“Maintaining CPG brand integrity as you scale, license, and engage with major players”

Seth:

Unfortunately, we so often see great food and beverage brands lose their way once they reach the point of making waves in their categories. This happens for many reasons, but at the very core of the issue is a departure from original brand identity and values. And with the erosion of brand integrity comes all sorts of future challenges.

Luckily, we are joined by GoodBelly by NextFoods VP of Marketing Meghan Stutzman Disch to look at how they’ve done an incredible job of maintaining that brand integrity as they’ve reached a critical mass and now count General Mills as a brand licensee and investor.

Meghan, thanks so much for joining us today!

Meghan Stutzman Disch:

Thanks for having me!

Seth:

You have quite a track record of successfully directing brands, product innovation, and marketing innovation at WhiteWave Foods, Coors Brewing Company, and now GoodBelly. Before we dig-in on how we go about protecting a growing brand, I’d love to hear how you approach thinking about, defining, and understanding your brand (and consumer) from the get-go. How much do what’s in the bottle, and who your intended consumers are factor into this thinking?

Meghan:

It is critical. Everything starts with the consumer. If you don’t know who your consumer is or what they are looking for then you won’t know what to put in the bottle. You want to understand what the consumer needs are and how you can solve them. Once you have that insight, it can help determine what products you are creating.

You also want to have a strong sense of the competitive landscape and where there is white space for opportunity. This white space can be benefit related, but also how the brand shows up vs your competitors. Not only does this bring the product to life but also helps hone your brand personality and tone. For us, not only are we a brand with a purpose, but we also have a unique fun-loving personality. We believe that overall health starts in your gut and we only use probiotics proven by science combined with delicious ingredients to improve people’s lives. Beyond the product, we chose the GoodBelly name because it tells you the benefit in a fun, non-medicinal way. We don’t want to be too aspirational or clinical, there are other brands for that, we want to be your belly’s bestie. By building a brand that is grounded in a strong purpose and personality it gives us an opportunity to build a trusted relationship with our consumer. This has helped to shape the guardrails for our brand.

We have found that GoodBelly consumers arrive to us because they are having some kind of continuous digestive issue. They have told us that they talk to their doctor and their doctor recommended taking a probiotic. Our consumers aren’t enthusiastic about taking a pill because it feels like medicine and there is no joy in that. So, they start to investigate other probiotic options and understand the importance of scientifically proven strains and how it is necessary to take them daily. They want a solution that is effective, yummy, and convenient to put into their daily routine. They try GoodBelly, discover that it is delicious, and stick with it because it actually works, and they can look forward to it each day – it checks all the boxes! Plus, they love the playfulness of the brand and always comment on our distinct packaging.

Seth:

Once you’ve found your brand’s voice, it’s resonating with consumers, and you’re seeing considerable growth…is there continuous learning/adapting/incorporating consumer reception? At what point along the journey would you say these brand identity elements are really cemented in?

Meghan:

For marketers the job of understanding the consumer is never done. There is always learning, adapting and checking in with them to ensure you are connecting with them and putting them first. How you communicate with consumers links back to your brand personality and tone. As your brand grows and you bring on new employees, agency partners and expand into new channels, you need to make sure everything stays rooted in who you are. Those stakeholders need to continue to reinforce your brand identity. Additionally, as you expand your target audience, you have to make sure you don’t stray from where you came from. You can appeal to the next ring of consumers, but you want to remember that early adopters to your brand are often the heavier users and you don’t want to abandon them for lighter users.

In terms of when brand identity elements are really cemented in – that takes years. One of my mentors told me that once a marketer is sick of an ad or tagline is when a consumer is just starting to remember it. And, when it is working and it is right, you don’t have to change it. Brands like DeBeers and Maybelline haven’t changed their tagline in decades, because they have connected with a key insight.

Additionally, it is important to keep an eye on your competitors, because what they are doing may create a shift in the insight and how you bring your marketing to life. It won’t shift your own brand personality or tone, but it may change the way certain marketing levers are executed.

Seth:

And on a related note, how much do you have to keep learning about your consumers along the way? Do you find that they are dynamic targets? How important do you think it is to make an effort to reach/speak to/empower groups outside of your core (is this a growth strategy or inefficient/wasted spend)?

Meghan:

I think it is always important to stay close to the consumer. I take the time, at least weekly, to review all of our social channels to see what our consumers care about, what they are asking us and what matters to them. We always want to know if their concerns are shifting. Targets can be dynamic. We don’t look at them from a demographic standpoint but from a psychographic standpoint. Behaviors change over time and they allow you to find new insights that can inform everything from packaging to product innovation.

In terms of reaching targets outside of our core consumer. You want to understand how big is your core target and how much share do you have of that group. For example, if your target is 10 household penetration points and your brand is at 3 or 4 you have a lot of room to still grow within your core.

Also, if you are using more psychographics in your targeting you will likely find an overlap with targets outside your core and you can effectively have some spill over in your existing marketing plan. Due to this, it is also valuable to have a general understanding of who the targets are outside of your core to see how they relate to your core. You may also find that the consumers outside your core could be leveraged to influence your core target. So, you may reach out to them, but the objective is different.

We have a core target that we call the Wellness Curious. This consumer is interested in health but doesn’t have a lot of time and is too overwhelmed to do the work to understand how to find “better for you” products. They also don’t want to give up good tasting products to get there. Outside of our core is the Health Confident consumer, and they spend more time researching and preparing foods that are better for them. They are okay with products tasting “healthy.” Both of these targets believe in a balance of eating right and finding healthy solutions that are easy to add into their lives. And, for us, certain Health Confident consumers can influence the Wellness Curious to get them into the brand.

Seth:

Not surprisingly (given your personal accomplishments, and the incredible team you’re working with) GoodBelly reached a point where you started drawing the attention of major CPG players, such as General Mills. When you began to engage with General Mills, leading to ultimately licensing your brand for some of their products (and taking an investment from them)…How did you ensure institute guardrails and guidelines to ensure you never go away from your core and dilute brand equity/integrity? I’m sure a close working relationship with General Mills and a lot of good faith is a part of it, but there must be much more to the story. 

Meghan:

301Inc and GeneralMills have been great partners for GoodBelly, and we are excited to see continued growth of the brand and expansion of how we can bring digestive health to more consumers. To ensure there were clear guardrails and guidelines, I worked with my team at GoodBelly and built a traditional brand book that covers our key insight, brand positioning and personality and our core target. It also outlined our brand essence as well as what are the design guidelines. This all guides how we show up on social media, packaging, leveraging influencers and more. It brings to life who we are. GeneralMills is great at leveraging that and staying true to who the brand is.

We also set up approval protocols to ensure that brand look, feel, and tone through all marketing assets stayed true to who the brand is today.

Seth:

Finally…while no one has a crystal ball, we love to conclude our interviews by looking ahead. Where do you see the GoodBelly brand, and the probiotic space overall, in 5 years from today?

Meghan:

Great question. GoodBelly is a pioneer in the probiotic space, starting back in 2007, so I expect us to continue leading the way on combining scientifically efficacious probiotics with delicious food and beverages to help consumers have happy bellies. We want to help as many consumers as possible!

From a probiotic space, I think what you will see is the brands that do have the science and can deliver results will have longevity. Some brands will launch products that use strains that aren’t scientifically proven. These products likely won’t survive as consumer will not experience the benefit.

And, I think we have just seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to where probiotics will go long term and how large the category can grow. Scientists are in the nascent stages of studying the benefits of probiotics beyond digestive health. For example, there is interesting work happening around the gut/brain connection and if the clinicals show efficaciousness that could provide great benefit to consumers. There could be very interesting spaces and if the science supports the benefits then you will see another explosion of growth.

Seth:

Meghan, it’s been great chatting with you today. Thank you so much for sharing!!! Please keep doing the great work you’re doing, and we’re excited to see what comes next from you and the team.

Meghan:

Thank you, I really appreciate it! It was great chatting with you as well.

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