Brands are more visible now than ever and consumers expect you to be visible everywhere - online, in store, on TikTok, and beyond. The strongest brands have a strong point of view, and that resonates in their storytelling and design.
Join me as I talk with Mike McVicar, co-founder of Gander a Brand Design agency as we dive deep into how to create a meaningful brand.
Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at Foodbevy.com to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.
[00:00:00] Hey everyone. Jordan here with the Startup to Scale Podcast and excited for my guest today. Mike, who is the co-founder of Gander, a design studio that works with CPG products based in Brooklyn. Welcome, Mike. Thanks so much, Jordan. It's really fun to be here. I'm excited to chat. So I want to talk today about design, branding, and packaging in the CPG space.
I know there's just a lot of conversation around the uncertainty in the market right now from financing to the recession coming, but I think there's a lot of opportunities and positives out there as well, and ways that having a really strong brand can help you stay resilient when consumers start to trade between commodities on price.
So that's why I kind of wanted to do for our conversation today, but before we kind of jump in, I'd love for you just to give a quick like 32nd overview of what the Gander Studio is. Sure. So [00:01:00] Gander is a branding agency here in Brooklyn, New York. We're what we would call like a full service creative agency agency, which means that.
We do focus primarily on building brands from the ground up, but we do quite a bit when it comes to our involvement with different brands or organizations. So we are strategically focused, so we really focus on early conversations on why this brand exists, why they're coming to us in this moment of growth or need or pivoting.
We've worked with everyone from Bonzo, which was a chickpea pasta company. They were one of our first brands in Magic Spoon, and recently we worked with an herbalist company called Wooden Spoon Herbs, but we worked with a really large range of brands and we love working in different spaces. I love that.
One thing I know you mentioned a lot is brand, and I love asking people these questions because everyone has a slightly different definition, but how do you define brand and approach brand building when it comes to the companies [00:02:00] you. when it comes to the, the companies we work with, a brand is really. An intangible identity, but is, is how you define your identity.
That can be represented with really simple outcomes like a logo or a website or the packaging that you, that you have on shelf. But you know, our relationship to brands as consumers is actually quite intangible. If you think about some of the brands that you. Use every day that you don't even think about your relationship to a brand is actually set by your experience with that brand.
How you like the product, what you know when you had a problem with that product, how the customer service team treated you, how easy it was for you to check out through their website experience. We truly believe that a, a brand is more than just an identity or a color palette or the packaging you create.
It's actually the whole end-to-end experience, which is why we start with purpose and why we start with strategy, which is. understanding why this brand exists, and then we say, okay, if your [00:03:00] brand exists, then for this reason, if this is your purpose in the world, how can we create the best iteration of that story?
So I like to think that a brand is everything from the way you talk to your customers through, you know, yeah. What your website out experiences, which is a little bit you. Different than maybe some people think when they think of brand, cuz it's easy to say it's your logo, but I, I think if you really examine your relationship to most brands, you'll see that it goes a lot deeper than that and it's important.
Keep in mind. Yeah, I like that. You kind of touched on that point of it being a relationship between the company and the world, like their consumer stakeholders, because it kind of goes beyond that as you're creating a brand. I'm just kinda curious like how much of it is like the founder and their vision and how much do you.
Potential like their customers or other stakeholders kind of in those conversations as you're figuring out like how you wanna show up to in the world and what problems you're solving and for who. So that's really interesting to think about because [00:04:00] yeah, you can have a great idea, but if it's connecting to your, sorry, there isn't a customer for it, then, then you're not gonna be in a very good position to have a successful business.
But we look at brands from four quadrants or four Cs, if you will. The four Cs are really easy to remember because it's the company. So history, this the mission the founder found. The customers who will be buying this product who are tar target on answer, who do we feel like has the biggest need for our product culture?
What is our cultural implications? What is the world that we live in at, at large? And what's our competition? So those are customers called company and, what did I say? In competition? In competition. Yeah. There we go. Thank you. So that, that's the way we. Is all sides of a brand. And that's, you know, a imperfect matrix, if you will, of, of what goes into a [00:05:00] brand.
You know, when it comes to your product, you're, you're at first and foremost looking for a good product market fit, right? The product that you have has a good fit in the market. That's really gonna be a largely indicative of how successful you are as a brand, because if there are lots of people who need your product or don't need your product, but don't know they need your product, Do, and you have a good potential for a success and it's hard to do for us to do our job if you don't have a good product market fit.
And so, you know, it's really about aligning. If you have a story or a product, we're willing to, you know, go as far to say, Hey, we don't think you are selling the right product in the right format, or the way that you're packaging your, your product isn't actually following through with your mission of sustainability.
Or, you know, say you are a renewable product that's based on. Byproduct of another process and however you're selling your product in single use plastic, there's a little bit of a niche mismatch between your values and the format of your product. So we'd go [00:06:00] pretty deep. Obviously we don't like overstep our bounds with the, with the CL customer or the client, but we.
Try to be honest and, and make sure that like if we're not able to face the truth behind a customer and their product, then we're not gonna get to the true core. You know, we're not gonna be successful and if our clients are successful, we're not successful. . Yeah. You know, I'm happy that you mentioned kinda product market fit because I'm a huge product market fit in their, in terms of really just it coming down to designing.
Something, a product or service that's for someone else or a group of people, that's enough to mm-hmm. , sustain and grow your business because yeah, there's a customer for any product, but are there enough and can you actually build a business around that and can you reach all of them? And that's where I see a lot of brands falter, is really not kind of understanding who that core customer is.
I think honestly, and you might see this too, like using rebrands is a bandaid, but instead of fixing their core product or their core business, because it's much [00:07:00] easier to say like, Hey, or like, packaging isn't that great and people understand what it is versus saying, and like, our product isn't actually something that people want or, and, and, and mass quantity or we haven't spent the education, the dollars in educating mm-hmm.
people on why they shouldn't need it. Do you kinda run into that a lot where you see brands that like, don't. Kinda lack that, that core bit. Clients come to us and say, Hey, I have this product, this idea we're, we're just about to go into r and d and start developing this product, and we wanna start talking about the brand, maybe get working on the brand.
And for us, that's where our biggest red flag or friction point comes in. Because we're willing to talk to them, hear them out and see what if they're excited about working with us and they have a, you know, a history of success. You know, there's some exceptions to that, but a lot of times we say, Hey. , go make sure your product works first.
Go do like a really rough and tumble like customer survey or you know, [00:08:00] testing this. Make sure that your product is good and that it works in the world and that people want it because you're gonna be investing a lot of money in us and we are gonna be investing a lot of time in this. And a lot of times it's a timings match where, Go do smart and d first, then come back to us when you're actually, you know, six months away from the ready to go to the market.
Yeah, that makes sense. Cause lot of companies just like so early in this, in this process and they try to put those things on. Yeah. You know, I'm, I'm kinda curious from more of a design perspective, I've been looking at a lot of brands who have come out recently and even some of the work that you've done, I'd be curious to know from your perspective, how.
Design language has changed over the past couple of years and how maybe that's changed with like what consumers are, are looking for from products or what's really standing off to them. And I guess one thing as well, right? If you go back like 10 years, packaging used to be very functional and the waivers, you have all the call outs like vegan, non gmo, gluten-free, and like a very like attribute heavy Yeah.
Kind of identity. Yeah. Versus now you almost [00:09:00] see products without any of that. They still have some of those attributes, but they're almost table stakes and it's more. Maybe like fun and, and something that's gonna be , but love to kinda get your thoughts on. My initial response to that is that your existence as a brand these days, a as a business, is much more.
Of a 360 degree experience for customers than it ever was. We used to walk into the grocery store, find that box of pasta that was on sale and we would buy it because like maybe we read two seconds in the pack and then we checked out over the last 10 years, obviously. Now people experience brand in what I like to call like the new word of map, which is through social media, through online, through press, and they have much more of a larger breadth of knowledge to choose from when it comes to just selecting a product.
And so that raises the stakes when it comes to building kind of a holistic brand experience [00:10:00] that can support a truly quality experience from an end that provides a lot of information to your customers and has a quality. Brand that follows through, again, through the customer experience when they check out and that kind of thing.
And so I, I think that's where it starts, is that like, you know, Brands can blow up on TikTok and then before they know it, they're being sold at Whole Foods nationwide. There's a certain amount of universal. Now you can go on Instacart and find a brand, check them out, check their website set out, and then go buy them and you may not step foot in the store.
People are doing that from the East Coast, New York City, through Minnesota, Wyoming, like, you know, there's a real, overall, there's no such thing as like, You know, middle of America anymore. I think brands shouldn't think about themselves as like, well, we're trying to speak to middle American dads and they're gonna be a little bit more conservative or whatever.
And I think you're doing a disservice to your brand by quote unquote, watering down your message or that kind of thing. Or compromising on ingredients just to. Sell [00:11:00] something. I think if you focus on having a strong story that has a strong product market fit and a 360 degree brand experience where you're really thinking about every type point for your customer or at least as many as you can, you can't touch, think about everything, then you have a real ability to cut through the noise and then if you compare that with good PR and influence influencers and all these things, things that you can really have a strong product launch.
I think of our brand Graza that we launched earlier this year. We, they went from nothing. Whole Foods in like record time for any client I've worked with. And they just did a really good job of kind of leveraging that 360 consumer experience. They had a great product market fit, they had high quality of product and they really worked on An experience for the customers that was highly informative and kind of cut through the noise of a traditional olive oil brand gras.
They sell extra virgin olive oil from Spain in a squeeze bottle, and they had some really strong viewpoints about that on things they were not willing to compromise on, and they found the best way to communicate [00:12:00] to their customers that way. I think that's really what has changed so much. I think you can talk generally, or I can, you know, say generally that people are more aware of brands than they used to be.
But I do think it all kind of feeds back to this information age that we're in to use like our outdated term of people like experiencing brands more than just on the shelves. I like that in. Same thing of it as a 360 degree approach, because larger brands often talked about these 360 degree activations, although they really just meant like TV and internet, very broad terms.
But you're right, that internet has loosened a lot of the geographic ties that companies may have had before when you have to launch in a certain area. And of course, like there's. Geographic differences in like culture and consumers, but that also means that there's consumers everywhere. And that if you have a strong viewpoint, you can reach those people anywhere.
And you don't have to like be in the store in Montana to have someone purchase your product there because they can arrive on Amazon in two days for them anyway. Right. Right. And so I think [00:13:00] that that holistic approach is good. There's a lot of talk about like the millennial kind of pesto color palette that you see on Instagram.
at the end of the day, like all products kind of ended up looking more or less like they could have been from the same company. And there seems to be, at least from my perspective, a little bit of a rejection of that recently. You know, there's brands who, oh, I actually forgetting the name, but they're kind of taking like, you know, like the liquid deaths of the world who are going very like extreme in their, their look.
Or even a company like Midday Squares who is almost building like a media company with their brand along with a product. How are you kinda. Companies really stand out in that way. I think it's worth kind of noting that aesthetics in design, this is something that like, I don't know if I have fully thought through, but it's something that like I see kind of proven out in, at least in the evidence over history, is that graphic design and aesthetics and branding is [00:14:00] ultimately fairly fa adjacent that.
Just as much as we can look at clothes from the nineties and see certain trends that, like at the time people thought they looked awesome and you look back and you're like, holy crap, what are they thinking? Or yeah, now they're awesome Again, I think that. In a weird way, design is trend based, and aesthetics are part of the zeitgeist that is kind of like one of the most fascinating and uncontrollable parts of design.
And so I think that the aesthetics follow what. Culture is inviting towards at the time, and that is always in flux. So you'll always see things like the pink and aesthetic. And when that becomes a critical mass and you start seeing it all at the stores, there becomes a certain, like, you know, the early adopters will tend to start pushing away from that because it's too accessible.
It's not the next trendy thing. And so I think that's why you see a pushback from that. [00:15:00] And I think there's always a desire to find. , an identity rooted in your, your who you are, and be bold with those choices so that you stand out against the, you know, the crowd. And that unfortunately does mean that every once in a while you gotta update your packaging to refocus on that kind of thing.
But generally we try to strive for a timelessness that doesn't. I think if you strive for a timelessness that's based on a true story that you have, you can avoid some of that trendiness that is otherwise unavoidable when it comes to like consumer. Now timeliness with a, a real story that's authentic to the conjures.
Love that. Mike, thanks so much for being on today and talking, branding and design with me. Love it. Yeah, anytime. Thanks for, for inviting me on.