BY STEVE GAITHER
CEO AND FOUNDER, JB CHICAGO
I’m the CEO and founder of JB Chicago, an integrated marketing agency where everything we do is rooted in two things: big ideas and smart tactics. We’ve worked with brands like Unilever, Hershey’s, Organic Valley and Dish, and – specifically in the food space – DMI, TetraPak, Goodbelly and Vitalicious, just to name a few. Most recently my experience with and passion for food led me to help found Windy City Food Brands, a food advisory, investment and brokerage house for food and bev companies looking to accelerate their growth.
A trend I noticed over the years was that private equity folks were dipping down under $20 million in the food space, but I knew entrepreneurs are a different breed than middle market companies, so I dove in. I first became a mentor at the Good Food Accelerator, the ICNC and the Hatchery. Next came an organic peer group I got together, called the Windy City Troublemakers. We’re a group of entrepreneurs in the food space who get together monthly basically to hang out and eat pizza – and if we help solve others’ business problems in the process, great. I see it as kind of an AA for food brands.
I discovered a lot of common threads among these early stage companies. The vast majority were trending toward positive EBITDA; had achieved success through brute force and/or sheer willpower; sold products that truly were great (and typically natural); took advantage of any and every opportunity they had at their disposal (daddy was a co-packer, college mentor was Jimmy from Jimmy John’s – true story); and were already in a sizeable number of stores.
And one more thing they all had in common: the need to find a way to stand out on the shelves.
Through all this, my core belief has been proven time and time again – that there is a solve for standing out, and it’s the blue ocean strategy (based on the book by W Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne). It’s always best to create your own “blue ocean” of uncontested space, rather than head into the bloody oceans, and make your competition irrelevant rather than duking it out. It’s all about the one thing that differentiates you from everyone else in the world, and then knowing how to best communicate that to the consumer. Once you are able to unearth that idea, which we call a brand idea, it should drive everything you do – creative and tactics to operational decisions. If it’s right, it should help mould the culture of the company and even be the lens or litmus to make business decisions.
A favourite client example that exemplifies this is Kishr Tea. I first met the founder when I was working at the Great Food Accelerator. Her tea is made with the coffee cherry, the fruit around the coffee been that has cognitive benefits. A large firm had exclusivity on the supply chain and the IP around using the name “coffee cherry”, but rather than make that firm the enemy, our partner opted to make them our friend. They had hordes of scientific data illustrating how great the coffee cherry was, so we leveraged it – and in the process, we were able to own the functional benefits better than anyone else. We’re talking things like clarity and focus on top of the things you already expect from tea, like antioxidants.
The idea is huge, and we needed to tell the story of tea that’s good and good for your brain. Kishr had already launched as a “superfruit brew”, but we wanted to bring the cognitive benefits to the forefront and also cut through all the clutter on the shelves. We felt antioxidants are a given when it comes to tea – and Kishr was so much more.
The fact drinking tea could give your brain a boost was huge, and it was our goal to encourage people to rethink what they drink. And thus, the brand idea: change your mind. Through a brand articulation, we informed consumers that the more they drank, the smarter they got – and that the tea tastes pretty darn good, too.
So, long story short, every product needs a brand idea. Every product needs to find a way to stand out from the crowd, and to then really hold on tight to that differentiator to fill a unique need in the marketplace. And I truly believe that even if you don’t have a lot of money, you can beat the big guys with a real story that makes an emotional connection with your customers.
Go tell yours.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020