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You Think You Know What Branding Is. Do You Really?

We’ve been in this business for a long time, and we’ve worked with thousands of experienced marketers. And we’re always taken aback when we run into brand managers or creative directors or business owners who have only a hazy understanding of what branding is all about.

Brand and branding are confusing, somewhat vague, and often misused terms that live in the business buzzword stew. They’re slippery words that managers and leaders use interchangeably to mean a range of different things, from the size of the logo on a building to retail POP displays to the organization’s greater mission in the world. Brand and branding are two different, yet connected, things.

So let’s get to the bottom of it.

The Difference Between Brand and Branding

A brand is a tangible business asset, a foundational strategy that makes you different from other. When well defined and executed, your brand makes competition irrelevant. People don’t buy products; they buy brands.

What’s more, the brand is not the sole property of the marketing team. It belongs to the entire organization. Sales reps, product managers, interns, front-line employees — they all need to walk, talk, and live the brand.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon said it best when he said, brand is what they say about you when you are not in the room.

At Retail Voodoo, we believe that a brand is 1) a promise and 2) the way in which your company keeps it.

Your brand promise is the reason why your brand exists, the need it meets, the problem it solves. The brand promise is largely functional. It can be as simple as, “This chia-enhanced tortilla chip is better for you than a Dorito.” Consider outdoor outfitter REI; its functional promise is that its gear will keep you warm, dry, and protected on your camping or hiking trip.

Different companies may espouse similar brand promises. But the way in which they keep those promises is the differentiation. REI embraces a platform of outdoor stewardship; not only does the brand’s offering supply gear, but REI helps you pursue an active outdoor lifestyle with the encouragement, training, and expertise you need to ​​pursue your adventures.

The way you keep your promise brings to life your organization’s larger vision, mission, purpose, and ideology. The way you keep your promise wins customers and converts buyers to fans. It beats the traditional Four Ps of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion.

Branding is the execution of your brand strategy. Note the word ‘strategy’ here. Compelling brand strategy outlines the roadmap for the entire company — not just marketing but operations, HR, product development, and sales.

Branding is the verbal and visual translation of the brand, a whole ecosystem. It’s your logo and your packaging and your social media presence, yes, but it’s also the way you treat your retail partners, the way you respond to customer problems, the way you source materials and manufacture your products. It drives the types of new products you develop and identifies business opportunity.

To recap: Brand is a thing — your promise and the way you keep it. Branding is an activity — the way you bring your strategy to life.

Why Marketers Are Confused About Branding

We’ve written about brand and brand strategy countless times (see our Insights library for more of our thinking), but we’ve never addressed it in such a basic way. Even the most sophisticated marketers we work with still misuse the word; they talk about branding as the application of the logo to a billboard. Thinking about why there’s such a misperception about brand, we’ve landed on a couple of reasons.

First, the concept of a brand has evolved over more than two centuries. In the 19th century, brand was literal — a mark that identified the owner of livestock. Ranchers branded cattle so they wouldn’t be stolen. In the 20th century, with the rise of the industrial economy and mass production, a brand became a mark attached to a product. Companies branded their products to set them apart, and consumers embraced those brands as status symbols and signifiers of quality. Today, brand is closer to Bezos’ definition. Brands transcend products, and consumers make choices based on which brands align with their values.

Second, higher education teaches branding incorrectly. Marketers usually come into the food and beverage industry through two doors, either business school or design school. Educators in both of those systems have a 20th century, not a 21st century, definition of brand and branding. Thus, there is a cohort of managers and executives who think the brand is the logo.

So why does this matter? Because brands matter more to consumers than ever before. In a world of cheap goods and endless choices, knockoffs and store labels, crowded retail shelves and overwhelming online shopping experiences, brand is the beacon that guides consumers. You’d better get it right.

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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5 Obstacles to a Successful Rebrand that Nobody Talks About

How many times has your company rebranded? Even if you answer, “Just once,” we’re guessing that felt like one time too many. And what was it all for? Were you able to achieve your goals? This may be hard to believe even now, but most people still mean redecorating when they say rebranding. They are talking about iterative packaging changes, new logos, and advertising campaigns. No wonder rebrands fall short.

We have identified the most common but usually unspoken circumstances that stand in the way of effectively and predictably changing your company’s market position via rebranding.

This white paper discusses strategies to manage leadership and team expectations, sacred cows, and data. These insights, along with our practical how-to response for each obstacle, will enable you to perform some organizational jujitsu, the real reason to embark on rebranding.

Most people think of creative translation issues when they think of rebranding failure. The reality is that the most common obstacles to a successful rebranding are further up funnel, during brand strategy development. And frankly they are further up the management ladder. That is, unless your definition for rebranding is really just redecorating. A true rebranding gets into the why, the how, and the what behind your brand. It’s not just skin deep and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Here are the obstacles no one seems to be talking about. Identifying and planning for these unspoken hurdles will increase the likelihood of succeeding.

Leadership Dynamics

When leadership sees branding as a marketing objective rather than a business objective, their lack of engagement is a hurdle to the rest of their team. When this occurs, it is typically due to an old-school mentality with an inaccurate understand of what branding means.

Another surprisingly common problem happens when not everyone participates in the brand development meetings. These invisible influencers from adjacent functional silos in your company probably don’t intentionally set out to throw off your attempts to use branding as a driver to create meaningful change within the business. Regardless of why they’re not there — whether you skipped them on the meeting invites or they’ve skipped thinking that all you’re going to do is sit around and talk about the artwork and back of pack copywriting  — your brand has an enrollment challenge.

When leadership at any level within your organization rejects new ideas without consideration or dialogue, your likelihood of success is greatly diminished.

The Retail Voodoo Way to align leadership during the rebrand:
We require the key leadership of your brand to participate in every strategy session, complete the exercises, and voice their opinion within the context of the group assignment. We understand business (not just design) and have a bedside manner that will connect with your team at all levels.

Team Dysfunction

When companies are siloed and view each other as obstacles rather than allies, there is a persistent level of infighting and disagreement. Before you can manage the changes necessary to create meaningful change, it is important to get everyone on the same page. People inside an organization that is a prime candidate for rebranding often have conflicting agendas born out of frustration, team performance issues, and frankly a fear of losing their job. Before you know it, people translate this to mean that they need to fear compromise because the internal culture has silently declared it a sign of weakness. The root of this internal bias, whether real or implied, is the false belief that collaboration is the same as compromise.

The Retail Voodoo Way to enroll your team in the rebrand:
We use blind surveys for all key stakeholders in order to get everyone in the organization literally on the same page. This builds bridges and overcomes personal agendas quickly.

Misaligned Expectations

Clarity is tough. All companies are impacted by relationship dynamics. Just like in life, when people don’t talk about it they create unrealistic expectations around timing and costs. And these become the barriers to rejuvenation that the organization was likely seeking through the process of rebranding.

Once the company decides that rebranding makes the most sense, it’s natural for those involved in ensuring the rebrand “sticks” to want everything to happen all at once. Then it becomes even more natural to skip a holistic plan because it needs to involve everyone in leadership – and leaders can be impatient, high concept thinkers who don’t want the minutia (except for when they do).

Lack of alignment around the time and cost implications of rebranding stems from the C-suite spreads throughout the organization. If your leadership sees rebranding as a new logo and maybe a packaging refresh, then they are likely to ask the marketing team to make critical changes without addressing the financial implications beyond the short-term marketing tactics required. Plan for 2 years of marketing and operational implications based upon a rebrand. And then add 50% of the budget and timeline for implementation.

The Retail Voodoo Way to align expectations:
Prior to embarking on the rebranding journey, work with your team to establish how you will program and finance any operational changes needed to deliver on innovation, positioning pivots, and product portfolio alignment. Our philosophy is talk it out early and often. It’s your job to budget dollars and time, but we can help plan.

Outdated Brand Equities

A product legacy has run its course and needs to be cancelled. But this is terrifying for everyone in the company if the product in question is all that the company has ever sold (or it’s the original or it’s the namesake). At Retail Voodoo, we call these outdated brand equites “sacred cows”.

Better-for-you food and beverage has become a new buzzword in the face of fast-paced evolution of consumer preferences (not to mention a playground for private equity), more single product brands, specialized ingredient-focused brands, and specialty processing brands have seen their once sustainable and market-leading position erode rapidly.

Moving away from a sacred cow is tough when you don’t see it. When your core product equity has a brand liability, and the organization responds to changing anything with phrases like, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” you may be in for a steeper climb than you originally thought.

The Retail Voodoo Way to identify, remove, and retire your brand’s core liabilities:
Innovation and differentiation require new thinking. If it were easy, everyone would be a market-leading brand.

First, we assess your culture through research and key personnel interviews and look for your company’s appetite for change before making any recommendations. Then we will identify your brand’s core liabilities, and use data to illuminate future possibilities that cross reference your brand’s past and present.

Misinterpreted Data

When your brand believes that your employees are your best customers, your team may become prone to make strategic assumptions based off internal consensus and call it data. This confirmation bias allows your brand to make up its own rules and innovate products that only you and your employees would use. When your employees and key stakeholders insist that they are your brand’s best customers, watch out – you have three years to change this before your position in the marketplace erodes.

The Retail Voodoo Way to data interpretation:
Employee and management opinions matter, they just aren’t data. To start, you need external data. We will bring in experts who specialize in authoring the right kind of survey for your brand’s unique situation. And help you curate which the off the shelf, syndicated data (like PEW, Mintel, Neilson, and a host of others) makes the best investment for your brand. Next, we question and then synthesize data into actionable insights that map to a brand strategy before sharing it out with the entire team.

Leaders, teams, expectations, sacred cows, and data. Holy hand grenades! It’s enough to send any marketer over the edge. But don’t go there. Take heart and give yourself a moment. Rebranding requires a level head, a strong spirit, guts, and some organizational jujitsu. If you are considering a rebrand and have exhausted all other, lesser involved avenues to affect change, give us a call.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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The 6 Marketing Ingredients of a Naturals Brand

The “4 Ps” model has been a foundation of marketing management since the 1960s:

Product + Price + Place + Promotion = Marketing

If you manufacture a product, price it right, make it accessible to shoppers, and spread the word about it, you make the sale. Easy.

We’re here to declare this 50-year-old formula dead.

Product doesn’t (really) matter anymore. Patagonia a great example: Yvon Chouinard started the company in the ’70s, selling climbing equipment; now they’re in the food business. You can’t win on price, because Walmart has muscled brands into discounting submission. Place is irrelevant: Thanks to Amazon, people can get any product shipped anywhere. And you can’t out-spend the big brands on promotion.

A New Marketing Discipline

Consumers today seek authenticity from the brands they buy; they want to know what’s in their food, and they expect companies to have morals and values. Now more than ever, people use brands as building blocks of personal identity—they don’t just buy your products, they view you as a reflection of themselves.

Consumers’ expectations of brands are even higher in the naturals category because those who are willing to pay more for natural products care not only about what you’re doing for them but about what you’re doing for the planet.

The 6 Ps of Marketing for Natural Brands

We see it: Many brands are struggling to be relevant in the face of changing consumer preferences. They’re increasingly pressured to do more with less and are vulnerable to better-organized, well-funded competitors.

So we guide our clients to focus on a mix of six marketing ingredients:

1. Purpose

This is your mission, your higher calling, your reason for being, beyond making a profit. What’s your contribution to society or the planet? This should be so well defined that you don’t even have to think when you’re asked about it. If it’s not ingrained in your brand’s DNA, you have major work to do.

2. People

Two components here: internal and external. How do you treat employees—not just your office staff but your manufacturing workers? Wages and working conditions are key indicators. Outwardly, what’s your giveback to your community? How are you pouring profits back into supporting your purpose?

Our client Loma Linda is a great example of this internal/external people focus: The world’s oldest vegetarian brand has a manufacturing facility in Rocky Mount, NC, a community of working poor. The founder raised wages, gave every employee food once a week, and taught them how to cook with it for their families.

3. Planet

Do you have a visible, transparent end-to-end manufacturing and supply chain? Not just for your products, but your packaging as well? It’s a challenge: All of the natural snacks brands we know want to put products in pouches, which are not recyclable or renewable. We’re constantly pushing clients to find different options; cans, for example, while not especially sexy, are sustainable and a package of choice for Loma Linda.

4. Passion

This is your why—it underpins your purpose and drives your people. It’s your origin story. Successful brands have a battle to fight, a wrong that they seek to right. Your enemy isn’t your competition; it’s a challenge that your products help people to overcome. Nike’s foe isn’t Adidas—it’s the voice in all of our heads that says, “you can’t.”

5. Personality

Your brand should sound like no one else; in fact, it should be contrarian to your competitors. It should speak in a language and tone that calls out to your tribe. For example, KIND’s core message—“Do the kind thing for your body, your taste buds & your world” wraps a basic message about health and sustainability in a larger envelope of kindness. It’s a great display of brand personality.

6. Profit

Duh. But some passion brands let profit fall by the wayside in pursuit of the higher calling. We’ve watched founder/owners mistakenly believe that being successful in the business they’ve built equals selling out. So they don’t pursue the right relationships, they let growth stagnate, they get stuck with a $25 million business that costs $30 million to run.

If you’re a better-for-you brand, having a good, wholesome product with clean ingredients is a given. You have to stand for something more: sustainable sourcing and manufacturing practices, livable wages for workers, commitment to the environment. You need a prominent, passionate founder (that’s you) with a great backstory and a voice that echoes a siren song to your people.

To this 6 Ps of Marketing, we’ll add a seventh: Partner. That’s us. We’re here to help.

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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7 Questions Passion Brands Should Ask Before Investing in a Rebrand

Rebrands are expensive and can be well worth the effort. But marketing leaders only look at 1-2 indexes to determine the optimal timing and core components that should be in place to increase the likelihood of success.

This white paper (pink paper) breaks it all down to seven critical questions that need to be answered affirmatively in order for rebranding to move forward. When brands have these questions clearly answered, their rebranding efforts will be more than skin deep. Retail buyers are more likely to get behind a brand with a deep, resonant story over those that are merely skin deep design. And products will move off the shelf without deep discounting or any other sales and marketing ploys.

1) Does my sales team have a compelling brand story that opens doors and wins shelf space?

When a brand doesn’t have a clear and compelling point of difference in the marketplace, they often rely on charismatic founders and/or salespeople to make the sale or succumb to an overly aggressive high-low pricing strategy. This is limiting when your brand is a seen by the consumer, and therefore the buyer, as an “also-ran brand”.

2) Have we conducted an exhaustive competitive audit of multiple markets?

This will help you overcome the obstacle in question 1 as well as offer a reality check. Most people think their brand is more unique and uniquely positioned than it is. A category audit with boots-on-the-ground is the cure.

3) Have we performed a SWOT analysis on our own internal culture to assess our appetite for change?

If it looks like your team is too far out of alignment to manage change, we suggest looking for the typical suspects: conflicting agendas that fall within functional silos and out-of-touch benevolent dictators. The evidence looks like infighting, high turnover, and low employee satisfaction.

4) Do we have a comprehensive map of our existing consumers and an objective, data-driven overlay for future consumers?

Many passion brands attract employees who are dedicated to the lifestyle the brand projects. This is the most common reason the company’s untested opinions and assumptions become perceived as data. It’s easy to assume that your target audience is just like you. The problem with this sort of closed-loop thinking is that without research and an outside perspective you will tend to believe your ideas are in alignment with the marketplace needs. The first step is admitting that opinions are not data.

5) Does our brand currently own an emotional territory that no other brand in our category owns?

Brand lives in the heart and mind as a collection of feelings or emotions based upon a promise your company made and the manner in which your collective team kept said promise. If you are trying to build brand story out of product features and benefits, you are likely a commodity, not a brand.

6) Is our mission clear, concise, actionable and measurable?

Many mission statements feel like the product of a committee, watered-down, inoffensive and in-actionable corporate babble. And long… if every last one of your employees can’t remember your mission without a prompt, then it needs to be refreshed. We believe in the power of language and that a simple, memorable, measurable mission is the only way to get and keep your team, well, on mission. To test this theory, go ask the first three employees you find to recite your brand’s mission statement. How’d that go? Did they get it right? Did they struggle?

7) Is innovation part of our brand’s culture?

If your team is in the business of repackaging your core offering multiple ways, I have some bad news. That isn’t innovation. Meaningful brand-building innovation stems from a strategic plan and is not simply opportunistic. It should be easy to ideate new products and services that are a logical extension of your brand (promises made and kept) when you are operating from strategy.

Missing any of these items likely means your brand strategy is missing enough critical elements that a packaging design refresh is not likely to produce the results your company wants. We suggest you start at the beginning.

Check your score.

  • 6 or more and you are good to go. You clearly have a plan and a strong team in place.
  • 4-5 and you are close to ready. Make some bold strategic decisions prior to undertaking a rebrand.
  • 3 or less, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate your reasoning, then give us a call.
Diana Fryc

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

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How to Ace Your Upcoming Category Review

Your category review is coming up. But you’re not ready or your market position doesn’t look good. What now? Learn how to ace your category review meeting.

Diana Fryc

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

Connect with Diana
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The Key to Creative Deliverables that Generate Real Results for Retail Brands

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

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

Mistaking Your Brand’s Symptom for the Disease

When we first met with Russell Stover, their sugar-free line was floundering. After owning that niche in the marketplace for so many years, they were suddenly being pushed aside by other sugar-free brands that looked fresher and more attractive to potential consumers — and retailers were taking note. To fix what appeared to be a dying brand, “Change your packaging!” was the resounding mandate.

To be sure, Russell Stover’s packaging needed work. It was old-fashioned and screamed CVS bargain bin. But the packaging wasn’t the real problem; it was just a small symptom of a much bigger issue with their brand.

Figuring out what was actually wrong with their brand and putting a plan in place to fix it required strategy and time. It wasn’t a problem a new logo or a simple tagline from a copywriter could solve.

How Long Until I See Results From My Brand Strategy Engagement?

The truth of the matter is that, like Russell Stover, many of our prospective clients don’t approach us until something is fundamentally broken with their brand and potentially even their business. At that point, they’re looking for immediate outcomes and often struggle with the reality that the brand strategy solutions we offer take time to implement. But time and strategy are both necessary in producing real, lasting results.

Depending on the size of your company, you shouldn’t expect to see big-picture results from a brand strategy engagement until 12-18 months in.

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

The Brand Strategy Journey: Strategy-Driven Creative and Everything in Between

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

Phase 1

When we worked with Russell Stover, that initial moment happened during our first meeting with the client — just four weeks after our engagement with them began. Within a three-hour window, their team went from blindly (but understandably) assuming that new packaging would fix their dying brand to seeing their business change for the better right in front of their eyes. We were fortunate enough to witness and be the catalyst for that.

Phase 2

The next moment of validation typically happens two to three months into our engagement when we unveil the creative deliverables we’ve produced to our clients for the first time. This is when our conversations start coming to life, and our clients finally have a tangible, visual manifestation of all the work they’ve been putting into their brand strategy efforts so far.

Just a few months into their work with us, Russell Stover finally got the new packaging they actually did need. But instead of a quick-fix solution, they now recognized this deliverable as a vital piece of their brand strategy — not the other way around. The symptom they’d originally noted was remedied, but they knew more time would be required to address their larger brand problem.

Phase 3

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

For Russell Stover, those final shifts meant a change in their product’s ingredient deck and buttoned up inventory control, which subsequently led to globally positive feedback from retailers and their most successful sales period in quite some time. It wasn’t just their packaging that needed a facelift — ingredient quality and internal processes also needed to be addressed in order to appeal to consumers and retailers and make Russell Stover a more than viable competitor in the sugar-free market once again.

Ultimately, their business was saved by the strategic decisions they made during these 14 or so months they spent working with us. That’s something a one-off creative deliverable simply couldn’t have done.

David Lemley

David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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The Value of a Corporate Social Responsibility Program for Consumer Brands

If you had to decide between buying a bag of coffee from a brand that supports sustainable farming in Nicaragua or buying from a conglomerate giant, which would you choose? All else being equal, there’s almost no contest.

Statistically (and anecdotally) speaking, we know that consumers connect more deeply with and are more likely to purchase from brands that align with a social cause. In a crowded marketplace, your company’s commitment to a cause can be one of the only differentiators between your brand and every other brand selling products or services like yours.

If your brand is looking to pursue a bottom line that reaches beyond profitability (in other words, a “triple bottom line”), a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program is a great place to start. The real challenge comes with determining what your company will stand for — and behind — and making sure that investment is meaningful to your customers and employees alike.

How to Choose Your Cause

There’s a reason your brand exists. You know that. There’s a practical side of that to be sure, but it goes beyond what you do to earn money. All good brands are aspirational.

If you want to figure out where and how to invest in your community or in a broader cause, start with the story your brand is telling. Choose a cause that weaves into the fabric of who you are as a company and where you came from, and you can’t go wrong.

We recently worked with a brand called Essentia Water that decided after a particularly successful year to invest in a corporate giving program. After weighing different options and evaluating their company’s mission and values, the brand ultimately chose to fund after-school programs for at-risk youth.

If you’re a consumer who’s not familiar with the Essentia brand, you may find the connection between a bottled water brand and at-risk youth a bit of a stretch. But dig a little deeper and you’ll realize that this brand investing in this cause makes perfect sense. Just read the company’s origin story, which revolves around the idea that “we all start somewhere… there’s no limit to where we can go.”

By funding these after-school programs, Essentia Water is, in essence, allowing the kids and teenagers that participate in these programs to become “tomorrow’s overachievers.” After all, the brand’s tagline is fittingly: “Overachieving H2O.”

Profitability and Your Triple Bottom Line

It’s a myth that the ability of your brand to give back stems from your company’s age, size, or scale. What truly allows your brand to give back is its profitability. If you can afford your values (in other words, if you can pay for more than just keeping the lights on), you’re in the right place to consider implementing a triple bottom line initiative.

On its face, the idea that your brand needs to reach a certain level of profitability to give back feels selfish, almost callous. But picture sitting on an airplane and listening to a flight attendant give the pre-flight safety speech. What’s the one thing you can count on hearing (even if you’re admittedly largely ignoring the speech to read your Kindle)?

“Secure your own mask first before helping others.”

The same concept has to apply to your brand. Allow yourself to thrive first. Then help others do the same.

Giving Back at the Grassroots Level

Even if your company isn’t in the financial position to implement a triple bottom line initiative or massive give back program, it doesn’t mean you can’t start somewhere.

Take Atlantic Natural Foods, the oldest vegetarian brand in the world you’ve never heard of. Just a few years ago, they had the admirable yet far-fetched goal to fix the global food chain.

As a smaller company though, their ability to contribute resources to this cause was limited. But they wisely recognized that global issues are fixed at the grassroots level so that’s exactly where they started.

Atlantic Natural Foods is based in a small, rural town in North Carolina where the minimum wage is low and many of its residents live below the poverty line. This is a population that subsists on diets that, without a doubt, contribute to the food chain crisis. In light of the realities of their community, the company’s first initiative was to change their internal wage structure. Next, they showed their employees how to cook and eat the very food they were helping to produce.

The cultural shift that happened within the company as a result of these seemingly small initiatives was huge and almost immediate.

With no direct prompting from the company, Atlantic Natural Foods’ employees took the initiative to gather company trucks and food supplies and take them to communities that had been devastated by a recent hurricane in North Carolina. What’s more, they were able to transfer the cooking skills they had only recently been taught themselves to the residents in these communities — a gift that truly keeps on giving.

By empowering their employees, Atlantic indirectly created a culture of giving back that spilled into their community and beyond. That says something about their brand.

Outward Expression of Internal Values

The sort of wonderful thing about choosing a triple bottom line for your brand is that it’s not a science. There’s no right or wrong way to create a triple bottom line for your company, no formula to follow.

The key is finding a cause that outwardly expresses your mission and values as a brand and as a company, whatever that may look like.

The right cause will resonate with your customers regardless of age, education level, and socioeconomic status because it speaks to who they are and who they want to be. And that’s a powerful message.

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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Four Cornerstones of Leadership for Wellness, Diet & Exercise Brands

Boxing legend and heavyweight champion Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” We couldn’t agree more. Leading through the lens of brand requires consistency and transparency, and a delicate balance of listening and coaching. But humans are messy and complex, even for those in leadership roles. And for that reason, you need a plan. That’s where brand strategy comes into play.

While the details and process of brand strategy are finely detailed, you can use some foundational blocks to start the process, or at least anchor your brand until you have a formalized plan in place.

We’ve created a set of foundation cornerstones to help you lead through the lens of brand.

Know Thy Brand’s Purpose

Purpose is why you exist beyond making a profit.

Most of you reading this article probably understand your brand’s purpose. After all, you are likely working in the better-for-you space and have a strong opinion about wellness, diet, and exercise. It’s also probably why you started the company or joined the organization.

Sometimes, purpose-driven brands find themselves behaving like ordinary brands because they make their purpose complicated. They forget that a brand can be boiled down to this: the promises you make and the way in which you keep them.

But simple is hard. So, here is an exercise to challenge you: write your purpose down and then simplify it by cutting it in half. Keep going until a fifth grader can explain what you wrote and your organization can still deliver it.

Know Thy Brand’s Values

Knowing what you stand for as an organization seems like a no-brainer. But many leaders struggle to articulate their values in language that is specific, believable, and contagious (one of the hallmarks of a great brand), especially when faced with unfavorable performance or sea-change. It is good to have an oral history that employees and customers experience over time through branded lore and storytelling. It’s better to have your values written down.

Know Thy Brand’s People

In purpose-driven brands we often have an advantage because we have hired our most loyal customers as employees. These avid users are built-in evangelists, who know the ins and outs of how our brand fits into their lives. The best employees are often the most outspoken of your stark-raving fans – which shows up as evangelism for the lifestyle that your brand supports.

Know Thy Brand’s Customer

Those of you that are lucky enough to have a team dedicated to customer research and data or have already purchased and analyzed customer data know that there is a little bit of magic and gut checking necessary to truly understand the numbers. However, at a basic level, all brands have a pretty solid idea of who you are talking to. Start there, and keep it simple.

This is where things can get tricky. All the data in the world will only tell you so much. And hiring raving fans as your employees comes with a bit of a double-edged sword – especially in purpose-driven brands. There is something called the awareness gap or the presumed self-identification as your best customer. In short, if all of your best customers are employed by your company then real growth is not possible. Sometimes, in an effort to see customers as not-us it’s important to bring in an outsider.

It may seem strange to hear a strategy firm focus on simplicity. But at the end of the day, as a leader, you should not need crib sheets or require a transcription service to remember what your brand stands for. Simplicity is what will help you and your entire organization make decisions.

No one likes to be “hit in the face.” But those that are prepared, can rebound quickly. The cornerstones help set the foundation on which your brand can be built solidly. Start with the basics and you can’t go wrong. And remember – we’re in your corner.

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 Use Form Factor to Powerfully Transform Your Brand and Disrupt Your Industry

Form factor can either be part of your brand’s selling mechanism or integral to the functionality of the products. In either case, it dramatically impacts how customers are attracted to and interact with your brand.

We can all recognize Coca-Cola’s signature glass bottle silhouette anywhere and can spot a Pringles can from a mile away. Coca-Cola’s glass bottle was created to sell. They wanted to disrupt on-shelf and throw off copycats. The company wanted to be so memorable, someone could feel it in the dark and instantly recognize the brand. The classic Pringles can, on the other hand, was born out of necessity. They wanted a resealable chip vessel to keep their product fresh and a cylindrical, structured shape so their chips would remain aligned and avoid being crushed.

Strategy-driven form factor does not always look this dramatic. Small, subtle changes can influence consumers on a large scale and revolutionize your brand or even your industry. The following examples of how brand strategy can translate into form factor show both sides of this.

Form Follows Function, Right?

Hilary’s Eat Well veggie burgers had a form factor problem the aisle audit revealed during our brand strategy work. Hilary’s veggie burgers were packaged in two-pack, freezer safe pouches. Once the customer purchased a package, the remaining pouches on the shelf fell over (often face-down). This posed a very large problem in terms of visibility on-shelf .

And while the company was aware of this issue, their previous attempts to remedy the situation were engineered too costly and received push-back from Whole Foods and other natural grocers.

The outcomes and goals identified during brand strategy drove the design of the simple recyclable box. This solution improved sustainability (after all, it is a vegan brand), shopability, flavor appeal, and provided room to tell the more compelling story of the brand’s true point of differentiation. The packaging educated customers about the product being convenient culinary and made free-from common food allergens. Who knew a cute little chipboard box could do all that?

Form Informs a New Way to Effectively Reach Your Target Audience

Reaching new audiences is all about understanding how consumers interact with your product. DRY wanted to be known as the go-to sparkling beverage for tastemakers but struggled to gain traction with key bartenders and chefs. This wasn’t because these culinary masters didn’t like the product or refused to use it, no. It was because of the limiting form factor. The small, non-re-sealable 12-ounce bottles made it difficult to work within a hospitality setting. To combat this, DRY created a larger resealable bottle.

Not only did DRY’s new form take off in the hospitality industry, but major retailers took notice as well. Now consumers who wanted larger bottles for parties or entertaining could purchase a re-sealable bottle as well. By changing the form factor, DRY reached new, powerful audiences and provided them with new ways to consume their product.

Form Informs Emotional Connections

Form factor can also be effective in communicating practical uses of products through storytelling. For example, Ruffwear’s mission was to create a deeper bond between people who love the outdoors and their dogs – allowing their companion to accompany them on their epic outdoor adventures. They made mountaineer-quality gear for dogs, but nobody knew this because they cost-engineered their packaging to be as thin and small as possible. It didn’t tell the story. Our brand strategy pulled at the powerful bond between owner and pet. Through emotion-driven customer education on the product attributes, we told their story.

Form Informs the Revolution of Your Industry

The wine industry notoriously feels stuffy – embracing exclusivity and the culinary elite. The beer industry’s reputation, on the other hand, feels more inviting and approachable. A large part of this is form factor of the two beverages. Canned beer is portable and seen as less sophisticated. Wine is known for being bottled and corked; saved for fancy glasses and sit-down dinners.

Underwood effectively flipped this norm on its head. The brand saw the craft beer industry beginning to infiltrate wine’s territory by becoming more of a gourmet, culinary experience – even paired with food on occasion. As the craft beer industry threatened to steal market share, Underwood decided to steal it back by canning their wine – subsequently making it approachable, portable, and unstuffy. Younger audiences can now have quick, adventurous experiences that involve wine without the barriers typically preventing them from consuming wine conveniently. Underwood used form factor to completely upend the industry.

Califia revolutionized their industry as well through form factor. Any shopper can recognize their signature bottle shape with just a quick glance. Their unique, elegant plastic bottle shape disrupted the milk category because the product no longer lived in just the paper carton anymore. The brand wanted to move into the natural, organic, alternative milk category, so their form factor emulated characteristics that would communicate those qualities and shared values to customers. The graceful and iconic shape feels reminiscent of glass milk bottles – evoking a feeling of farm-to-table and reminding customers of the benefit of organic farming. The brand elicits this emotion right from the aisle. Now, customers can find everything Califia (from cold brew to almond milk to juice) in the same form – building a brand connection between completely different areas of the grocery store.

We often get so caught up thinking about graphic design or digital experiences that we forget about the engineering of products and the vessels they live in. Form factor plays just as large of a role – if not more – in influencing consumer’s purchase decisions. It provides the canvas for storytelling and the correct mechanics to optimize performance. Shape, structure, and function can revolutionize an entire brand and even an entire industry.

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 is a Short-Term Investment with Long-Term Benefits

The Nike’s of the world bring home the bacon, and they look damn good doing it. To the untrained eye, there’s something special about these brands – some might say they have “it.” Well, our years in the marketing and design worlds have taught us the ever-elusive “it” is also called brand strategy. Companies killing it with brand strategy have die-hard loyal customers and an entire lifestyle emulating from their brand’s core.

But with these heavy-hitting brands, you know they paid a pretty penny to look so good. Can they afford to have such a strong brand strategy because they bring in so much revenue? Or do they bring in so much revenue because they have such a strong brand strategy? It’s the classic chicken and the egg dilemma, but we have the answer this time. Strong brand strategy puts money in the bank.

David Ogilvy (arguably the grandfather of advertising) said brand is “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging and price, its history, its reputation and the way it’s advertised.”

Our version is much simpler.

So, if brand strategy is this intangible concept, how can we possibly measure ROI on it? Why would you risk investing in something abstract? We all know brand is important, but is it important enough to spend money on? We’re here to tell you: taking the leap of faith to invest in brand strategy is one of the wisest possible uses of your money. A bold recommendation, but we’re ready to prove it.

People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Brands

Your product could be in every single grocery store or every single outdoor retailer, and it could still fail. Purchase decisions happen in seconds – just like first impressions. Consumers already formed an opinion about your product long before they saw it on shelf based on its reputation, history, peer reviews, and brand narrative.

So, ask yourself: Does my reputation align with my mission? What does my brand stand for? Why do we do what we do? How do we want to impact people’s lives? What’s the legacy we want to leave? The answers to these questions form the foundation of your brand, which you use to build your products and identity. People buy into the brand before they buy into the actual product. Rather than shoving your product into people’s carts, let your brand do the talking for you.

When we diagnose a brand’s marketing strategies, we often ask them to replace their logo in marketing material with a competitor’s logo. Most are shocked when they realize any brand in their category can “own” their voice and their visual identity. When all of the products look and feel the same within a category, brands must give consumers another reason to choose them beyond the product offering. This is where brand strategy becomes crucial. If you lack a definitive point of view, you will never stand out from your competition. Show your customers you offer something more valuable than the purchase alone.

Before we removed the word “soda” from DRY Sparkling’s name, they tried to compete with brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. They frankly didn’t stand a chance against these heavy-hitters. That being said, it was actually the smaller brands taking their market share away. We dove into uncovering DRY’s mission, target audience, and vision through extensive research. After we transformed their tone and voice, their marketing messages began speaking directly to their consumer. It showed – rather than told – them how to seamlessly incorporate the product into their everyday life. Soon, DRY became a staple for the culinary-minded, metropolitan woman. She mixes it with her cocktails at foodie events and carries it into her board meetings. Consumers buy into the brand and the lifestyle it represents before they buy the product. No way could Coca-Cola or Pepsi slap their logo on their product and feel the same. As a result, DRY saw 20x growth in its first two years after working with us and they are now the fastest growing carbonated soft drink in North America. Talk about ROI.

Value is No Longer Simply About Price

In the experience economy, value has a new equation: value means that what I get must be greater than what I give. This can be dollars, but more often includes time, attention, loyalty, and belief. As a debt-ridden millennial living in an overpriced apartment in the city, my shopping habits tend to revolve around how I can get the biggest bang for my buck. I’m at the stage in my life where clipping coupons is the norm and buying a $20 bottle of wine is a luxury. But at the same time, I insist on buying MaraNatha organic peanut butter and refuse to buy Jif Natural.

I pay nearly double for virtually the same product because this purchase makes me feel better about myself. I know I’m not just buying a product, I’m investing in my health and the health of the world. MaraNatha exists to promote good health and preserve the environment. They do this by creating all-natural, great-tasting nut butters with simple ingredients. While Jif makes “all-natural” products, that’s not why they exist. They don’t have a compelling mission or purpose. Therefore, I feel better supporting a company like MaraNatha.

Start with the “why,” and then work backwards. Brand strategy helps you identify the “why” and then sets you up to share it with customers through packaging, identity, messaging, and so much more. Ultimately, when consumers understand the true value of the brand exceeds what they give, they are more inclined to spend more.

Brand Loyalty Overcomes Price Resistance

We all know the classic Mac vs. PC debate. However, the average Mac is roughly twice the cost of the typical PC. Why are Mac fans so excited to spend double for a (somewhat) similar product? It’s simple: they’re loyal to the brand.

Apple created an entire lifestyle around the Mac – it’s youthful, hip, and attractive. It’s aspirational. Apple’s entire brand strategy revolves around emotion. Instead of talking about the features of their products, they talk about what they believe and why they created the products. As Steve Jobs said, “The chance to make a memory is the essence of brand marketing.”

This emotional bond fosters fiercely loyal fans – exactly why it’s such a huge deal when a Mac user switches to PC. It’s an anomaly, despite possibly being the more economical choice.

When you purchase a Mac, you’re also purchasing the hope of becoming the idealized version of yourself. To many, that’s worth the extra money. Once consumers understand the “why,” price becomes a non-issue because the value of their investment surpasses the monetary amount they paid.

A Strong Brand Identity Attracts Capital

Although some startups have super flashy, cool new products, they frequently lack depth. Many of these brands sprung out of a brilliant idea, but require additional support and strategic direction to continue their initial momentum. Often, they have a “what” and a “how,” but not a “why.”

Investors can smell a rich brand narrative that will drive sales and produce revenue from miles away. When you take the time to create loyal customers and get them to buy into your brand (not just your product), you present a strong case to anyone looking to put money on your brand. Investors see your brand not as a makeover project they have to spend time fixing, but as a booming business at the threshold of greatness. Your brand won’t be seen as a child needing coaching and support because you’ll already be equipped with brand strategy to inform all of your business decisions and conquer the competition.

When Sahale Snacks invested in brand strategy, they refocused on their commitment to quality, sustainability, and community. Their “Snack Better Promise” showed consumers – and investors – why they existed. J.M. Smucker Co. recognized this strong brand core and acquired them shortly after. Their short-term investment resulted in leaps and bounds for the company’s market share. Brand strategy laid the groundwork for them to launch into the world and become an explosive force in their category for years and years to come.

Brand strategy informs the development of messaging and brand identity – creating a unique brand lifestyle and a loyal, long-term audience with incredible buying power. Audiences will buy into your brand, not just your product. This means cash money in your pocket. When it comes to brand strategy, you don’t just see a return on your investment – you see your investment come back tenfold.

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