- Josh von Scheiner
Natural and Organic Food - Creating an Ownable Brand Narrative
The past has forced a general rethink of one’s health for many consumers. This reevaluation is manifesting itself well beyond the desire to avoid COVID, impacting myriad consumer habits such as grocery shopping. People staying home are cooking more and they’re making healthier choices. As a result, consumers are turning towards natural and organic foods.
In 2020, as the pandemic forced people to prepare their meals at home, food sales increased by 2%. Sales of organic food though, increased at more than twice that rate, by 4.6% according to the Organic Trade Association. A big driver of this is organic produce, posting an increase in sales of more than 14% year over year.
While consumers will eventually return to dining out, there is a broad consensus that many of these new, healthy consumer habits will stick. Brands that capture these new consumers now stand to reap the benefits for the foreseeable future.
While every brand will need to craft and communicate a unique narrative, each brand’s narrative will need to meet certain expectations in order to connect with and win over consumers.
WHAT IS A BRAND NARRATIVE
With so many different teams creating content, it’s almost inevitable that different messages enter the market that aren’t necessarily complementary. A brand narrative addresses this. It’s an indispensable tool that keeps everybody singing off the same song sheet. It serves as an internal statement that encapsulates what the brand is trying to communicate. Every story the brand wants to tell, every piece of content the brand publishes should all ladder back up to the brand narrative.
While it’s often expressed as a short phrase, it isn’t an external tagline. In essence, it’s a creative brief. Before capitalizing on the shift in consumer shopping habits, every brand should be sure to have one.
One way to visualize this is by using a brand mountain. Each tier represents different messaging elements.
The bottom most tier is Entry Stakes. These are things consumers expect every brand in the organic and natural ingredient space to include in their storytelling. To start, brands looking to connect with a health conscious consumer need to communicate that their products are healthy and natural. While that may seem obvious, it is nonetheless important to not overlook and equally important to realize this is only entry stakes and not a unique value proposition.
Other important entry stakes include environmental impact and supply chain transparency. This is a consumer that sees their shopping choices as a way in which they can positively play an active role as an environmental stewards. In fact, according to the latest research out of Europe, environmental considerations trump even taste as a shopping consideration. Those sentiments are creeping into the US as well.
Moving up the brand mountain, the next tier deals with Valued Attributes. These are considerations that brands should leverage if they can do so authentically but aren’t uniquely ownable. This is where a lot of brands stumble, confusing brand values for unique differentiators. While brand values should be communicated as part of the story, they are not the story.
Back to grocery shopping for instance, brands that can credibly highlight their local community integration, draw attention to their environmental activism and showcase innovation in service of the environment stand to gain an edge. In almost all instances though, storytelling elements from these areas aren’t uniquely ownable - there are too many companies successfully telling stories about their giving back initiatives to make this area ownable by any one brand.
Once one has worked their way through the first two tiers, we finally come to the top of the pyramid - unique differentiators. This is the brand’s opportunity to flex the superlatives - the best, the biggest, the original, the most.
WholeFoods is one of the largest grocers dedicated to natural and organic foods. Ocean Spray is a 100 year old agriculture coop that developed cranberry juice, and craisins. Stoneyfield Farm started as an organic farming school.
These are the few items that only the brand can say, no other! If a competitor can make the same statement, it’s not a differentiator.
CRAFTING A UNIQUE BRAND NARRATIVE
Crafting a compelling brand narrative is not just an exercise in phrasing unique differentiators but rather, a compelling statement that brings in key elements from each tier. Done properly, it provides an internal creative guiding light, creating a unified story structure across various teams and departments. Each piece of content reinforces the next, creating a last impression in the minds of consumers.