5 Questions to Ask Before Your Brand Takes On the Industry Challenger

Startups take risks, something all organizations should do

Regular sized person on a seesaw with a shrunken person.
Tolerance for risk within organizations is a difficult thing to change. Getty Images
Headshot of Chris Lowery

Today, large CPG brands are feeling even greater pressure in an expanding world of new go-to market strategies. Subscription services, ecommerce “anti-brands” and sustainability-driven challengers are changing the paradigm of how people shop and consume.

Brands like Hims have linked a suite of products to address top-of-mind men’s issues such as hair loss, erectile dysfunction and anxiety. The online subscription model offers a discreet (no face-to-face medical consults) and holistic solution for guys that otherwise might not seek help through normal channels.

Truman’s combines both a subscription and sustainability model to deliver mix it yourself nontoxic cleaning supplies to your door. The reusable spray bottles and small refill cylinders make shipping and storage easy.

These are two of many current startup examples. They challenge key assumptions of how products are formulated, how they work and how they’re delivered to consumers. To win against these anti-brands, marketers need to learn to take risks like a startup.

For many startups, the irony is that they are risking everything including savings, homes and the investment of close associates and family. This is not simply a professional risk from which to rebound from, but also a risk to current life and future.

So how do they find the resolve to take risks? By understanding the risk, defining the potential return, outlining the strategies to mitigate and communicating all of this clearly to internal and external stakeholders.

To win against these anti-brands, marketers need to learn to take risks like a startup.

Here are five fundamental questions that need to be answered to help you get ahead of the conversation, assess risk and build a solid case to leverage with internal/external stakeholders while putting your own mind at ease.

How certain are you that the consumer wants the product?

If you think you’ve identified a clear missing need in the marketplace, have you done the simple task of talking to potential consumers about a product that solves this need? As simple as that sounds, many teams haven’t, and a series of short conversations can not only help you confirm that need but may help you sharpen your product offering.

Can you link your innovation efforts to a parallel success in a different category?

Perhaps your product is a new enough proposition that it is difficult for consumers to understand. Can you identify something in a different category where the leap has been made and reapply some of the thinking? For instance, protein first hit shelves in the snack bar category for consumers that were using bars as a no-prep source of protein for fitness routines. Recently, marketers saw the behavior of these products being incorporated into less rigorous lifestyles and began to bring protein into juices, cereals and even coffee creamers. It was a logical reapplication to adjacent breakfast choices.

What needs to be true for product success (quality, efficacy, flavor, credentialing, price point, etc.)?

Every category has a shopper decision tree, which is the sequence of choices a shopper works through to find the product for them before they choose and buy. Identify this for your product. Once the key “Who am I?” “What am I?” questions are answered, what is the differentiating aspect of your product that communicates why it’s right for that consumer.

For some food categories this is nutritional credentialing, for others it’s simply a flavor choice. Be clear on what that is for your product before you start to create the packaging or develop supporting communication. This will also be a key part of your customer sales story.

What is the minimum level of confirmation you need to launch?

If your launch is national, does it start with test markets in partnership with a key retailer? If not, what is the minimum data set you need for launch confirmation? This can be as narrow as multi-city qualitative with 40–60 consumers if your confidence in the product is high, or as expansive as a full quantitative with thousands of respondents. A research professional can help you understand the right level of clarity and the costs involved.

How quickly can you course-correct based on market response?

This is something most large CPG companies don’t like to think about but that almost all entrepreneurial enterprises expect to do. Quick adjustments based on real market response and customer feedback is crucial. Not only are you honing your proposition in the real environment where it lives, but you are building a stronger relationship with your customer by working together for success. Plan for a measure and adjust milestone after launch, price point, support and even design if necessary. Perhaps you won’t need it, but if you don’t, the conversation is a happy one to have both internally and externally.

In the end, willingness to risk is very personal and tolerance for risk within organizations is a difficult thing to change. Assessing your proposition carefully by using the questions above is a good start to building a strong plan for launch, support and (if needed) adjustment.

Chris Lowery is president and CEO of Chase Design Group.