Exceptional brands aren’t born, they’re made. Let me explain.
“The best way to be missed when you’re gone is to stand for something when you’re here.”
“Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.”
“Sure, ideas that spread win.
But ideas that don’t get spoken always fail.”
The above quotes by Seth Godin are a few of my favorites.
Seth has a knack for summarizing important human insights into short pithy statements and the above three perfectly set up this fundamental and important article about branding.
Prior to Insights, You Need Observations
Previously, I’ve written in-depth case studies about:
- dramatically rebranding a gluten-free company,
- transforming an American dance institution by finding its untold story,
- branding a startup in the highly competitive nutrition bar space,
- refreshing the brand of a 25 year old coffee franchise,
- rebranding a market research company that services the agricultural industry, and
- a brand new Slideshare presentation unveiling an entire series of rebrands.
I’ve even written one of the most popular posts written on the 19 questions to ask before you rebrand, shared around the world as an authoritative reference entrepreneurs, CEOs and even startups refer to before launching a rebrand.
But there was one thing I hadn’t drilled down into….
The Traits of an Exceptional Brand
What I didn’t do in any of those posts was outline the traits of an exceptional brand, something you’re about to read (while seeing precisely how these 4 traits were crystallized in a new rebrand of a successful Midwest premium jerky company that was in need of a facelift).
Why did they need the rebrand? Because the new space of “premium jerkies” has become populated with early adopters filling this new niche.
Eye Candy, First. Mental Floss, Second.
There are two parts to this post: the first is the rebrand itself showing what was done.
This is followed by an interview with the founder of the company to get her view of the reason they initiated the rebrand and the process they went through.
To orient you and to appreciate exactly what was done, here’s a snapshot of the transformation.
The 4 Traits
1. Know your sweet spot
Your sweet spot is defined by something simple but vitally important. You need to know what your audience wants and demands (and is urgently seeking a solution to). The more you answer to that, the more you become relevant. And the more relevant, the more valuable. The more commonplace and average your offering, the less valuable.
Your sweet spot is their pain point, their place where they are truly seeking a solution to something. It’s your job to find out what that something is, and then become the answer to solve that.
2. Simplify complexities
Experts (and doctors and lawyers often fall into this trap) think the more complex they make something, the better. Real experts know differently: real experts know that it’s in simplicity where true power to affect change exists and success awaits. Anyone trying to sell you how complex it all is is full of it.
3. Stand for something real
Vague ambiguous offerings are suspect. A cousin to simplicity above is authenticity, reality for something you really care about. Don’t follow trends just because they’re trends. Find out WHY those trends are coming into play and find the undelivered need that is driving all of that adoption. Then you can lead with something that is real and true.
4. Use design to crystallize, differentiate and engage
Like the aroma of delicious bread or a well made meal, it hints at what’s about to come. It is the preamble to what will soon be in front of you. Design is to branding what aroma is to food. It gets us salivating for what we have yet to experience. Use design to bridge that expectation factor—not merely to “inform” but instead “to engage.”
In the case of Simply Snackin’, they had a product that tasted great, that met or exceeded the needs of their consumer but from a branding standpoint, there were other parts that didn’t connect and needing fixing.
An exceptional brand 1) knows its sweet spot, 2) simplifies complexities, 3) stands for something real and 4) uses design to maximize differentiation and produce maximum engagement.
Now let’s look at how we incorporated the 4 traits outlined above into the Simply Snackin’ rebrand:
1. Sweet spot.
They only use grass fed beef, whole chicken breast and free-range Australian venison. All Non-GMO and gluten-free which are key triggers for this audience. We also knew that the consumer here enjoyed such bars when traveling, playing, hiking or being someplace where they wouldn’t have access or time for a regular meal. This translated to the declaration on the new package, “Play hard. Snack often.”
As you see above, the package design (as well as the brand identity with the leafy fork mark and typography) was majorly simplified with photography and a clean minimal design that was in direct contrast with other brands in this space that have gotten visually noisy. Furthermore, all chicken now was color coded as was all the beef and venison items, making it easy for the consumer to dial into what category of protein they wanted.
3. Stand for something real.
We stripped away anything that was merely “informative” (i.e., ingredients and nutritional info) and put them on the back of the package. We eliminated the previous window in the package because it was too small to be effective and instead shot the product with very high definition photo techniques to add to the reality of this delicious product. This simplicity of product with the simplicity of the design brought to the table a product that reflected that it had nothing to hide.
Finally (and this part is very important), we looked at the history of this category and saw there was a history of “convenience snacks” and “meal replacements” which became today’s protein bars, a very popular and competitive category. We concluded we couldn’t win by being “one more premium jerky choice.” This conclusion resulted in developing the tagline “Nature’s Original Protein Bar” to truly stand for what the brand stands for while conveying a killer distinction.
4. Use design as a tool.
Design here has been used to convey a simplicity that is the foundation and essence of the brand itself, from ingredients to the sourcing to the recipes. More to the point, the design was used to differentiate the product amongst the increasing glut of “premium jerky” space (differentiation being the primary reason one brands in the first place).
And this wouldn’t have been complete without the inevitable t-shirt.
The Simply Snackin’ Interview
Sue Kramlich, founder of Simply Snackin’, agreed to share her experiences and goals with the newly refreshed brand.
What’s the overall mission of the company?
“The overall mission of the company is: to craft premium protein snacks that offer a combination of outstanding flavor, nutritional value and visual appeal while continuing to provide an outstanding customer experience – one that you’ve elucidated very well in your video on Exceeding Expectations.”
Please give a brief history overview of the company.
“We became involved in the world of sausage in 1989 when my husband Tom’s father, William E Kramlich (mentor and stickler for quality), established Silver Creek Specialty Meats in 1989 and our family became immersed in operating a growing small business.
“After wearing many hats (as is necessary in a small business), I pursued the research and development of a healthier option in protein snacks.
“Noticing a definite lack of any meat snack options on the shelf that weren’t filled with low quality ingredients (artificial smoke and shelf-life-extending chemicals), I started from scratch.
“So I began with sourcing quality ingredients such as beef sirloin or chicken breast meat, dried fruit and/or vegetables and the development of a seasoning blend that was perfected over several years in tiny batches in my kitchen at home and then tested in larger batches when Silver Creek’s expertise in production was hired to produce the newly established Simply Snackin’ brand.
“With the ongoing development of Simply Snackin’, I continued to send samples to individuals considered experts in the field of diet and nutrition and appreciated all comments and reviews on the products.
“I did not fully realize the impact this growing network would have in the promotion and growth of Simply Snackin’ not only for online sales but specific regional store chains and specifically athletes due to changes in college sports and universities being able to provide unlimited snacks and meals to their athletes).
“So with the rebrand, the goal is to explode online retail sales, continue to increase distribution at retail outlets state-wide, grow our presence among athletes nationwide and establish sales directly to corporations.”
Given the increase in competition in this new premium jerky category, what challenges have you encountered?
“The meat snack category is exploding with the appearance of new products almost weekly. With the reviews that have come in, Simply Snackin’ is an outstanding product at the top of the premium meat snack category. So the challenge became how do we differentiate the Simply Snackin’ brand on the shelf (brick and mortar and virtual stores) while attracting new customers (given all of the new snack options appearing on the shelves)? It became a factor of solving how we position the Simply Snackin’ brand to’rise above the noise’?”
What prompted the rebrand?
“It has been very easy to pitch in person to wholesale buyers by simply providing samples along with promotional materials to tell the store. This would quickly get us on shelves.
“Return trips to talk with merchandisers shared a common response: Simply Snackin’ is an outstanding product but we needed to clearly convey the attributes (e.g, grass fed, gluten free, etc.) on the package itself.
“Also, several experts (ok, more than several) in the nutrition world have mentioned the need for a presentation that appeals to professional and semi-professional athletes. But I wasn’t looking for a pharmaceutical grade, sterile looking package that had no sense of fun or intrigue.
“So, what prompted the rebrand was the obvious need to have a package that told our story. (I did not anticipate nor truly understand this until DBD began sharing insights and our new tagline and design. Only then did I realize what we were previously not doing.)”
During the rebrand process, what discoveries did you experience that you didn’t expect?
“I did not anticipate how much I would enjoy the rebranding process and how much I could glean from the process that could help me in the growth of the brand.
“In the beginning, I naively thought I could hand over the project to someone else in my company to coordinate with you but due to your ongoing education in branding via your LinkedIn posts and Twitter (yes – I did read them!), it was easy to see I needed to be the brand communicator. There was no need for committees (of which I am not a fan either–one of the pleasures of being a small business owner).
“I also did not anticipate that you would:
- come up with several spectacular tag lines (with messages perfectly suited to the brand) and
- that these tag lines could successfully (and cleanly) fit well on the package given the limited real estate on our wrapper.
“If you had told me this was possible before I saw the design, I would have thought there was no way it would work as it would be too busy.
“I did recognize you were brilliant in what you do but this was (for me) beyond brilliant and all expectations of what was possible. You stripped away all the fat from the message so it became a masterpiece of simplicity. I’ll admit you exceeded my expectations in every way, from the way you work and your endless enthusiasm and expertise in rebranding.”
What kind of impact and roles did design, photography and words have in the rebrand?
“Design had the largest impact and leading role in the rebrand; the layout/style of the images (especially the fork mark and the product art direction of the photography) immediately pulls you in for a closer look.
“The photography definitely invites a taste.
“Then the words in the flavor naming offer a fun choice designed to inspire a look at all of the flavors before a consumer decides (previously we only wrote the ingredients as the names, an approach which did not convey the flavor profiles).
“The tag lines are amazing and perfect as they add so much dimension to our story. While the design had the biggest impact, I would say it was, like a perfect recipe for a meal, the combination of design, photography and words which told the whole story of our brand perfectly and clearly.”
What type of shift do you envision the rebrand to have on customers and buyers along your various channels of distribution?
“As the rebrand tells the story perfectly, I anticipate no more questions regarding mixed messages (or no message) with new customers being drawn to choose our brand and taste it for themselves. Merchandisers will appreciate having attributes on the package front eliminating unnecessary steps we’ve previously had to engage in to close the sale.”
You waited about a year before you decided to commission DBD International to handle your brand. Given what you now know, what would you tell others (or yourself if you could go back in time) who are considering a rebrand?
“Once you have your product perfected, and as you get ready to launch, make the investment in telling your brand’s story–and make sure you invest in someone who will tell your story well.
“After DBD got my attention (as a result of downloading the free eBook The Lucky Brand and becoming a subscriber), David and I had a conversation regarding rebranding.
“I waited a year—not because I wasn’t sure DBD was perfect for the rebrand—because I knew once we contracted for the rebrand, I would need to have a ton of product on hand and we had to be ready to go because you would create the right story for our brand. And I know we’ll be ready now.
“Even knowing I now have the production measures in place, I have always been more than a little scared to think about what’s going to happen when we combined our Simply Snackin’ products with the right branding.
“We cannot thank you enough for the amazing care, passion, talent and guidance you’ve provided through this process. It’s been more than we expected. It’s exciting and a little scary, but it’s the good kind of scary. Thank you.”