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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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Consumer Research: Ask the Right Questions of the Right People to Yield the Right Insights

Analysis paralysis.

It’s an affliction that’s all too common among marketers in the Wellness and Food & Beverage spaces. We’ve come to recognize the symptoms:

  • An overabundance of customer data, period
  • Misunderstanding of what that data is really telling you
  • Data that sits idly in spreadsheets, inactive in decision-making processes
  • Reliance on historical data to drive future plans
  • Overconfidence that comes when data confirms what you already know

To make smart decisions that grow your brand, you need the right kind of data, gathered from the right people, analyzed in the right ways, and used to generate real insight.

Seek the Bad News

The biggest problem we see with consumer research is confirmation bias. When the data tells you that every assumption you have about who your customers are and why they buy is correct, you feel smart. Like you know what you’re doing.

Marketers either avoid doing deep research or frame survey questions (consciously or not) that lead to known answers. We get that research is nerve-wracking: There’s always a risk that the data might reveal bad news about customers’ perception of your brand.

But here’s the thing: You want the bad news. Bad news is insight. And you can do something with insight.

Usage & Attitude Study: Just a Starting Point

Most marketers do a half-hearted job of understanding their consumers and their preferences, relying on the usage & attitude (U&A) study, a common research tool. It reveals:

  • Who uses your product, when, and how
  • How and why customers choose your product
  • How many people use it, and how frequently

U&A studies are effective at measuring certain aspects of the brand, both quantitatively (what’s going on) and qualitatively (why it’s going on).

But as it’s typically gathered, U&A data doesn’t give you the full picture. It tells you who has bought your product in the past, and why — but it doesn’t help you identify unmet needs in a broader universe of potential customers. More dangerously, it can reinforce your existing strategic assumptions instead of digging deep to discover what else is possible. Backward-looking U&A data — what worked to get you where you are — won’t get you to the future of your brand.

Reach Beyond Your Universe

If your goal is to increase sales and grow audiences — and it should be! — then you need to design your U&A study to help you understand not just your current customers, but also your lapsed customers and non-customers.

Two things to address here: 1) the survey group and 2) the questions.

U&A studies are commonly conducted by email or online outreach to existing loyalists, so the data is flawed from the get-go. You need to reach outside your database, working with a smart research partner with access to the right lists.

Then, you need to frame questions to address these non-buyers. Why did some people buy your product and then stop? Why do non-customers buy from your competitors instead of you? Probe for psychographic and behavioral insights, too: What do consumers think and feel about each brand? How do other products fit into their lifestyle? What might you do to change their minds? Again, a qualified researcher can bring an impartial eye to the survey design.

Look Backward & Forward

To give you a sense of the potential problem: One of our new clients came to us with customer insights that showed they’re in the top six brands in their category. But Nielsen and other channel data indicates that they’re not even in the top 15 nationally. Why the disconnect? They surveyed their own loyalists, a die-hard group of regional customers. Asking the wrong questions of people who already love your brand will give you broken data. Data that reinforces your own bias, that won’t guide you to growth.

When our clients have either zero or flawed data, we bring pure research companies we partner with into the mix. These experts have written hundreds of surveys and know what questions to ask. Most important, they’re agnostic about what they’re going to uncover, even it if looks like bad news to the brand’s marketing team.

Done right, U&A studies capture both backward-looking information about your loyalists and future-gazing data about the segments and psychographics of a broader audience. Then, based on what we know about your fans, we can invite other people into the tribe. The right questions asked of the right people yield the right insights that actually matter to your business. Paralysis averted.

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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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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The KPIs that Matter for Lifestyle Brands

When it comes to measuring business performance, so many retail brand owners live and die by the numbers.

Revenue, profit, same-store sales margin, ratio of assets to debt — these are the types of key performance indicators (KPIs) that years of experience and a business school education have taught you are the best and likely only ways to measure the success of your brand.

But what if there were other KPIs you should be using to measure your brand’s health and scalability? What if the performance indicators that really matter to your brand are more qualifiable than quantifiable?

The secret to uncovering these hidden KPIs is to look out for the six indicators that could signal a performance problem for your brand:

6 Signs of Brand Underperformance You Didn’t Know You Should Look for

1. Employee Disengagement/Culture Problems

Strangely enough, we often find employee disengagement and culture problems most prevalent in companies that, for all intents and purposes, should be thriving.

Maybe the timing is just right for their brand or product line to come into the marketplace. Or perhaps there’s enough operational significance to ensure widespread manufacturing and distribution. Whatever the reason, from the outside looking in, these are companies that look like they have it together.

On the inside, however, these companies have a culture problem. Maybe employees are scared to speak up for themselves and their customers. Or perhaps leadership has created a culture of insularity. Whatever the reason, these employees can no longer be relied upon as brand ambassadors.

The key lesson here? Disengaged employees will ultimately lead to disengaged customers — and that’s something that will, without a doubt, impact your bottom line.

2. Innovation Overload

Brands that have been around for a few decades are the ones most prone to excessive brand extension. After so many years in business and with manufacturing capabilities at an all-time high, it’s easy for the products to start piling up. Many times, these brands don’t even realize how oversaturated and unfocused their product line has become.

The issue with innovation overload is that it so often signals a problem with positioning. An enormous product line doesn’t strengthen your brand — it dilutes it. You’re better off with a small, targeted product line that considers who your audience is and what they need from your brand.

3. Innovation Stagnation

When we talk about innovation stagnation, we’re not just talking about a drought of ideas. Any brand can dream up a new product. What we’re really talking about is a lack of strategic innovation — an inability to come up with ideas for products that logically extend into your customers’ lives.

Let’s say you have a product that’s selling well and bringing real revenue to your company. This product has been your bread and butter, but you know there’s an untapped opportunity to capitalize on your brand’s reputation in the marketplace.

The natural next step is to extend your brand with a new product line or offering, right? But simply creating a new product is not going to fix an innovation stagnation problem. To generate real revenue for your brand, your brand extension has to be strategic.

4. Limited Distribution

We work with a decent number of lifestyle brands that have rightfully gained a cult following — just with a small audience and only at a handful of retail chains. For some retail owners, limited distribution may make sense. But success on a limited scale can be problematic.

We recently partnered with a health food brand that had for many years sustained their business as a top seller at two big-name retailers. Fast forward a bit and the marketplace for their product became flooded; so much so that they could no longer hold their #1 spot at these two retailers. Because they had put all their eggs in one basket, they were left scrambling to convince new retailers to carry their product — but to no avail. Their limited distribution threatened to become their biggest downfall.

Think about distribution like portfolio diversification. You can put all your stock in one company, but if that company fails, you’ll have nothing to fall back on. In the same way, diversifying your retailer distribution minimizes the risk that a sudden change in the market will jeopardize your brand’s viability.

5. Fragmented Messaging

Fragmented messaging is a good signal that your brand is off course. If there are 47 different versions of your brand message floating around, there’s no way for your brand to differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace. Why would customers decide to purchase your brand over a competitor if you haven’t given them a reason to?

A cohesive brand message speaks volumes. It says you know who you are, who you’re for, and what you’re about. Brands with focused, thoughtful messaging are the ones that reap the greatest rewards.

6. Emotional Attachment

One of the most obvious signs that emotional attachment has crept into your brand is SKU proliferation. It’s natural for a brand to equate quantity with quality; but more often than not, an extensive product line says less about your production capabilities and more about your lack of positioning.

Speaking from experience, we know that most retail owners/operators truly care about the products they’re manufacturing and selling — to the point that they often let personal opinion get in the way of strategy.

Having a vested interest in your products is not a character flaw. By all means, be passionate about what you’re creating. But don’t let emotional attachment derail your brand’s purpose.

If your brand has a SKU proliferation problem, simplifying your product line is likely the solution. Evaluate each product in the context of your target market and brand promise. If that product doesn’t speak to what is true about your brand and your customers, it needs to go. Plain and simple.

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 Businesses: How to Rebrand the Right Way

Maybe your food, beverage, wellness or fitness business isn’t going as well as planned. Sales are on the decline, and you’ve been unable to adapt to changing consumer preferences. Or perhaps you’ve acquired a new brand and want to know how — or if — to integrate it with your existing product line.

These are just a few of the many (valid) reasons your company may be considering a rebrand.

The problem is that too many retail companies aren’t clear on what to expect from the rebranding process and how they should rebrand in light of that, and they end up going through the process far too frequently.

The decision to rebrand shouldn’t simply be a reaction to immediate market conditions or a new competitor, and it definitely shouldn’t be taken lightly. A rebrand has to get to the heart of what matters to your company internally and what will matter in the future to your key audiences — or it will inevitably fail.

If you’re rebranding the right way, it will change your entire company from the inside out.

Tackling the Obstacles to a Successful Rebrand

Not ready to take the rebranding step on your own? A brand strategy firm can guide you through the process.

They’ll be there to ask the right questions and steer your company in the right direction when things veer off track. Most importantly, a brand strategy firm will help your team tackle some of the biggest obstacles to a successful rebrand: misunderstanding, lack of enrollment, organizational psychology, and misplaced expectations.

Misunderstanding

When you hear the term ‘rebrand,’ what comes to mind? A new logo? Revamped packaging architecture? These elements can certainly be part of the equation, but they’re never the whole picture.

It’s easy to mistake branding for graphic identity, especially when you consider the origins of the term. There was a time when a ‘brand’ wasn’t this intangible thing that it is now; it was the scar you marked your cattle with so no one would steal from your herd. Even centuries later, it’s not surprising that this connotation still lingers.

But a new logo or an identity change does not a rebrand make. A rebrand requires positioning and strategy — it’s much closer to business strategy than it is to graphic design or marketing.

Getting this definition right is the first step in considering a rebrand, and it requires an awareness from everyone at your organization, from the top down.

Lack of Enrollment

There’s an old-school MBA perception that many CEOs share about whose world branding falls into. It’s easy for better-for-you brand owners/operators to chalk up branding as a “marketing thing,” passing off rebranding work to a CMO or marketing team without a second thought.

But if a rebrand is more than just a new logo — if it’s an integral part of business strategy — then the rebranding process cannot happen in a black box. There absolutely needs to be buy-in from leadership from the very beginning.

A brand strategy firm can provide the framework to make sure that happens.

We have something in our contract called the “Been Burned Clause,” which is our tongue-in-cheek way of addressing the fact that some of our clients have been hurt by working with an agency in the past who made promises but failed to deliver. We ensure this doesn’t happen in our partnership by mandating that our clients have key leadership in the room for brand strategy sessions from the outset. If even one member of the C-suite or upper management team can’t make that initial meeting, we’ll reschedule it. We’ll do this as many times as it takes because we know how important it is.

Organizational Psychology

Every consumer brand has internal assumptions about what they are and what they bring to the table. That’s a given. Without someone to challenge these biases, however, they can present immovable obstacles to the rebranding process.

One of the most powerful things we get to do as a brand strategy firm is help CPG and retail brands sacrifice their sacred cows on the altar of impartiality, bringing an objective, outside perspective to rebranding conversations. We’re there to point to the cold, hard facts and push leadership to reframe how they’ve perceived their company, culture, and products in light of data they may never have considered.

Case in point: We’ve worked with food and beverage brands that have assumed (and asserted) for years that their product just tastes better than everyone else’s. All it takes is us setting up a blind taste test for them to fundamentally re-evaluate the one thing they’ve staked their marketing claim on for so long. By facilitating exercises like these, we compel our clients to rethink their positioning in a way that will fundamentally alter their rebranding strategy.

Misplaced Expectations

Since we’ve already established that a rebrand is more than just a logo change, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the rebranding process takes time.

But if that misunderstanding is in place — if leadership, in particular, hasn’t bought into the realities of the investment required for a successful rebrand — then expectations of timing and ROI will inevitably be mislaid.

A good brand strategy firm will establish clear expectations for the rebranding process right away. And they’ll be there to take the heat when things don’t go according to plan so no one on your team has to.

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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Food & Beverage Companies Add Value with Strategic Brand Extensions

Your brand is one of your company’s most valuable assets. You know that. As with any asset, sustaining your brand’s longevity requires action; dormancy is not an option.

For many companies, brand extension presents an exciting opportunity to strengthen, grow, and preserve a brand. By leveraging a brand’s existing equity to create new product lines, brand extension can open the door to new sales and marketplace possibilities your business may have never thought possible. And while brand extension is certainly an investment, it’s one that’s well worth the risk when the right strategies are in place.

We’ve seen it time and time again: Well-implemented brand extensions can create tremendous value for a company. Devoid of strategy, however, a brand extension can be disastrous.

Successful Brand Extension Relies on Strategy Over Opportunity

Simply put, a viable brand extension needs to align with the fundamental way the market understands your brand. New product development shouldn’t happen in a vacuum; there has to be a strategy behind it.

Unsuccessful brand extensions tend to latch on blindly to the trend du jour, resulting in product lines that exist only to give the customer what your company thinks they want. Divorced from your brand’s purpose and promise, a brand extension will fade as quickly as the latest fad it follows.

The Wrong Way to Extend Your Brand

We know from experience how easy it is for a company to fall into brand extension that’s more opportunistic than strategic (think: Pumpkin Spice Latte).

Piggybacking on the success of popular brands and products is certainly an appealing brand extension tactic, but it’s not sustainable. If your brand extension exists simply to follow the demands of the latest market trend, its eventual failure is all but inevitable.

We’ve already speculated about the trajectory of Diet Coke’s recent brand extension, which was predicated on the popularity surge of sparkling and seltzer water. It’s too early to chalk this up as a brand extension failure, but we have doubts that Diet Coke went into it with the right strategy in mind.

Diet Coke’s new campaign is clearly targeting millennials, who are buying premium water products by the caseload. What Diet Coke failed to pay attention to is why someone would choose to drink a LaCroix or flavored Perrier over a soda in the first place.

The real reason Diet Coke has been losing traction over the last few years is not their flavors or their packaging. It’s their ingredients. Bottling the same old formula in a slim, sexy can is like putting lipstick on a pig. It may look more appealing, but the underlying issue is still there. This is a classic brand extension misstep — creating a product without considering what the actual market needs or wants.

Diet Coke wasn’t misguided in targeting millennials or even jumping on the LaCroix bandwagon. They just missed the mark when it came to brand strategy.

In our opinion, a Diet Coke brand extension that combined the look and feel of the new flavor cans with the ingredients and messaging of Coca-Cola Life (the no-sugar, no-aspartame version of Coke) would have been much more on target.

The Right Way to Extend Your Brand

A successful brand extension has to speak to what is already true about your brand and what the marketplace needs in light of that truth.

If you’re in the health food market, or maybe a vegan or vegetarian yourself, it’s likely you recognize the Hilary’s Eat Well brand — or at the very least recognize their most popular product. For the longest time, Hilary’s brand name was synonymous with just one product (albeit a damn good one), their “World’s Best” Veggie Burger.

In order to capitalize on the success of this veggie burger, Hilary’s took their own stab at brand extension by releasing a line of veggie burger products with different flavor profiles. This flavor diversification approach was, by and large, a success, but Hilary’s wasn’t really gaining additional traction in the marketplace. Most of the customers buying these new veggie burger flavors were already avid loyalists to the brand’s original veggie burgers.

When Hilary’s started working with Retail Voodoo, our team helped them realize they would only be able to grow so much in their current niche (veggie burgers) without finding other places in the store where vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians would essentially give them permission to show up. In other words, they needed to figure out what was appealing about their brand apart from the draw of their already established and successful veggie burger product.

Ultimately, we helped position them as culinary vegetarian and free-from common allergens — two things that were already true about their brand — because we knew those concepts would resonate with both existing and potential customers. Once that brand promise was established, it was easy for them to find where they could and should go in the grocery store. That strategy has made all the difference for their brand.

A Brand Strategy Firm Can Guide You Through the Brand Extension Process

For well-established brands looking to create new revenue opportunities, brand extension can be a great marketing tactic — but it can be risky to go it alone.

If you’re curious about brand extension or not sure if your current brand extension strategy is on the right track, speaking with a brand strategy firm like Retail Voodoo is a great place to start.

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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In Food & Beverage, M&A Success Relies on Brand Strategy

The purpose of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) is to combine the intellectual property, capabilities, and reputations of different entities into something more powerful, more valuable, and ultimately more sustainable over the long-term.

Ownership changes, acquisitions, and huge funding deals continue to swarm the food and beverage industry like flies at the world’s biggest better-for-you summer picnic.

The benefits of an M&A include diversified product and service offerings, increases in capacity and market share, merging operational expertise, shared research and development, and reduced financial risk.

These are all good, but an average of 50 percent of the 70,000 M&As in the last two years failed to create long-term shareholder value (some rank this number as high as a 75 percent failure rate).

There are two key problems that contribute to this:

  • Lack of vision or poor long-term strategy. In most cases, vision and strategy are rolled out after the deal is sealed and usually as a knee-jerk reaction to the people experiencing heartache while the new entity figures out how to increase shareholder value without an articulated vision. Poor strategy is the leading cause of merger failure.
  • Not taking care of the people affected. Failure to acknowledge, plan, and follow through on how to integrate the different cultures prior to the merger can leave employees struggling to cope with cultural differences, politics, and lack of effective communication. And when people feel as though they are being tossed about in a storm without a compelling vision of how they fit into the new big picture, they jump ship.

But take heart, we have seen many M&As succeed culturally and simultaneously increase in value. Simply put, brand strategy allows the acquirer and the acquired to have a shared vision for a shared future that extends beyond simply increased revenue and marketplace dominance by considering the ways they can influence the world – together.

Use the M&A to change what your brand stands for

The questions and decisions leadership makes about brand play a crucial role in unifying the merged entity and maximizing long-term value. Decisions about the brand are signals following a merger or acquisition. Go-forward brand strategy translates how a merger or acquisition makes sense and establishes a compelling vision for the combined new entity that resonates with employees, customers, and the outside world.

A brand is a set of promises your company makes and the manner in which you keep those promises (resulting in what Seth Godin calls memories, stories, and relationships that give people a preference for one product or service over another). Then we can begin to see how brand, although less tangible than a financial report and operational integration plan, can enhance or detract from the likelihood of M&A success.

Use the acquired brand to improve the cultural relevance of your brand

There was much ado about Spam maker Hormel’s acquisition of organic meat producer Applegate Farms in 2015. People began lamenting that the little guys had sold out to greedy corporations and that the big guys used it as an opportunity to squash the little do-gooder brand’s influence on the landscape of consumer concern about our food chain — everything from quality organic standards and sustainability to animal welfare practices. We confess, at first, we were skeptical and a bit freaked out by what they might do to our “Sunday Bacon.” We watched them carefully (along with many brand loyalists) looking for clues suggesting that design and marketing could be masking a decrease in quality or standards.

But we could never produce any evidence.

In short, the little guys weren’t selling out. Instead, the biggest guys in the world bought their way into this emerging ideology and consumer preference. They bought into the future.

Bottom line: Hormel now gets a lot of respect from retailers and clean label-reading consumers for not destroying the integrity or quality of Applegate Farms.

Use brand strategy to inform planned integration – or intentional separatism

Understanding and integrating two different corporate cultures is tricky. Management often assumes that the other company is just like them and then dismisses the need for deeper cultural understanding (especially when acquiring a business in the same or similar industry). But it’s one of the most common reasons for failed mergers. Certainly, it’s much better to have a cultural understanding prior to a merger and keep two brands operating independently until this situation changes.

Unilever’s acquisition of Ben & Jerry’s is a great example of successfully keeping cultures separate. Throughout the critical post-acquisition integration phase, Ben & Jerry’s successfully retained its culture, corporate identity, and brand image and at the same time became profitable. This happened because the leadership at both organizations knew that combining the cultures would risk destroying Ben & Jerry’s most valuable asset: values-driven culture.

Use brand strategy to define the next generation of your portfolio strategy

In a move that surprises and inspires us, InBev (Anheuser-Busch), the beer giant, acquired Hiball Energy, a producer of organic energy drinks and the Alta Palla brand of sparkling juices and waters.

The acquisition represents a strong desire by InBev to diversify their brand portfolio and to tap into a new high margin, high-growth segment.

“The combination of Hiball’s category-leading organic energy drinks and Alta Palla’s organic sparkling juices and sparkling waters together with our network and operational know-how will create tremendous growth opportunities for these brands,” João Castro Neves, president and CEO of Anheuser-Busch, told the Chicago Tribune.

This acquisition, along with the joint venture with Starbucks and Teavana made in 2016, signals that InBev is actively pursuing brands that will help them with their next generation product portfolio beyond the latest micro-brew industry darling. This forward-thinking during an M&A proves the positive impact brand strategy can have on the overall development of your portfolio.

Use brand strategy to acquire a meaningful innovation pipeline

Large companies innovate to refresh their products and enter new markets. The bigger a company gets, the harder this can be to achieve (success at scale is often the antithesis of innovation). So, many larger companies feel they must acquire a market-leading startup or leading niche player to expand into new markets, feed their innovation pipeline, add new capabilities to fill a gap in its existing capabilities system, or to respond to a change in its market.

Another giant watching consumer trends, Campbell’s Soup, acquired Pacific Foods, currently a leading producer of organic broth and soup. Founded in 1987, Pacific Foods has a sustained track of growth and according to the Campbell press release, “has strong health and well-being and organic credentials, particularly with younger consumers.” Campbell noted that the acquisition will broaden its access to organic customers and channels largely because the Campbell’s Soup brand is not in the consideration set of people looking for healthier options.

Making the conscious – or too frequently unconscious – decision not to focus on brand strategy early on in M&A or waiting until your people are unhappy is a recipe for failure.

With so much opportunity and so much at stake in the fluid yet highly competitive landscape of M&As, we believe that investing in brand strategy to drive your planning and vision at the front-end of the new relationship will reap rewards more quickly and sustainably.

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.

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Making the Most Out of Your Trade Show Investment

While the benefits of participating in trade events are well-documented, trade shows can be an expensive investment. Standing out and delivering a memorable impression on the floor at Expo WestFancy Foods, or even Outdoor Retailer can seem daunting. And yes, the pressure to deliver on ROI goals – while ever-present – can be elusive at best. As a strategic consulting firm and long-time attendee of these shows, we’ve seen a lot and learned a lot over the years. Through it all, we’ve emerged with a point-of-view on how to get the most out of these investments.

Before we dig in, a little context might be helpful. It’s hard to argue with the efficiency of these events. The ability to meet in person with current and future buyers, suppliers, and team members from around the country makes for a powerful argument to attend. That said, I’ve yet to meet a CMO or brand owner that doesn’t wish they had “just a little deeper pocket,” or more time, or just a few more resources in which to compete. Since many exhibitors are smaller (think 10×20-foot size booths), private meeting space is a premium and often these brands don’t have the budget to update their appearance as frequently as they would like. It goes without saying, show floors are crowded with high competition for attention and attendee quality can be mixed (more samplers than buyers). Okay, so what’s the big reveal?

To Quote Simon Sinek, “Start with Why”

Why does your company exist? What are you solving for and how do you deliver tangible solutions? Once you know your “why,” your team can confidently talk about your brand, what you do, and how you make a difference. After dozens (if not hundreds) of conversations later, we’ve learned that exhibitors’ needs can be distilled down to just a few key things:

Make progress with existing accounts – That means writing business, connecting face-to-face, getting in front of issues and problems, uncovering new/future opportunities, and connecting socially to further solidify relationships. Foster these connections by reaching out before the trade show and having conversations to better understand their mission and vision.

Open new accounts – Nothing is more important to the company and gratifying to salespeople as opening new accounts. Sales leadership needs to set goals, acknowledge progress, and celebrate the wins.

Encourage team building and support – With sales reps distributed around the country, trade shows become an economical way to get everybody in the same room. These events are a chance to align teams on strategy, current product, and service talking points. This knowledge-sharing and dose of camaraderie all make for a well-functioning sales organization.

The other stuff – Trade shows are a great opportunity for assessing competition, identifying trends, and taking advantage professional education and development opportunities. While you’re at it, be sure to schedule time to get out of the booth to engage in panel discussions, lectures, and networking events. Stop by the press office to distribute any press releases, and encourage reporters to stop by your booth. Leverage social media (especially Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) – most conferences have a specific hashtag you can track – to contribute to discussions and hot topics at the conference. Participating in these ways establishes you as a leader in your category.

The Basic Block and Tackle

Determine who you’re targeting and set your goals – Who are your best customers and your most desired prospects? Media, brokers/distributors, and other industry analysts should also make this list. Knowing who you’re for and who you’re not is a critical step in being efficient with your time and message. And if it isn’t obvious, capturing leads is why you’re here. Whether you use a lead retrieval device or the traditional pen and paper method, having a system you know you can rely on is very important.

Plan your engagement strategy pre-event, onsite, and post-event – Start early by defining your selling strategy and key messaging, and researching trends and competitors. It’s important to engage marketing early in the planning process as well. Start with the company website, blog, social channels, and email. Establish campaign cadence pre-event, during the event, and after. Empower your sales reps to be social by equipping them with content they can post online throughout the event.

Get your story baked (not fried) – It’s important to remember the value of a good first impression. Everybody on the floor needs to be on the same page. I’m often surprised of the lack of basic product information and the amount of inconsistency between salespeople at the same booth. Remember your “why,” and be proficient with your product and service talking points.

Invite interaction and make your booth approachable – Duh…Your booth strategy, design, layout, and messaging all need to work in harmony to attract your prospect, engage the uninformed, position your offering, and above all, set the table for a selling conversation. According to CEIR (Center for Exhibit Industry Research), 80% of what visitors remember the most about their visit to a booth is their interaction with the exhibit staff. Keep it simple and make it easy. And lest we forget, a well-designed booth has back-of-house function as well. From storing inventory to creating conversation spaces, smart booth design is worth the investment.

Ask for feedback – An accurate assessment of a prospect’s “intent to act” is everything. Beyond a typical qualifying conversation, if you can get attendees to fill out a quick survey, that data could prove invaluable. You can learn important information about the buyers in your industry, and also get a better understanding of why and how attendees come to these types of events. You’ll walk away with benchmark data, allowing you to make better informed decisions in the future. Also, your new customers will see that you care about their feedback – further improving their experience with your company.

Follow up with leads – It’s shocking: according to CEIR, 87% of leads captured at trade shows are not followed up on properly. Plan ahead to make sure you have a good process in place to follow up with leads. It is important that you follow up as soon as possible after the show so that your prospect feels valued and remains engaged.

Integrate and activate your social platforms at the event – There are only two forms of marketing that take place in real time — events and social media. Take full advantage of your event and combine the two to optimize exposure and extend your reach far beyond the trade show’s doors. There are many ways for you to interact on social media during your event. Here a few ideas:

  • Think of a memorable hashtag to create a buzz around your booth and encourage feedback from those that stop by. Include it on display material so that everyone sees it. Attendees will feel more involved in your brand, therefore increasing favorable relationships and loyalty.
  • Tweet to guests that have stopped by your booth with a simple thank you or nice to meet you to keep the conversation going after they walk away. This makes them feel special and appreciated – creating organic evangelists for your brand.
  • Highlight those that won a game or raffle at your booth to strengthen connections and get other attendees excited about stopping by.
  • Search Twitter to find individuals tweeting at the event and encourage them to come stop by your booth (in a human, non-marketer voice).

Other things to remember – Exploit opportunities for pre-show publicity. There are lots of overlooked ways companies can promote themselves before they even get to a show. It’s worth investigating publicity options across pre-show media and marketing material, social networking, sponsorship, speaking opportunities, and show floor activities. This will help drive traffic to your stand and encourage relevant attendees to seek you out.

In addition, the shows I mentioned earlier all have sponsorship packages to maximize your company’s exposure to qualified decision makers. These onsite marketing opportunities may include advertising in the program guide, award submissions and winners presentations, hosting user group meetings, participating in short course presentations, or sponsoring exhibition giveaways.

Start early, employ these strategies and tactics, eat right and get enough sleep. A trade show may seem daunting to some and trivial to others. But if you follow these recommendations, I’m confident you’ll get the most out of your trade show investment and see a ROI you can take pride in.

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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All Beauty, No Brains: When Graphic Designers Fail to Understand Packaging Hierarchy

We here at Retail Voodoo are big fans of ProBar. Do you know it? We’ve been buying them for sometime now. You can find them in your local Health Food store, Whole Foods, or REI. They are very wholesome, filling and just plain yummy. That said, I’m confused…like shopper confused. A couple of months ago, I went to buy my favorite, the Superberry & Greens, but what happened next is a tale of packaging tragedy, a story of beauty over brains. I saw new packaging, quite lovely new packaging, but all of a sudden, greeted by a wall of orange, everything looked the same. I had to squint and spend time discerning if I was buying the correct bar.

The whole label hierarchy broke down, and while I meant to leave the car double parked and grab my fav, I ended up getting a big fat ticket instead (*LIE*). Don’t let beautiful packaging override brains. Make sure you manage the information hierarchy correctly, and for goodness sake, change colors, or include high contrast visual cues to make it easy for those of us too addled to read on the fly to buy our favorites.

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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