Becoming a brand, not just a product

Claire Barrett is Strategy Director for Hunger Craft, the specialist brand strategy and packaging agency for all things edible. Hunger has worked extensively in the plant-based sector and the company directors are mentors for the ProVeg Incubator, coaching our startups in building the right brands for their businesses. In this blog, Claire shares her brand strategy 101 tips.

A brand is a promise made and kept

For over ten years now my job role has included the words ‘Brand’ and ‘Strategist’. Both terms tend to cause confusion outside of marketing circles. It’s totally understandable. At the best of times, the words are pretty nebulous and can be subject to many different interpretations, so let’s kick off with a common definition:

A brand is a promise made and kept.

The promise is made by your visual and verbal communications and it’s kept by your people, product, service, and reputation. Put simply, Brand Strategy is the tool you use to define your promise and how to keep it.

In a company or startup, you may be lucky enough to employ a brand manager or head of brand. Alternatively developing your brand may be one of the many plates you spin as an entrepreneur. Either way, no matter how big or small your company is, it’s important that everyone holds an intimate understanding of your brand because it’s more than just a logo and a colour palette. It’s your vision, what you stand for, how you behave, what you look, sound, feel, taste, smell like, it’s your business’s very soul.

Defining your brand from day one helps on every level, whether that’s: employing the right people and creating the right culture internally; securing pitches with customers and sales with consumers; ensuring every partner ‘gets’ you so every piece of communication nails it; informing future NPD and diversification; and, of course, creating consistency across how you look, how you speak and what you say.

Incubator alumni startup Vly Foods recently rebranded their alternative milk products

Why brand matters

Firstly, brands communicate. Fast.

Okay, I’m not going to summarise Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman here, but trust me  – go read it. It explains how our brain operates using two systems, with the majority of our choices being made by the instinctive, intuitive, ‘auto-pilot’ system: System 1. To make these quick calls, the brain rapidly decodes information based on years of information. It’s main source of information? Visuals. We’re wired to decode visuals at a far greater pace than words. In System 1 90% of the information our brain uses to make its decisions is visual. If your product will find itself on shelves, consumers’ 3-5 decision-making seconds rely on System 1, relying on your brand to speak volumes.

Secondly, it sells the vision 

There will obviously be a lot of people spending more careful, conscious time considering your offering. Getting your brand and messaging crystal clear upfront sells the vision to potential investors deliberating whether to buy in and sells the opportunity to potential customers deciding whether to stock it. It makes for a stronger, more memorable and ultimately more successful conversation.

And talking about first impressions, brands set expectations

In an ideal world, your product would speak for itself, but in reality, your product is mute until it gets in front of people’s eyes or into their hands, baskets, and mouths. From deciding to hover over an Instagram ad and swipe up or deciding to pause at a shelf, your visual and verbal brand will make the first impression. And when it does, it’s crucial it promises all the right things. That way brand expectation s and brand experience align.

Finally, good brands win space, trust, and fame 

There is a surplus of brands, and noise, in the world. Good brands cut through based on the real value they create for the consumer. Whether that’s a better night’s sleep and a clearer head thanks to lack of choice (Casper), an entertaining respite from the day (Recess) or a ‘does-what-it-says-on-the-wrapper’ transparency (RX bars), if your brand is promising something that is of value to your audience, and delivering that promise through every brand interaction and touchpoint, you will build trust, fame and reach the holy grail of marketing: word of mouth recommendations.

Hunger Craft has worked with brands like the plant-based Abbot’s Butcher

Where to begin with your brand

So, where to start. Well, to define the foundations of your brand, dig deep into three crucial areas:

  1. Know your audience

Who is your audience? What role do you perform in their lives? Can you identify what tension you are resolving? What need are you answering? Which brands outside the category are already winning with them and why? Knowing your audience means you can be bolder with your brand. For example, Nuggs is appealing to a very clear audience so it can take the ‘make friends, make enemies’ attitude with a strong, polarising personality; it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea/plant-based chicken nugget and that’s just fine.

  1. Know your category

When it comes to the category, look near, far and further. Near at competitors: Pinpoint the space you want to own in the category. Market maps or a competitor attribute matrix are two of the simplest and most useful ways to do this. Far at adjacent categories: what inspirational case studies or codes can you find in related categories such as other ‘free from’ products? Further at consumers’ wider brand worlds: through its simplistic branding and bold colour choice, Impossible borrowed the already ingrained visual language of tech to position itself as the future of food.

Melt ice cream offers ‘sweet relief’, all of their communications are chilled and mellow
  1. Know yourself

You know how people say you have to love yourself before other people will love you? Well, that’s true in branding, not just romcoms. You need to pinpoint what makes you special and own it. That means asking yourself the deep questions, the uncomfortable questions: What are you fighting against? What do you stand for? Why should people care? What’s your personality? A brand is a promise made and kept so, put simply, you need to know what you’re promising. If you’re promising to ‘Banish the Bland’ like Rub ‘a’ Dub spice mixes, make every touchpoint vibrant and vivacious. If you’re promising some ‘Sweet Relief’ like Melt CBD ice cream, make all your communications chilled and mellow.

Claire has over ten years of experience building brands across the world, working on everything from global rebrands for Coca-Cola to entrepreneurial startups like Abbot’s Butcher. Claire’s forté is carving out compelling spaces for brands using consumer insight, category intelligence, and brand truths.

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