The Vital Role of Velocity in the Growth of Emerging Brands
Every new, emerging food and beverage brand is a leap of faith for the founders. It’s also a leap of faith for the retailers who put those new products on the shelf. For this reason, a near universal yardstick is used to determine if the product is a winner and thus a longer-term player, or if it’s a bust and headed towards delisting. That unalterable path to traction and success, or lack thereof, is velocity.
Velocity in simple terms is the repeat purchase data that shows what happens following the initial run-up on trial after a product is launched at retail. The question retailers are attempting to answer: are purchases escalating as users come back again and again while new users continue to enter the top of the sales funnel?
For most new successful brands, a heavy category user audience has resonated to the product and fuels the outcome. Getting to this sweet spot isn’t luck of the draw or guaranteed once the product is on shelf.
There are two primary drivers of velocity:
- Memorability – the consumer remembers your brand name and seeks it out
- Effectively answering the “why” – every successful food or beverage has a primary ”why” that draws fans in time after time. The “why” can be defined as the primary dietary objective or problem that the product solves.
Both of these drivers are marketing challenges. Yet far too often, we find founders and investors preoccupied with the finer points of securing distribution gains (meeting with distributors and retail buyers), ingredient sourcing and manufacture (getting the product out the door) and financial management of both.
It may appear that the ability to scale the business is best served by adding more retail accounts or driving more traffic to the web site. While in fact, if velocity is not successfully managed, and the memorability and the “why” go unattended, greater risk is injected into the business.
Number one error going in
In the very early going before any brand equity exists, product experience is the primary reason why early adopters come back. Simply said, the promise is fulfilled in the eating and drinking experience. The product taste is a home-run and the expectations on healthier, higher-quality choice are delivered.
This means that in the early periods before any retail scale is achieved, it is vital to seek input and review from the product’s best users to determine if any tweaks need to be made to the recipe, texture or flavor profile. If the product is optimal then added distribution makes sense.
However far too often there’s a false sense of security embedded in the initial product experience win. This may prompt the brand’s owners to mistakenly believe once on shelf the product will sell itself. “If you build it, they will come” is a precarious trail to navigate because other key ingredients in managing velocity goals go unaddressed.
Bandwidth can be a challenge here because there’s already so much on the plate for founders in the day-to-day struggle to get the product made and off to distributors or retail outlets. More often than not, we find that business owners are not expert marketers and can at times assume that marketing consists only of social channel posts or sending out press releases. There’s much more to it than that.
How to manage velocity
Memorability is required to get consumers coming back again and again. This puts greater pressure on the web site, packaging and consumer-facing communication to bring the brand front and center in the context of the consumer’s needs and wants.
However, it is right here where the most frequent fundamental errors are made. Most emerging brands cast the story upside down. They believe the story should be about themselves and their product attributes and benefits. When that happens, the story is embedded with a disconnect right out of the gate, because it casts the brand as the hero.
Every consumer, every day wakes up believing they are the hero of their life story. When the brand presents itself as a hero, it competes with the consumer for that role and people walk on by in search of a guide to help them solve their needs. The construction of the story is paramount, with the consumer as hero and the brand operating as the expert guide and coach on their journey.
The story is about them, the consumer, and their wants, needs, concerns, aspirations, desires and challenges. The consumer needs to find themselves in the story you are telling. Then and only then will they engage and listen.
This is the path to relevance, an essential ingredient in effective marketing strategy.
For the most part new, emerging businesses are b-to-b players, devoting most of their time, energy and communication to investor, trade and distributor audiences. So, it’s no surprise the skill sets in consumer-facing outreach may not be fully developed. The story creation is a top priority and is best done by experienced, creative marketing brains who have the skill sets to build it, and then move the story in earned, owned and (later) paid media channels.
This leads us to the second key element of velocity – the “why”
There’s a key message that needs to be addressed in all forms of outreach from package to outbound communication. What is the primary dietary need or want your product solves that keeps people coming back? Insight research is vital here to determine what the “why” is. Is it weight management? Is it energy? Is it an indulgent reward? Nearly every food and beverage category has a heavy user audience whose purchase frequency is a vital component to achieving velocity objectives. Interviewing these heavy users to get your arms around the “why” is vital to managing velocity because the answer should become a focus of your messaging and hammered everywhere.
People are interesting creatures – we all are – and we never tax our brains if the message is too complicated or dense. Far too often new brands turn their packages into a Heinz 57 variety of claims and benefits in the hopes that one of the many bullets will register. However, consumers will not invest the time and energy to wade through all of that to find something – anything – meaningful to them.
Instead they move on.
Simple, clear, concise messaging is incredibly important especially in a retail setting where the consumer may allocate only a second or two of brain time before they walk past. This explains the importance of the “why” and how it becomes a core area of messaging focus in an effort to simplify what’s being conveyed.
The role of emotion
Another key insight – people are not analytical, fact-based decision-making machines. We are led by the heart over the head. It is the feeling people have in the presence of your brand that impacts whether they are drawn closer or repelled.
Emotional storytelling is important because it respects what we know about people and how they operate. The emotional stories of improvement or change experienced by users can be a vital component of bringing this insight to life. Authentic, real stories are more powerful than the old “that’s why we” tropes of traditional, self-promotional advertising.
“Trusted” is the desired result – and that is best earned through honesty, transparency and a brand voice that is human and real, not ad-like.
Video is an excellent medium for emotional storytelling because words, pictures and music can be combined to achieve that effect. Unscripted testimonials can be valuable here because they’re authentic, relate-able, and honest.
Intentional message design
Words matter. Dialing in emotion, the “why” and a more human, conversational voice are important when creating consumer-facing outreach. It’s harder than it looks and must be done with intention.
When memorability and the “why” are correctly brought to life, velocity outcomes can be managed in earnest. When you know that your heavy users have found themselves and their needs in this incredibly exciting brand and its mission – and are responding as hoped – real velocity management has begun. The scale will come.
We can help you build the right story.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.