Startup To Scale

172. Bootstrap Your Brand Strategy

June 10, 2024 Foodbevy Season 1 Episode 172
172. Bootstrap Your Brand Strategy
Startup To Scale
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Startup To Scale
172. Bootstrap Your Brand Strategy
Jun 10, 2024 Season 1 Episode 172

You need to know where you’re going in order to get there. For CPG brands this means creating a brand strategy, knowing your business, and then mapping a path to getting where you want to go. I’ve been pitched by agencies who charge $50,000 for this service, but if you’re like me, you have no where near that budget to pay for strategy.

So how can you do it yourself? I’ve invited on Ashley and Sarah, co-founders of The Squeeze, a strategic brand, marketing & retail consultancy to share how you can build your own brand strategy for free.

Download your free Bootstrap Your Brand Strategy Guide

Check out their website and Instagram.

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 to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Show Notes Transcript

You need to know where you’re going in order to get there. For CPG brands this means creating a brand strategy, knowing your business, and then mapping a path to getting where you want to go. I’ve been pitched by agencies who charge $50,000 for this service, but if you’re like me, you have no where near that budget to pay for strategy.

So how can you do it yourself? I’ve invited on Ashley and Sarah, co-founders of The Squeeze, a strategic brand, marketing & retail consultancy to share how you can build your own brand strategy for free.

Download your free Bootstrap Your Brand Strategy Guide

Check out their website and Instagram.

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 to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

Bootstrap Your Brand Strategy

Jordan Buckner: [00:00:00] Building a CPG brand comes with a lot of challenges. One of those is figuring out who you want to be in the world, how you want to show up, and how you're going to get there. A lot of that revolves around coming up with a brand strategy. Now that has a lot of components within there, and so I wanted to break down both what is a brand strategy, How to build one and bootstrap one yourself.

So for that conversation, I invited on Ashley Alden and Sarah Sitz, who are the co founders of The Squeeze, which is a strategic brand and marketing and retail consultancy. And they've really kind of developed strategies that help consumers brand scale. And One of the things that they're great at is kind of building a brand development, streamlining those approaches to retail, developing that strategically marketing plans and doing so in a way that's designed for American brands.

So, you know, through both of their careers, they've built deep operational experiences in working at companies like Foxtrot in the heyday all the way to, you know, working with early stage brands to building [00:01:00] those building and getting a series C funding. So it's been a wide umbrella that they've been able to work with and see and hear from brands through lots of perspectives.

Ashley and Sarah, welcome to the podcast.

 So we are talking about kind of bootstrapping brand strategy today, but I would love to kind of start with that big question of what do you consider to be brand strategy and how do you define it?

Sarah Sitz: Yeah. Really for us, brand strategy is a holistic approach about thinking thoughtfully about how you bring not only bring your brand to market, but sustain and optimize that brand. And it's. It's not only, you know, I think people think brand and they just think look and feel. Brand strategy really takes into account everything from understanding what your competitive set looks like, where you line up within the market opportunity, understanding the audience opportunity, and then fundamentally, what are the building blocks that start to make you and your brand unique in the world?

And then how do you start to think about bringing it to life? So think for us, really, it's, Four major kind of components that each have, you know, their [00:02:00] own ingredients that make them actively build your brand in the world. 

Jordan Buckner: I love that. What are the four components that you include within there?

Sarah Sitz: So I would say market opportunity and market analysis fundamentally like audience opportunity, audience analysis, general positioning work, so mission, vision, values, and really thinking about your why. And then brand personality, so how you exist in the world, what you are, what you're not, and what your tone and personality looks like.

That fundamentally gets you to the point to start thinking about what you're going to market then looks like. 

Jordan Buckner: Awesome. I know one thing that happens is we have some founders who have experience within the CPG industry, maybe work for a CPG brand that's a little bit larger. And there are others who are kind of getting into the industry really fresh and they're like, Hey, I just have a really great product.

You're going to have an idea that it's going to be sold in more natural channel stores and independent retailers, but they're kind of building it.

And so I'm curious, like when you're talking to someone who's, you know, maybe [00:03:00] doesn't have that big CPG experience where there's a lot of strategic work, how do you start to talk with them around understanding the product that they have, the value it provides, and then kind of building up , that strategic plan?

Ashley Alden: Yeah, so I think it starts with the first of those four pillars that Sarah mentioned, which is identifying the market opportunity. So if you have a great product idea in mind, let's say it's a protein bar, the first thing you want to do is understand what does that landscape look like competitively. So we like to look at it in two different ways.

One is visually. You know, line up all the protein bars or whatever category you're in out there and colors. Are they playing with what are their logos look like? You know, how are they showing up in the world? That can be from a packaging as well as sizing Opportunity the second way we look at it is verbally, right?

So what promises are brands making that say why a customer should buy theirs versus someone else's? And then start to line yourself up with what your product brings that's different from everyone else. What are the [00:04:00] differentiators that you know, you have that can fill a gap within the market. We like to look at white space and really see, you know, this new idea, regardless of what category it is, you know, where does it fit in the rest of the space competitively.

Jordan Buckner: You know, I've talked with some agencies and they're like, yeah, we would love working with emerging brands and for us, that's companies who are doing 50 million in the sales. Right? And I think a lot of our audience are like, I'm love 50 million. That would be like a large company to me. But obviously that reference points to the companies who are doing billions.

And that particular agency is like, yeah, we usually charge, right? A minimum of 50, 000 to come up with the strategic work or a brand. And usually it's around a hundred thousand dollars, definitely a much different clientele than our listeners. And so for those looking to kind of start thinking about this work, and I would love for you maybe to go through maybe each one or start asking questions around like founders, starting out, how can they build the foundation to start doing this work [00:05:00] themselves?

Before they're kind of ready or at a point when they need to bring in an agency or someone else who has more experience in this. 

Ashley Alden: Yeah, so just finishing up. That market opportunity I think competitive shopping is something that founders can do themselves, right? Like they can head out to the grocery store.

They can shop online and figure out what that space looks like There are so many reports that are available for free or for a low cost to really start to figure out, you know, what's trending in the marketplace. And then I'll turn it over to Sarah because I think there's so much that brands can do when they start thinking about internally what they want to bring to the market.

Sarah Sitz: Yeah, and I think, you know, to your earlier question, Once you figure out your market opportunity and you build your positioning, then, we really think about retailer strategy, right? So fundamentally, you feel like you are going after a mom, right? Target audience, but that is super health conscious and thinks about every ingredient that's in, you know, the food that you're building.

They're shopping somewhere very different, right? Than a Gen Z shopper, right? That wants only what's new and next and [00:06:00] to drive trial. So I think for us. You know, we feel like there's once you actually build a brand positioning, then when you think about your retailer strategy, how you find that connection to right , they're one in the same, like , your independent retailer strategy is very different than someone who wants to be in big box or target is your goal, right?

And how you think about your brand and what your value is should have a connective tissue to how you think about where you want to show up in the world or where you want to come to life. But to add to your question, you know, really anyone with a pen and paper can start to think about brand, right? Like, Building competitive analysis.

Obviously we have our own tools and templates. We'll plug the fact that we have a free guide on our website. That's just basically called bootstrapping your brand strategy that really walks you through how to think about your brand in the world, how to think about how you line up against everyone else or where you want to start to build out your intentionality and why you're different and what makes you unique.

But I think there's, you know, many prompts you can start to ask yourselves when we say you're why, you know, that's really like your reason for being in this world. We think that you know, our, when we think about brands, like people buy, you know, Brands, they [00:07:00] don't buy products, right? Your product is your brand.

They're one in the same. And so really spending the time in the upfront to understand like what you're building, you may be of an incredible idea, right? Or maybe you have a really passionate founder story and how do you build a connective tissue to that story? Thinking about how your brand exists in the world, right?

So there's many prompts. Obviously you can start to, you know, write things down on paper, quick excels, you know, charts of comparing your brand to others. We like to say when you start to compare yourself to the world, like make sure you have at least two to three things and you can say that you have this and when else does it, right?

 We see a lot of brands getting lost in the sea of sameness. We really push a lot of our clients to think about things beyond things like, especially in CPG, taste and quality, right? We're like, we refuse to allow you to make that a differentiator. We can start there, but let's unpack that a layer deeper and start to think about really what makes you unique, you know, in the world.

And that doesn't have to be, you know, the dollars to an agency, you know, we work with plenty of clients and more of entry level basis on an advisory capacity to help, you know, get that thinking there. You know, we always advise people to not go at it alone because entrepreneurs are so [00:08:00] close. So what they're building every day, sometimes it's hard to see what's right in front of you also.

So whether that's like a collective of people around you or that's interested or that you trust, you know, or just that are your target shoppers. Like you could easily pull together a group of people to kind of bounce things off of. 

Jordan Buckner: I'm kind of curious and thinking about that a little bit deeper. What makes a powerful brand positioning?

And I know you mentioned like just taste and quality, is it enough? So what are some of those elements that make a better brand positioning? 

Sarah Sitz: think what makes powerful brand positioning is very strong purpose, mission, vision, and values. And then from those values, starting to align what your core differentiators are in the world. We like to say like, four to five things that this make you distinct in this world and how these things all start to play together.

Plenty of times we ask founders, we're like, give us your elevator pitch, right? We hate the word elevator pitch, but being able to succinctly tell me in 3d centered that they're less or less what you're building and why people should care is so important. And I think people tend to just be off and running a lot and say like, well, I'm just building this thing.

And then I'm going to retrofit it [00:09:00] and tell you what I stand for. So I think really having a clear understanding of like your why, your what, and the how at the end of the day, that's going to get you there. The strongest brands that we see from a positioning standpoint, always look to optimize it too, right?

Maybe the one when you put things on paper is not the same as a year later or the way the audiences are responding to it. It's okay to be iterative. The people that are winning here are just super clear. In the past and what they stand for and don't stray from that and try to just be what everyone else wants them to be, they kind of stick to what they're heard and what the audience is telling them.

Jordan Buckner: Have you seen a difference between brands who are like change the world visionary versus maybe like, Hey, we just want to make really great gluten free products that that are, allow people to like be more inclusive and take part in, in foods, right? Like that's having like a vision, but it might not be like, we're going to change the world by doing X, Y, and Z.

Have you seen kind of a level that like this kind of range is good or you're not [00:10:00] thinking deeply enough? I guess I'm kind of wondering like some of those questions you asked to dig a little bit deeper. 

Ashley Alden: I don't think that your vision has to be as lofty as to change the world for you to be it.

To have strong mission vision values in your approach where we see brands win is when they are consistent and they stay true to whatever it is that vision and that purpose is, regardless of how lofty or not where we see brands get lost is when they lose sight of their why and they start to just go after.

Any opportunity for dollar signs, right? Obviously. We want any client that we work with, or any brand that we see to be successful, but the ones who. Seem to have the strongest brands, really stay true to who they want, want it to be and continue to return to it. As Sarah said, everything is iterative, so we always encourage folks to look back at their brand twice a year, line everything up that they've put out into the world, whether it's digital or physical, and see How you're talking about yourself, how you're looking to make sure you're staying consistent.

[00:11:00] That for us is more important than how lofty your aspirations are. 

Sarah Sitz: We do feel dream big though. You know, we always want people to be like, if there was no restraints, what would you want to be doing here? Right. For some people, it's just like, I want to get one SKU successfully in the market. And that's the vision, you know, like.

That's okay too. But we always like to push it on local again. 

Jordan Buckner: One thing, one challenge that I see a lot of founders start off with early on is the initial product. And as you said, like positioning is, doesn't always align with what the market's looking for. And so I'm curious how you would kind of coach brands through finding that product market fit at the beginning, right?

And so a lot of times you might get an opportunity, you have a product, maybe one retailer will take you on. This happened with my brand TeaSquares. We were a, positioned ourselves originally as a tea infused energy snack. We're in bite sized squares infused with green tea, kind of like an energy bar, but in pieces served in a multi service pouch.

It was very complicated and more than it needed to be. We had an opportunity for our first retailer to be Whole Foods Chicago, and we got it on the shelf, and [00:12:00] during demos, people loved it, they loved the taste, they loved the texture, but off of demos, our product didn't sell at all. We were like, hey, we're this great retailer, we have what we think is a really tasty product, but it's not working in the market.

Have you kind of seen that, and what type of kind of questions would you start to ask in that situation?

Ashley Alden: I would want to get a better understanding of how customers are responding to the product without the demos, right? Like, how are you telling the customer what your product is on your packaging? How long does it take to understand what it is that you're selling? Because you have six seconds to really make an impact on somebody when they're looking at your packaging.

That's where it would start. And then I think from there, you can really get into what Back to the differentiators, like back to the basics, really what we work on a lot is building a very strong foundation for your brand so that folks understand what it is you're trying to sell, why you're selling it, why they should care without you being there, I think that's the biggest piece.

Jordan Buckner: No, I think that's , that's really helpful. And that's one thing that I learned is that through our product was not communicating [00:13:00] to customers exactly what it is and why they should buy it. And so I think that was a big challenge for us, which we tried to remedy in the future. Yeah, and no, we touched a little bit on understanding the right retailers to go into and having a strategy for it.

But one thing I've also seen is a lot of times founders make retailer decisions because their business is losing money because they're kind of in growth mode. So they're like, we need to take every dollar that we can. To stay in business and to kind of prove to investors that we're growing. So how do you kind of balance that needed, like having a strategy, the retailers that you need to be selling to identifying those, but then also balancing that with the cash needs that, you know, some of the larger more commissional channels may have larger upfront purchase orders that some of the smaller independent stores.

Ashley Alden: I think it's about You know, where do you want to be a year or five years from now versus where do you want to be today? I know like cash is the easiest thing to understand you want it now But if you take a step back and think about back to your vision and your aspirations [00:14:00] Does the biggest conventional retailer make sense in your long term plan?

If the answer is yes, then I think go for it. If it doesn't, if your target consumer is likely not shopping at a Walmart, then just saying yes to that retailer may not be the best long term plan for you. So I think just getting back to, Why you exist who you're going after as a consumer is going to be very important when you're thinking about making those decisions as hard as it can be to say no to someone long term.

It may be the best option 

Jordan Buckner: Yeah. You know, I like you mentioned Walmart, cause like, typically that's not, that may not seem like the consumer group for a lot of like higher price point products and more aspirational products, but they also see Walmart doing these like big pushes to build out these innovation sets and they're actively approaching brands.

And so it's like, Oh, how do I like tell them? No. Like this sounds like if they believe in my product, they know their customers best. Wouldn't they? Pick products that will succeed or no. 

Ashley Alden: Well, maybe then it's about asking the retailer Walmart or not, some more [00:15:00] questions. What other brands at this level have you taken on and what success have you seen there?

It should be a mutual decision, not just any retailer that comes to you. You say yes, because they have the cash, right? Yeah. I think we see a lot 

Sarah Sitz: of, or, you know, someone says yes to a target or a Walmart and then the implications for the production standpoint ends up costing them where you have to opt out.

you know, that relationship. So I think we think about retailers as a discovery curve, right? There's a little bit of a walk before you run approach with some really awesome independent retailers that are being used for discovery, you know, prove out your model, build some case studies, and then help them sell into those retailers.

Or you might say, Hey, I have dreams of being in your store. I want to make sure we're both successful here. Can you revisit this conversation next time you're resetting the category if you feel like you can't Sustain the demand. I think you know, there's a discovery curve. There's a way to prove out value.

There's also lessons learned along the way, right? When you're operating in a smaller scale that helps you then set yourself up for it's that's when you're working against a larger retailer with higher demand. 

Jordan Buckner: Do you have any [00:16:00] tools for like, or ideas? Like what, let's see. Write down maybe this brand strategy where you want to be your pricing, the types of retailers, how do you keep that front and center so that you get to like make decisions based on that every day versus getting like lost in your notes app and something that you've almost forget about?

Sarah Sitz: You get the simple chart tool that we just say, like, crank this out. You know, I think every brand marketing agency has a version of a brand house, you know, that they build. We like to use them as like a business reference to really understand what your ambition is. It's almost like a contract with yourself and with anyone else that works for you to say like, this is what we're building towards, like print that thing out.

Put it on your desk, like reference it always and make sure like, is the decision I'm making in line with a strategy that I've set? Or like, am I straying? And if I am, how do I, we think you know, approach because of the value of the opportunity. So I think it's just having it on hand, really using it and using it as almost like a rule book or a guideline that you reference to hold yourself accountable versus just passively.

Like, I [00:17:00] think I've looked at this or I'm trying, like, I think we talked to a lot of brands at small stages that are like, I'm working on this or like, take that time, block off your day, you know, work on a power session with us. Like, there are plenty of partners that have accessible, you know, brands that really want to set the stage, you know, for their future growth.

Jordan Buckner: I love that because if it gets lost, then you will never do it. You have to keep it kind of front and center. of your mind. One thing that I love doing as well is kind of whenever having these key moments of having a decision criteria to look at, revisiting your strategy, revisiting that sheet to see if it aligns or not, because it also gives you the permission to say no, right?

Because it's like, this does not align. Or as you mentioned, like if there's a really compelling reason, You can revisit that strategy, but then like rewrite the strategy, like, okay, this is how it's going to change without just making a, an offhand remark. So Sarah, Ashley, thanks so much for being on the podcast today and sharing all the brand strategy tips.

I'll be linking a guide to their bootstrap your brand strategy. Resource that's free in the show notes. So definitely check that out. [00:18:00] If you have questions around it or want a little bit of help, Sarah and Ashley offer advising along with a lot of other services to be able to take your ideas, put it down on paper so that you can use them to execute for your business.

Sarah, Ashley, thanks so much for being on. 

Ashley Alden: Thank you.