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You’re Finally In Retail, What Now? with David Lemley
I have been running like nobody’s business. It has been crazy busy and I hope the same for all of you. I hope that things are starting to take off. It seems like it’s going way too fast and things are just happening and they’re blowing by me. I have to take some time. I have to take a minute to step back and take account of what’s going on. Too often, I’m caught up in the whirlwind. I’m up in the morning, emails in the inbox, phone calls starting, this crisis, that crisis, these people, those people. You lose sight of where you’re going, what the goal is and what’s happening. Sometimes I have to step back. I have to pull myself out of that dust whirlwind, physically pick myself up, move myself out and then set myself down again so I can look in and see what’s going on. I don’t know if things are like that for you or if you have to do that occasionally. I know that it’s important for me anyway to take a couple of days and re-assess and see where things are at. My perspective becomes much better when I do that.
I had the opportunity to speak with a gentleman whose name is David Lemley. David is the Founder and Chief Strategist for a company called Retail Voodoo. At Retail Voodoo, David works with clients on branding. He works primarily in the food and beverage space. What he has to say about brands, how to get noticed, how to get your product out there, how to be seen, what makes you different and how you rise above the noise was amazing. I was taking notes like a mad man and I know that you are going to be too. What David has to say is timely for what’s going on because as you know, just like me, trying to stand out above everything is difficult. In some cases, sometimes it seems like it’s impossible but it’s not. David’s going to show you how that works. Let’s get right into it.
David, welcome to the show. How are you doing?
I’m doing well, Tim. Thanks for having me.
It’s my pleasure. David, you are the President of Retail Voodoo and I have to tell you, I like the word Voodoo. I don’t know why but it makes me feel like what you do is super secret.
It’s a great name because it’s provocative, it has a tangible side and a magic side to it. It’s good for helping people to ask questions about us, to want to know what we do and why we do what we do. It’s that to balance out the fact that we’re so data-driven. When we do that after you’ve studied all the data, there still is some dark arts or magic that needs to happen in order to develop the right kind of strategy.
Over the years, there have been some retail buyers that would want to have a little voodoo doll. A little poke here and a little poke there would have been very satisfying.
That’s not what we do but yeah.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do? First of all, where did Retail Voodoo come from? What was the thought process behind getting that started? Once we know about what you’re doing, I’m going to back up and go further back in your life. Tell us a little bit about Retail Voodoo and what it’s all about.The only reason to try to create something new is to make it better, change the category, or move something out of the way. Click To Tweet
Retail Voodoo is a brand advisory firm. We work primarily in food and beverage, wellness and fitness, and specialty. We have a lot of experience helping emerging brands figure out how to play a bigger game, how to get their consumers to pay attention and how to partner well with retailers. It came about as I’ve been in the agency world and the brand development in the CPG world for more than two decades. I have had the chance to work with a lot of different great brands. I’ve watched how food and beverage are being created and how people were not paying attention to what they were eating. My partner and I decided that we wanted to create an agency that would help the do-gooders who wanted to change how people think about what they eat, how they drink, what they do to stay active, have transparency and clean ingredients and all of that stuff. We wanted to help them win. We started Retail Voodoo as a way to do that.
Your ultimate goal or at least the goal you had when you were thinking this up was, “How do we give the people that are doing it right,” or at least in your eyes they were doing it right “A leg up against the big behemoths of the world?” Do I understand that right?
Yeah. In a previous life, we had the chance to work on big multinational. We helped some emerging brands become global players, helped other global players take over other planets, helped a lot of major retailers kick butt at retailers and brands and whatnot. We realized that we had a unique way of doing things by being strategy led and being purpose-driven. Those are the two things that a brand now we all talked about. Obviously, that’s what it’s about. Back in 2010, 2011, that was a new idea. We wanted to bring these world-class tools to people who were going to go out and make the great clean ingredient versions of things or the better-for-you version or have a sustainable and clean supply chain. We wanted to help them get into the game and disrupt it.
When we started, we were seen as complete lunatics. People looked at us and said, “Why do you want to play with these people?” We didn’t want to play with them so much. It was that we predicted that organic, natural, local and clean supply chain and sustainability would be important. It taps a little bit to what we were talking about. It’s like people need to wake up and this generation and the people who are in power right now are waking up. Food has a big part of it and it even does have an impact on climate. All of that was happening for us. We said, “If we can help people disrupt what’s happening, we believe a couple of things.”
We weren’t up to knock off the multinationals. We predicted that they would buy in. Now we’re eight years into this thing. Better for you food and beverage and wellness and fitness are in the zeitgeists. Everybody wants to live longer, be healthy and watch what they eat. Even if they don’t, they’re at least somewhere on that spectrum. Instead of people being on their heels, they know how to incubate us and they’re buying brands that were our clients back in the day. They’re creating new ones that are all about this. We feel like we are delivering on our mission to help the do-gooders do good and change the world for the better quite well.
You had mentioned a word that I think is interesting. You said disrupt. Do you think that a small player can be disruptive to what big players are doing?
I think the only reason to try to create something new is to make it better, change the category or move something out of the way. If you think about On The Shelf, we’ve got to get into the store, we’ve got to get into the channel. The first thing is you’re replacing another brand if you’re going to get in at all unless it’s some retailer you don’t want to be in because they don’t have enough qualm themselves to be playing the game and having a customer attraction and retention strategy in place. If you as a brand are replacing another brand, you better stand for something. You better have some form of maverick mentality in what you’re doing, otherwise you’re going to be forced to play on price. You will be the cheaper version of someone else, which doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’re going to get shelf space.
I’m so glad to hear you say that because a drum that I beat quite often is that it’s going to take more than a better product and a better price to unseat your opponent. Often, people are standing tall on, “I can make the same thing cheaper or I’ve made the same thing a little better.” That doesn’t in itself create disruption, does it?
No, it doesn’t. Think of it like this. Disruption is an idea. You have to get a bunch of people to buy into your idea that there’s a better way to do it. I’m going to use plant-based as the platform to talk about here because it’s a simple way. There’s all this movement around the Impossible Burger and the Impossible Whopper, which wherever you fit on that spectrum, is great. The whole idea is that’s different. The reason to do it is it could be a dietary restriction, but it also has an environmental impact and those are the two reasons. That’s disrupting part of the burger world. They finally got somebody who’s got enough momentum behind them and enough of a brand idea that people are paying attention. Plant-based veggie burgers are not a new concept but they’ve used the idea, brand and storytelling to get people to try it and to buy into it.
We have this place near us called The Hangry Bison and it’s a burger place. It’s a high-end burger place that sells high-end bourbon and burgers. That was the first time I saw the Impossible Burger and it was quite good actually. I do want to remind everybody something about Impossible Burgers or burgers of the plant nature. Take it from somebody who has tried my whole life to make a decent black bean burger. I can never get it to stick together. The only way to get plant-based burgers to stick together is to put something in there that will congeal so that it does stick together. Make sure you know what they’re putting in there. The way I used to do it with black bean burger is I would mix egg white with it so that would help hold it together. I’ve never been super successful making a black bean burger. Not that this is a health show but I’m saying, you never know what they got in there to hold it together. It could be steel rods in there for all I know.
There’s a client of ours totally on the different side. It’s a grass-fed beef company. It’s called Teton Waters Ranch. They came out with a half and a half. It’s half plant and half beef and it’s amazing. The texture and making it congeal and hold together so that you can fry it up or you can grill it. That combined with wanting to cross that bridge and make something super delicious that uses less beef, was something that was pretty innovative.
That article we were talking about that I was reading about global warming, just livestock, in general, has a huge impact on the greenhouse gasses apparently. If every burger were half plant and half beef, that would cut down on a huge amount of emissions. We’re jumping all over the place, but I like the word disruption, not because I want to make things fall apart or see things fall down. I talk to buyers every single day either in a social environment or trying to sell them something. It’s difficult to understand how much product they get pitched on a monthly basis. It’s staggering and if something’s going to stand out, it has to stand for something. I agree with you.
That’s a huge thing getting deeper into that idea. One of the things that we talk about with our clients frequently is that having the factory doesn’t matter anymore. Having the ability to manufacture something is not the differentiator. It’s not what’s going to get you on the shelf. It’s not what’s going to keep you on the shelf. It’s not going to disrupt. It comes down to the ideology, what you’re doing and how you fit into people’s lives. That’s the cornerstone of differentiation. That’s where products like we were talking about come from.
Tell me what did you want to be as a kid growing up? Did you think you were going to be doing what you’re doing? If you can remember back, what was the very first thing you wanted to be?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be the next Pablo Picasso.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard that answer before.
It was pretty funny. I wanted to be that. Here’s what I’ve said at age seven because I was fortunate enough to know what a graphic artist was because I had uncles who are freelance illustrators. I said at age seven, “I want to be the next Pablo Picasso but I don’t want to be a starving artist. I’m going to go to college. I’m going to figure some stuff out and I’ll paint after I have done commercial art for a while.”
That’s pretty insightful at seven.Customer education is a key foundation in branding. Click To Tweet
That’s what I did it and that’s what I’ve been doing. I accidentally started a couple of agencies along the way. Painting is my side gig. I started my first agency and it was all about making cool stuff. We made great cool stuff and we had a global clientele. We made some of the cool stuff that is part of the American popular culture. What happened is these brands would take off and I would feel like, “We’re getting so lucky. We’re making cool stuff and it’s going off.” About ten years into my first agency, I freaked out and realized we were luckier than heck and could not predict it in any way, shape or form. I went back to school and studied leadership, management and business. I brought those lenses to the creative process and I was right on the front of this whole idea of brand strategy.
We built the map and have been using that. That little kid who said, “I want to be an art commercial artist until I can get people to buy my paintings,” that’s the part that’s weird. I never expected to go to business school to sell more artwork. That’s the funny part because now I spend my days drinking coffee, studying data and arguing about, “Why does it matter? You can make that better, faster, cheaper or you’ve got another one like that. Show me how that fits in the world.” It’s much more analytical and then there’s the creative translation part that harkens back to the original intent. Now, I paint a lot more because I need that creative outlet. I spend my days analyzing and strategizing and then being surrounded by other creative people.
Pablo was a bit of a disruptor.
It’s funny because if you think about what would a seven-year-old say and understand about that, it was purely about artwork and about wanting to be an icon. To do it his own way and wanting to scratch his name into the rock of art history. At seven, that’s what I thought too. That’s what I wanted. As I became a teenager, it started to become this cool thing growing up and all of that. It wasn’t until later when I started understanding that he was such a unique individual. You don’t get very far if you go into a dating scene and say, “I want to be the next Picasso,” because he had some other stuff coming on for sure.
He was an interesting guy all the way around. I didn’t have an appreciation for his artwork until much later in life. There must have been something about his art that spoke to you at a young age other than the abstractness of it. I’m surprised your firm is not called Retail Picasso or something because his life fits into the disrupting or making people turn their heads and understand. What was the first exposure that you can remember to retail? What are your thoughts about retail in general? I’ll give you an example. My first exposure to retail was I was a parts delivery person for our local auto parts store. I drove around in this beat up Datsun pickup truck delivering parts to gas stations. I remember thinking, “I’m the only person working at this entire shop.” All everybody did is sit around in the front counter and chitchatting. I felt like I was always the only one that was working. What was your first introduction to retail?
My first introduction to retail was in high school. I worked at a store that was young men’s fashion. It was called The Squire Shop. I place myself in this space and time. I was the kid who helped to influence my high school to go from wide-leg denim to skinny-leg denim to straight-leg jeans. That’s what I was doing. I was like, “We’re stocking shelves. We’re selling things. We have stuff that doesn’t move. Nobody’s going to ever buy that.” I had that experience. My next experience in retail was working for Oh Boy! Oberto factory outlet. I was selling jerky ends, pepperoni ends and whatnot. It was interesting to see that whole mechanism. People who own the factory and what their retail presence looks like at Safeway versus what it looked like in our factory’s second store and understanding how different people had different needs and came to those two different locations. It was my first a-ha as to like, “A brand can serve two different demographics but not the same thing and not in the same tone and voice.”
In high school, what did you take away from that?
As I was going on to study commercial art and design, what it made me want to do was make things that would end up in people’s houses and end up in their life. It colored the door for me that I would go into consumer-facing design.
It must be cool to have such sharp vision at such an early age and then take those. I’m sure there were some zigging and zagging ticket to where you are. To always have this goal that you have set out in front of you and start realizing it on a much larger scale and much more creative scale. Did you ever have any odd jobs like jobs you look back on and were like, “I can’t believe I did that?”
I did odd jobs in terms of fun things while I was figuring out how to run an agency or projects that we’re like, “I can’t believe we did that.”
I was talking about like did you ever hold a job in school or whatever that was not in your line of what you were planning to do? One time when I was in my second year of college, back when gas stations had a booth where you had to go give your card to the gas station person in the booth. I was that guy at a Chevron station from 10:00 PM to 3:00 or 4:00 AM or whatever with my little Chevron uniform on. I was wondering if you ever had a job that was a departure from what your main goal was?
I had a few. For a period of time, when I was figuring out how to start an agency in a closet in my apartment, I worked starting at 3:30 AM. I was the biscuit maker from McDonald’s.
That’s what I’m talking about right there. Did they ever have a person called the biscuit maker?
That’s what I was known as on the team for sure. I make biscuits for two or three hours. That’s all I did. I made the biscuits that were going to be the whole thing. As many as I made, that was it. If we ran out, so be it because they took time. They’re old school. It’s made from flour, baking soda and cut out by hand. It’s crazy.
It’s a good thing you don’t work there now that they sell breakfast all day long.
I’d be in deep trouble, wouldn’t I?
I have a client that sells powdered camel milk. There are many benefits to camel milk you would not believe. It truly is probably the best and most healthy dairy for you. Trying to help buyers to see that, because camel milk is not super popular in the US or not popular at all. Most people don’t even know that camels produce milk. It would be a disruptor technically. If camel milk started to get big, it would be a disruptor to the milk industry. How do you get a buyer to see something the way that you see it or just a retailer in general?
My high-level answer to that is called customer education. You need to figure out what the benefits of camel milk are. Assuming this is real because I have heard of it and I don’t know what the nutritional benefits are. If you’re going to be the one to create a brand that is about camel milk, you have to understand it forward and backward. You have to be able to explain it to the buyer in plain English so they understand it. You need to demonstrate to them that you’re going to have a customer education platform that’s going to help their shoppers connect with you.You need to have a compelling story that's written simply so that why you exist is understandable. Click To Tweet
Is this a customer education platform that you’re putting out through social media or that you’re going to do in-store or both?
I think it’s both. You need to have a social media program in place. It’s all that education and all about the lifestyle that you can achieve through camel milk. I also think you need to have an intelligent website because all consumers who are going to want to learn about camel milk are going to want to go to a website. Even if that is just a single page with all your social streams connecting there, that is a baseline. That is where you have the opportunity to slow down and explain in longer format what the benefits are. That’s your customer education program. From how does it get packaged? How does it live in the store? What’s on the shelf? How does it get merchandise? You need to have education be the foundation of all of that. Until you get the idea of whatever the nutritional benefits or the health benefits of camel milk out there, nobody is coming in.
First of all, thank you for that. That’s going to take some time. Unfortunately, you can’t just shove something new down the buyers’ throats and expect they’re going to be like, “Let’s just step out,” on the off chance that it’s a winner. You’re right, education is truly the key. For camel milk, it’s a little bit of a slippery slope because there are so many benefits and it’s helping many different types of people with different types of conditions. You can’t say it too much because you’re going to bring down some heat from the FDA. You have to be careful about how you say it. The cool thing about it is it’s missing the one protein that most people think that they’re lactose intolerant are allergic to, it doesn’t have that. It’s still dairy. If you’re truly allergic to dairy, you’re going to be allergic to camel milk. If you’re allergic to that one protein, you’re going to be able to drink it just fine. That’s one of the cool things about it.
Understanding that camels trudge their way through the desert, they don’t need a lot of anything to get through there. Their milk is very hearty for their offspring. Not that I’m trying to sell you on camel milk or anything, but I agree with you. Let’s stay on the camel milk train here. Let’s say that we do get a retailer to agree to put it in and they’re going to take a chance on that. Getting in is one thing. In the process of selling and retail, getting in is the easy part. The hard part is selling your product through, getting the buyer to order more and becoming more of a shelf-stable or staple item on the shelf. What are your thoughts on that? That’s a category that you’re an expert in.
I’ve helped a lot of brands wrestle that dragon for sure. The first thing is you need to be able to make a powerful, compelling and BS-free sales presentation to your retailer. You need to explain to them how you fit into their world and how your product is going to help them grow their business. That’s that. That gets you onto the shelf, but you also have to have great package design. It needs to do its job in a competitive set. It needs to clearly express who you are and how and why you’re different very fast. I believe that it’s 2.8 seconds. That’s how much time you have to capture somebody’s imagination if they’re not already familiar with you. It’s got to do its job and it needs to be professional.
It can’t be hacked together or close enough and it can’t be a me-too product. Especially if camel milk looks like Califia, you’d have a problem. Califia is one of the brands that could bring camel milk to the world. I think it’s the packaging first. You’ve got to do that and, on that packaging, you need to be able to have them go in the right journey, who you are, why you exist, what’s in it for them. That’s what the consumer wants and then you need to entice them. My thinking, if I’m a consumer coming in, your big job of customer education is the nutritional benefit and that it’s not going to taste funky. If it does, explain that funk in a way that I look forward to. You’ve got to do all that fast and then you need to be able to explain to the retailer how you’re doing that. Work with them to have a test and learn performance if you need to modify the communication that is easier to do than having something that doesn’t sell through.
Going to attract people to their world is important. Having something where they know that you can explain why camel milk is different, better and a reasonable alternative. It’s a potential disruptor to the category. Explain it in a way where it’s Instagramable, people can grab onto it, they can come into it and explain it to a fifth grader. It needs to be simplified. If you can’t simplify it, that means you don’t understand it well-enough. There’s no way your retailers are ever going to understand it well-enough, which means you never get the chance to have consumers understand it.
One of my very first clients was a guy named Joe and his product was New York Joe’s Onions. Joe was from Brooklyn. He could never find a good onion sauce for his hotdogs in Brooklyn. He ended up making his own onion sauce and it was unbelievable. By the time he got to me, he had hired a company that created a label, he had a co-packer and he got it all charged up. We got him into several retailers but he never got a re-order. The way it was is New York Joe’s and it was NYJO. It looked like the New York Police Department logo. His labeling was good, but just one jar from one manufacturer of products in the condiment aisle, it just got lost. He didn’t have much promotional money at all. The taste of the product, when they tried it and the look of the product was enough to get him in but he couldn’t sell it through.
We’ve heard that kind of story a lot. The way around that is if you’re going to get lost in an aisle and you have well-funded competitors that have other sauces and you have a single offering, you need to figure out a way to sample. You need to get it into people’s mouths so that they can say it is meaningfully better. That is what you should feed your social media. It sounds funny but have a customer quote something on that front label, it would be a lot more compelling or a shelf-talker or something to explain it. Figure out a way to give the product away or coupon so that people are willing to try. You’re talking about not being able to create trial. There’s no self through there.
I like the idea of a small little testimonial on the jar. Publix for instance, down here in the South doesn’t do much tasting. They do some cooking but not much like, “Try this.” Trader Joe’s was a great option for him but he didn’t want to private label it. I think you’re absolutely right. Bump up social media because that was probably free, a shelf-talker is possible. Maybe a little bit of a testimonial on the label. It was a real shame. He still makes it but not for commercial consumption anymore. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything better. I used to put it on everything.
We even brought out a mild version. Interestingly enough, he got himself through this retail guru onto The View. That guy had a little segment on there. Whoopi Goldberg tried it and it was too hot for her. That’s why he created the mild version, which was for Whoopi Goldberg. Unfortunately, he didn’t know that he was going to get on The View until late in the game. He sold out in seconds from everything that he had because he didn’t have enough time to properly buy into the fact that he was going to be on there. I think, especially in food, it’s difficult to make yourself stand out if you’re on a limited budget. If you were to break it down into a couple of key things, you’re on a limited budget, it doesn’t mean you don’t have anybody yet. You don’t have like Heinz money or Craft money. What are probably the top three most impactful things that you can do once you’re in the retailer?
The most impactful things would be to first have a sampling strategy in place. That could mean maybe the retailer you’re in doesn’t allow sampling. One of the things that blew me away and this is now much more common knowledge, but working with KIND, Daniel Lubetzky had investors come in and trying to scale that business. They spent the bulk of their marketing and promotional budget and growth budget on sampling. They figured out places to go hand out bars at running events or coffee shops. They got the product into people’s hands. When they saw it in the retailer, they bought that and they loved them and they didn’t buy just one. They bought five different varieties. He talks about that in his book. At the time I was working with them, this was a cool new maverick idea. That would be first.
The second would be to have your story straight. We talked about customer education and having your website, your social media and your customer education all dialed. You need all of that in place. It doesn’t have to be high production but it can’t look hacked together. You need to have a compelling story that’s written simply so that why you exist is understandable by a fifth-grader. The third thing is to make sure that you are communicating with the retailer to understand how you’re performing, where you are and what your placement is in the store. See if you can optimize or test and learn so that you create trial.
Big Boxers, keep that in mind, especially with food. Number one, sampling strategy, getting the product into people’s hands. I know that KIND still does that because my daughter is a competitive ice skater. One of the other ice skaters in our rank, her mother works for a marketing agency that works with KIND. Anytime we have any event, there are always free KIND bars. Getting the product into people’s hands, even if it’s a free sample so that when they see it later, getting your story straight so a fifth-grader can understand it, it doesn’t have to be any ambiguity in what you’re trying to talk about. Communicate with the retailer once you’re in on your placement, maybe trying it here, trying it there. Some retailers are better and some buyers are more accepting of working on that than others. It’s definitely worth communicating with them on trying to be in several spots where you’re going to sell best. It’s super great advice. What do you think is happening right now in the food beverage space? What’s new? It’s not necessarily product-wise, but what’s changing?
It’s an interesting time. There are a lot of big players who know how to make things and know how to market things looking for the next darling brand. There’s a lot of money in food and beverage. In fact, technology investors are now focused on food and beverage because it’s hot. The whole idea of paying attention to what you eat and new ingredients and natural versions of things has caught the attention of the population. People are looking for it. There are organic Cheetos for goodness sake. Here’s what has changed. All of that interest and momentum behind it, you’ve got a lot of passionate entrepreneurs, you’ve got a lot of serial entrepreneurs, serial food and beverage creators, inventors and optimizers. You have tech money and you have big food all playing in the same space. What that’s done has changed the game. I don’t think natural and organic are product-focused anymore. I don’t think they’re radically differentiating. They are attributes.
Organic is a reason to pay more because of the ingredient profile but it’s not a brand. It’s interesting as I point this and think about CBD is totally hot because everybody’s trying to figure out how to use it and whatnot. Anybody that throws in with CBD or CBD oil or something in their product is getting attention from retailers and consumers and it’s like the crazed out Wild West. I think that CBD is going to be an ingredient in about three years. Having a brand story and a reason why you created it the way you did and how your product does whatever it does and why it exists in the world is a lot like how natural and organic is experiencing this declassification. If you think about retail experience, you think about grocery. A few years ago, if you walked into Publix, Kroger or Safeway, they had this cute little natural organic section off to one side, maybe half an aisle and maybe one chunk of produce. Now when you go in, they’re not separated. It’s all integrated in line. Natural Cheerios are right next to the regular Cheerios and the organic Cheerios are sitting there. It’s that thing that’s shifting that it’s becoming democratized in normal. While it’s still special, it’s not radically differentiating.
I haven’t thought about it in its evolution like that but I do understand how much easier it is. You can find organic at Walmart grocery section now. How much easier it is to find than it used to be and how the pricing is becoming more normalized to where you’re not paying radically different prices like before. It’s still more expensive but not crazy more expensive like it was when it was first on the scene. What do you think people will pay more for? What causes somebody to decide to pay a premium?
There are a couple of things. First, people will pay a premium if the brand and the product is making them a promise like, “What’s in it for me?” If it goes back to camel milk, if that’s got some great thing or enzyme or a protein that’s not present, that’s going to help me with my digestion, that’s what’s in it for me. To present that in a way that makes me feel amazing and empowered and that it’s going to make me have it and have a lifestyle around it. That lifestyle equates to a premium offering and making sure that it’s super explainable. The other thing that pushes people over the edge to be willing to overcome price resistance, which ultimately leads to being able to have a luxury or premium version of something is who I get to be when I’m with you.The need state inside the human is the same. We all need to belong. We all need to feel accepted and loved. Click To Tweet
If you are a brand that’s a do-gooder, I’m a do-gooder by default. Think about Patagonia, which is not food, although they do have food Patagonia provisions now. Those are ultra-premium jackets that you could climb a mountain with. They say don’t buy this jacket and that they are all about sustainability and do-gooder and environmental stewardship, people flock to that brand. It’s a badge brand where people are putting on their Patagonia jacket and hat to go climb because it’s a badge. It’s who they get to be when they’re with it. They will pay more for that jacket because of the badge and the self-identity that they get from it.
When I walk into REI, I automatically feel like I’m a hiker or a kayaker. I feel like I’m a real outdoors person because I’m shopping there.
It’s pretty funny that you had mentioned REI. In my previous agency, pre-Retail Voodoo at Lemley Design, REI was one of our clients. We invent or re-invent and optimize that expression and that experience with the intent to, it doesn’t matter what level your expertise is, when you walk in, you feel like you belong. If you are an ice axe climber or a car camper, you have the same treatment and you have the same lingo. One is a one-on-one course and one is like a 400-level course.
I think you’ve achieved your goal because when I do walk in there, I feel like an outdoorsman.
It’s so fun to see that.
Paying a premium, one is I’ll pay for something that they’re making me a promise and there’s something in it for me. The second one is who I get to be with when I’m wearing or eating your product. Years ago, I was a store manager for Barnes & Noble. This was in Fashion Island, Newport Beach, California. If you understand Newport Beach, California, then you understand the type of clientele that we have coming in. There would be people that would come in and buy every book off the bestseller list. Not because they wanted to read them, but because they wanted to have those books lying around their house. When there’s a whole new group of books, they would be back in and they would buy it. If there are people that were in their house that they were in the know, they had the current books around their house that they’re reading. I understand what you mean by guilt by association maybe.
Guilt by association or awesomeness by association. More outdoorsier or more earnest about the environment or healthier or going to live forever. It’s all the same thing. The need state inside the human is the same. We all need to belong. We all need to feel accepted and loved. People are brand to do that, the way previous generations would use social clubs and religion.
I know it feels like I have nothing to say. It’s because there are many things that are running to the front of my mouth that it can’t figure out what thing to get out first. Let’s end up with the majority of our audience are either thinking about bringing a brand to the market. They have brands on Amazon maybe and they want to diversify them into retail. They’re all in that beginning stage or wanting to get on the shelf or get through that first stage. What would be one universal piece of advice from your tenure that you could say to somebody in that spot that they need to focus on? For instance, if you’re not focusing on this one thing, you’re missing the boat.
The one thing is you’ve got to figure out who your product brand offering tribe is. How you’re going to get permission to whisper in their ear and hear that information with your retail partners so that they understand it and can go to bat for you.
Who your tribe is, understand who your customer is or who you want them to be. How do you get to them? How are you going to whisper in their ear? What was the last part of that with regard to the retailer?
It’s making sure that you explained it to the retailer in a way where they buy into your idea and they become co-author, partner, evangelists in your mission to get your stuff out there.
How easy is that to do?
It can be easy if you are focused and you have a long-term vision. If you’re just trying to go, “Let me get some stuff. I’ve got to do a thing. I’ve got 120 days,” then you’re going to flop around wildly. If you are opportunistic without having a strategy in place, it’s hard. In fact, I’d say it’s potentially next to impossible. If you have a long-term vision of what you’re trying to accomplish and you take the time to write it down and you are premeditated about the words that are going to come out of your mouth. When a customer raises their hand, when a retailer wants to talk to you or when you get that buyer meeting, if you are premeditated about what you’re going to say and it’s all about your brand and how you’re going to deliver your customer education, it becomes a roadmap. It’s not difficult. It takes time to write the map and to be willing to commit to it.
Your one thing, Big Boxers, who’s your tribe? We’re not saying that this is the only thing, but if you don’t understand who your tribe is, if you haven’t figured out how to speak to them, if you can’t get the buyer to understand your vision, then you need to work on that. You’re going to struggle. You could have the best product, you could have the best pricing, you could be selling the recipe to Coca-Cola, but if you’re not talking to the right people, if you don’t know who those people are and you can’t make the buyer see your vision, you’re going to own the recipe of Coke and that’s all. Do I understand that right?
You got it.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel like I’ve been to school. David, do you have any questions for me?
I’m wondering how do you help these brands and these manufacturers to get their story straight so that they can perform when they do get to that retailer?
It’s interesting that a lot of things that you’ve said lineup with my philosophy. When we were talking about the one thing, for me, the one thing is always pricing. If we can’t get the pricing to work, then we will have to work on that until it works. When I talk to my clients, the first thing we hit on is pricing. When we talk about that, we talk about it in terms of channels. A big mistake that people that go into a single channel make is they priced their product for that channel, but then they never price it for any other channel. When it comes time for them to break out and leave Amazon or diversify off of Amazon into retail, they can’t or they struggle. They have to come up with a new product or a bundle because their pricing doesn’t work.A brand is a promise that you make and the way which you decide to keep it. Click To Tweet
One of the first things that we do is we channel price across all channels to make sure that you have a pricing strategy that’s good across everything. Even if you’re never going to club stores or even if club stores are not in your strategy for five years, when you do go to club stores, your pricing works. Another exercise we do is we figure out who our retailers are. Who’s going to buy our product or at least who we think at the beginning. I’ve had clients before that thought a certain type of person was going to buy their product. In the end, it didn’t turn out to be that person or even that demographic that was buying their product. Not only did they have to figure out who their tribe was, but they also had to come to the grips that you had to switch tribes because the tribe that thought they were a part of is not the people that were buying their product.
That was for that particular individual and why she made the product that she made. It was a little bit of a difficult transition for her to make. To your point, she can either switch tribes or go on talking to the wrong tribe. That’s not going to serve her well. We work on first of all, who do you think your customer is or your tribe as you would put it? Once you figure out, find out where do those tribe shop? Where do they buy products? That’s how you build your retailer list. Strategy-wise, you have to be in it. You can’t just say, “I have to get my product into retail in the next 45 days.” Even if you could do it, it’s not a sustainable model. It’s not a model that you’re going to grow with. You have to create a strategy. What I call it is a slow and consistent strategy. For the Big Boxers out there, be careful what you wish for. You might not be ready for that, “I like Target to take my product.” If Target were to call you and say, “I need twenty containers and I need the ISO certifications for your factory,” you might not be ready for that. We build a slow, consistent and sustainable strategy. As they take that ground, they don’t ever have to give it back.
Talking about it as a long-term thing that you’re into and thinking about that you should be careful what you wish for. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had people come here and say, “I have to get into Costco. Costco is the holy grail. Let’s do that.” We pull out all of the dead bodies and say, “Look at all these people who were a darling, who went to Costco and don’t exist any longer.” It killed them because they couldn’t sell through or they had the pricing wrong. They had something wrong and they didn’t survive. Now this other version of them is the category leader. It is being sure to crawl, walk, run and fly, and then take the rocket ship to the moon.
There are things that you don’t know when you don’t know. I started my TLB Consulting on Costco. We were Costco experts. It didn’t take long before we realized that almost everybody that came to us wasn’t ready to go to Costco. That’s eventually how we expanded our business and grew. Interestingly enough back years ago, I used to get a call a month maybe or a call every two months from people that were in Costco, but they were losing money. They were losing money because they didn’t understand the intricacies of doing business with that retailer. A lot of times people want to blame the retailer, “Costco killed me or Walmart shut me down.” I always ask the same question which is, “Who’s the last person that signed the contract?” That was you. The fact that you didn’t understand what you were signing, that’s not Costco’s fault and that’s not Walmart’s fault. They’re just trying to do business. They’re not out to kill you, but they’re not going to stop what they’re doing so that you don’t get killed. I had a guy who came to me. Do you know those kiosks that they have at Costco when you’re checking out? They’re like little vignettes. The product isn’t there but maybe it’s a stone paver or it’s water filtration. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Yeah, where you can buy something but then it comes and gets installed.
I was contacted by a guy who used to sell whole home water filtration systems and he basically had half of the country and then another company had the other half. Costco had made this determination based on the bandwidth that they were going to offer the entire country to the other manufacturer, which crushed 80% of this guy’s business. He was beside himself wanting to know what he could do to get Costco to change their mind. I said, “Can you handle the other part of the country?” “No.” “Can the other company handle your part of the country?” “Yes.” They have that bandwidth. I said, “Costco made a business decision. It’s not against you. It’s a business decision to get some continuity into this particular product and there’s nothing that you can do.”
He wanted to write a letter to the CEO and all kinds of things. I understood it because he was grasping like, “What am I going to do now?” It was a big lesson for him. Number one, don’t ever let anybody hold 80% of your overall business. Two, sometimes retailers will make decisions that are business-based that they see the business advantage, and that decision may not include you. You have to be nimble enough to make those adjustments, but they’re not trying to crush. It’s nothing against you personally. It’s just business. It said right in your contract with Costco when you signed. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to last forever.
Enjoy it while you can. Do the things and grow your business. Take some of that money you’re making. Build your infrastructure so that you can take it across on more territory if you want to. We’re digressing here but it’s important for people to realize that they’re in control in a lot of ways of their own destiny. Read the fine print and understand what you’re signing. If you don’t know, hire David and his company. If you don’t know, hire TLB Consulting. If you don’t know, hire somebody that does know that can help you.
Generally, people that build product are good at building product, but they’re not always good at how to get it in somewhere or how to build their brand. I’m thrilled to have you on and just to open up some more ideas into how you stay into retail, how you expanded and become a true brand. The word brand is getting diluted these days because there are a lot of people that sell products on Amazon that think they have a brand. They don’t, they have a product. What do you think about that? Do you think that the word brand and brand image and building a brand is becoming diluted?
Yeah, it’s confusing. There’s an entire buzzword stew that includes the word brand and it means 40 different things. If you talk to graphic designers, they say the brand is the logo. If you talk to somebody who’s a founder-owner of a brand, they will often say their package is their brand. If you talk to social media, it’s the branding. We’re applying the identity system to social media. That’s not what it is. Our definition as a brand is a promise that you make and the way which you decide to keep it. That is your brand. What happens is when you keep your promise to me in a way that’s meaningful, I formed something in my heart and mind and that idea I have that I will talk about you when you’re not in the room, that is your brand.
That’s beautifully said and it is exactly what I meant by dilution of that idea. The fact that you hit all those things, “My logo is my brand. My this is my brand. My that is my brand.” I’ve never thought about it in terms of a brand being a promise. I don’t think I could have put it any better. Big Boxers, if you take one thing away, don’t just take one thing, read this as many times as you need to, take as many things as you need to take away. What is your brand promising? First of all, I want you to think about that. Feel free to go on OnTheShelfNow.com and comment on what’s your brand promising? The next thing that you need to noodle on is, are you keeping that promise? That seems to me like the hardest part. It’s easy to promise, hard to make good on it. That’s a good place for us to leave it. David, thank you so much. I know I took you on a little bit of a journey from Picasso all the way to what is a brand. You did not disappoint us. Thank you for being patient with that. I appreciate all your insight and everything that you are doing over at Retail Voodoo.
Tim, thanks for having me. It was a ton of fun and I love talking about Picasso.
I’m sure that we’ll have you back on as there’s so much more that we can possibly talk about. We’ll talk soon.
Take care, Tim. Thank you.
David is out and I hope you all learned a lot. I know that I did. Not only did I learn a lot, but I had a ton of fun. It’s sometimes interesting when you start off trying to get to know somebody a little bit better. Before you dive into what makes them tick in their business, what they’re doing, how they’re earning money, how they can help you and what’s all going on. Sometimes it helps to stop in and say, “Who are you? Where did you come from? What did you think about when you were a kid? What was driving you back then?” David and I had a lot of fun, a lot of unexpected information. That’s why having discussions and talking to people is so cool because you never know where it’s going to go.
As you know, if you’ve followed this podcast for years, none of this is scripted. We’re not out there saying, “These are the questions I’m going to ask you,” and I know some people do that and that’s cool. Sometimes when I’m on somebody else’s podcast, they have specific questions for me and that’s okay. I dig that. It helps me prepare. Here at On The Shelf, it’s spontaneous. When you’re talking to somebody, just like if you’re talking to them at a party or anywhere else, sometimes it goes in a different direction. You hit on a topic that seems interesting and you go that way. This discussion with David was like that. It will be great to have him back on and who knows where it will go then.
If you have a brand and you want to make sure that brand is standing out, rising above and blazing an honest trail, then some of the things that David talked about are going to help you do that. We would love your feedback. Go ahead and go to OnTheShelfNow.com under this particular podcast and let’s start a discussion. Let’s start talking about brands, how to get them noticed, what you learned from David and how you’re going to use that going forward. That will be interesting to see what you have to say.
Speaking of commenting, people have been asking me, “How can I get more involved in the podcast? How can I support the podcast?” I’ve been talking to a lot of people about this. Right now, we don’t have ads, we’re not asking for sponsorship and we’re not asking any of those things. If you want to help support the podcast, we’re asking for a very simple thing. It’s so simple, it’s not going to cost you a dollar, a dime, even a penny. We want some feedback. We just want some conversation. We want to open the dialogue with you in the podcast so that we can start to have some real communication. What do you think? What do you like? What do you don’t like? What do you want to talk about?
That’s where it becomes exponential. That’s where things blow up is when you start engaging with us. I want you to take real effort to go to OnTheShelfNow.com. Find a podcast episode that you like, one that spoke to you, one that you learned a lot or even one that you tried something we talked about it and it worked for you. I want you to comment and let’s start a discussion. Let’s start to have some fun. OnTheShelfNow.com is just one of those places. You can go to our Facebook page, which is On The Shelf Now on Facebook. You can follow us there. You can join our closed group called On The Shelf “Now”. You just go to On The Shelf Now and our page and our closed group will come up, you just hit join on the closed group and you’re in the conversation. You can find us on Twitter, @OnTheShelfNow. That’s it and then OnTheShelfNow.com with the actual page. We’d appreciate it if you would go out there and subscribe to the podcast, like us on Facebook and engage with us.
We are starting a couple of different mastermind groups. It’s super exciting. We’ll also be launching another one in June, which is not full yet. If you’re interested, you can email me at Tim@OnTheShelfNow.com and let me know. I’ll send you an application that you can fill out and we’ll see if we can get you into that. We’re going to have more than just monthly masterminds. We’re going to be offering some mastermind classes too, a series of them. It’s super exciting and I can’t wait to share it with you. They’re not all completed yet and they’re not launched yet. These are going to be live classes. The reason they’re called a mastermind and it’s a class is because you’re going to be in there with other people. You’re going to be bouncing ideas off and it’s going to be a group of people that are trying to get to the same place. We’re all trying to go to the same place, which is getting our products into or on the shelves of retailers.
When you get together with people that are trying to do the same thing that you’re trying to do, amazing things happen. Crazy things happen. You’ve tried something and they’ve tried something different and together, we can all figure out what the best thing is. I am beyond excited and I hope that you are too. I hope that you’re going to pass that along to people that you might know. We’re going to have even a specific mastermind that’s specifically for Amazon sellers that are wanting to diversify their product down into retail. That’s how specific we’re going to get. Some of these are going to be half-day. Some of them are going to be two hours. There are going to be a whole range of things that you would be able to sign up for.
You can tell, I’m super excited. I can’t believe that it’s finally here and we’re getting ready to launch it. In the process, you’ll see TLB Consulting is going to undergo some brand enhancements. We’re rebranding and we’re going to be bringing the mastermind series, On The Shelf Podcast and TLB Consulting all under one roof. I’m not going to announce the actual name of the company yet, but it’s going to be one company that’s going to house TLB Consulting, TLB mastermind series and then the On The Shelf Podcast. I’m super excited about that. I hope you are too. Email me if you’re interested at Tim@OnTheShelfNow.com. That’s about all I have for you. I’m looking forward to speaking with you again. Until next time, I look forward to seeing your products on the shelf.
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About David Lemley
David is a man on a mission. A mission to help today’s ideology-driven better-for-you brands decide where to play and how to win. David sets the standard for all research, innovation, brand strategy, brand positioning, and marketing translation for Retail Voodoo.
Based in Seattle, he believes process, data, and what his clients have called “a little west-coast whoop ass” separate Retail Voodoo from other innovation and brand strategy advisory firms. Read why David believes there is a better, mission-driven approach to becoming a powerful brand.