Tag Archives: innovation

Small Brands vs Big Brands in the CPG Space: How to Cleverly Outdo the Complacent Mammoth

By James D. Roumeliotis

Sumo wrestler being pushed.

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Using the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) brands as the main topic for reference in this editorial, we dig into the dilemmas of the leading consumer brands such as Kellogg’s, Nestle and General Mills to name a few in the food sector.

Small, nimble and niche brands, most notably start-ups, are beginning to chip away at the market share of many leading consumer goods firms. As a result, these small companies are growing rapidly to the detriment of the big brands but to the benefit of the consumers. This has to do with big brand complacency, bullying and arrogance along with the desperate need for short-term results to satisfy the insatiable expectation their shareholders’ have for quick profit and stock price increases – but with little regard for today’s consumer. As such, it is no surprise that shoppers have become more savvy, see through much of the nonsense and have helped turn this tide whereby. Consumers trust and are more confident with the small brands over the traditional ones their parents were accustomed to.

Welcome to the new generation of CPG choices and mentality.

Big ship vs Fast Craft

Large well-established companies have several advantages over smaller ones mainly due to their imposing size, their brand recognition as well as for their plethora of cash and human capital. However, despite their deep pockets and plethora of resources, they are risk adverse, bureaucratic in their decision-making process and to some extent, disengaged from their customers. Moreover, if they are a public company, their initial allegiance is to their shareholders.

Start-ups and smaller businesses, on the other hand, have less money and resources at their disposal to grow or even compete in the unapologetic and competitive landscape. Yet, the small business is agile, nimble and creative and possess several advantages such as a clean slate, rather than the baggage many large corporations have been carrying over the years, as well as perceived as more trusting by consumers, further engaged with their customers, and a refreshing alternative to the established brands – provided the products offer unique and attractive characteristics.

Be First, Different & Daring

It takes methodical strategic maneuvers and innovation to outdo the established ones. The good news is that many small companies seem to be doing a good job at both. As a result, they are becoming quite appealing by both consumers and the large brands respectively. At some point and under certain criteria, the latter are keen to purchase the small niche companies.

A case in point is the state of the exploding snack bars health food category. According to Euromonitor International, a market research and analysis firm, renowned food companies such as Kellogg’s and General Mills are experiencing declining market share as compared to previous years. Meantime, privately held Clif Bar, gained a one percentage point during the same period, while another small competitor, Kind LLC, increased its share by 2.1 points. Not idly standing by, last year, Kellogg’s purchased seven-year-old RXBar for a whopping $600 Million, while Mondelez International, the food conglomerate, which owns the Oreo brand of cookies and Cadbury chocolate, purchased Enjoy Life, a consumer packaged goods upstart which performed three years of 40 percent consistent annual growth. A 2015 report from Fortune magazine found that in 2014, in a single year alone, major CPG brands lost $4 billion in market share.

Reputation seems to be the culprit for this significant market share loss. Consumers perceive products from large brands as unsustainable, as well as less healthy with inferior and artificial ingredients along with a high content of sugar and salt. Younger generations of consumers are also suspicious of major corporations. For example, a 2015 study, conducted by the research firm Mintel, indicates that 43 percent of millennials do not trust traditional food companies.

The single most important advice here is that newly established brands should focus on their unique strengths to win over their large and deep pocketed competition rather than trying to go head-to-head with them. Newcomers to the CPG market are in a better position than large brands in catering to emerging consumer trends such as “clean label”, “free from” and organic/non-GMO foods.

  • Agility

Being a small company give you the benefit of being nimble and efficient in areas large ship like companies are not able to do so. This makes them slower to respond. In fact, there are times that they don’t even return calls or email inquiries. Strat-ups can implement a business model which provides value to customers while simultaneously building a lean operation which will yield a consistent profit. This can be accomplished with a limited financial capacity.

  • USP with a Niche Focus

Unlike the big companies, smaller ones can develop products which meet an unmet need. A niche market can demand a premium price which can yield respect along with a handsome profit. For large companies to offer niche product may risk cannibalizing their own existing products.

Increasingly, mass-market retailers are seeking niche brands that their clients consider as healthier. This will keep their customers from purchasing products in this category elsewhere as these large mainstream food retailers face rising competition from natural food and specialty chains such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s.

  • Trust and Transparency

Regrettably, established food companies do not practice what they state over their PR megaphones. A recent Forbes article contends, those large brands mislead consumers by giving an impression of a healthy product through their misleading labels. Consumers today are well informed and can recognize inauthentic brands, but it seems that short-cuts and short-term thinking, in the name of profit margins and increasing share prices, take precedence. According to AdAge, consumers are increasingly switching to smaller CPG companies as they are perceived as healthier and more authentic.

  • Media Spend on a Budget: Creative vs. Outspending

With a limited marketing budget, the most effective methods of reaching your target audience and to out-create your large corporate competitors is through social media, including reaching out to influential bloggers with a large audience, coupled with a select number of sponsorships and the use exposure of marketing posters, brochures etc. for maximum exposure.  The key to compelling content is to make it about your niche and  your story. If you sell good quality products and have managed to build a good online network of brand supporters, you can leverage your goodwill to bring in sizeable sales.

In a Nutshell

As change is and should be constant, the small brands should not only learn from all the mistakes made by the big brands but also offer what the consumer demands…clean ingredients, transparency and personality along with a story and an emotional connection. These elements exude confidence and trust. Moreover, smaller companies should remain nimble, use plenty of experiential marketing and continuously offer timely improvements including environmental sustainability.

Established brands please take note as you are on notice.

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10 Pitfalls of Start-ups: How to Succeed Through the Initial Three Years and Beyond

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman Taking the Plunge

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Prior to taking a plunge in your start-up, you conduct thorough research, plan meticulously, execute strategy flawlessly ‒ but over time, you barely survive, or worst yet, fail altogether. What gives?

According to statistics, as the latest available numbers from the two U.S. government statistical agencies responsible for providing data about new businesses illustrate, The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, five years after new establishments were founded (1995, 2000 and 2005 respectively), 50%, 49 and 47 percent of them (correspondingly) were still in operation.

Merely reading a business book, this article, or attending a well-regarded entrepreneurship course/program is no guarantee of success in increasing one’s odds of business success. It takes diligent implementation of a viable business plan, focus, determination, consistent and well thought out action, as well as an obsession with the customer, amongst other traits and approaches. Management of a business is not a science, it’s a practice.

SME/SMB business owners optimistic despite odds of failure

A new, independent survey has found that small and mid-size business owners share several distinct attributes that help them live their passions while adapting to the shifting economic landscape.

Commissioned by Deluxe Corp. a publicly traded company and leading provider of marketing services and business products for small businesses and financial institutions, the study surveyed more than 1,000 SMB owners around the U.S. The results showed 86 percent of the respondents believe they can do anything they set their minds to, with 77 percent also stating they would rather learn from failure instead of never trying at all.

Based on the results, it’s no wonder entrepreneurs are known as risk averse and tenacious ‒ or as some would light-heartedly state, “We’re going to succeed because they’re crazy enough to think they can.”

Pitfalls of business failure

On the whole, businesses fail due to its owners’ lack of fundamental business knowledge. Needless to say, failed businesses did not operate the same way as those that succeed. The following are oversights and inaction responsible for their demise.

  • For starters, it’s going into business for the wrong reasons. If the only reasons an aspiring business person desires self-employment is making money and selling a product he/she is in love with, stick to a regular job and conduct business on the sidelines or as a hobby. Making money should not be the sole end goal. Simon Sinek, an accomplished author and adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world, in his popular talks worldwide, including TED, compellingly emphasizes the following:

Why does your organization exist? Why does it do the things it does? Why do customers really buy from one company or another? Why are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?  Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and in politics. Those who start with “why” never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.”

  •  The business is undercapitalized: a business with too much debt and a cash flow that doesn’t support it ‒ as a result of overestimated revenues and cash flow with underestimated expenses/cost of business.
  • Lacking business development – sales, the lifeblood of any business. Emphasis mainly on product rather than actually shipping quantity to its target market.
  • No USP/differentiation: another me too product, price sensitive, commoditized, and failure to communicate it in a captivating way.
  • Not focused on a particular market. Confused, and as a result, applying a gunshot approach. Unclear of its business model.
  • Poor execution of business and marketing plan. Lack of clear focus and direction. Moreover, inability to adapt to a changing environment, as well as anticipate future trends and plan for them – market phasing out unwanted items or services.
  • Poor operational management. It can be one or a combination of motives including lack of discipline, internal bickering between partners, owner arrogance, stubbornness, a closed mindset, and/or a lack of work ethic which causes complacency. Many start-ups have a carefree attitude to promote efficiency in the workplace, often needed to get their business off of the ground and persevering long afterwards.
  • Business expansions that are poorly planned and not appropriately financed. Although this growth is normally viewed as a positive development, its timing, execution tactics, and inadequate funding to sustain profitable growth stifle proper business progress.
  •  Failing to control costs – negligent fiscal management.
  • Creating dissatisfied customers: Not in touch with them along with a lack of a customer centric policy and fervent implementation with constant monitoring. Many businesses, small and large alike, offer lip service as they continue to disappoint their customers. It is a fact that the cost of acquiring a new customer is five times the cost of keeping an existing one.

Maze and Businessman

7 principles for business success: Avoid being a failed business statistic

If an entrepreneur is resolute enough to increase the chances of triumph from the outset, he/she should consider several key principles. These seven beliefs have been forged through my personal experiences, those of others I have either researched/interviewed and/or advised, as well as based on long-term practice and common sense seasoned with a touch of academia.

1)    A Viable Product or Service with the Right Business Model and a Passionate Person Behind it

It should fulfill a need, offer a benefit, be innovative and differentiate itself. It’s also imperative that the entrepreneur is passionate about the product/service, empowers his/her staff, as well as practices/conveys business ethics. To excel in the business, the entrepreneur must have the right mindset and attitude. This includes drive, perseverance, tenacity, and an undying belief in himself/herself and the value he/she adds.

2)    Adequate Capital

Critical and can vary depending on the size of the undertaking. Start your capital search with a good business plan that shows investors and lenders your company’s potential. Expect to realistically invest about 30% of your own money based on the total value of the project. Last but not least, cash-flow is the lifeblood of your business if you’re going to sustain the operation financially.

3)    Marketing, Sales and Customer Driven

Advertise, publicize, differentiate, ‒ and be compelling, as well as memorable with your messages. Deliver on those promises and constantly remain customer focused. Sales, on the other hand, is part of the marketing function.  It includes business development and account management. Sales is crucial to business because it is the bottom line, whereas marketing is about getting a product known and the customer keeps your business alive.

4)    People

Don’t simply HIRE well educated and experienced people but most importantly MOTIVATED, dedicated, coachable and with interpersonal skills. Moreover, make certain that the people you hire fit-in with your corporate culture.

5)    Systems and Structure in Place

Every business requires a disciplined way of conducting itself. This way everyone is on the same page. Consider publishing an “operations manual” and continuously enforce its procedures.  However, at the same time, it should include an element of flexibility to avert stifling the organization. Without any structure, the chances of failure increases.

6)    Strict Internal Financial Controls and Adequate Cash Flow

Finances should be closely supervised, borrowing wisely and avoiding overspending. Watch your financial ratios and yields (where applicable). The success of your business is, in many ways, measured by the bottom line. Even if you hired a full-time accountant, you would still need to have a
fundamental knowledge of accounting, how it works, and how to apply its basic principles in order to run a flourishing business. Once again, “cash flow” Cash flow is of vital importance to the health of a business. One saying is: “revenue is vanity, cash flow is sanity, but cash is king”.

7)    Continuous Improvement, Innovation and Sustained Growth

This is by no means a one-time event but rather an on-going process. Innovation encompasses offering distinguished and improved solutions which meet or exceed market requirements and expectations from your customers ‒ whether offering a desirable product or upgrading a service experience.

Keep in consideration ‒ govern oneself accordingly

Entrepreneurs, and inventors alike, may be quite well versed with the products and/or services offered, but not necessarily with running their business including a bucket list of daily administrative tasks. Most notably, sales, marketing and finance/accounting undertakings. This is where honest consideration should be given in either bringing in a partner to complement the entrepreneur’s weaknesses or an external adviser and/or mentor to guide him/her. A sounding board should not be dismissed as an advantage solely for larger organizations. Seeking professional help is an important way to avoid or plan for business challenges.

Prior to drafting a business plan as the roadmap, which assists one in avoiding the pitfalls of running a business, plotting a business model should be considered as a prelude to the business plan.  The idiom “putting the cart before the horse” clearly reminds us of this erroneous and common approach ‒ in this case, the business plan preceding the business model or lack thereof. The business model includes the components and functions of the business, as well as the revenues it generates and the expenses it incurs. It is part of the business strategy.

Typically, small businesses with inept ownership usually fail in the first year or two, but even companies in their growth stage can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6 out of 10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients. Marketing maven and renowned author, Seth Godin, succinctly puts it this way:

Many entrepreneurs use an innovation to make an impact, but the hard part, the part that we’re rewarded for, is engaging with the user, the audience, the market. Bringing something to people who didn’t think they wanted it, know about it or initially welcome it, and make a difference.”

In the end, small businesses are started and managed by entrepreneurs, who with all their best intentions, are highly motivated but typically lack training in standard business practices. Thus, entrepreneurs with little more than a great idea, limited funds and a lack of management/operations skills and experience are prone to failure without the resources that can sustain and help grow their business.

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Branding by Design: The Impact of Fashion on the Automobile Industry

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Lamborghini Boss

In the book, “Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation”, author Sally Hogshead stated that marketers must strive to fascinate people beyond the bounds of rationality. Companies must activate such mental triggers as lust, mystique, power, trust, and vice.

Though the marketing and branding folks are relied upon for their artistic output to create a buzz and compel consumers to buy, the industrial designers of car brands work diligently on fashion inspired creations for new model launches.

Like an outfit, an automobile should wrap its owner in a new outer shell, both protective and decorative. Premium cars like extraordinary clothes, invoke a whole new life as the glamor of both comes from the promise of escape and transformation.

The automobile as eye candy

Fine arts, fashion and luxury brands have long crossed paths creating a blend of culture, merchandising and branding. The similarities could not be more striking with cars and fashion. Seems European auto designers have always had this ethos ingrained as demonstrated with their design flair. The Italian industrial design houses such as Pininfarina, Italdesign and Bertone are renowned for churning-out architectural inspired automobile designs. In the past and present, Pininfarina has been employed by a wide variety of high-end automobile manufacturers, including Ferrari, Maserati and Rolls Royce.

Italians are very proud of their brands such as Panerai or a Lamborghini. They epitomize the essence of style. Even smaller motorized vehicles such as the Vespa convey savoir fair with simplicity.

Fiat & Gucci: complementary collaborators

The Fiat 500 is no exception. Once again, the firm is partnering with Gucci. The 500C by Gucci is offered in two colors, white with satin chrome accents or black with shined-up chrome bits. On both, a black soft-top covers occupants. Gucci’s color scheme signature runs down the middle. At all four corners sit 16-inch alloy wheels sporting the Gucci double-G logo in the center. Inside, a Gucci print adorns the seats and the fashion house’s moniker can be found sprinkled liberally throughout. When Fiat revealed the hardtop version of the Gucci 500, more than 3,000 pre-orders came flooding into the automaker’s website.

Bob Lutz prior to his retirement at GM

After holding top executive positions at BMW, Ford, Chrysler respectively, Bob Lutz had a very good idea what a car company and its car models should look like, which he didn’t find when he was hired at GM in 2001. Within days of arriving at GM, Lutz began reviewing the future model lineup and was shocked to discover that none of the models he reviewed, as he put it, “had any charm or ornamentation to delight the eye”.

The Cadillac CTS (2001 model) “lacked any charm or warmth.”

In his experience, there was an internal battle between the design team, what he regarded as “the car guys” vs. “the bean counters”. Read here the people in finance. Although now retired, Lutz can proudly claim that he was instrumental for the changeover to a sleeker line-up. GM sales figures show it has succeeded in generating committed buyers.

Fast forward more than a decade and this time Cadillac has moved its headquarters from the automobile manufacturing capital, Detroit, to the trendy SoHo district of Manhattan so as to establish a new brand identity in this luxury international city — as it yearns to convey a global avant-garde identity. At a New York Fashion Week party, in September (2015), celebrating Public School, GMs luxury brand enticed its onlookers with a sneak peak of its successor to the brand’s best-selling SRX SUV, by utilizing a hired helicopter to fly across the Hudson River carrying a XT5 SUV on a platform underneath it. More on this here http://bloom.bg/1EYmHft

The Rolls-Royce Wraith – high fashion on wheels

The latest motor carriage to be inspired by the world of fashion and film is the epitome of luxury cars – Rolls Royce Motors with its 2013 coupé Wraith model. The automotive brand to the well healed describes this 624bhp, $285,000 priced two-door as a debonair gentleman’s GT – a highly refined, luxurious and exclusive like its stablemates, but more dramatic and exciting than any of them. To add more pizazz, the designer edition of the Wraith model will be customized with the finest materials as per the customer’s specific taste and choices.

According to Giles Taylor, director of design at Rolls Royce, “There’s a sense of effortless grace and elegance, but at the same time something more contemporary and daring.” The interior is equally elegant and sophisticated. It is flawlessly outfitted with fine silks along with inspiration drawn from haute couture as evidenced by hints from the materials, color palettes and the techniques applied. It is the ideal combination of power, style and drama.

Two supermodels along with their new fashion statement -- the Rolls Royce Wraith.

Two supermodels along with their new fashion statement — the Rolls Royce Wraith.

Branding by design

Product design is key to a great brand. Design is the elemental differentiator with competitors. Eye catching sex appeal builds the emotional bond and turns owners into enthusiasts.

“It’s all about integrating design and brand,” says Joe Doucet, founder of Joe Doucet Studio.

“We need to cease thinking of them as different disciplines. The essence of the Apple brand comes through its design. Take the logo off a BMW and you still know it’s a BMW.”

Design also needs to be part of the strategic plan from the start, embraced by the CEO and across the Board.

“A brand is not your logo or ID system,” says Robert Brunner, founder of the design shop Ammunition and author of ‘Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company.’

“It’s a gut feeling people have about you. When two or more people have the same feeling, you have a brand. You get that feeling via smart design, which creates the experiences people have with the brand. Everything you do creates the brand experience; ergo design is your brand.”

Striking success at Audi

Premium brand Audi has come a long way with a big streak since its prolonged slump in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today, the firm continues to surpass its own benchmarks. As one proud owner succinctly stated, “It’s elegant without being ostentatious.”

If you think fashion”, new Audi cars are akin to a well-put-together outfit. They are considered “classics” upon release. They are prominent not only for their impeccable sophistication and styling but also for the brand’s hard found creative innovation. Luxury and comfort are blended in a seamless mix. New technologies and taste trends are calculated to coincide with market shifts. The firm’s signature LED highlights reshaped an entire industry to become the standard.

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Hyundai’s economic aesthetic appeal

In automobile parlance, Hyundai is a relative newcomer to this game, but the firm has learned quickly and converted previous Toyota and Honda evangelicals to switch. Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com, claims that Hyundai is operating from a much older playbook.

“What Hyundai did was nothing new,” she says. “They developed the oldest formula in the book: Have a good design at a good price.”

Caldwell further states that she’s surprised that other car companies haven’t caught on to Hyundai’s “secret” sooner.

“That, to me, is Car making 101,” she says. “You would think that it’s not that hard to figure out. And I just think it’s interesting that people think that Hyundai’s success is so surprising. But, if you look at it, it’s not at all. I mean, of course people are going to buy something that looks good and is not expensive. I think, regardless if you’re buying a refrigerator, a shirt, or a computer, that formula is always going to work.”

Lookout for the Fashion Patrol

As Fashionistas and celebrities piled into New York City during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February, the fashion police were out in full force. To capture attention, MB deployed its “fashion force” in CLS 63 AMGs four-door sports coupe painted in police-livery black and white, with sirens and yellow flashing lights.

It was fast enough to stop anyone in the middle of a styling faux pas. The ultra stylish police officers, though, were more interested in looking-out for some of the city’s most fashionable citizens, who were rewarded with a ride to their next destination. Other participants won prizes, which included seats to the highly prized fashion shows themselves.

“Mercedes-Benz has a natural affinity with the world of fashion with cars that appeal to those with a strong sense of style,” said Lisa Holladay, manager of brand experience for Mercedes-Benz USA. “The 2012 CLS 63 AMG four-door coupe is the perfect vehicle for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Force initiative with its fascinating design and significant curb appeal.”

Along with its affinity in the fashion domain, Mercedes also has a micro-site, named “Avant Garde Diaries” depicting scenes and visual stories of its cars with fashion industry icons.

Victoria Beckham and the Range Rover Evoque

Victoria Beckham, the former pop star and wife of renowned footballer David, has earned critical acclaim for her finely tailored, ultra chic fashion line, winning the Designer Brand of the Year award at the 2011 British Fashion Awards.

Likewise, her special-edition, 200 unit, Range Rover Evoque line boasts a hand-finished matte grey paint, 20″ black alloy wheels and rose-gold detailing. With Rover head designer Gerry McGovern, she spent 18 months on the SUV working from elements like jewelry and textile. The results are distinctive. She was reported stating that the car must appeal to both men and women.

Applying design cleverly makes a difference with brand perception. Thus, a fashion design culture needs to be strategic, not an afterthought.

When you consider the planning, demands in the fashion and car industry are similar. Grab the customer’s attention. Use innovation and design to generate passion and commitment. By doing so, you are able to build brand loyalty with staying power and revenue generation. Who knows, you could be at the forefront of starting a new cult!

YOUR VIEWS ARE ENCOURAGED

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The Anathema of Bureaucracy: Dealing with its Fate & Embracing its Inverse

by James D. Roumeliotis

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According to Wikipedia, the word “bureaucracy” is clearly defined as “The collective organizational structure, procedures, protocols and set of regulations in place to manage activity, usually in large organizations and government.” In other words, it’s a frustrating, rigid, process driven, and a snail paced institution. This shouldn’t exist in democratic countries and ought to be controlled by developing nations if they are to effortlessly succeed. Not doing so, bureaucracy will become increasingly self-serving, complacent and breed corruption, rather than properly serve society as its intention.

In the private sector, if people don’t work productively, their businesses will go bankrupt. But, in the public sector, seniority trumps performance regardless of employee efficiency or lack thereof. Competence in an organization is directly linked with its organizational system. In bureaucracy the hierarchy is typically very complex with many levels providing a highly differentiated structure of authority.

The faceless bureaucracy also exists in the private sector. Employees there get frustrated when they can’t perform their work in a wholesome way because of restrictive yet superfluous rules set by their organization. Add to that corporate politics and it’s not hard to see why there are high levels of employee exodus/turnover due to their malcontent. There are organizations which thrive on their ability to allow individuals to remain faceless. It permits them to act badly which is not in the best interest of their customers.

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