In today's crowded marketplace, trying to rise above the competition and stand out can seem daunting. Defining your brand story can be the key to shelf success and sustainability.
Shoppers have so many choices today, and standing out in the crowd can seem overwhelming. Of course your recipe is your secret, one thing that is yours alone, but it is very difficult to differentiate a product on just your ingredients. There are only so many ways to toast a chip or brine a pickle*. Your go-to-market strategy should start with a clear description of what makes your product different from the ones to the left and right on the shelf.
Be aware that if low price is the place you start to separate your brand from others, then you’ve begun down a slippery slope. Trying to close sales by putting your product below national brands, or on even pricing with store brands, is a cycle that is extremely hard to break. Brands that are stronger than yours can afford to take a hit by running promos aimed at squeezing competition off the shelf, so battling for the bottom price is not a safe place to position your brand. There are ways to manage pricing within sales relationships. Do not make low pricing part of your identity.
The most powerful way to separate your brand from a category leader is to develop a strong, consistent brand personality, one that is yours alone, and isn’t easily repeated. By creating a clear guide for the core of your brand, you’ll have the foundation for building a strong strategy that you can carry through to your packaging, web site, sales kits, social media and promotions. Three key areas to analyze when building a brand personality are the core values, customer response and market perception.
Think about your approach to creating new products. What key values do you bring to the table when you are exploring new varieties? Are your pickles wholesome, like grandma’s? Or are they sriracha and mango-infused, part of a trendy, adventurous taste experience? Food can play different roles for a customer, and figuring out where your values intersect with the consumers' will keep you from making a change for the sake of change.
What kind of response are you expecting to get when someone tries your food? Surprised: “I’ve never tasted sriracha pickles before!” Nostalgic: “These taste just like the pickles my mom put in my lunch box.” Smug: “This is the best pickle experience I’ve ever had, and my family and guests will be so impressed.” [Don’t think you can be smug about pickles? What about Grey Poupon compared to the rest of the mustard category?]
Sometimes referred to as brand essence, perception is at the heart of your brand story. When customers see your packaging, try your product, or see your advertising, what is the go-to feeling they get from your brand? Here’s a quick thumbnail sketch of some prominent brands, Walmart = low prices, Mercedes = luxury, Apple = cool. Are your pickles about quirky fun? Or do they mean old world recipes? Establishing trust with customers should always be at the front of your mind when thinking about your brand's market perception.
Going through the exercise of analyzing your brand personality can help you identify places where your current tactics might be off-target. If your values stand for “wholesome goodness” but your flavor choices follow foodie trends, and the packaging says “luxury indulgence,” you are sending mixed signals not only to shoppers, but also to your retail partners. Merchants are looking for brands that fit the goals for both their store and their department. Choosing products is about the whole brand experience: we’ve got a lot of grandma’s flavors; we’re looking for a luxury option.
Having a very clear, complete view of who you are and what you stand for will pay off in so many ways over the life of your brand. All of your communication opportunities can be weighed against the value they bring to your brand story. You’ll spend less on ineffective tactics, while every dollar you do spend will become more effective. Creating a stellar brand story will make you stand out on the shelf.