You’ve been active with GMO-labeling initiatives like Just Label It. Given recent setbacks, do you think GMO labeling can really happen in the USA? What are the key factors that can create change?
Yes, I do think that GMO labeling can happen in the U.S.; however, it will take time and sustained effort for us to achieve the degree of transparency Americans deserve. Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Just Label It (JLI), awareness is growing and consumers are becoming more educated on GMO-related issues.
When I served on the JLI board of directors, we worked with the Mellman Group to conduct a survey of 1,000 general election voters, and in March 2012, Mellman reported the results: more than 9 in 10 voters (91%) favor the FDA requiring that “foods which have been genetically engineered or containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled to indicate that.” Only 5% opposed such a requirement and another 5% did not know. That is a pretty strong indication that consumers want to know what is in the food they eat.
Our great country was founded by courageous people who ventured into the unknown to pursue a better life for themselves and their families. We can take a page from our forefathers’ book by pioneering a more transparent food system. We deserve the right to know what’s in our food and choose accordingly. It’s called truth in labeling.
You’ve worked with many exciting young and growing brands in the natural and organic industry. If you had one piece of advice for them as they set out to build their brand, what would it be? What are some fatal errors you’ve seen in marketing a new natural brand?
As you set out to launch your new brand, be sure you are able to answer a number of critical questions. What benefits do you offer that make your brand different and better than others in the same frame of reference? Are these benefits relevant and compelling to your target? Do they fulfill an unmet need or solve a problem? Are consumers willing to pay your price? Where is the current market for your product? What is your distribution channel strategy? What is the cost of entry?
Some of the fatal errors I’ve seen in marketing a new natural brand are:
- Aiming at everyone (you cannot be all things to all people).
- Too much self-confidence, not enough rigor.
- Talking to yourself about how great your product is or “smelling your own fumes.”
- Launching new products without research or letting market research trump all else like common sense and instinct.
- Not developing a brand look that is recognizably different from competitors.
- Betting on rationality; Consumers are illogical, emotional and irrational about decisions.
- Launching new products without adequate marketing support (an anemic budget).
- Trying to do too many things rather than focusing on the ones that will make the biggest difference to the financial health of your business.
Mo Siegel, founder and former CEO of Celestial Seasonings—someone I learned a lot from—used to say, "Sustain the core, stimulate progress," underscoring the need to keep your foundation strong, as you can easily get distracted or seduced by new, new, new.
My final word to the wise: Take a disciplined approach, for it increases the likelihood of your brand’s success in the marketplace.