Category Archive for 'Articles'

Two weeks ago I posted five examples of brand archetypes I observed at this summer’s Fancy Food Show, the most awesome annual display of artisanal and premium food brands in the country. Brand archetypes, as presented by Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson in their seminal book, “The Hero and the Outlaw,” are characters that are immediately familiar to most people. It is as though their personalities were hard-wired into our brains. Brands that adopt archetypal personas are recognizable to consumers upon first exposure, as though they had ridden in on a branding fast lane.

The five examples from my prior post were:

Here now, are my final five choices.

Everyman / Every Woman: Skinny Snacks

The common person, honest, down to earth, hard-working, community-minded, is a powerful attractor, in branding as in life. Where the outlaw stands apart, the regular guy seeks to belong, but without putting on airs.

Skinny Snacks, packaged with warm colors, a rounded, hand-written typestyle, a line drawn illustration, and the instantly-classic, “Hi, I’m Skinny” slogan, wins our affection easily. All marketing elements, including its trade show booth, Web site and collateral materials, are welcoming, straightforward and simple in tone. Skinny Snacks, you’re hard not to like!

Alternate: Heber Valley Artisan Cheese

Hi I'm Skinny

Skinny Snacks, Everyman (Every Woman)

The Innocent: Sara Snacker

Simple and good, the Innocent is familiar to most of us through significant people in our own lives, not to mention countless fairy tales and classically innocent brands like Ivory Soap, the Pillsbury Doughboy, even Coca Cola. They often tell “back to basics” stories, and assure us that our own goodness will be rewarded.

Sara Snacker, “A Milk & Cookies Company,” was founded by Sara Leand, a mom seeking fun and wholesome snacks for her kids. Sara decided to bake her own childhood memories into this line of additive- and preservative-free cookies. Her colors, like many innocent brands, features soft pastels.

Alternate: Purely Elizabeth

Sara Snacker

Sara Snacker, The Innocent

The Outlaw: Anarchy in a Jar

Just as revolutionaries reject an important convention and take a stand for some other principal, outlaw brands place themselves outside convention and challenge the status quo. At the same time, they offer an alternative we may embrace. Like Apple, an oft-cited rebel brand, they can disrupt categories and create new paradigms.

Anarchy in a Jar rises above the jam and marmalade sheep of the world, rebelling against their standard sets of ingredients and convenient production methods.

With its sometimes chaotic choice of flavors (Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmelade, anyone?) Anarchy in a Jar promotes the heritage of locally-sourced ingredients, all-natural preservation techniques, and small-batch preparation. The name, logotype, and serious approach to labeling tell you that when it comes to wholesome and uncommonly tasting preserves, this brand is not one to be trifled with!

Anarchy in a Jar

Anarchy in a Jar, The Outlaw

The Creator: Neat

Creator brands share an imaginative approach through product innovation. They often help us as consumers to express our own creative instincts. Creator brands are about artistry and invention, the opposite of brands that “do it all” for us without options.

Neat is “a healthy replacement for meat derived from nuts and other natural ingredients.” It’s like a bag of magic dust. Combine Neat Breakfast Mix with water and eggs and you’ve got the makings for a vegetarian breakfast sausage you can form into patties, cook into eggs, whatever. Neat Mexican Mix becomes the protein for your tacos, burritos, fajitas, cualquier cosa.

They’re not yet the Martha Stewart of artisanal food products, but we recognize them as a brand that can help us express our own creativity and imagination in the kitchen.

Alternate Brand: Roaring Brook Dairy DIY cheese and butter-making kits.

Neat

Neat, The Creator

The Explorer: Dunya Harvest

Explorers, also called adventurers and iconoclasts, blaze new trails in search of a more authentic, more fulfilling life. Explorer brands help consumers find happiness by providing growth, change and self-actualizing experiences.

Shah Trading Co. has been sourcing seeds, grains and rices for a number of North American brands from all over the world since the 1970’s. Now, with its proprietary Dunya Harvest brand (so new, there’s no Web site yet), it’s created a statement about exploration and discovery that consumers can experience directly. It’s name, packaging and brand messaging beckon us to new flavors and textures we might otherwise overlook.

Dunya Harvest

Dunya Harvest, The Explorer

My two short posts can only provide a sense of the power inherent in this approach to branding. But if you think it could benefit your brand, feel free to reach out. If you have thoughts on the topic you’d like to share, don’t hesitate to comment below!

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The world gained a new way of looking at brand stories through the 2001 best seller, “The Hero and The Outlaw,” by Margaret Mark & Carol Pearson. There are archetypal characters, they argued, the Outlaw, the Explorer, the Hero, the Sage, and so on, that are hard-wired into our brains, part of what Jung called the “collective unconscious.” They are recognized from certain clues and understood without explanation.

These characters inhabit our fairy-tales, movies, plays and other creative expressions, going back, well, forever. Brands may express these personalities, telling us instantly who they are, and what they stand for or against. That instant recognition and acceptance can be invaluable in the noisy retail marketplace.

Javitz Center

Entry Hall at the Fancy Food Show

The recent Fancy Food Show at the Javitz Center in New York was inspiring as ever. This year, instead of writing about the best packaging at the show, I focused on brands that tell their stories with brand archetypes.

I picked brands to represent ten of Mark’s & Pearson’s twelve archetypes. I packaged them into two 600 word posts, the first of which follows here. I hope you’ll agree the selection gives valuable food for thought concerning how you communicate your own brands.

The Ruler: Marky’s
Rulers know they are in control. We defer to their authority, trusting in their ability to get us where we need to go. Ruler brands present themselves as successful and important, and while some may find them imperious, those who buy-in feel protected in the relationship.

Marky’s impressive booth has a regal feel to it. It’s hardly welcoming, and might as well be surrounded by a velvet rope. But you know that those privileged to be invited will find the finest in caviars and other luxury artisanal foods within. Submit; luxury and privilege are your rewards. (Footnote: as a brand consultant, I would advise Marky’s to elevate its Web site with the same sort of messaging.)

Marky's

Marky's, The Ruler

The Caregiver: Lucy’s Cookies
Caregiver brands are built on compassion and trust. They often help people care for themselves. Founded by a doctor who’s also a mom with a seriously food-allergic child, Lucy’s cookies are certified gluten free, vegan and Non GMO, and they are absolutely scrumptious in a way anybody, especially those who go through life avoiding gluten, can enjoy.

I spoke with Dr. Lucy at the show and looked at the friendly, gentle design of her packaging (with its ribbon-shaped letter “L”), and I immediately understood what she and her brand stand for.

Alternate: Love Grown Foods, which also carries strong characteristics of the Lover archetype.

Lucy's Booth

Lucy's, The Caregiver

The Jester: Ass Kickin
The Ass Kickin’ line of spicy sauces and other products includes “Products from Hell,” the Whoop Ass subbrand, and Ass Blaster Hot Sauce, among others. It’s a vulgar approach to humor.

But let’s not quibble about the perils of overestimating consumers’ sensibilities. The folks at Southwest Specialty Food have found a home with the jester archetype, a playful approach to branding that lets people lighten up a shade and enjoy themselves. All the jester wants to do, really, is entertain us.

Ass Kickin'
Ass Kickin'

Ass Kickin', The Jester

The Lover: Baci
From its origins in 1922, when the Perugina founder wrapped a love note around a chocolate and hazelnut candy, this iconic brand has always been dedicated to love. Even it’s name evokes amore: Baci is Italian for kiss.

Lover brands help us express our own gender and to build relationships, as well as to express and receive affection. Classic lover brands include Hallmark Cards and Coco Channel.

Baci

Baci, The Lover

The Sage: IQ Juice
Sage brands show us a smarter way to address our needs and wants. They are wise and insightful and proud of their intelligence. Classic sage brands include Oprah Winfrey, Harvard University and Betty Crocker. All of them encourage us to solve problems through study and thought.

The name IQ Juice is a good initial clue to the market position we expect of this line of functional beverages. The slogan “Live Life Smart” is another. Packaging is clean and unemotional, featuring key nutritional facts on the principal display panel. Each beverage uses different medicinal herbs and plants to achieve a specific biologic effect, including memory boosting, fat burning, energy enhancing, and more. They could do more on their web page to reinforce their intellectual authority, but for a 2012 startup, they’ve done a nice job so far.

Alternate:  See Smell Taste

IQ Juice

IQ Juice, The Sage


Look for five additional brand archetypes found at the Fancy Food Show in my next post: Every Man/Woman, The Innocent, The Outlaw, The Creator and The Explorer. If you care to nominate alternate brands to the ones I’ve selected, feel free to do that! All comments are welcome.

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A while back, Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown, published an interesting post on brand copycatting in China. (Copycat manufacturers are known there as “Shanzai.”) He presented a discussion about the cultural orientation favoring such products in China, and made some interesting observations about the meaning of brands.

Coca Cola Knockoff Packaging in China (Shanzai)

Knockoff packaging for Laoshan brand soft drink in China copies the bottle shape, label color and type style of Coca Cola's world-renowned trade dress. Image Courtesy Nigel Hollis.

The images Nigel chose for his piece caught my attention. How furious must Coca Cola be, or Gillette, at such bald faced infringement on the most important aspects of their global brand identities.

Gillette Knockoff Packaging in China

Beyond package shape, color palette and typestyle, this Chinese takedown of Gillette's trade dress includes an intentionally dis-spelled brand name that even a native English speaker could mistake for the real McCoy. Image Courtesy Nigel Hollis.

And yet, I am moved to ask, what would be worse, this or a serious brand contender with its own unique and appealing value proposition?

The empirical backing I have for such a preposterous suggestion comes from the early philosophy of private label brand programs. For decades, copycat packaging was the rule in the US market. I studied the sector extensively in the late nineties and early 2000’s, when the replication of trade dress reached its apex as an art form.

Dr. Publix vs. Dr. Pepper: Copycat Brand Packaging

This image from the author's own research, circa 2000, shows the Publix private label brand impersonation of Dr. Pepper. As with Chinese Gittellc, aspects copycatted go right down to the product name!

Not only did retailers manage to sell their own brands in packaging that looked like national brand packaging, they also got to merchandise their packaging immediately adjacent to that national brand packaging, and they usually priced their products about 30% lower. Consumer comparison was thus not only invited, it was imperative!

Why would national brands allow this situation to proliferate with such little apparent pursuit of redress? For a series of speaking engagements on private label branding I developed the following rationale:

One, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Retailers own the shelf space. National brands need the shelf space.

Two, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Doesn’t the presence of copycat packaging suggest that the product inside is a mere copy of the original as well? The preferred alternative is always inside the original package – the national brand. Isn’t that worth a price premium?

Band-Aid Brand Private Label Knockoffs from Target, Eckerd and Walgreens

Any of these packages (circa 2000, author's library) could readily be mistaken for the Band-Aid branded original. Colors, type-styles, images are in lockstep across the range.

Three, the effect of these shelf sets is to amplify the presence of the original brand! The same container shapes, sizes, colors, type styles and other slavishly adapted elements of the national brand’s visual architecture all evoke mental impressions of the original brand. They draw the eye towards a known brand entity. To national brand managers, there is advertising and merchandising value in that.

Taken together, these arguments suggest that national brands evaluated the tradeoffs, decided the pros outweighed the cons, and everyone went on with their lives.

In the decade since, supermarkets have grasped the power of private labels to differentiate their stores and offer customers a brand value proposition that resonates with their experience of the stores themselves. Private labels are now every bit as visually appealing and as professionally executed as those of national brands. They no longer offer a copy of the national brand product but a unique experience, at a value that reflects a specific and expected level of quality.

And I wonder, what do national brands think now? Which is worse, the copycat branding of old, or the head-to-head competitive branding of today? I feel I should add a fourth element to my explanation: that the national brands may have known that copycatted labeling was the lesser of two possible evil outcomes!

Not that Coca Cola or Gillette have the same criteria in evaluating the copycat situation in China, but it does make you think.

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If you scanned the QR code on the promotional piece you received at the Fancy Food Show, you’ve come to the right place. Please review the slides below to see some of Goldforest’s brand-building work. It’s all based on strategy and backed by consumer research. Like what you see? We’re available to help juice your existing brands, create new ones, consult on strategy, or meet with your team to facilitate a day-long learning and brainstorming session.

Interested? Call Michael David Gold at 954-929-7790. If you’re still at the show and want to meet him face to face, call his cell at 305-984-9971.

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If you sell artisanal foods or beverages, or if you sell something that breaks out of better into best, you’ll be at the Jacob Javitz Center from June 30 to July 2 this year.

The economy continues to bubble. The recovery is real for a meaningful proportion of previously shorthanded Americans. Retailers feel it. They’ll be at the show looking for the next big thing, and doubling down on the last big thing. They’ll be helping some brands earn profits for their owners, and signaling hardship to others who can’t meet their standards or demands.

Yes, the show is a heady game whether you purvey or peruse. It’s a big investment that signals you are stepping up to the plate.

Let’s find out what’s in store after you arrive. What do you fancy from the Fancy Food Show?

Fancy Food Show Swami

What would YOU ask of the Swami at the Fancy Food Show?

Here are some questions you might consider asking the business Swami you just might find as you arrive to set up your booth.

  • How do I get profiled by Good Morning America within hours of the doors opening on Sunday?
  • Will I get one major distributor to fall in love with my line?
  • Can my products in the new product showcase win an award?
  • Is my goal of opening 70,000 case orders to two new accounts realistic?
  • How do I solve my cash flow problems?
  • Can I get my booth moved within sight of my biggest competitor, and away from that practical joker with the buttons and pinwheels?

You can pick your own questions of course.

What do you think the Guru would say?

“All that you wish for can be achieved if you can answer ‘yes’ to the following question.”

You lean forward, forgetting to breathe. Your lips are dry.

She opens her eyes and looks deeply into yours. You melt just a little.

“Are your brands meaningful?” she asks, and returns to her meditation.

“What?”

Graciously, she opens her eyes again. “What do you promise of value? Would your package tell me that? Would I care?”

“Well,” you reply, offended, “I suppose someone who sits on a mat all day communing with the infinite might not care about something as mundane as $24 a pound yak jelly, but then you’re not really my market, are you?”

A kindly monk takes your elbow and ambles you along.

“A moment please,” the swami gestures with a precise nod to her courtier. He releases. “You got yak jelly?!”

That's a Yak! Creative Commons Credit: http://bit.ly/fYFX4r

Your inner salesperson takes over. You have her ear, if not yet her heart. You tell her how the hooves of 16 adolescent yaks are required to crush each bud of the florid bangtao bush, hand selected from volcanic slopes on the Sumatran coastal range. In February. And then  only when the moon is gibbous. And so on.

You show her the delicate packaging you’ve designed, with a natural finish and hand-written font. It explains that your profits support sustainable forests.

You describe your scalable production network, and assure her of domestic warehousing capabilities.

Just then, Robin Roberts emerges with her crew from the new product showcase warren. “Did someone say Yak Jelly? I just saw that package. A word with you please!”

***

In today’s world a viable brand is the closest thing there is to a silver bullet. It’s key to earning sustained premiums over the cost of production. It drives the market value of your company, gets you shelf space when there are no facings left, is raved about by customers to their friends, and it just might be the thing that saves you from ruin in a PR crisis.

Yak Jelly

Earliest known image of Yak Jelly. Based on Creative Commons Image: http://bit.ly/1a7FqEo

Creating a brand, on the other hand, is so difficult that most products content themselves with commoditized returns, and live in fear of the next retail reset. They’re like dogs chewing off their own tails each time new concessions are demanded.

If your products are brands then you know that your brand is your entire offer. In fact it’s the only thing you CAN offer. This seems basic, yet executives at many CPG firms still treat the brand as a box they can check; it’s not at the core of every decision. You’ll find people like this in small companies that won’t get a shot. And you’ll find them, surprisingly, in some very big companies as well.

But when I meet with thriving companies and those on the verge, I usually find someone who gets the importance of brands, and knows how to manage them.

Which kind of company are you? You might think about that as you prepare for The Show this year. You might consider it as you ready the list of things you fancy.

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You’re a brand marketer, so naturally, you think more than most people about packaging. But I’d like to demonstrate that your concept of packaging is probably based on a fixed set of notions. That’s not a criticism. You need a framework that helps you negotiate a retail universe constructed entirely around today’s packaging structures and graphics.

As a packaging professional, my concepts must also be fixed in order to deal with economies in materials and machinery, as well as existing distribution networks and retail models. But I scan the horizon frequently, because every now and then something cross-pollinates into an amusing sense of the possible.

The Invisible Dress

Last week on Springwise, a free weekly update on new business concepts the world over, I read about a dress fabric that turns transparent when the wearer’s heartbeat passes 85 beats per minute. Ludicrous? Forgive the irony, but I thought it worth a look.

Invisible Dress

Opaque Dress

In its natural state, the fabric is opaque. When electrically stimulated, it becomes transparent.

I was floored not only by the erotic beauty of the presentation on the website of designer Daan Roosegaarde, but also by the inevitability of our someday rendering packaging materials invisible on the shelf.

Activated by touch, packaging graphics will seem to melt away, revealing a perfectly protected fruit or confection, or a prime cut of meat. Perhaps a sculpted primary package that could otherwise not be displayed at retail. Or a product form that would be hard to notice without the aid of visual cues imprinted on this new type of outer pack.

Outer graphics will also differentiate brands and features, and provide required disclosures just as today. But this technology will allow a final close up inspection of the contents themselves. A last moment of romance before the purchase decision. How inspiring will that be?

After watching the effect on evening gowns, imagine sending a gentle wave of light through your packaging material, letting it wash over your product, shimmer, and then go opaque again…

Here’s where it could get creepy. Imagine sensors that detect a shopper’s gaze at the shelf-set. An imperceptible hesitation in her scan might trigger a package to reveal itself. An increased flow of blood to the facial capillaries. A dilation of the pupil.

If you doubt Roosegaarde’s legitimacy as a designer, I urge you to watch this short interview.

The Split Personality

There was also a story I found through MediaBistro covering a Spanish poster campaign focused on child abuse prevention.

Anar Foundation Child Abuse Prevention Poster

Lenticular graphics enable different versions of the same image to be seen by adults and children.

By using lenticular graphics, adults — viewing the poster from a higher angle — would see the face of a healthy child and the message “Sometimes child abuse is only visible to the child suffering it.” Children, looking up from below, would see the same face, bearing a bruise, with the message, “If somebody hurts you, phone us and we’ll help.” Brilliant!  The following video shows the campaign and how it works:

There are obvious, if less socially pressing uses for such technology among brand marketers. Consider in-store signage promoting the nutrition and provenance of fresh produce to adults, and at the same time pitching crunch and natural flavor to kids? Or, legal issues notwithstanding, why couldn’t a cereal box use the same technology, presenting health and wholeness to adults, and a more visceral experience to children?

Might little people or shoppers in electric carts object to being spoken to in such a way? That’s probably no joke; the headlines covering court involvement could be as amusing as the technology itself.

“Non-existant” Packaging

As a final example, you might have read about the emergence of actual edible packaging in Brazil. That’s right. A burger chain named Bob’s made eating fast food even more convenient, while (possibly, and you really have to think this part through) reducing downstream wrapper waste. The video evidence has been taken down, but the story was reported widely enough to be credible.

Edible Fast Food Wrappers

It doesn't look very appetizing, but it is edible, and may offer advantages beyond mere publicity value.

Further, Huffington Post reports that an LA establishment named Coolhaus currently sells ice cream sandwiches in edible wraps, and that significant other activity is underway to give this technology broader US application.

There’s also significant R&D underway into materials that will allow us to coat food products with a protective shell that is either washed off before consumption or simply consumed. One such venture, Wikicell, the brainchild of a Harvard professor and a French designer, has already raised $10 million in venture capital.

Many foods and vitamins already come in edible packaging. But emerging technologies aim to elevate other products into the same strata of convenience, sanitation, and environmental benefit.

Here’s My Wrap

Economics must be the driver of any these technologies. As with most innovations, initial markets will support only premium products (e.g., liquor, perfume). Such developments might even skip the grocery channel in their first evolution, until scale and refinement are achieved. Given a thriving economic climate, changes seemingly even more bizarre than these, from our current perspective, are inevitable.

As you consider the requirements of today’s market on your own packaging, it’s fun (and helpful) to keep your eyes open to new possibilities. You might be able to recognize an opportunity, become a “first mover,” and distinguish your brand as a market leader on the basis of your early adoption.

And please, keep this conversation going. What seemingly unusual technologies are you aware of that might someday be applied to packaging design? What implications might they have for the shopping experience itself? How does the continued evolution of online shopping, even in the grocery channel, relate to the changes these technologies will cause at the brick and mortar level?

Further Reference: Anton Steeman, a smart and broad thinking Brazilian consultant on packaging technology, is someone you might consider following through his blog, Best In Packaging. He reports regularly on fascinating developments that are not ten or twenty years distant, but actually just around the corner. Check it out.

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Breaking down categories by brand perception is one of my passions. It doesn’t matter how big or small your brand is, this kind of analysis never fails to provide competitive insight. Recently, I had a chance to take a brand snapshot of a playing field in the domestic beer sector. In addition to the bench-emptying kerfuffle among hundreds of individual labels, it turns out that conflict also lies at the place in the market spectrum where “mass” and “craft” beer categories reach out to each other.

Another passion is baseball, and since the new season is here, I hope you’ll forgive me for structuring this post as a metaphor to America’s game.

Setting the Playing Field
For the record, the domestic beer market is controlled by a very small number of America’s breweries. About 93% of US beer production comes from just 56 breweries (that’s 2% of all breweries). The other 7% comes from the 2,360 companies considered craft breweries by the Brewers Association, the trade organization of craft brewers. (www.brewersassociation.org, April 2013.)

Domestic beer consumption dropped 1% in 2011, while the craft sector grew 13% in volume! Not surprisingly, the trend was maddening (and terrifying) to the two percenters. In 2012, there were about 200,000,000 barrels (BBL) of domestic beer sold in the US. You figure the dollars foregone.

The volume below which a brewery, including all its labels, is considered by the Brewers Association to be a craft brewer is 6 million BBL annually. If you’re looking to hit a grand slam (the next Bud Light?), this isn’t the sector to target. It’s appealing enough, however, that the majors have stroked a series of singles and doubles in its direction, any one of which could potentially exceed the craft barrel limit.

Batter Up for the Bigs
Gambling that there might be a large demand for something that tastes like a craft, the big labels are pushing what are often referred to as “faux craft” beers, like AB InBev’s Shock Top, and from Miller Coors, Third Shift as well as Blue Moon Belgian Wheat. Working the free agent market, they’ve also bought actual craft breweries like Widmer Brothers, Redhook, Goose Island and Leinenkugel. Finally, although this master brand naming approach removes them from the craft beer conversation, beers like AB InBev’s Budweiser Black Crown and MillerCoors Molson XXX are super premium extensions of flagships.

Packaging for Shock Top, Blue Moon Belgian Wheat, Budweiser Black Crown, Third Shift

Faux Craft and Super Premium Packaging. Upscale, distinctive, and appealing.

The Brewers Association also takes the position that any label with more than 25% ownership by a major brewery is not a true craft beer. So AB InBev and MillerCoors can sell as much as they want, but they seem to have run up against a wall of perception regarding their craft legitimacy.

You’re Blind, Ump!
Hang on a gosh darned second. If it’s made like a craft and tastes like a craft, who says it isn’t a craft, barrel limits and ownership percentages be damned? That’s where an understanding of perception is involved. Managers who focus on numbers and fail to account for what ordinary people think about beer miss the boat.

It turns out that craft beer drinkers themselves care deeply about the distinction between mass-marketed beers and craft beers. They take pride in their ability to enjoy a wide range of tastes in limited production, often very local brews made with high quality hops, barley and other natural ingredients. In fact, and without the benefit of research that surely exists somewhere, I believe they control the public perception that this craft / non-craft construct is important. It seems to me that Americans accept the notion that, as with wineries, small makes better possible, while big means drinkable, reliable and reasonably priced.

The consultation that afforded me this sector snapshot was a review for market research firm Blueshift Research. A significant aspect was developing a POV, strictly from a brand perspective, on the infringement of faux crafts upon the traditional territory of Sam Adams brand labels. Sam is the most valuable craft in the sector (MVC?). The majors’ strategy must account first for him.

So let’s take a look at the brand identity issues involved.

Sam Adams brand extensions. The visual brand architecture is formalized.

Sam Adams, The King of Craft • 62 labels featured on web site (about 30 with formal Sam trade dress) • Brewed by The Boston Beer Co. • 3 million barrels (bbl) per year production • Respected among beer drinkers though some purists consider it “too big” • Founder and CEO Jim Koch is a fifth generation brewer

Scouting Report: Sam Adams’ Brand
Starting from scratch in the mid-1980’s, Sam Adams was the leader of the craft revival movement. Given its heritage in the craft brewing world, Sam’s is a pioneering brand identity, worthy of its historic New England namesake. It’s perceived as having integrity, courage and strength of character, in flavor as well as brand personality. Like the beers his great great grandfather and each successive male descendant in founder Jim Koch’s family brewed, it’s made with a craftsman’s touch. Sam Costs more than Bud, and an awfully lot of people buy it. Sam Adam’s brand identity seems well-matched to the craft beer sector.

Yet aspects of Sam’s identity resemble the national brands more than they do other crafts.

Its label hews to the principles of commercial graphic design, with consistent repetition of graphic icons, handsome and traditional typefaces, a helpful and attractive color palette, and more.

Craft Beer Labels

Craft Beer Branding. In contrast to Sam Adam’s more formal trade dress, many traditional crafts celebrate the uniqueness of their approach to brewing with highly expressive, sometimes even hand-drawn labels.

With a market cap over $2 Billion, the Boston Beer Co’s large scale (for a craft) affords it a more traditionally organized distribution system, including national coverage in multiple channels (liquor, supermarket, on tap, etc.)

It also provides a workable advertising budget (in 2010, about $30 million). It’s campaign effectively conveys Jim Koch’s obsession with taste and quality.

Sam gets the best of two worlds, the lucky boy! He’s found a sweet spot in the market that’s rooted in the craft sector, but delicately steps beyond it into the mainstream market without compromising its fundamentally “craft” identity.

On the Other Bench . . .
Threatening Sam’s prosperity, perhaps, is the emergence of faux crafts. What’s their brand identity? To true craft beer fans, the kind that care about the 6 million bbl size limitation, they’re not worthy. (See some reviews for Shock Top at beeradvocate.com.) But what about those on the rungs below, consumers who like a uniquely flavored, higher quality brew they can rely on for consistent satisfaction. How vulnerable is Sam in this area?

After all, real success for faux crafts depends on upgrading enough mainstream beer drinkers (of which there are tens of millions) to affect the bottom line, not stealing significant share from the smaller and more discerning craft sector. Early results are positive. In 2012, according to Nielsen (quoted here by food and beverage pundit Phil Lempert), the domestic super-premium segment generated sales of $2.1 Billion, with dollar growth of 29% year over year. That’s “just” a third less in dollar sales than the entire craft sector, which itself grew by 18% to $2.8 Billion.

I would argue that as long as the Boston Beer Co. plans to remain a true craft brewer, success for faux crafts is not a threat. The core markets are too different, as are the brand images. I think the bigger problem belongs to the makers of faux craft beers, which have to be perceived as superior to mainstream beers to earn price premiums. To communicate this, do they not have to reach out toward identity characteristics owned by the craft sector? Here’s a major source of their image problem. Authenticity is a critical brand element of most craft beers. Yet the majors do not even declare parenthood on their faux craft labels. A lot of people think that’s sneaky. And sneaky is the opposite of authentic.

Blue Moon and Shock Top "Faux" Craft Labels

Faux Craft Labels. These labels are craft-like, albeit slicker looking than is typical in the sector, suggesting distinct character and personality. Neither one declares its connection to the world's larges brewers.

A Look at the Telestrator
These charts provide a graphical summary of my point of view. Plotting perceived “craftiness” against sales volume, the dogleg shape of the distribution is clear. High quality and distinctiveness has been a niche market play. Craft manufacturers like Boston Beer Company might push outward toward the area of opportunity (the green rectangle), but if they remain true to their identity, they won’t exceed the craft manufacturing limit. Major brewers, on the other hand, not encumbered by the Brewers Association’s guild-like distinctions, are trying to approach the opportunity as well.
"Craftiness" of Craft Beer vs. Sales Volumes by Beer Label

Perceived Beer "Craftiness" vs. Sales Volumes in BBL (by label). There are hundreds (even thousands) of low volume but very crafty beers, dozens of low-to-moderate volume and non-crafty ones (the amorphous purple shape), and a few very large brands. The latter dominate mass market mind-share. Craftiness ratings are the author's. Volumes are approximated based on various published sources.

When Craftiness is plotted versus the size of the parent brewery, the market perception gap is even more apparent. As long as craft beer lovers prefer attributes like small and local, the majors will have difficulty luring them, no matter how craftily their beers are brewed.

Perceived Beer Craftiness vs. Sales Volume by Parent Brewer in BBL

Perceived Beer "Craftiness" vs. Parent Brewer Sales Volumes in BBL. The Perception Gap. (The size of each square represents sales volume by that specific label.)

Respecting Your Legacy

As a corollary, if The Boston Beer Co. is to remain true to it’s own brand, it won’t care about the success of faux crafts. An awakened taste in quality beers, and a continued migration upward toward “real” craft beers should be good for them and the craft sector as a whole. Also, the company is pursuing alternative beverage categories for now (hard tea and cider), a strategy that carries diversification value as well as the possibility of continued growth without compromising BBC’s craft brewery status.

The best news for crafts in general, at least those whose managers care more about quality than market domination, is that if they stick to their core identities, there appears to be plenty of room for continued growth, even in an economy that is still in recovery.

The Wrap
In EVERY category, brand identity analysis is a big league tool you can use to size up the competition. It’s not enough to know the current stats: sales, penetration, promotional spending. You have to establish a context for evaluating potential. I’ve written elsewhere about the fundamentals of brand identity (for example here and here), but the bottom line is that every brand has an essence that carries valuable genetic information about the strategies and tactics it can pursue to fulfill its destiny, as well as those it must avoid. If you understand the brands, you’re half-way home!

What are your thoughts on this line of thinking? If you’re in the brewing sector and have a take on the category, please chime in. And if you’re in another sector, do you see how these principles apply in your case too?

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Backward Branding

A graphic designer named Ben Pieratt created a visual brand identity system for a non-existent entity he named Hessian, and he’s offering it for sale at $18,000. Wanted: one entrepreneur with an idea for “a restaurant, a startup, a clothing brand or more”, according to Ben’s website at hessian.tv. For that sum, you get the name, the URL, the Twitter and Tumbler accounts, designs for various logotypes, stationery, various app icons, Web site and app interfaces, and some tee shirts. You also get 30 hours of Mr. Pieratt’s time to complete the project.

Here are some of the elements of the system:

Hessian Logotype

One of several logotype options from Ben Pieratt's system.

Hessian App Icon

An app icon for Hessian.

Hessian Tee Shirt

A Tee Shirt Design

Hessian Letterhead

Letterhead and Business Card

Hessian Store Front

Environmental Graphics suggesting a coffee shop, a bookstore, a clothing boutique?

Some in the design community were offended at this step toward the commoditization of their profession. But in his blog, Mr. Pieratt makes the point that as a designer, he instinctually understands brand models that may or may not exist, who their customers are, and how those brands should be positioned and launched. It’s an interesting point.

I think it took guts for Mr. Pieratt to step outside the box that defines brand design. Time will tell if his paradigm has value. But if you look at the big picture of brands and the branding process, his is a low-end solution more appropriate to managers who lack creativity and self-confidence than for those who have the vision and desire to engage in a genuine relationship between their products and their loyal customers.

What Mr. Pieratt has created is not a brand at all. It’s a set of symbols that, if he’s lucky, might be associated with a product and even come to embody it in customers’ minds.

He’s betting that, let’s say, a breakfast food manufacturer will see the possibility of positioning new Hessian Cereal as a vital part of a daily regimen worthy of “the Germanic warrior in all of us.”

The online publication Design Taxi very appropriately referred to Mr. Pieratt’s process as “Backward Branding.” (See also coverage on Wired.com and FastCoDesign.com)

This type of branding looks nothing like real branding, the kind that starts before the product even exists – when there is only an unmet need. Forward branding is hard stuff, much harder than blue sky, whatever looks good on paper imaginings. It’s not about what’s in your own mind, but rather finding a place in your customers’ minds: an opening, an invitation.

My partner and Creative Director, Lauren Gold, pointed out that there are successful brands, like Virgin, that do what Hessian does, routinely. Virgin took its existing brand along with the symbology that represents it, and applied it to new categories, moving from music, to airlines, to cola and beyond. And their “branded house” strategy is by no means unique.

I argued with her that this is different from dreaming up a new set of symbols that have no existing meaning in a market context and applying it to whichever category feels right for it. But I had to concede that Virgin was arbitrary and essentially meaningless at its birth, just like Hessian!

To visualize the challenge of backward branding, it helps to remember the difference between a product and a brand. This figure, reprinted from “Brand Leadership,” a very enlightening book on brands and branding by David Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaller, is useful.

Brand vs. Product

A brand is a product imbued with higher order meanings and associations.

The brand includes the product, but imbues it with meaning in human terms. These higher order associations come from a shared process whose participants are you (with your brand manager hat on) and your customers.

A prefabricated design system like Mr. Pieratt’s can never encapsulate a brand identity. As a symbol, it’s just one element of the overall brand identity, the fullness of which emerges when you’ve generated sales and opened yourself up to consumer relationships. That’s when you’ll learn the true meaning of your product in peoples’ lives. When THIS occurs, you adjust course by it, rather than waiting for customers to adjust their attitudes to your vision.

So if like Virgin, Hessian is to thrive, it needs much more than an entrepreneur with $18,000 to invest. It needs a mission, a personality, a relationship with its customer base, a value proposition, consistent management, and so much more. And if that $18,000 is precious, it would be better to arbitrarily name the product on your own (“Cossack” will do)  and invest your money in other, more customer-relevant aspects of the branding process.

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At the end of the shopping day, it doesn’t matter what you think about your brand, it’s what your customers say that counts. How people interact with your product and what it means to them in their daily lives — that’s what determines your brand. Because brands aren’t born when you put your product on the market, but when these real-world, shared perceptions begin to emerge around it.

As all of us in the Food and Beverage business know, for every market leader there are dozens of competitors in most food & beverage categories. And it’s really not the quality nor even necessarily the price that differentiates them from their market leaders.

Challenger products, in addition to overcoming barriers related to economies of scale, capital investment, organizational development and more, must deal with the biggest obstacle of all, the brand. Every successful product, at some point, earns a loyal customer base that demonstrates continued growth potential. Only when this happens can the capital required to expand be obtained. And this, above any other consideration, is a branding achievement.

Unfortunately, many managers have learned hard lessons about capital preservation and allocation that simply prevent them from putting the horse before the cart. The brand is too intangible. We have to get distribution first, they say, and then we’ll worry about the brand.

Isn’t that a paradox? We don’t determine the brand, yet early stage success is a branding achievement? Brand managers have a very difficult job. Increasingly it’s about understanding and facilitating a conversation rather than controlling one.

People care deeply about what they put into their bodies. This doesn’t stop us from putting too much of the wrong stuff in there of course, but when we do introduce things to our esophagus, we like to know what to expect. If the marketing folks do their jobs and let worthy products thrive, we’ll crave that experience. We’ll demand it each and every time we crack open the package.

The key is getting out of the way and letting brands be what customers say they are.

You can learn a lot about how brands fail to recognize this by looking at classic examples. I’ve got two that involve big brand names, but that’s only because nobody remembers a small brand that had fatal defects. Size simply dictates a bigger trail.

crystal pepsi product image

The color of cola: Pepsi may have underestimated the importance of this product attribute in bringing this clear cola to market.

Crystal Pepsi was a “clear cola” introduced in 1992 and withdrawn in 1993. I’m sure there are various factors cited for it’s failure, but I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to use a term like “brand disconnect.” Cola, and especially Pepsi Cola, is dark brown! That’s the brand experience Pepsi fans want. Not Sprite that tastes like Cola!

In a similar case of brand derailment, Heinz introduced EZ Squirt ketchups in green, purple, orange, blue and so on. If enough kids pushed shopping carts this might have stood a chance. But Heinz should have honored Pepsi’s experience more deeply. Grown ups just think ketchup should be, well, red. Born 2000. Buried 2006.

Heinz EZ Squirt

Heinz might have had fans in the household, but probably not the ones who do the buying. Is purple ketchup really ketchup?

What essential features define your brand and make it important to people who vote with dollars? If product color is at the core of your brand’s identity, you would want to think seriously before messing with it. If you’re winning based on decent quality at an excellent price, you’d have to argue long and hard before shifting to a premium positioning. An abbreviated list of other attributes to weigh include country of origin, product form (is it ice or liquid water?), personality attributes, and social causes the brand supports. There are also many symbols closely associated with products: logotypes, packages, advertising messages.

You would no more mess with these than Haagen Dazs would toy with its perceived place of origin, Coke with its priceless package form, or Starbucks with its iconic siren (my bad).

Starbucks Logo Through the Years

No doubt Starbucks has considered changes to its logo very seriously. Its latest revision tries to lessen the importance of coffee to its brand perceptions. Many question the wisdom, or the long term value, of such a move.

As I said at the top, what your product means to people in their daily lives determines your brand. Large brands have no monopoly over positive associations in the minds of everyday people. And that’s why some small brands get a shot at the challenges of the growth phase, a period where manufacturing, sales and finance become as critical as brand in determining success.

But you have to invest in brand strategy and execution first. You have to understand what your fans consider the whole promise and serve it up relentlessly. For those who get this key differentiating strategy, the odds are shorter, as is the path to marketing nirvana.

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If you’re in the business of making or selling packaged food or beverage products, you’re keeping an eye on the emergence of online grocery shopping sites. I’d like to share some thoughts on the effect this channel is likely to have on the role of package design in the branding process.

Branding Packaged Goods Online. For now, packaging remains the strongest point of contact between consumers and CPGs, so manufacturers have naturally defaulted to using images of packaging to represent the products they sell electronically. But maybe we should take a closer look at that.

Every successful package is a symbol, indistinguishable from the product it represents. A hundred years ago, consumers became comfortable picking these convenient three-dimensional metaphors from the grocer’s shelf. Familiar colors, shapes, letterforms, illustrations and more assured them that the merchandise inside would be as expected.

Visual Identity Architecture: The Value of Brand Graphics

Image © Goldforest2010. The Power of Symbols: You may not be able to read the names of any of these products, but chances are you know all the brands. That’s the power of packaging.

Today online, another abstraction occurs. A low-resolution, two-dimensional image of the 3D package is tasked with representing the product. “Real packages” are designed to achieve so much that these new “flat packages” can never do. Real packages in a competitive shelf set attract your eye at 15 to 20 feet. At body length, they help you differentiate key features. At arm’s length the good ones romance you and teach you about varieties.

What is shopping anyway? Much of the world defines the physical act of grocery shopping as the following collection of actions:

- Walking the aisle

- Navigating the category

- Evaluating competitive alternatives by price and perceived quality, and, with due respect for promotional offers

- Running the checkout gauntlet

Let’s not forget the cart, the bags, the transportation, the homecoming and storage.

Online grocery shopping changes pretty much everything except the storage. It’s growing at a rate exceeding 9% annually, according to a Supermarket News report on recently released market research from IBISWorld. Neilsen projects online CPG shopping growth at a clip of 25% year over year. Why should this surprise us? Click to shop eliminates many of the inconveniences of grocery shopping while still allowing us to browse by familiar categories and popular brands, compare nutritional and price information, apply coupons, and conduct a reasonable facsimile of what we traditionally consider our shopping experience. We can even schedule delivery at a convenient time (if we prefer that to local pickup). The groceries just, well, arrive.

Online retailers have created a number of mostly regional banners, each with its own uniquely branded shopping experience. Go visit a couple (and click your browser’s back arrow to return here):

www.peapod.com

www.shoprite.com (you’ll need to select a store and create an account to browse)

www.netgrocer.com

Did you notice how the product was displayed? Here’s a traditional aisle shown above an image of its online equivalent in the same category. As a consumer, which one looks more shopable to you? As a brand marketer, which one gives you the best chance to make your pitch? Your job online under these circumstances is pretty much limited to negotiating premium placement. But look at your package! It’s so small that  your logo is illegible until the customer enlarges the image. What are you really paying for?

Traditional Grocery Aisle shelf set

An Online Shelf Set

Below are images of packages taken down from the online shelf. If you’re Annie Chun’s, are you proud of this presentation? If you’re shopping for instant rice, how readily can you judge which brand will best satisfy you?

Annie Chun's and Minute Brands' packaging taken down from the online shelf.

Now put your brand marketer’s hat back on. Did you just spend a hundred thousand on a restage of your packaging? Because it’s clear that in the online environment, that’s pretty much wasted money.

Manufacturers who succeed in the online environment will evolve a new set of tools to prosper there. Traditional packaging will lose power as a communications tool. But that does not excuse us from our responsibilities as brand-marketers. Remember, the brand is not the package. The package is often part of the core or extended brand identities, but rarely is it the brand essence.

Online stores may not be a brand-building paradise, yet shoppers are using the channel and retailers are profiting. Alec Newcomb, Chief Strategy Officer for MyWebGrocer, a successful provider of white-labeled online storefronts for grocery chains nationwide, believes the natural market share for this growing channel is 15-20%. He bases this on actual performance in certain markets, including Europe. He thinks a lot about the brand implications for packaged goods. Which is why I called to get his impressions.

The Future. Alec says that “the opportunity for online brand-management is overlooked by all but a few manufacturers. P&G,” he says, “is one exception. They have a team that is dedicated to promulgating accurate, up to date packages that automatically update online through API’s [automatic software feeds].”

I suggested that this is a terrific solution to a digital asset management problem, but it doesn’t necessarily address the branding deficiencies of the online experience. Alec was ready for that. He sees opportunities for marketers to customize their package presentations online to specific retailers based on customer demographics and shopping imperatives. The Amazon customer seeks different benefits than the Walmart customer, for example, and bespoke 2-D package representations for each channel could emphasize different aspects of a brand’s value proposition.

You can extrapolate this line of thinking. Why shouldn’t brand and product messaging be based on individual purchase patterns derived through loyalty card programs or other data mining methods? As long as such tracking methods are legal and ethical, they will be used this way eventually.

The Death Knell? No, online grocery channels are not the death knell for package design. As long as there are physical storefronts, there will be a need for thoughtful and strategic packaging. But online, the long-term solution will inevitably move beyond the façade of pseudo packaging and incorporate channel-dependent strategies to invite, educate and reassure a growing breed of shopper. What an assignment that would be: designing a new online unit that recognizes the limitations of the LCD screen and connects products to consumers as meaningfully as packages on a shelf did 100 years ago.

Online shopping seems here to stay. As its market share increases, so will investment in relevant brand asset management strategies. Brands that fail to keep pace will be fine in the short term, but as long as consumers seek, or accept, meaningful relationships with real brands, our brands must evolve and learn to communicate at every shelf, including the ones made of 0’s and 1’s.

I’d love to hear other ideas on where we’re at and where we’re headed. Please share your thoughts!

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