5 things every start-up can learn from CPG Brand Marketers

When I get the question of what my job is, I often tell people that I play the role of a “translator.” In my roles at both Rockfish and The Brandery, I find myself sitting at the intersection of the brand marketing and startup worlds. That leads to interactions with fellow brand marketers at Fortune 500's, Venture Capitalists from leading firms, and some of the most exciting startups in our industry. Since I’ve spent time as a brand marketer, marketing agency executive, and startup investor, I find myself translating the similarities and differences in these cultures. Along the way, I’ve had a few takeaways on what startups (and VC’s) can learn from CPG Marketers:

#1 — The Consumer is Boss:

This is a mantra that was first coined by AG Lafley, two-time CEO of Procter & Gamble. But you could say it is just an evolution of what David Ogilvy once said — “The consumer isn’t an idiot… she’s your wife.” Consumer is Boss is a simple saying but it holds a universal truth for Brand Marketers who spend billions of dollars a year on market research. Consumer is Boss is about letting the people using your brand / product guide your decisions. This doesn’t mean that you follow a consumer blindly off a cliff. But it also means you don’t add a feature just because it is a fun engineering challenge.

Now you might say that true innovators think the opposite of this. After all, Henry Ford once said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” But that is taking the mantra of “Consumer is Boss” much too literally. When Ford asked people what their problem was with transportation, they likely said that horses were too slow and that trains did not give them the freedom to go where they wanted, when the wanted. That understanding of the problems faced by consumers…the needs that they had in their lives…is what led Ford’s innovation. Whether he realized it or not, he was one of the first people who practiced a Consumer is Boss mentality by understanding the motivations and desires of his potential consumers. That conveniently leads to the second point…

#2 — Know Your “Who”:

Brand Marketers spend a tremendous amount of time focused on their brand’s “Who.” Broadly defined, a Brand’s “Who” is their target consumer, the type of person with whom the brand has the greatest business potential…both in the short term and the long term. The “Who” is a profile of a consumer and paints a picture for who that person is, what is important to them, and why they make the decisions they do. If a brand has done a great job defining their “Who”, it makes other decisions that much easier. Need to figure out if a product feature is worth investing the time / money to develop? Check if your “Who” to see if that feature address a barrier your consumer has to using your product. Need to create your marketing plan for your start-up? Well then look at your “Who to determine where they can be most easily reached with a message about your product. Your brand’s “Who” can be the foundation of just about every business decision your start-up makes.

I would argue that one the pillars for GroupOn’s success is that really understand their Who. If you look at their About Us page, they list their company philosophy including this statement: “We sell stuff we want to buy.” There is a lot of power in that short statement. GroupOn makes their decisions about products to feature based on the things they would want to buy themselves. They understand their Who, because they are their Who. Not all start-ups will be lucky enough to launch a business where they are the consumer they are trying to reach. It is a challenge constantly faced by CPG Brand Managers and a reason why we put so much focus on really understanding our brand’s Who.

#3 — Design Matters:

Why can you recognize the Google logo even when they use different themed graphics on the home page each day? And why has Method cleaning products been able to grow so fast in every category they enter? It is because these brands have put a huge focus on Design, including incredible attention to their Brand Identity. Great design can be a major competitive advantage. And this advantage is multiplied with a consistent use of the design in everything that your brand does. You know an Apple product or message the second you see it. With great design…and great consistency in that design… you can have the same for your start-up

#4 — Think about “Share”:

Share is everything to a Brand Marketer. The career of a Brand Manager can be made or broken based on Dollar Share or Volume Share. At retail, Brand Managers pay close attention to “Share of Shelf” or how many facings their brand has compared to competition. In media, CPG Marketers look at “Share of Voice” to track the percentage of time consumers hear their brand message versus competition. This constant, some would say obsessive, tracking of “share” is what keeps brand marketers focused. Having viable and impactful measures for your start-up that you track consistently is something every business should do. It helps you prioritize and keeps you focused on what moves those other important financial numbers (ie revenue, profit and cash flow)

#5 — Everything you do is part of Brand Building:

From day 1, your start-up is a brand whether you like it or not. As Seth Godin once wrote,

“a brand is set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

When a CPG brand thinks about Brand Building, they take that to mean much than just advertising. In fact, often you will hear Brand Marketers talk about “Moments of Truth”. The First Moment of Truth is often the experience in-store from merchandising to how the product looks on shelf. The Second Moment of Truth is about the experience after the purchase when people use the product for the first time. While he didn’t use the language of “Moments of Truth”, Sean Ellis of 12 in 6 is talking about that very thing when he makes this point:

Starbuck’s process of building their brand is a great example for any startup. There was no heavy spending on brand advertising. At Starbucks it’s all about the brand experience. They obsessed over everything — from the quality of the cups to the quality of the toilet paper. The music, colors, furniture… It’s all an orchestrated brand experience.

For a CPG Brand Marketers the process of building a brand involves every facet of the business from customer service to marketing to even your company letterhead. While a start-up has many things they have to juggle, how your build your brand should always be near (if at) the top of the list.


Originally published at www.linkedin.com.

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