Fred Hart, who is the creative director and partner at the branding and packaging agency Interact Boulder, explained earlier this month at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit in Chicago that for entrepreneurs to reap the benefits of distinct branding they must challenge the category and the competition – but not the consumer.
He explained that this means in part creating imagery and packaging that is different from other players in the space, but won’t confuse or alienate target consumers.
Angie’s Boomchickapop successfully did this when it entered the ready-to-eat popcorn category with brightly colored bags that replaced the category standard images of popped popcorn with “personality and attitude,” Hart said.
“If you are a popcorn company, why do you need to show popcorn on your brand or package? Everyone knows what it looks like,” he said. And yet, he added, when Boomchickapop first debuted nearly all of the other players in the category featured popped corn on their packages.
“Boomchickapop is now the category leader because they realized they could challenge the category without challenging the consumer. The consumer never needed to see popcorn and, in fact, they brought to the table something that was always missing and they have seen a huge value as a result,” he said.
Another example is when the probiotic beverage brand Good Belly refreshed its packaging about five years ago and used a bold black background instead of the more typical white background found in the dairy category, Hart said.
“Now, they could have turned their entire portfolio magenta. That would have challenged the category. But it would also challenge the consumer,” Hart said. “The audience they might attract might be overly female and they might alienate a lot of men.”
But black was gender neutral and invited reflection on the efficacy of the product, Hart said.
A related strategy for successfully navigating this tightrope is to focus on one or maybe two main messages at once. Any more than that and Hart says a brand risks either overwhelming and losing the consumer or getting caught in an ‘arms race’ that reduces its product to little more than a commodity.
“If you are a consumer and I try to throw you eight tennis balls, how many will you catch? Probably none. If I throw you two tennis balls, you have a 50-50 chance of catching them both. But I throw you one, you will catch it. Branding and marketing is the very same,” Hart said. “You have to figure out the one thing you want to spend your time talking about, and it can’t be the same thing that everyone else is saying.”
This goes for on-pack claims and certifications, which in recent years have cluttered packages and more or less been the same across players in each segment – making it difficult for consumers to see key differentiators.
“If you get caught up in the arms race of claims and all these things, suddenly you are just like everyone else. You have this NASCAR effect going on. You are in an arms race of who has more protein or who has more fiber or who has all these things. Brand is one thing that insulates you from all those other components,” he said.