In a competitive natural and organic market, your brand can make or break your business. From company values to packaging to what you type on social media—are you seamlessly communicating your health and wellness mission?
Before you brand—or rebrand—here's what natural industry branding pros want you to keep in mind.
Yadim Medore, Principal, Pure Branding, Inc., boutique consultancy for natural businesses; Northampton, Mass.
1. Your passion is what sells. Your brand is what scales.
Above everything, your passion is what people respond to. Effective branding should be focused on scaling that passion. When we rebranded Organic India, we focused on the founders' passion to create a new business model of healing at every touch point. Create experiences that give participants the opportunity to share in what you value, know and love. By scaling passion you create committed participants who will share your passion with others.
2. Involve participants, not consumers.
We've washed the word "consumer" out of our mouths with soap. For a brand to experience healthy growth it must create participation over mindless consumption. Participants are your evangelists who self identify with you. Create relationships through invitation and collaboration—not generating droves of nameless, faceless numbers. It's about creating a real, person-to-person dialogue that says, "Come on in and join the movement."
When we rebranded Gaia Herbs, we developed the Meet Your Herbs traceability platform that invited the trade and participants alike to learn about their herbs and in the process share in Gaia's beliefs and values. Create something that goes beyond the exchange of dollars and cents, and give people a reason to participate. Let them carry the torch and the passion spreads like wildfire. A brand with loyalty beyond price and benefits stands to be here when others fade away.
3. Stay true, even in the conventional market.
When expanding beyond the natural channel to the conventional channel, many brands think they need to compromise for those markets when trying to cater to a new audience—and in so doing lose the essence of what made them a success. Stay true to who you are. Even in Food/Drug/Mass, people will be inspired by what made you successful, not by trying to be like everybody else.
In strategic consulting with Traditional Medicinals, we discovered an organization that experienced tension between their values and what they needed to represent in the mass market. Their history revealed the solution of how to be both approachable and committed to ideals that would inform their strategy for further growth. Remember, if you want to go big, it's still about participation. It's your core participants who will testify to new ones. Do nothing to douse or dilute their passion.
Craig Blackburn, Owner, Urban Jungle, brand-marketing firm specializing in brand development strategies; Alberta, Canada
4. Don't try to be everything to everyone.
Many brand leaders struggle with focus. They look for a broad selling target so they can speak to everyone. In reality, by trying to speak to everyone they end up speaking to no one. The best brands in the world are focused on a very specific audience and, as such, they connect with consumers in a meaningful and personal way. The consumer feels like "they get me." Forget trying to convince everyone who's not a believer. They're a waste of your limited time, resources and money. Instead focus your energy on the people who already believe. They will be your most loyal fans.
5. Find your Point of Difference by being different.
Brand leaders always try to find one feature or benefit as their "Point of Difference." They try to think in terms of logic, but brands aren't defined by logic. Instead of trying to find one little nugget of difference, brand leaders should aim to be different in everything they do. One exercise you can do is to look at your competition side-by-side. (It amazes me how many companies don't do this simple little exercise.)
On a spreadsheet, jot down your competitors into various columns. Below each column answer these questions. 1. What key messages do they use? 2. What personality comes out in their communications? 3. What colors and fonts do they use? The depth to which you can take this exercise is endless. The further you go, the more unique your brand will be.
Whatever you do though, don't play it safe. This year, push yourself to be different in your execution. With the thousands of messages your consumer sees each day, they'll only be attracted to something they've never seen before. All the "me-too" messages will be lost in the ether of sameness. Whether it's your company vision, developing a new product or creating an advertising campaign, push yourself to stand out and be different. The opposite of different is indifferent. And who wants to be indifferent?
6. Don’t settle for "good enough."
Good enough is the enemy of great. The best brand leaders always push for great and so should you. If you don't love your brand, how do you expect your consumer to love it? At every turn, ask yourself "Do I love it?" If you don't love it, go back to the drawing board until you do. Analyze your product using all your senses. Look at it. Taste it. Touch it. Smell it. Listen to it. (Yes, listen to it.) From your products' ingredients, to the way it looks on the shelf, love everything that it represents. Never let something out the door that's "good enough." If you're indifferent, then your brand will be, too.
Colin Sankey, CEO, Snikiddy, makers of non-GMO snacks for families; Boulder, Colo.
7. Get certifications you're actually committed to.
Snikiddy recently switched to non-GMO ingredients for this very reason. Before pursuing certification with any labels—from gluten-free to vegan to non-GMO— first ask yourself: Does this fit with the brand's mission? Beware slapping labels on your product just because you can.
8. Take responsibility for your brand.
As you use outside resources to build your business, you'll establish a level of trust with your partners. However, don't lean entirely on them to get your job done. You can't outsource expertise or responsibility for your brand. Nobody will look after your brand with the same passion and responsibility—you have to. This means verifying that your suppliers are who they say they are and putting in the work so you don't delay your partners' deliverables—or blaming them for your mistakes.
9. If you live it, it will show.
The life force of your brand comes from the people who work for it. For Snikiddy we think that, "If you live it, it will show"—that's how we think about our brand and family snacking. What do you wake up excited to share about your business? From one-to-one models that give back to eco-friendly packaging that reflects your values, let your passion show in your business and consumers will notice.
Jeff Hilton, Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder, IMG Branding, a turn-key resource for growing natural brands; Salt Lake City, Utah
10. Know your audience.
Get to know to whom you're talking. How do they shop? What is their emotional connection to your product? What product benefits are most important to them? Focus group research or online customer surveys can help, as well as existing secondary data and research. Learning more about your prospect puts you miles ahead in crafting a compelling and relevant pitch.
11. Keep your brand voice consistent.
Every brand, whether B2B or B2C, has a voice—a tone and personality that's communicated to the customer or consumer. Once you determine that voice, make sure that every piece of communication (advertising, press releases, Web copy and visuals, sales collateral, packaging) speaks with a unified tone. In marketing, it's all about speaking to your audience with consistent messages and tremendous frequency.
12. Take the smart approach to social media.
Begin by defining what you want social media to accomplish for your brand. Resist the temptation is to get tactical and start a Facebook Page or Twitter account right away. What you need is a social media strategy. For example, if your brand story and product benefits are complicated, write a lengthier blog; or, if your brand message is highly visual, use Pinterest. Use Twitter to frequently touch your target consumer and to communicate tidbits of information that link to more detail on your website.
Caitlin McCabe, Founder and CEO, Real Bullets Branding, market research and strategy agency; Boston, Mass.
13. Center your messaging on why your brand exists.
When creating strong brand statements to use across multiple channels, remember that they should stem from your larger mission. For example, Kashi's branding is about "greater health and well-being for themselves and the planet" and not "selling healthy products." Your audience will connect to the larger mission on a much deeper level.
14. Be a thought leader.
The best brands are excellent at becoming more to their industry and customers than just a vendor—and it pays off. For example, Patagonia weighs in on its employee culture and has launched initiatives to teach other industries about environmental issues. This type of leadership may not directly sell product, but it greatly strengthens their brand and awareness of their brand.
15. Don't innovate just for the sake of it.
A lot of brands try to be relevant by coming up with crazy brand extensions or products. Instead of doing this, focus on the next useful step for your customers. Uber is a good example. The company wondered how to save people the step of calling a cab and the hassle of exchanging cash, so it created an app that charges credit cards. The idea was innovative, but it stemmed from something useful to customers.
Lynda Goldman, natural health copywriter and marketer; Montreal, Canada
16. Communicate your values.
From fair trade to raw or vegan, natural health customers take values seriously. They tend to buy from companies that have the same values. Identify and communicate your values in your marketing materials, from your website to your packages, to establish a deep connection with your customers.
17. Shine by telling stories.
We are all captivated by a great story, and this is where you can truly shine. Many natural product companies were started by someone suffering from a health problem and looking for a solution. If you sourced ingredients and created products that met a need, you probably have a passion for what you do. Share your vision and tell your story to connect with your customers.
18. Write a book on your topic.
Even a short 60-page print or e-book can brand your company. When the founder of a company writes a book on the subject of your products, you become the authority in your area. You gain instant credibility, and remove any sales resistance.