Living in the Foam

One thing I have noticed lately is that we are all very caught up in the here and now. I remember the days when I could relax and think about the future. Whether planning for my own life or my clients’ brands, I remember having the time and inclination to look toward the future and envision more.

I’m missing that today.

I have found that companies are spending more time focused on immediate issues than planning for the future. Grocery stores are focused on period numbers, companies on quarterly earnings, and my kids are obsessed with how many “likes” they get on each Instagram post.

There is something to be said about living in the moment, but don’t we also need to look to the future both for inspiration as well as for precaution?

From a branding perspective, this can be critical. Here are three reasons why focusing on a long-term vision or strategy will help you grow and succeed.

1. Control Your Brand

Who really controls your brand message? As companies, we used to be able to control the message of the brand through how we spoke about it, the advertising we used, our claims and our brand position. Today, our brand is often shaped by our customers through reviews, tweets, comments and more.

As a company, it’s easy to fall into the trap of reacting to customer comments rather than proactively leading your brand where you want it to go. By only living in the moment, companies may find that they are chasing their tails and losing track of what their true goals are.

Public opinion can occasionally prove to be insightful and help you learn and grow, but don’t allow it to be the rudder that’s directing your company strategy. Stay focused on your long-term goals and stay true to your brand promise, no matter what today’s Yelp review says.

2. Chart Your Own Path

Product development, especially in retail and on a large scale, needs to be planned years in advance. It takes the right partnership between functional experts to make products come to life.

While you are planning for growth, new items will inevitably pop up that you may have never imagined. They may give you new ideas, make you second-guess your choices, or even change the dynamic of your category.

In the face of these challenges, trust in your brand and stay your course. Keep an eye on trends and what’s new, but don’t lose sight of the product mix you have created and are committed to. Dollars go fast and mistakes are costly.

3. Slow and Steady Can Still Win the Race

Ask yourself and your team: “Are we in this for the long haul or will we want out in two years?” Either answer is valid and completely dependent on your own situation and desires, but an honest answer will help you choose your path moving forward.

Going for a quick win does occasionally pay off. Pop-up brands, one-hit wonders and fads are always going to be there. Remember the Chia Pet? Or the Furby?

However, when you look at the brands that have stood the test of time, they are brands that have remained committed to their core pillars but have been flexible enough to grow and expand appropriately over time. An established brand like Coca Cola may stumble by chasing a trend, like when they introduced New Coke in the 80s, but their company has remained successful by remaining true to their brand identity and keeping an eye on long-term strategy.

Our world is superficial and our trending topics change in a moment’s notice. Take some time to drive deep into what is meaningful to you in your life and your business.

Try living below the foam for a while. It is richer!

How Far Can Your Brand Stretch?

Have you ever noticed that brands lately have morphed into areas that you just may have not expected?

I just received an email blast from Wegmans that they are now selling yoga wear. As a person who sees Wegmans as a food store and a foodie one at that, it caught my attention and not in a good way. It felt strange to me, jarring. I’d expect such a product launch from a retailer like Walmart, but not a food store whose main brand premise to date has been about the eating experience.

Over the past few decades, we’ve seen other big brands stretch, expand into new categories and extend their reach. For example, Dove successfully expanded from being known for a moisturizing soap to being a wide-ranging beauty brand that connects with “real” women in every area of their beauty routine. Gerber did the same thing, growing from primarily a baby food brand to being an “all about baby” company.

Food stores sell general merchandise including light bulbs, sponges, paper plates and toilet paper – everything you need for your home to run, but people typically don't enter their favorite food store in search of clothing. An argument could be made that selling organic, fair trade “purposeful” clothing is in line with Wegmans’ brand position, but how far can a brand stretch before it snaps?

We talk about brand stretch often with our clients at the beginning of an engagement. Creating a long-term plan and vision for a brand at the onset is very powerful. It also creates a messaging platform, a brand architecture and visual guide that can stay consistent and grow, continually bringing in new customers while keeping and connecting with current ones.

What can you do to ensure that your brand stays on message as it grows?

Plan and Envision

Many companies never take the time to be together and just brainstorm about the future. There is no immediate ROI on brainstorming and the time it takes, so a team’s energy is primarily spent on revenue generating activities. However, I would challenge that taking the time to create a shared brand vision has more ROI than you think.

As a kid, people are constantly asking you “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While some kids just instinctually know and never waiver, others struggle to define their path. Your company may be like that directionless child – you have some sense of what you’re good at, but can’t clearly state your ultimate goal.

Take time with your leadership team to reflect inward, look outside immediate expectations and assumptions, and create a best-case-scenario vision for your brand. This can provide a clear purpose for your company and help motivate the entire team to focus their efforts as you work toward the company’s ultimate goal. 

Know Who You Are

When we learn what our weaknesses are, our natural inclination is to work to improve them. In practice, however, it can be much more successful – for an individual as well as a company – to forget your weaknesses and instead work to maximize your strengths.

Being honest about who you are (and, just as importantly, what you’re not) will help you build a solid, authentic foundation and will make brand choices much easier moving forward. Once you’ve defined who you are as a company, the path for growth and expansion should be easier to see.

Stop Moving the Target

Have you ever seen the movie Airplane? I’m reminded of a scene where the tower supervisor hands an air traffic controller a piece of paper:

“Johnny, what can you make outta this?”
“This? Why I could make a hat, or a brooch, a pterodactyl!

It’s a very funny scene, but it begs the question – what is it?

Your brand could be anything, but what is it?

Some brands encounter an identity crisis as they grow. If they expand to appeal to a new target audience, they feel the need to pivot their branding to fit what that target wants or expects them to be. This puts a brand in danger of losing the core of their brand and it can be very confusing for customers.

Trust that the core values of your brand will have a mass appeal. Apple’s famous “Think Different” campaign, for example, appealed to outsiders and yet they became a household brand. Whether your brand represents tradition, change, integrity, heritage, rebelliousness, youth, or experience, those qualities can be expressed in many ways that will allow you to remain genuine to your brand even as you evolve to keep up with your company’s growth.

Ultimately, stay true to yourself. Grow and stretch your limits, but be aware of what it will mean for your brand, your customers, and the health of your business.

3 Ways to Stand Out from the Herd

3-Ways-To-Stand-Out

In an effort to keep up with their competition, most companies dilute and devalue the point of difference that brought them to market in the first place.

Like a flock of birds that unconsciously follow in prefect formation, so do many industry trends. But why?

In today’s market, how do you truly differentiate?

My mom used to always say, “If your friend jumps off a cliff, are you going to as well?” and the response is obvious, “No way, that would be stupid.” Well, in business you would be surprised how this cliff-jumping mentality has crept into every category of product we buy wall-to-wall across the store.

Through flavor profiles, packaging sizes, pricing and formats, we want to be compared to others within our competitive set. Standing out raises too many questions and makes the purchase an effort. But isn’t that what the new consumers want today? A choice, with options that go beyond quality and price but also highlight a product’s purpose, mission and uniqueness? If so, then why all the mainstreaming?

It’s time to break through the clutter. Here are three ways we can transform lackluster brands into stand-out items on the shelf:

1. Remember where you came from and why.

We work with a lot of companies that launch products because of their love, passion and commitment. Some have recipes that were handed down from generation to generation. Others have inventions that are unique and solve a problem.

Companies need to remember their roots as a reminder of what prompted their products to begin with. That doesn’t mean that a product shouldn’t be innovated, improved or enhanced. But staying true to who you are will prevent your company from jumping on a bandwagon that doesn’t make sense for your brand.

2. Have purpose that people can relate to.

Even if your mission is just to create the best damn chocolate chip cookie ever, that needs to be clear to your customer. Decades ago, the Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws did just that. They aimed to deliver the best cookie anyone had ever had from a grocery store, which resulted in a decadent chocolate chip cookie that launched a loyalty that had never been seen in North American store brands before.

Today, store brands spend so much more time reacting than innovating. They want to meet national brand standards, but stop short of exceeding them. Why? At the end of the day, what do you build in equity and goodwill by always chasing?

3. Be bold!

The truth is, not everyone is going to like you. But guess what? There are over 200 million people in the US and if only 10% of those like you, that is ok. Often, those brands that take the biggest risks, who look ahead of the curve, they are the ones who will break out of the pack and become the standard that all others attempt to follow.

So, take a chance and make a difference! Play to your strengths, not your weaknesses. Stand up for the product or service you sell because it is differentiated, not because it compares well to others.

We all want to be special and not part of the herd. How does your brand differentiate?

5 Trends from Expo West 2017

5-trends-from-expo-west

I am always fascinated to see what is new, trendy, innovative and refreshed at every food show I attend. Last week, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the Expo West Natural Food Show in Anaheim, California.

The most notable thing about this show compared to other shows we’ve attended recently is that it’s HUGE. To say the show has outgrown its location is an understatement. I logged over 30,000 steps in two days. The booths sprawled across the entire convention center, plus three ballrooms in the Hilton and Marriot, not to mention the outdoor tented area of additional new products.

Despite the absolutely overwhelming number of products, it was very inspirational to see how many new products are launching this year with missions and purposes to better the lives and eating habits of us all.

What was a little concerning, however, was the fact that I am now entirely convinced that if you plan on eating healthy, you’d better like to snack. I saw very few true meal options and only two fresh options. Apparently, if you eating healthy, you are very busy working, hiking or running after kids because there is absolutely no reason to cook after walking this show.

Hear is a list of the trends I saw over the course of the show:

Crazy for coconut!

Coconut is EVERYWHERE! I love Pina Coladas but now I am crazy for coconut! Whether you are selling coconut oil as an ingredient or as a skin care item, coconut flour, coconut chips, coconut water or energy drinks or just want to include a coconut flavor in your lineup you are in good company.

I hope you all like coconut, because it is here to stay. Coconut yogurt, drinkable yogurt, sparkling soda, ice cream, chocolate, you name it. You can even spread it all over your face and skin in various creams and lotions.

A couple of brands that stood out included the DANG! Coconut chips. The original is like eating a macaroon without all the sugar. Yum! And the B-Raw Coconut Almond bar is about as clean a bar as you get. Made in Maui, they are refrigerated, convenient and very delicious.

Bars! Bars! Bars and Barks!

I have never seen so many bars. For a section that has grown exponentially over the last several years, I hope there is enough space and attention for them all. There are breakfast bars, snack bars, dessert bars, energy bars, raw bars, crunchy and chewy bars.

And now there is a movement to bark. Bark thins came on strong this year and have opened the door for all kinds of chocolate and savory barks. Granola bark, chocolate bark with crispy quinoa, flax and chia.

No Dairy? No Way!

Dairy has been hot and cool in diet trends over the past several years. This year, apparently dairy is back and good for you. Califia Farms served up single to-go bottles of cold brew coffee products, Matcha lattes and more. Grass-fed milk, small farm milk and see-your-cow-eat-all-day milk were all over.

Yogurts took the stage as well. Greek, Icelandic, Australian and spoonable Lifeway Keifer are now available with all kinds of toppings, jams, flavors.

Snacks and Chips

Well let’s just say that just about anything can be puffed, fried, baked and extruded. Corn, quinoa, lentils, beans, chickpeas, potatoes, corn, wheat rice, green peas and veggies.

A new company out of Canada, SPOKES.CA, had a great new potato product where eating the entire bag will only set you back 300 calories. And they were good! Move over, popcorn!

Banana Chips were also new. Offered in sweet or savory flavors, they are a new Paleo way to enjoy snacks on the go.

Nuts for Nut Butters

Today butter is a thing of the past, unless it’s Ghee. Ghee is simply clarified butter. But not all Ghee is the same. At the show, I tried a truffle salt Ghee from Fourthandheart.com that was so good I could not believe it.

Nut butters are all the rage and they too have various options. Crunchy, smooth, super creamy and combos. One of my personal favorites was Bestie by the Peanut Butter Company. These were so creamy and yummy with absolutely no sugar added. But I must have counted 20+ nut butter companies on the show floor.

Some Outliers

Sparkling drinking vinegar, an alternative to soda but remarkably flavorful and good for you. Pressery.com was my favorite on the floor made with coconut vinegar.

Drinkable soups were also new. DrinkZupa.com has an interesting line of drinkable cold vegetable soups with some really creative combinations. I will probably be a late adopter because I still like my soup warm and in a bowl, but they were tasty.

Overall, it was a great show. It was good to see all the category leaders launching new line extensions like Rice Dream and coconut milk, delicious! And to see new and upcoming, brave companies trying to change the world and health all in one place.

If you can attend next year I recommend it. But wear comfortable shoes!

The Essential Components of a Brand Style Guide

Does your company have a formalized style guide?

If the answer is no, this is something that you should strongly consider. Although creating a brand style guide may seem tedious, it is absolutely critical – especially as your company continues to grow and acquire more clients and employees. A brand identity and standards guide tells users exactly how to use visual elements (logos, fonts, colors, etc.) in order to retain equity and maintain consistent branding on all company documents and in all marketing channels. By not providing a formal style guide, you can create confusion and inconsistencies in how your brand identity elements are communicated.

First and foremost, a style guide is defined as a set of standards for the writing and design of documents that enforces a specific style to improve communication. It’s particularly helpful for employees and gives a company one strong, cohesive voice and image. Whether you are a service provider or produce and sell products, a style guide will help ensure that the message being put out there is the one that you approve. Consistency breeds trust, trust breeds loyalty and loyalty breeds repeat purchase.

Here are the essential elements of a style guide:

  • Written overview of the company
  • Purpose, mission statement, and values
  • Target audience and customer demographics (if appropriate)
  • Logo guide – sizing, colors and placement. That includes what to do and what not to do
  • Color palette – specific colors for the brand (primary and secondary) and color combinations that are permitted
  • Font guide – explanation of typographical choices and the names of the approved fonts
  • Collateral – letterhead, business card layout, press releases, email signature format, etc.
  • Photography guide – style and aesthetic
  • Digital and web guidelines – may include social media policies
  • Voice and tone of the company – for both internal and external communication

Tips for creating a style guide:

  • Include images and examples – don’t leave the guidelines up to interpretation. Show employees exactly what the colors look like and how your logo should be placed with clear examples. If you use Pantone colors, specify the number, the coating and the 4-color process build.
  • Work with a copywriter – consider bringing on a copywriter to craft the copy. You need someone who can communicate your brand values effectively so that there is no confusion about what is or is not allowed.
  • Anticipate questions – think about questions that your employees may have when looking over the style guide and answer them clearly in the text of the guide.
  • Make it accessible – provide both individual and communal printed copies of the style guide, or set up a simple website that people can search. This prevents people from losing their copies and gives everyone constant access. Finally, create a pdf that can be sent to your vendors, suppliers and press, if needed.

What other elements do you include in your style guide? Do you have any additional tips for creating an effective style guide? What are some of your favorite examples of guides from other brands or companies? Let me know what you think by responding in the comment box below.