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May 29, 2019

How to Create a Golden Food Brand

Julie Ross Myers

You can't get more evocative than food. Remember Marcel Proust writing about the childhood memories that overcame him as he dipped a madeleine cookie in tea? It's not just one of the great passages in classic literature. It is a blueprint for how food is mapped in our brains to the broader realm of emotions and experience.

When you sell a cookie, perhaps a Damo butter cookie, with space for just a few words on the packaging, what wells are you going to dip into? Are you going to ground your cookie history in the established legacy of the Europe, where the plain butter biscuit first appeared in France in 1886? Or will you focus on quality ingredients like real butter? Or perhaps the crisp scalloped edges, based on the Leibniz Butterkeks? Or would you, like Damo USA, choose to market your cookies as a guilt-free pleasure?

Food brands need salient stories

The greatest frustration I face as a brand storyteller is that new or smaller brands suffer from FOMO. They want to cover absolutely everything within their brand story, so they don't miss out on potential customers. This means they wind up with internally inconsistent ideas that weaken the salience of the brand.

Example: inconsistencies in Damo's story

Damo makes butter cookies. It positions itself as "a healthier snack" with real butter, no corn syrup, no artificial colors, and just 30 calories per cookie.

  • Real butter is not a health food item (especially with the vegan trend). It is a satisfying, sweet old-fashioned indulgence.
  • No corn syrup... but it has invert sugar instead. The kind of audience that freaks out about corn syrup is not going to want to see invert sugar on the nutrition label. To quote a healthy eating blog, "effects are similar to....high fructose corn syrup. The only real different is that while high fructose syrup is made from corn, invert sugar is made from sugarcane or beets."
  • Damo may not have artificial color, but it has artificial flavors and preservatives. Do not go there if it isn't a solid bragging point.
  • 30 calories per smallish cookie is not much less than a sugar-stuffed Oreo with 45 calories
  • A recipe that goes back two hundred years is not really a way to meet "the modern demands for healthier snacks." Why ignore the real story in order to focus on something that isn't quite true?

I'm coming down hard on Damo because they have a great story to tell, but they aren't telling it.

(Disclosure: I worked on the packaging, but Damo used their own copy... maybe I really am just a petty asshole.)

What Damo could say instead

  • Unique Selling Proposition (USP): based on a 200 year-old family recipe
  • They are still a family company.... which is a huge selling point in today's era of big corporate brands
  • Old-fashioned goodness in every bite

Food brand stories need "limited ingredients"

I read an interesting article about restaurants yesterday. It said the most profitable and popular menu items are usually the least complicated.

Food is ultimately about comfort for most people. There is always an element of satisfaction that goes beyond stuffing our puffy American bellies. When we eat out or buy a premium product, we want to do more than appease physical hunger. We want to satisfy primal cravings for emotional and spiritual nourishment. It goes back to mom and the simple love we craved as infants.

Brand stories need to limit their ingredients too. Simplicity rules because it is easier to process cognitively and can resonate at a deeper emotional level. Strong brand stories often have little to do with product features and everything to do with emotion.

Clean ideas with a few salient (meaningful) points stand out. Kim Kardashian, whatever you think of her, has built an incredibly profitable personal brand based on big tits + big ass in nice clothes and sunglasses. It's pretty much the same thing over and over and people like it because they get it, they don't have to think about it, and they are amused by it.

Brands need the same kind of clarity. A few key ideas that really sum up the attributes that make you special and desirable – expressed in a way that is meaningful to your audience. And remember, people aren't really logical in their choices.

DOVE® Chocolate understands this and appeals directly to emotion in its advertising. There is nothing healthful about it; instead, it a small indulgence that every woman deserves to make herself feel better.

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