Before the outbreak of COVID, I was concerned that too few brands had a clear strategy to drive discovery and trial in brick and mortar retail. Distribution gains would come, but the actions that get the product off the shelf were expensive and inefficient. Further, a lot of money was spent online to drive eCommerce sales.
Young natural product brands must have the means to build their tribe. They can’t hope that they will simply be found on the shelf. Online is not the panacea. The unit economics of eCommerce often means that the consumer has to take a “risk” to try a new product or the brand has to subsidize that first purchase. This was before the world turned upside down.
Guess what; I am even more concerned now. None of this has become any easier as consumer behavior has changed since the outbreak of the pandemic. I worry that many brands have been too focused on getting unstuck, pushing to be in front of buyers (virtually), and finding their way onto shelves.
How are consumers going to find your products? At retail, the basket counts are down while the average basket size is up significantly. That is telling. It means that consumers are shopping less often, and when they do, it is prescribed and planned. Treasure hunting and impulse buying are both suffering. You need only look at impulse-driven categories, such as RTD beverages, to understand the impact of these changes.
Couple all this with a funding reality that brands will have to go further on less capital than before, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Now is not the time to focus on growth for the sake of growth.
Tell me, what is your plan for driving discovery and trial? How are you activating your brand? If you can’t answer these two questions confidently, then slow down. Before you spend all that effort and money to grow distribution, make sure you have a plan that you’ve tested and proved to drive discovery. You must be confident that you can activate your brand on the shelf and online.
It is time to rethink your discovery and trial strategy. Consumers shop up and down a continuum that has many intersections. Each of those is a place where consumers find products. Those intersections include where they live, work, play, workout, etc. More now than ever, you need to be where the problem you are solving is pronounced or the need you are meeting is acute.
I am not trying to be negative in this article. But I am trying to create the appropriate sense of urgency. You will be much better served to first solve for discovery and then solve for growth. It is time to go narrow and deep and this pertains to both brick and mortar and eCommerce. Leverage the power of empathy, look through your consumers’ eyes, and develop a method to connect with them that is not reliant on hope or luck as neither are the ingredients of good strategy. Sorry for the tough love.
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Elliot Begoun a 30-year industry veteran, author, and the Founder of TIG, a practice focused on helping emerging natural product brands grow. TIG works with its entrepreneurs to build nimble, capital-efficient, resilient brands that become tardigrades, not unicorns. Learn more about TIG’s programs here and catch him at FoodBytes, the Hirshberg Entrepreneurship Institute, the Natural Products Business School. You can find his articles in publications such as The Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and New Hope.