, often brought on by rapidly shifting consumer preferences and a turbulent retail landscape.

The changes we facilitate tend to be monumental — not a packaging tweak but a holistic repositioning or refocused brand strategy. And sometimes they’re painful, as we discovered when one of our recent clients came to us because they were floundering after a rebrand/renaming. Based on our consumer data that showed that customers still knew the brand by its original name, we recommended that the company return to that name. It was a real leadership moment: The CEO had to step up, own the mistake, and be the bright light shining through the chaos.

So let’s say you’re the wolf: You’ve been tasked with instigating or managing a seismic shift in your organization. Maybe there’s been a management shakeup, or the CEO may be looking to sell. Maybe you once led the category but you haven’t kept up with consumers’ wants and whims and you’ve lost share. Maybe a new competitor is chewing up the category. Whatever’s sparking the change, you’re expected to guide the team through it.

Take a deep breath and ready yourself with these tactics we’ve gathered from helping our clients deal with change wisely and well:

1. Acknowledge the fear. Understand the psychology of what you’re about to do and don’t dismiss your team’s fears. If change is challenging for you, it’s likely more so for others in the organization, who feel powerless and worry that their comfortable routines will be turned upside-down. Listen and share frequently and strategically; gather input and buy-in along the way. But don’t unveil the finished work until it’s ready for prime time.

2. Expect resistance. From all quarters: long-term employees who are happy with how things have been done forever, finance & operations people who are charged with getting results, marketing staffers who know the biggest impact will be on their department. Know that the sales team will be early and vocal objectors — they’ve been successfully selling the product for years, and they’ll object to changing their pitch. But they’ll also be the fastest adopters once they “get” the vision.

3. Start with strategy. A strong strategic foundation — one that addresses consumer trends, acknowledges market realities, and drives business growth — gives the team confidence and common ground. Strategy becomes a toolbox that guides everyone — from the CEO to the front desk receptionist — on how to behave in their role to contribute to the brand’s success.

4. Enlist advocates. Creating a solid group of key stakeholders at the outset gives you an internal leadership team that co-authors the brand and becomes your ally when it comes time to strategically leak news. Encourage your advocates to share their personal experiences as insiders involved in the process along with information about how the project is unfolding and what’s to come.

5. But know that not everyone will get on board. In fact, we request that HR management is part of any rebranding or repositioning project we’re involved with because there’s always a training/coaching component to change. And staffers who resist and fight their way through the strategy development process may need to be asked to leave before they poison the well. Ask your HR partner for help identifying potential resisters and getting them on track or out the door.

6. Make it feel special. Tap your internal advocates to help build a sense that the change represents an opportunity to further a brand they’re passionate about. Connect this initiative to the brand’s greater purpose. Celebrate milestones and create momentum to fuel excitement.

7. Use language to gain buy-in. Reality exists in language. Having the brand strategy and talking points that answer questions will be key to calming your team’s nerves. We use language to teach the teams we work with how to describe their products and why they exist in the world. This is especially crucial for the sales team: Unless they buy in, they’ll never be able to make a presentation about the product.

Change can be humbling — it means admitting that what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore, that your competitors are moving faster than you are. Or that you’re just flat-out wrong. That’s a real test for company leaders.

Done well, change can be a catalyst not for fear and internal squabbling, but for collaboration, growth, and rededication to the cause. The objective is not comfortable complacency, but transformational business success. On the other side awaits greater clarity, sharpened vision, and teams that are aligned with the vision and confident in moving forward.

Change ain’t easy. That’s why it’s essential. And when you’re ready, we’re here to help.

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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