Why do some natural businesses fail and others grow?

Why do some natural businesses fail and others grow?

Natural Products Expo East brings together some of the best minds in the industry who all wondered the same thing last week: What is it that makes brands grow, even during a recession?


Natural Products East East 2012 got rolling under balmy fall skies at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The air was sticky with just enough humidity to raise eyebrows as workers swiftly unloaded trucks with banners, booths and products, all destined for the show floor.

Upstairs, in the air-conditioned convention rooms, product developers and retailers were treated to two half-day educational sessions geared to their particular industries. A dinner hosted by NOW Foods was good enough to make even a chatty, food snobbish crowd like us just shut up and eat already.

In attendance were at least 200 people from major and minor brand alike. Firms such as Tom’s of Maine, perhaps the world’s leader in natural toothpaste, to the much smaller Nutracentrix, a Scottsdale company that specializes in food requested by doctors, all shared tables and swapped ideas.

The one question that most captured the crowd’s attention during the day was this: “Why is it that some brands fail, and other brands just grow, grow, and grow?”

“It kind of drives you nuts, doesn’t it?” said marketing expert Gary O’Brion, with a chuckle. Even in times of downturn, there are companies that don’t just do well, they thrive. What is it that they know that we don’t know?

It all comes down to brand

Success all comes down to this, O’Brion said: What is your brand? In other words, what is its identity, culture, communicated value, even its story? Every person who works for you, even the person behind the counter, has to know your “story.”

The next step is finding out how to make people care about your brand and earn more money. Here, O’Brion said, there are only four ways to go about it:

  1. Go out and find customers
  2. Get your current customers to buy more
  3. Lure away somebody else’s customers
  4. Raise your prices.

At that last suggestion, the crowd laughed. “Well, it might not be your best strategy, but you never know!” O’Brion said. “That’s why clarity it so important. A famous entrepreneur John Wanamaker once said: ‘Half the money I spend on advertising, is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.’ To build a clarified brand you have to answer key questions about yourself, and you don’t ask them once; you ask them over and over again.”

Sometimes, you may think you know who your customers are, but discover they are something different. O’Brion told the story of a small company called Justin’s Peanut Butter that began selling peanut butter in tubes as snacks for kids. Pretty soon, though, it became the biggest SKU at Whole Foods—not among kids but among cyclists, hikers and other athletes looking for dense, high-protein energy foods.

“The owner now sells his product at bike stores,” O’Brion said. “Instead of at Toys R Us.”

Progressive auto insurance goes about it in an even more direct way. “Why do think they give you their price quote along with the price of their competitors?” O’Brion asked. “To be nice? To help you out?”

The crowd laughed along, and threw out a few of their own guesses.

“The reason they tell you other people’s prices is because they might not want you as their customer! They have identified what customers they want and don’t want, so while you think you are picking them, they are actually culling you!”

When you identify who are you as a brand, and who your customer is, you have found the sweet spot that is sure to guarantee success, O’Brion said. Even when times are tough.

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