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Consumer Facing Leadership Strategies for Better-For-You Brands in Times of Crisis

Today is not like yesterday, and tomorrow will be different still. It’s going to be this way for a while; we just don’t know how long.

Among the multitude of companies, brands, consultants, and friends offering advice during this crisis, we offer these insights and reassurances for better-for-you brand leaders.

What this Crisis Looks Like for BFY Brands

Different market sectors in the U.S. economy are being affected in wildly different ways: healthcare is overextended, foodservice and hospitality are in dire straits, finance is swinging wildly. CPG and retail industries are reacting to acute changes in consumer behavior, shopper demands, and supply chain challenges.

We predict that in the short term, BFY brands (especially shelf-stable products backed by a strong supply chain and distribution model) will see an uptick in sales. We also think that gain will taper off as pantry-stocking is no longer urgent, but household inventory becomes normalized.

Post-crisis, business will be challenging for any brands that

  • have rested on their laurels
  • became overconfident thanks to the uptick in sales
  • hunkered down and waited for the crisis to pass

Outward-Facing Leadership for BFY Brands

For 15 years, we have been declaring that brands are the new religion—because people look to them for personal identity and shared values in the way previous generations looked to churches, social clubs, universities, and extended family.

Brand leaders, here’s your opportunity to prove yourself worthy.

How (and Where) to Talk to Your Customers

Let’s begin with two things you should absolutely not do right now:

  1. Go silent
  2. Go into selling mode

Your overarching message to your consumers right now should be something like this: “We are all in this together, and together we will get through.” Present your vision for a better tomorrow that emerges from this crisis. Don’t sell to them; show them small acts of love.

If you haven’t yet, quickly update your website with a message that reinforces your brand’s ethos, the values you share with your community, and a sense of calm confidence. Talk about what you’re doing to help, and encourage your fans to follow your lead. Don’t add to the collective freakout.

Your communication and marketing strategies have to pivot now, in all platforms of the Brand Ecosystem. Set aside the plans and campaigns you outlined six months ago so your messaging doesn’t sound tone-deaf. Remove the hard sell from your paid media and social communication. Be helpful in tangible ways.

In general, you shouldn’t alter your brand’s voice at this time, unless your natural tone is deliberately smart-aleck. Set aside the snark for the time being and find the lightness in our current reality. For example, our client Lesser Evil softened its usually wise-cracking tone to a more gentle silliness about things their audience is encountering now. In short, think of how your personal conversations have shifted — people are encouraging each other, finding the wry humor in weird situations, helping each other solve daily problems like staying active and home-schooling.

It may be a good time for the brand to take action, but make sure whatever you do is in the spirit of your brand’s mission. Recognize that consumers are worried, cooped up, uncertain about the future. Look to social causes or charitable acts that ease those broader concerns — for example, by donating products to food pantries or school lunch programs. In the Seattle area, Tom Douglas Restaurants recently hosted a drive-through salmon bake for charity.

Brands can express gratitude for those people who are on the front lines — first responders, medical professionals, grocery workers, delivery drivers, road-side assistance drivers, the list is huge. This can be national, but it makes a bigger impact if it’s local to the community where the brand lives.

Finally, Words of Encouragement from Retail Voodoo

This is the third economic recession our business has weathered, and we know a thing or two because we’ve not only survived but have encouraged the brands we work with to think about their contribution rather than their spreadsheet at times like this.

Personally, I am taking my own advice, so my days are actually longer and busier now than normal. I’m encouraging and leading my team, my clients, my client-to-be, and my family. And while I’m not practicing the self-care that I regularly preach. I’m focused on giving and helping; I don’t have time to freak out.

I keep telling people that if we emphasize the negative, we can and will talk ourselves into making it worse (the stock market volatility is a perfect example). But if we can stay positive and encourage and care for others (instead of hoarding supplies and fearmongering), we will be stronger, happier, and a better version of ourselves than we were yesterday.

Brand leaders, now is the time to plan a stronger future. The world needs brands to reassure us, to love us where we are, and to inspire us to live our best lives in the midst of uncertainty. We need brands to prove to us they are citizen-brands, committed to doing good for all humankind.

Remember: To become beloved, you must love first.

Are you interested in talking to David about your unique situation? 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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Welcome to the Post-Natural Era in Food & Beverage

Remember the days before natural was a “thing” in food and beverage? Natural food stores were the province of hippies looking for patchouli oil and whole milk yogurt. The natural aisle (or perhaps half of an aisle) at grocery retailers was relegated to the back of the store, near the pharmacy. Natural products were packaged uniformly in brown cardboard boxes with green lettering.

Natural was fringe-y, virtuous, monastic, the kind of thing your crazy aunt who followed a macrobiotic diet was into.

Then, natural became a “thing.” Full grocery chains were built on the category, eventually to be gobbled up by the country’s largest retailer. Natural departments expanded in stores, specialty brands popped up, consumer demand for organic and non-GMO food spiked, keywords like ‘gluten-free’ and ‘plant-based’ became part of the average consumer’s lexicon. Natural went mainstream.

Now, we’re entering a post-natural era.

Natural Isn’t a Category Anymore

Consumers are changing the definition of natural and better-for-you. They still want organic, non-GMO, whole-ingredient, “clean” food. But today, those attributes have become product features and benefits, not category definers. And certainly not something you should stake your brand’s entire premise on.

We call today’s consumers “conscientious consumers” — they’re interested in brands that are clean, sustainable, fair trade, and all the other natural badges, but they’re not willing to sacrifice status or flavor or comfort or convenience in pursuit of those things. They’ll buy non-GMO snacks for their kids at Whole Foods, then hop into their SUVs to drive home. They’re flexitarians when it comes to the natural lifestyle.

This is a demographic shift from the conscious consumers of the 1960s and ’70s, who were devoted to saving the whales, eating whole food, and sticking it to Corporate America.

What’s more, these young consumers are willing to forgive or overlook certain attributes of a brand if it delivers a benefit they want. The consumer mindset has shifted from intrinsic reward (the satisfaction of eating healthily or supporting the environment) to extrinsic reward (looking great in those workout clothes). They’ll accept low-calorie products with fillers and artificial sweeteners if those products help them stay slim. They’re OK with organic and non-GMO products manufactured by huge global brands. They’ll sacrifice what used to count as “natural” in pursuit of diet goals, glowy skin, or brand status.

Better-for-you-ish is OK to them.

What’s Driving the Post-Natural Shift

Some of the demise of natural as a meaningful category — or word, for that matter — comes from consumers. But some of it comes from brands themselves. We’re seeing a number of experienced marketers leaving the big consumer packaged good (CPG) sector and jumping to small startup food brands, bringing with them the tricks of the CPG marketing trade.

Too, we’re seeing the influence of investor money coming from the tech community into the BFY food and beverage space. Backed by tech dollars, upstart food and beverage brands are chasing quick success in a dynamic market, and they’re willing to shortcut on values traditionally held by natural aficionados.

Perhaps more influential is the rise of celebrity culture globally — sparked by social media, especially Instagram, where consumers can see in real time what their favorite celebs and influences are eating and drinking and using.

Look at Gwyneth Paltro’s omnipresent Goop brand. It’s the avatar for the new, quote-unquote, naturals. Goop’s products are pseudo-science that features selective acceptance of non-BFY ingredients and traits.

And today’s better-for-you consumer freaking LOVES it!

What’s Next for Natural Brands?

So, what does this all mean for brands still playing by the rules of the natural game?

Let’s say you’re the founder or leader of an established natural brand, and you see one of these upstart post-natural brands screaming toward you in your rear-view mirror.

Your best line of defense is having an ownable, believable, authentic brand ethos — a defined way of being and behaving in the world. You must stand for something above and beyond your product, no matter how great that product is.

These new players are most certainly basing their brands on ingredients, which is an unsustainable approach to branding a BFY company. They’re content to cash in on the latest trendy ingredient, pocketing sales of Goop-endorsed, $38-a-box mushroom tea until mushroom tea isn’t a thing anymore. These post-natural brands will shine hot and bright — and quickly burn out.

For a great example of how a legacy natural brand can play in the post-natural world, look at Bob’s Red Mill. The company redesigned a large segment of its line to catch the post-natural consumer’s eye with an appeal toward vitality and energy and liveliness, not just wholesomeness.

Existing natural brands have an opportunity now — to have a bold, distinctive voice and to connect that voice to a younger consumer less concerned about being true to the natural ideal and more focused only on external results and identity.

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 Launch a CBD Product or Brand the Right Way

The better-for-you food category is littered with ingredients of the month, like sprouted grains, kale, chia seeds. These trends are driven by fad diets and whatever the cool kids are posting about on Instagram.

And right now — for the next 12 months, give or take — CBD is the natural category’s darling ingredient. At Natural Products Expo West in March, everything had CBD in it.

But just like kale, CBD is an ingredient, not a brand. It’s one of a litany of hot ingredients that have come and will go. A brand is more than that; it’s the promise you make to your consumer and the ways in which you keep it. Your brand stands for something bigger than your product offering.

So what do you do if you’re considering a) launching a brand that’s seeking to capitalize on the CBD craze, b) investing in a CBD-centric startup, or c) considering adding CBD products to your portfolio?

You have to anticipate what will happen to your brand when the CBD frenzy simmers a bit and consumers expect you to stand for something beyond CBD. You need to make a market play in the smartest way.

Why CBD is a Hot Food & Beverage Ingredient

Among the pantheon of trendy food and beverage ingredients, CBD is getting an oversized share of the spotlight, for a number of reasons:

It makes bold health claims. Adaptogens — nontoxic, plant-based substances believed to have a normalizing effect on the mind and the body — have been used in traditional holistic medical practices like Ayurveda for many thousands of years. These products are believed to support the immune, nervous, and glandular systems. Turmeric, ginseng, ginger, holy basil, and cannabidiol (CBD) are adaptogens. And, yes, turmeric, ginseng, and ginger have all had their moments in the sun. (We predict that ashwagandha, another adaptogen, will become a trendy ingredient in the not-too-distant future).

It’s slightly illicit. CBD gets so much hype because of its botanical connection to marijuana. (For the uninitiated, CBD is one of more than a hundred compounds in the cannabis plant, but it doesn’t cause the high.) More states are legalizing pot for recreational or more restricted medicinal use, but it’s illegal in many states and at the federal level. Because there’s still a whiff of illegality to CBD, it’s edgy and cool and intriguing and mysterious.

It’s in the news, everywhere. As states debate making pot legal, the federal government in 2018 removed the prohibition on growing hemp, another cannabis relative. Big Pharma companies are pushing to slow approval of CBD-based medicines, (mostly because of the uncertainty of an ROI that they can’t control). Cannabis and CBD are making headlines.

It’s new, yet somehow familiar. Many millions of people around the globe have been smoking/eating marijuana legally or illegally for years. CBD is more familiar to them than other adaptogens like ashwagandha.

It appeals to a wide range of age groups. The health claims associated with CBD talk to a young, stressed-out audience looking for a product that will take the edge off but still help them perform at their best (as opposed to alcohol, which takes the edge off but knocks you out like a three-martini lunch). CBD helps ease the anxiety and stress and struggle of modern life, so the user can feel strong and healthy. At the same time, CBD appeals to older customers because they came of age when the pot culture emerged in the 1960s. Even if they didn’t partake back in the day, 70-somethings feel an affinity to CBD. The retiree set is buzzing with conversation about using CBD oil to alleviate joint pain and inflammation.

Getting into the CBD Food, Beverage & Supplement Market

With all its purported health benefits, CBD is being touted as a sort of miracle cure: an all-in-one product (as opposed to having to ingest multiple adaptogenic substances). But there’s a lot of confusion among consumers about CBD: how to use it, how much to take, what to expect. Which is why food, beverages, and supplements are the ideal delivery mechanisms since they’re pre-dosed. Because consumers aren’t responsible for measuring the dose, they can just enjoy the product without worrying about taking too much.

Right now, in spring of 2019, manufacturers can simply label a package with CBD and the product will fly off shelves. But that won’t last. Huge players — sophisticated marketers with big promotional budgets — are poised to enter the market within the next 12 months. The category is so exciting to so many people, and there’s so much money flooding in, that the brand development landscape will change almost overnight.

In a crowded marketplace, it will quickly become difficult for consumers to differentiate one product from another. If you’re going to get in on the CBD game, your brand has to be about more than just CBD; you need a compelling brand story or there will be no reason for a consumer to choose your product over others.

This niche category is emerging on an accelerated timetable. It’s like a hyper-sped-up video of what the organic market looked like over a 25-year span; this is happening in the course of 12 to 24 months.

If you’re investing in or developing a brand with products that include CBD, beware the slippery slope of equating your brand with your ingredient. The big players are ready to eat the smaller, earlier entrants into the market for lunch. And you can mark our words: Just two years from now, CBD products will be so ubiquitous in the mass marketplace that brands that don’t stand for something bigger will fail.

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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Essentia Water Brand Strategy Case Study: When the Revolution is an Evolution

The natural channel of better-for-you beverage brands is exploding. But it’s important to note that being the best-selling brand at Whole Foods in this category doesn’t necessarily equate to profit and meaningful growth. So how do you increase market share and grow your brand while keeping your loyalists (both internally and externally) and invite the rest of the world to join? The short answer: brand evolution.

But if your brand enjoys enough traction to even begin asking this question, it’s likely that people inside your business are becoming more inclined to make decisions based upon collective assumptions, internal bias, and outdated information – and then call it research. This is a recipe for disaster.

To avoid this, understand that data is the baseline that will take brand strategy from subjective hope and evolve it into clarity and the confidence to move forward so that you can grow your beloved brand and keep it relevant to your loyal followers while attracting a ton of new consumers.

It’s a matter of sequencing.

Insights that will impact your brand strategy looks like bad news

In our rapidly changing world, audiences, statistics, and truths evolve more rapidly than ever. Good data provides more than answers and statistics. It also shines a light on relevant opportunities and provides insights. These insights often look and smell like bad news. But, to the open-minded brand owner, this is truly good news – in the same way that complaints from customers and employees are a gift to the leadership of your company. These insights are a clear roadmap to effecting real and positive change.

Data has a shelf life

Due to technology, the pace of modern life, and our fast-changing lifestyle, the shelf life for data is fleeting. In the case of Essentia Water, the report on bottled water was only a couple of years old but dangerously outdated. Many small to mid-sized brands may only purchase these types of syndicated consumer data reports every few years, but that habit is risky.

What became evident during category and competitive audits with Essentia was a disconnect between the data reported and what was currently happening in grocery stores around the country. A newer version of the same report revealed a hint of what we were starting to see in the physical world. Their audience was shifting from predominantly female, Caucasian, yoga enthusiasts living in Los Angeles to a Hispanic, ethnically diverse, psychographic that transcends traditional demographics such as income bracket, race, age and education. The world was changing beneath their feet.

Key insights included:

  • Men, parents, and acculturated Hispanics are core users of bottled water.
  • 50% of all bottled water users prefer premium offerings.
  • A stunning 82% of net consumers want an additional function from their water.

In the case of Essentia Water, the insight (bad news) was that they had been spending their marketing dollars talking to a small census of people who loved them but couldn’t consume any more of their product. The good news was that from the new data we could see a much broader audience-to-be who was thirsty for but unaware of Essentia.

Audience segmentation helps keep your brand loyalists in the boat

Using the insights above led us to segment Essentia’s audience in ways that would allow them to keep their original core user of health-conscious yoga enthusiasts within a tribe of believers.

Use audience segmentation to force meaningful difference between your brand and its competitive set. This hard work will help you and the rest of your company get past comments, like, “C’mon, water is water.”

Further research into Essentia’s audience uncovered some commonalities in how this audience-to-be views the world and their role within it:

  • They focus on results and strive to be the best at anything they do.
  • They work hard and squeeze as much into their lives as possible.
  • And then they are grateful, viewing life as an opportunity to do more with their time, for others, and for themselves.
  • We called them, “The Overachievers.”

Trend analysis will help make sense of research and data

Research and data analysis needs to go way beyond purchasing, or searching for a free report. It needs to include scenario planning (the discipline of using data, market intelligence, and anthropology to answer the question of not “if” the future is going to be different but “in what ways” will it be different). In order to make a viable future for your brand to live in, we separate these scenarios into three areas;

  1. Things we cannot predict or control
  2. Things we can predict and control
  3. Things we can influence but not control

Now that we have some possible futures, we can establish brand positioning hypotheses using three critical components:

  • Reliable consumer and market research
  • The brand’s purpose beyond making and selling product
  • The business goals of the leadership team

Viewing the trends in category context keeps them generic. Filtering the trends through your brand positioning, makes them unique. Add to this the research that illuminates the most likely shifts in societal norms, your brand’s reputation, and its opportunity in a carefully crafted set of likely futures and “ta-da” you have unique and ownable brand.

In the case of Essentia, we found that nobody believed anything bottled water brands were saying about themselves because the market was flooded (pun intended) with unbelievable claims that none of these brands could prove. Including Essentia.

And this mistrust wasn’t limited to water, food & beverage. It seemed that the biggest trend we had uncovered is that companies and brands regularly misstate the truth and claim innocence (because everyone is doing it) and call it marketing. No wonder marketers get such a bad rap. As result, consumers automatically mistrust your claims unless your brand can prove them quickly and transparently.

A few years back Essentia participated in a clinical study that proved their water is twice as effective at hydration than the leading brands of bottled water. Essentia had never published the study because their legal team discouraged it and there was a general belief that loyalists would be put off by the study. My team saw the study as a silver bullet.

Armed with this information, our audience segmentation and current relevant data, we worked with Essentia to get the study published and accredited to the third party. So now we had proof. Cold, hard proof. It was time to pick a fight.

Pick a fight with the biggest, strongest enemy your brand can find

To most traditional marketers, this may sound like engaging in competitive warfare via the four Ps of marketing (product, price, place and promotion). That’s a wrong impression of this particular strategy. Instead we are talking about creating a movement that people can get behind. It goes beyond your product offering and the reason a brand engages in change: the need for differentiation.

For example:

  • Nike doesn’t compete with Adidas, Mizuno, and Reebok – instead Nike tackles racism, poverty and social justice.
  • Lululemon isn’t competing with Zella, Oiselle, and Prana. Instead Lululemon fights the stress of modern life on behalf of time-starved women everywhere.

This makes brand evolution into a brand revolution. The heart of differentiation is belief, credibility, and authenticity. Since reality exists in language, we work on changing the words that will come out of the mouths of the company, their leadership, sales teams, managers, and frontline employees. It all starts and ends with brand positioning and brand language.

In the case of Essentia, they took on youth empowerment and the future of water:

  • Essentia’s tagline: Overachieving H2O
  • Essentia’s brand positioning: The future of water
  • Essentia’s manifesto: We are here to put a flag in the ground and tell you that a better you starts with a better water.
  • Essentia’s call to arms: Join the #essentianation

All of this invites discovery, sharing, and inclusion in an optimistic life that transcends the marketing hype of other, well-funded, long-standing industry players.

How do I know? Essentia is posting jaw-dropping growth for its second straight year using this playbook.

According to Karyn Abrahamson, VP Marketing, Essentia Water, “Our team couldn’t be more positive or excited about the new strategy, packaging, and integrated marketing system. We are exceeding monthly numbers far beyond what we could even imagine.”

And it’s given shape to their causes and give back program, establishing The Essentia Foundation: Believe (to empower underprivileged youth). Their brand positioning along with the marketplace acceptance has given them a platform in a global conversation to feature their proprietary process (for creating the best water from any source) as the future of water. All illustrating that ultimately, your beloved brand and can be precious to a lot more people if you use data, discipline, clear communication, and gut instinct to invite other people to join your movement.

We helped Essentia Water disrupt the bottled water category. What’s your brand’s toughest growth challenge?

David Lemley

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

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Your Brand is on Life Support. What Now?

When a brand has backed itself into a corner in consumers’ minds, often the internal team is the last to wake up and smell the coffee.

It’s painful to realize that the brand has been disrupted by changing marketplace conditions, that competitors have taken root, that buyers have moved on. At that point, there may no longer be a way for the brand to keep the promises it once stood for.

So it’s time for the marketing team and company leadership to collectively recognize what’s happening and why — and to chart a path forward.

How to Recognize the Symptoms of a Dying Brand

We’ve counseled troubled brands, and they come to us with any number of problems: loss of market share, loss of shelf space, loss of confidence from retail buyers and consumers, pricing pressure, commoditization, private label knock-offs, and more. The common denominator of these challenges is that consumers have found a product that’s new and trendy, or cheaper, or better suited to their lives, or more aligned with their values. The brand isn’t relevant anymore.

It’s easy to recognize the key factors contributing to the brand’s demise. Maybe it has been slow to respond to changing marketplace conditions, like new sales channels and shifts in the ways consumers find and purchase its products. New, better-funded, well-organized, or just hungrier competitors have entered the market. Perhaps the brand team has flat-out missed the evolving consumer preferences and lifestyle megatrends that changed perception of the brand. Or the leadership team is simply stuck — or arrogant — and unable to change with the times.

Do any of these scenarios feel familiar to you, perhaps painfully so?

You’re not alone. We find that marketing executives are often the first to recognize the symptoms. You see the signs because your job depends on watching the market and deeply understanding how consumers engage with your brand. While your ownership may not be paying attention to those details, you see the evidence first, and you know its implications.

What Marketers Can Do About Challenged Brands

This is a hard position to be in. You recognize what’s happening, fear the repercussions that may be coming your way, and worry about what’s next.

When a CMO of a troubled brand comes to us for help, she’s facing a very short window in which to execute a radical fix. The marketing staff is usually in disarray. And she’s also the bearer of bad news to the rest of the C-suite.

Having that conversation with your founder/owner and leadership team can be brutal. We get it: You’ve built relationships with these colleagues, you’ve talked about fears and dreams and ambitions, you’ve shared victories. Telling them, in as frank and loving terms as possible, that the ship is going down and that drastic measures are needed can be an abrupt wake-up call that they don’t want to hear. Your owner is likely to be embarrassed and deeply skeptical, because the business isn’t just business for him; it’s personal.

Because of those connections to each other and to the product, we know that your leadership has lost perspective, making it difficult for you to identify a cure for the illness plaguing your brand. We can bring that outside, neutral point of view to finding the right prescription.

It’s essential to be as objective and data-driven as possible when dealing with a lagging brand. Several years ago, we worked with a troubled, family-owned founder/owner retail company that sold a majority stake to a private equity firm. The newly installed president came to us for guidance because a competitor was unraveling their business. We presented data that made an irrefutable case for rebranding the company, overcoming internal resistance, and mapping a path to future growth. You have to use data in order to gain buy-in to create radical change.

Two Potential Outcomes for Lagging Brands

If the company is truly out of options and the founder is ready to get out, then the logical option may be to close or sell at a deep discount to an investor willing to fund significant changes to the business. It takes a lot of character to admit it’s time to move on.

But not every ill brand must die; it’s possible to build something new out of the ashes. Here’s an example: Not long ago, we worked with an ingredient company that sold both directly to consumers and to food manufacturers. Commoditization of its core product had caused significant loss in total revenue, and when we stepped in, the business and the brand were running on fumes.

We gathered tons of data and conducted interviews with leaders and trusted external partners to identify the brand’s deep DNA. We held an innovation workshop and showed them where their capabilities and passion and expertise could get them — opening their eyes to new possibilities. We killed the old brand and established a new holding company with two new independent units (one B2C and one B2B) and related brands. In this case, the best option was to reboot rather than close or sell.

As you’re considering a way forward for your troubled brand, know that it will take unwavering commitment from your leadership team. In the throes of reinvention, we find that executives are prone to second-guessing and foot-dragging. We’ll make sure you stay on track. We can help your team understand your brand’s place in a shifting market, identify the best outcome, and then use data as a compass to find the way forward.

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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Social Media Influencers: Are They Right for Your Marketing Strategy?

When it comes to product endorsements, influencers are the new celebrities. It’s no longer about Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio pitching coffee makers during the morning TV news. Today, brands are tapping social media users who hold sway over a large number of followers by paying them to use, photograph, and write about their products.

We think of Oprah as the OG of influencers: Before the term was widely used, she demonstrated the power that a beloved figure has to move a product, simply by dubbing it one of her “favorite things.”

What Is an Influencer?

First, let’s identify what an influencer is and isn’t. An influencer is an individual who has the ability to shape or dictate other people’s behaviors or opinions. They create a curated style and brand that means something to their followers. Influencers market the living daylights out of their personal brands by sharing selfies of themselves doing, using, and wearing stuff they love.

Influencers use social media to promote their personal brands, and they may reach a high level of popularity or even celebrity. But we consider influencers private citizens, not public figures like actors or reality TV stars or musicians. The difference between traditional celebrity and influencer endorsements is that influencers are building their brands based on their own personal equity, so they theoretically wouldn’t promote a product they wouldn’t personally use. While Kim Kardashian uses the channels of influencers, like Instagram and Snapchat, she’s a celebrity; she’ll promote anything if she’s paid to do it. It’s her job.

How to Market Your Brand via Influencers

Influencer marketing might seem like an easy and inexpensive tactic. Go on Instagram, search a few hashtags, find people who are using products like yours, send them some free stuff, and watch sales figures jump. Everybody and their brother thinks, “If I can just get enough influencers to use it, our product will move.”

It’s not that easy. Social channels are awash in “stars” with big followings. Brands are getting fed up with social media mavens asking for free room nights, clothing, and products. Agencies have sprung up to connect brands and influencers, for a fee. Social media users have gotten wise to branded content in disguise.

Influencers can work for your brand, if you’re smart about tapping them.

Four Strategies for Working with Influencers

Align with your brand.

Influencer marketing is about choosing people whose personal brands align with your brand strategy. They should be living embodiments of your brand’s ethos, not just mirrors of your audience. To find them, look for active social media followers who are part of your tribe. Who’s out there living the life your brand stands for? Are they already using your product?

For example, as we helped our client Essentia water reposition from a product for health-minded yoga fans to a product that helps anyone overachieve, we aligned them with lots of different people who aren’t yoga practitioners: music producers, artists, paralympic athletes. We selected influencers who could endorse the product because it helps them reach beyond their goals.

Look for the quiet influencers.

Whenever we encourage a client to get into the influence game, we tell them to zag, to find the as-yet undiscovered, untapped influencers. You don’t want to pursue the same people every other brand in your market is working with, and you don’t necessarily want Instagrammers with huge followings. A recent New York Times article calls these the ‘nanoinfluencers’—people with fewer than 1,000 followers who are especially willing to work with brands and whose lack of fame makes them more believable to their fans. They may not have prior experience with sponsored posts. But they’re genuine, enthusiastic, and really good at using social media. You want to identify rising social media stars and ride the trajectory alongside them.

Identify influencers who can drive sales.

One good influencer is better than 40 who won’t do anything for your brand. If you’re sending product and spending resources to shepherd influencers, make sure you know they’re going to move the needle for you. Otherwise, it’s the same as paying for advertising that doesn’t work.

Be transparent.

Brands and their celebrity/influencer endorsers are drawing scrutiny for not labeling social posts as sponsored content. (DJ Khaled is a glaring example.) Social platforms, consumer watchdog groups, and the FTC are cracking down. Be sure your agreement with any influencer requires that the post or image be tagged as sponsored.

It’s still too early to understand what the return on an influencer arrangement can or should be. And the investment can vary widely, from free product to thousands of dollars for an extended campaign.

But we know that there is a positive correlation. Influencers who are just as passionate about your brand as you are make naturally credible spokespeople. These endorsement relationships are symbiotic, because your marketing partner is personally invested in supporting products they believe in—and their followers are, too.

Influencers create a halo effect, giving your brand street cred in their world.

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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Take A Holistic Approach to Your Food Packaging System

It happens all the time in big CPG companies, but it’s surprisingly common in the better-for-you space too. Brands with a solid lineup of products and a loyal following extend into different categories. Sometimes marketers have identified a real, strategic opportunity to expand the brand’s reach. Sometimes, they’re just chasing trends, adding the healthy ingredient of the month or, heaven help us, pumpkin spice flavoring.

Either way, perhaps you find yourself in a situation where your flagship product is doing fine, but the line extension and new products are not meeting velocity hurdles. Your leadership team wants a band-aid fix — a packaging redesign — for the underperformers. And they want it quickly.

Slow down.

Packaging Is Only Part of the Problem

Before considering a one-off design tweak of a handful of products, it’s essential to understand why they’re troubled. Generally, lackluster performance if a subcategory comes down to one of three problems:

1) The packaging of the line extension is incompatible with the brand’s overall look and feel, so consumers don’t recognize the connection. Bringing these products under the larger brand umbrella is an easier fix because you can leverage the strength of the flagship — letting people know it’s the same brand they trust, but a different product.

2) The brand overall has lost its way. When marketers look at the product, they’re missing the bigger picture of what’s going on with the brand. Instead of asking why the product isn’t doing well, ask what’s going on with the brand. When the brand is healthy and the packaging is driven by an underlying strategy, its equity shows up whatever category you’re in. Customers hear that call to the deep when they see the brand in another aisle; they feel that familiar emotional response. They think, “this makes sense” instead of wondering, “what is this?”

3) The extension — the product itself — is incompatible with the brand’s ethos and promise. This signals a deficiency in your company’s approach to innovation. And it’ll take more than a packaging refresh to boost sales or overcome the loss of consumer trust in a product that’s so off-target.

A Systems Approach to Packaging

Overhauling your lackluster sellers alone, without looking at your entire lineup, poses serious risk to your brand equity.

When clients come to us with this we’ve-got-to-fix-this-now extension problem, it’s almost always budget-driven. Products aren’t meeting sales goals, and the sales team’s panic rises up to the C-suite.

Instead of taking a piecemeal approach to solving a packaging problem, we advocate a systematic approach. System thinking considers how your brand promise connects all your products across all categories with all your core customers. Changing one element of your brand’s visual identity on a single product affects how customers perceive your entire line. System thinking reveals opportunities that naturally arise out of the brand’s interconnected web of existing products and customers.

For a good example of a holistic approach to food packaging, take a look at Kettle brand. Going beyond the original kettle-cooked, plain potato chip, they’ve made just about every line extension play you can imagine in the snack space. Additional flavors? Check. How about Fiery Thai and Chili Lime. New formulations? Got it. Some chips are prepared in almond or avocado oil. Category expansion? You bet. They have added tortilla chips. Look at their entire line, and you’ll see that the Kettle brand mark dominates. On every package. There’s no mistaking these products for Frito Lay’s.

Inconsistent Packaging = Confused Consumers

Marketers often make the mistake of outfitting their line extensions in packaging that focuses on product attributes — flavor profiles, for example. Instead, the brand should remain front-and-center, just as it is on the flagship line. There should be no question in consumers’ minds that this is all part of the same family.

Because there’s so much noise in the store environment, it doesn’t take much to distract the shopper and make her think, “Hmm, I’m not sure if this product is from the same company I know.” Inconsistency in a packaging system makes it difficult for the consumer to make the connection between one product and another, especially in different parts of the store. You risk damaging not just your relationship with consumers, but also with retailers, partners, and investors.

If your brand isn’t crystallized in people’s minds — across your entire suite of products, across every category and every channel — it loses its position of prominence. A piecemeal approach to packaging refinement will produce a piecemeal customer experience.

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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Top 5 Marketing Regrets After Rebranding

In the hands of the right CEO, CMO, and marketing team a rebrand becomes a powerful tool. But rebrands are tough. Rebrands frequently fail to generate results. Rebranding sucks. So why do it? Well, fortune, fame, and glory all lie in the balance, right?

Rebranding has produced persistent frustrations … This white paper answers your most pressing question: “How do I make my efforts at rebranding not suck?” So if you’re sure you want to go through with it, we have the answers you’re looking for.

Learn not only when and why to rebrand (and when not to rebrand) but discover the common regrets marketers have after spending an entire year rebranding their whole company and not getting the results they need.

Rebranding is a powerful but tricky landscape to navigate. The goals of a rebrand should be organizational clarity, deeper audience engagement, upgraded channel strategy, employee engagement and retention, and, of course, sales.

Many of our clients come to us as a newer employee at an inspiring brand who has been tasked with “fixing” the brand — frequently on the coattails of a rebrand with their previous employer. (It’s partly why they got the job, right?) They have had various levels of success with that rebrand, but are generally frustrated and dissatisfied with the overall process and its outcomes. There is a shared set of common, post-rebrand regrets.

Top Marketing Regrets After Rebranding

1. Changing for the wrong reasons

Given the time and cost associated with the rebranding, you would think that most people would only undertake it when their brand is outdated, broken or has been disrupted. However, difficult as it may be to believe, boredom with the brand is an all too common reason many companies decide to make changes.

Common symptoms: A serial C-suite guru recently moved into the corner office and wants a rebrand on their resume. Not everyone across the business is aware that change is imminent because the case for change was not used to bring people along before implementing the rebrand. When the new brand appears, people are scratching their heads, thinking its just another new logo and the only impact it has for them is that they will likely get a new tee shirt.

How to avoid rebranding for the wrong reasons: Find out what the business problems are before you decide a brand change is the answer. If the brand isn’t broken and there appears to be no real opportunity to disrupt and therefore take the lead in the category, do something to affect the business besides rebranding.

2. Lack of team alignment

Alignment requires ecosystems thinking. When you don‘t get enough of the right people in the room at the same time, buy-in may not be possible. It cannot be done if you opt to stay safe and snuggly inside the silo of marketing. Don’t get me wrong, working within the discipline of marketing is key, in fact, the marketing department should drive the project. But if you only involve the marketing team in the rebrand, you are setting yourself up for internal conflict. No matter how good you are, after the grand unveiling of all the hard work, your management and sales teams will come to you with details you did not consider — things that may not have crossed your mind to consider.

Common symptoms: It’s a new day, but you struggle with the same marketing problems. Sales team (and other internal teams) are not buying into the new brand because they either don’t understand it, don’t agree with it or the process of rebranding has alienated them along the way. As a result, your company’s executives are not only not promoting the rebrand but distancing themselves from it.

How to avoid lack of alignment: Rebranding requires that your company’s leadership participate both psychologically and strategically. Without their direct involvement, you cannot get deep enough into the realities facing the business to affect change. And you need their hammer. You need someone to bang the gavel and declare it so. Bring in key stakeholders from cross-functional disciplines within your organization and ask them to commit to taking the journey together.

3. Unactionable insights and strategies

Most marketers assume that creative implementation will be the biggest hurdle of a rebrand. They fail to identify and properly prepare for other hurdles along the way. A rebrand goes way beyond the marketing budget and an OOH (Out-of-home) campaign. When done well, a rebrand should provide actionable changes throughout the entire business that will improve your company’s ability to clearly make promises and then provide simple, actionable insight into how your brand should go about keeping them.

Common Symptoms: The rebrand requires a media spend and takeovers that your board will never approve, which makes the rebrand feel like just another advertising campaign to grab short-term attention for your brand. So that 500-page PDF which highlights the rebrand never gets opened by anyone but you and your agency. Other department heads and people within the organization who are familiar with the perils of rebranding don’t want to discuss your project because they working hard not to say, “I told you so”.

How to avoid unactionable insights and strategies: At the outset, establish a two-year timetable and budget for your rebrand to make sure you don’t get stuck with pie-in-the-sky thinking and no time or funds to implement it. No matter how savvy the team, there will always be that anniversary package that nobody is even thinking about yet, and updating all of your brand’s digital properties requires a matrix the size of Canada. Before you embark, manage everyone’s expectations by letting them know that it’s a long process.

4. Underestimating the pace of competition

Your rebrand is all about connecting with new audiences and finding sustainable growth opportunities. It sounds simple, but many feel the pressure to move quickly because the pace of change is exponential. It’s too easy to forget that while your team is mid-stream on a big rebranding project, your competitors are likely in the process of optimizing, refining or reinventing their brand. So you go black-ops and focus on the category leaders without considering challenger’s brands and product offerings in adjacent categories.

Common symptoms: Your brand sounds just like your competition. When you go shopping, you see 12 brands doing what your team thought would be unique. You begin to see that your brand‘s innovation pipeline is driven by feature and benefits and mostly knockoffs of other brands

How to avoid underestimating the pace of competition: You need to know the value proposition of your competitors and assess whether they successfully represent their company’s values and offerings. In order to compare your brand to competitors, you will need to conduct a comprehensive brand audit. Armed with the insights you gather here and a values-based approach, you will be far more attuned to what everyone is doing and therefore more likely to make your brand different.

5. Focusing only on visual change

Some people believe that rebranding is really just choosing a new name, new logo, or a new corporate identity. The problem with staying skin deep during a rebrand is that it’s just too easy to ignore changing consumer preferences, new competitors, and new human truths. These three drivers should be the impetus behind your decision to undergo a rebrand.

When a rebrand focuses purely on visual change it creates a risk that is often unintended. You may lose people who love your current brand because a visual approach is a beauty contest. And beauty, for all its juiciness, cannot fathom the depths of emotional attachment nor see the variety of ways that emotion, loyalty, and belonging play out in brand narratives and throughout your entire marketing ecosystem.

Common Symptoms: The new look tested really well but failed to create velocity. And your brand’s social media channels are filled with consumer backlash — people rant about the change. In the face of pushback, the rationale for the creative is no longer meaningful.

How to avoid focusing only on visual change: Take the time to understand the ways in which consumer preferences have shifted and what, if any, implications those shifts have on your brand’s positioning in consumers’ minds. Failure to dig deep enough into the human truths driving the change will increase the likelihood of failure.

Rebranding is a business focused, marketing-led response to external forces — not a re-decorating project

Rebranding is about changing the trajectory of your business. The life and death of your brand may hang in the balance. So don’t do it unless the industry, your company’s reputation, changing consumer preferences, or competition has caused the ground underfoot to shift.

Once you determine a rebrand is in order to stay viable, grow, and lead, approach it like you would having brain surgery. Go to someone you know is committed to not only keeping you alive but also to make sure that you are a badass when you wake up.

David Lemley

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

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Better-for-you Brands are Missing Their Biggest Market Opportunity

If you’re working inside a natural food or beverage brand, chances are you’re a natural products fan, yourself. So you assume that the marketplace embraces natural, too.

But not everyone does. Not by a long shot.

That disconnect hit me during a recent business trip through the Midwest: Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas. As I usually do when I’m traveling, I popped into a grocery store to experience different retail environments and find different products from what I see here in Seattle. (Yes, I’m a retail nerd.)

Browsing the naturals section at a HyVee in Omaha, I spotted Ensure, the nutrition drink, shelved among the organic products. And I had an epiphany: There are people who think Ensure is a better-for-you product. OK, technically Ensure is better for you compared to Doritos. But Ensure would never be admitted to a natural products expo.

The experience sparked three major insights for me:

  1. Natural products play differently to different demographics in different parts of the country.
  2. Owners and marketing executives at natural brands, who tend to be West or East Coasters (either geographically or philosophically), communicate as if their entire audience is composed of similarly coastal-minded people.
  3. There is a huge market opportunity for natural brands in the country’s midsection.

Natural Products Means Different Things to Different People

According to Nielsen research, a staggering 20% of Americans are resistant nonbelievers. They refuse to believe that food and diet have an impact on health and wellness. And there’s another huge group of people who are ambivalent about it. Lots of people don’t care about making smart food choices or don’t know how to make them. Part of the disconnect is regional. Better-For-You (BFY) in Nebraska means Ensure next to organic crackers. BFY in New York means fair-trade, single-origin, farm-to-package, organic pumpkin seeds with hand-harvested Mediterranean sea salt. It’s also socioeconomic, psychological, and educational. Natural brands sell at a higher price point. Their packaging and messaging communicate in an arch style that doesn’t build relationships across demographics. And the perception that healthy food tastes like cardboard persists.

Natural Brand Leaders Have Innate Bias

We find that BFY brand owners are unaware of their confirmation bias, that the rest of the world thinks like they do and has the same standards for health and wellness. Yeah, you drive an electric car and meditate and gladly plunk down $5 for that packet of single-origin pumpkin seeds. Maybe your friends and colleagues do, too. So it’s easy to navel-gaze and project your own preferences onto your entire audience. Which means you’re missing a huge potential market — because you just don’t see them. When we started working with Essentia, the performance water, they were great at appealing to elite athletes and medical professionals who shopped for enhanced water at Whole Foods. The marketing team had built a set of assumptions about their niche, and they were only talking to those people — people who were like themselves. But we had ample consumer data that showed that non-white-athleisure-wearers were also likely to buy supercharged water. Our research identified new customer segments, including African-Americans and Hispanic men, who were interested in a hydrating product and would otherwise buy Gatorade. We created a prototypical persona: a Hispanic construction worker in Houston who needed a better option than plain water to keep him going. Based on those insights, we repositioned and repackaged Essentia for a broader market, with expectation-busting results.

There’s Huge Opportunity — But it Takes Work

If you seek to grow your brand beyond your current customer base — and sales will stagnate if you don’t — then you have to recognize that there are people out there who are not like you and your colleagues. And you have to build a relationship with them. How? Look beyond your glass house. Identify the geographic/demographic/
psychographic segments outside your base who are your strongest prospects. Understand their needs that your product meets. (Learn how to use U&A studies to find out what you don’t know.) Don’t assume they’re up to speed. These aren’t regular natural product buyers. You need to educate the consumer about why BFY products matter to them, and bringing these new customers along is a much longer journey. Your look, your package copy, your online presence, and your advertising all has to gently, respectfully educate. Know their biases. Remember those resistant nonbelievers Nielsen uncovered. They don’t see the benefits of BFY products. They have what we call a “sufficient quality” bias — they determine a product’s value by whether it’s just good enough for the money. They think natural food tastes like crap. You have messaging work to do. Preaching to the converted is easy — they’re already in your fold, they’ve bought in. But there’s no path to growth there. The opportunity — and the challenge — lies in evangelizing about your brand in the bigger world, convincing the skeptics, and winning over people who think a bottle of water, sugar, and artificial ingredients qualifies as a natural product.

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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6 Ways Agencies Fail Food & Beverage Brands

As the food and beverage category continues to hone in on the importance of natural brands across all channels, getting investors is no longer the challenge — because better-for-you brands are driving category growth and, consequently, private equity investment in food outpaces all other categories. The pace of change in the last three years has outstripped even the staggering changes of the previous decade. Natural and better-for-you brands have moved beyond the realm of Whole Foods and made Costco and Walmart the biggest retail buyers of organic products.

The game has changed; investment opportunities appear to be falling from the sky for anyone with a clean ingredient deck and a crumb of a brand story.

But we have spent the better part of the last decade deep in the boardrooms, farms, and factories with some of the well-respected players who have driven this change, and we have some potentially bad news. If you have invested in rebranding within the last three years and are not experiencing the growth you expected, your agency may have failed you. This white paper explores six unexpected ways in which we have seen the agency drive the naturals brand off the proverbial cliff.

1. Sanitizing the truth about your brand. When the creative agency doesn’t take the time to learn, analyze, and ultimately challenge the category conventions or the closed-loop thinking of the founder-owner, the company’s culture, product offering, and vision, they inadvertently default to cool and clever tactics. Without mind-melding over the real pain points (or legitimate white space innovation), any creative outreach is more likely to be slick and not grounded in business strategy. And — because they are moving quickly — they tell the brand owners what they want to hear instead of the sometimes deeply blemished truth in order to get the creative ideas approved. The result is unownable beauty.

Need proof? Flip over any better-for-you packaged food and read an origin story that sounds like this.

“I had this challenge/pain point and so I made a company. Insert clever/humorous/witty tone to cover up the lack of depth in the origin story and add sizzle.”

– The Earnest Founder

2. Faking the category audit. Was your category audit insightful or did your agency merely check the box? The most common complaint we hear from brand owners, particularly in the naturals space, is that their category audit was too sterile and looked like something an intern could have produced using Google in an afternoon.A meaningful category audit must include the sometimes-ugly reality of retail. At a minimum, this means that the category audit should showcase lighting conditions, shelf restrictions, and key adjacencies from multiple locations. This along with analysis of your channel strategy is important if your category audit is to show you both potential threats and budding opportunities for your brand.

3. Claiming social media engagement will get you trial and velocity. Many agencies are still telling clients that likes and mentions will drive sales. And perhaps while the meter is running on that vegan snack fitness influencer contract there is some traction. We have seen it time and again — when that contract ends, the likes go away; the brand is forced to resort to buying likes with coupons and promo codes. Product efficacy, a contrarian point-of-view, and transparency to back up any claims of authenticity go further than any celebrity endorsement. And while we won’t discount the growth opportunities of influencer marketing, defaulting to this single tactic won’t get you the velocities you’re looking for. Bottom line, your marketing strategy needs to be multi-faceted.

4. Calling star-power strategic branding. Using celebrities can be a powerful endorsement for your brand, particularly when they fit the positioning of your brand ethos. We have seen the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Kobe Bryant and many others assist with a brands growth potential. However, branded products and famous people in ads only works for a few minutes. Once you stop paying endorsements, your brand disappears. You also do not have control over that person’s personal life. You can look to Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong to see what sort of collateral damage a celebrity can have on your brand. Unless you are a multi-national, we suggest you spend your marketing dollars elsewhere.

5. Assuming your consumer speaks your brand’s language. Marketing or advertising filled with insider jargon, certification claims, and tons of “us” vs. “them” verbiage emphasizes the negatives instead of the lifestyle associated with the brand. These tactics won’t grow a brand, increase its sphere of influence (among people, not influencers), nor get into a new customer’s consideration set. This approach automatically assumes that your consumer-to-be speaks your language. In extreme instances, we have seen this create a retail environment where the front-line employees have been poisoned by the marketing team to think unflatteringly about customers. The right way is to use brand strategy to decide why your brand exists in the world and who you can help because of it. Once clear on your brand’s purpose, the act of profiling your audience moves from merely demographic and leans into ambition, hope, human tendencies, and inspiration. We all want to believe we are working toward becoming a better version of ourselves. Brands, when they consider real people to be worthy of them, help us get on and stay on the path.

6. Using squishy strategy so the creative team isn’t fenced in. The agency creates a strategy, the client signs off, and then… the creative team comes up with a cooler idea. So the agency is forced to change the strategy to match the creative concept. Abraham Lincoln once asked, “How many legs does a dog have if you count the tail?” He answered, “Four. Calling the tail a leg does not make it a leg.” Killer creative ideas are not brand strategy. Killer creative’s intent is to get people’s attention so that they notice (and buy) your brand. Brand strategy’s intent is to evolve the company, its culture, offerings, sales opportunities, and ultimately its contribution to society in order to grow a large tribe of believers both inside and outside the company. A case in point: In our work with Essentia Water, we inherited a brand strategy that was clearly designed to produce adverts filled with blonde women in white yoga pants sitting on the beach (despite the fact that the data pointed to a racially diverse audience focused on being active in radically diverse ways). After scrapping that strategy and building one from the ground up, says this brand is on fire.

Consumers’ needs, competition, marketplace, and channels all change. Which means positioning needs to be refined or overhauled every once in a while to make sure your brand stays relevant.

We recommend that each brand that we work with establishes a scheduled audit and tune-up at a minimum of five-year increments — unless something significant has happened with your market or something is NOT working. Obviously, if your brand is losing share, don’t wait five years to make a change. But you should also be aware that a brand strategy driven rebound takes take 12-24 months before you can sit back and know with confidence that you have nailed it.

If you have gone through a rebrand in the last 18-24 months and aren’t realizing growth, I suggest a reality check that begins with the following questions before blaming your current agency.

  1. Is your internal team truly following the new strategy or have you tweaked it to make yourselves more comfortable?
  2. Did your strategy produce an innovation pipeline that has retail buyers looking to your brand for what is next in the category?

If after careful reflection you feel like your agency has failed you, or it’s time for a tune-up, it may be time for Retail Voodoo.

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