November 30, 2017

Seth Hillstrom (SH):

Hello and welcome to the 10th iteration of our eBev Global Interview Series.   Today we’re chatting with Alexia Bregman, Co-founder and Co-CEO of Vuka Natural Energy Drinks about the future of big vs. small brands and how to win by staying small.  Feel free to chime in! Alexia, thank you so much for joining us today.

 

Alexia Bregman (AB):

Good morning! Thanks so much for having me.

 

SH:

Big brands versus small brands. It’s an age-old battle with an increasingly changing face. Straight up: who wins? Why?

AB:

Nowadays? Small. Hands down. Why? Look at the disruptors. Small. Scroll through your Facebook feed. Small. Making a difference. Small. Small gets noticed. We peek through the cracks of the big brands. Big brands are trying to feel small. And I believe that the small brands growing up today have a huge advantage when it comes to our consumer relationship with the brand.

Big brands can feel contrived and calculated in today’s market. It’s harder for big brands. And it makes us smaller brands really consider HOW we grow.

 

SH:

“Winning” could mean reaching your fans, staying small, and seeing a rise of small, high quality producers – as we are worldwide. Or I suppose it could also mean getting enough velocity behind a brand to sell to a large manufacturer with ample distribution and shelf space. What does winning look like to you?

 

AB:

I think winning means being able to accomplish what we’re trying to do with integrity. Every one of us want to get our product out there and into the hands of our consumers. Winning at that to us would mean maintaining our brand equities, our transparency, our values while we do it. Selling to the right large manufacturer: maybe, if they want us for the right reasons!

 

SH:

…I love this perspective, and that level of commitment to the core values of the brand is probably why Vuka has been so successful!

 

AB:

Thanks 🙂 We really try and keep that perspective in everything we do. It’s interesting: I had the good fortune to visit SpaceX last night, and what impressed me (besides being at the forefront of space exploration, lol) was the incredible attention that Elon Musk has paid to his brand. The trashcans are rocket ships. The foods stations are space themed. The brand and the culture is in every single element of what they’re doing over there. So inspiring.

When I started out in advertising I went to the Ogilvy & Mather school in Cape Town, South Africa that was run by Brian Searle-Tripp and Alan Rath, the Red & Yellow school and Brian would yell at us, “ATD”. He’d bang on the table! Attention To Detail is what machete a brand. I’m going to get that on a t-shirt 😉

Maketh…although Machete is good too!

 

SH:

In your agency days, you’ve worked with goliaths like P&G – but you’ve also had the pleasure of building your own brand from the ground up. You’re coming up on 10 successful years since you co-founded Vuka Natural Energy…Tell me why you’re passionate about people with great ideas starting brands and bringing them to market?

 

AB:

I used to meet people all of the time who would say “I wish I could” but that’s becoming less and less common. I think the fear is dissipating. Because of people like me, who used to be an ad agency girl and now I run a company competing with the Goliaths. And we’re not alone. Everywhere I turn people are taking their ideas to market in the most amazing ways, and consumers are really coming out to support that. There is an amazing synchronicity happening between consumers and small brands where we are being embraced and supported.

 

SH:

I think this goes right to the “heart” of why, as you suggested, consumers are more likely to make stronger connections with small brands…because they are emotional ones. When brands exude authenticity, it’s not such a leap for consumers to buy-in in to the brand’s communications.

 

AB:

Absolutely. But it’s also about how genuine that emotional context is. We have to truly look at the what the consumer feels as opposed to what we, the brand, think they feel. And then we have to communicate to that.

SH:

brilliant point.

Speaking of which, we hear a lot of talk about authentic brands – and anyone who knows you knows that as a marketer, mom, athlete, musician, surfer, outdoor enthusiast and more…you embody the spirit of Vuka. How were you able to translate this so well into a brand? And once you did, how did you begin telling your story?

 

AB:

Ah, the big A word. People just love the idea of authenticity. I equate it to honesty and truth. Same thing. We live our brand. We live the lifestyle and we created a product that fits into our lives. It’s in the DNA of our brand. It’s something that we talk about a lot: how does that DNA develop, where does it come from? And it has to grow organically, but then you have to stick to it. To have to be true to that DNA you created. In every single thing you do. You can’t do things that are incongruous, something that doesn’t feel like your brand.

And I think that’s one of the hardest things you can try to verbalize about brand building!

 

SH:

I know, the A word certainly gets tossed around a lot lately…but it sounds like you’ve got a pretty good handle on it. Do you have a litmus test or process for ensuring that something is aligned with your brand prior to putting it out into the world?

 

AB:

It’s very scientific: Trust your gut. That’s how a brand translates into reality. Does it FEEL like your brand. Doesn’t matter if it’s a pen, a hat or a TV commercial. It has to feel right. Sponsorships and partnerships are are great example of that. We were once offered a huge band sponsorship that didn’t have a healthy association. We didn’t do it and people thought we were crazy, but it just wasn’t our brand. When you do what you want as a company, but you forget about your consumer and the impact it has on them, then you lose authenticity.

 

SH:

Unfortunately we don’t all have your instincts! But I think it makes complete sense that something tied to emotions and credibility must be gauged by your gut.

I commend that level of commitment to your brand…impressive!

As many of the cool kids already know, Vuka means “Wake Up” in Zulu. What is it you’re trying to wake consumers up to?

 

AB:

We love the concept of Human Potential. We all have it in us, the ability to create and do what we really and truly want to. Vuka is just there to enhance that innate ability. We want people to wake up to their own true potential, and to wake up to the world around them. We believe in a sense of community, we believe in being citizens of the world, and we believe that we should all be part of what we put into our bodies and what we do in this big bold world!

 

SH:

Alexia, I truly admire and am inspired by your approach. These insights are invaluable for brand marketers big and small. Thank you so much for sharing your unique perspective with us.

 

AB:

Thanks so much for your time today Seth.

 

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