I have worked with many plant-based businesses in the past few years, and have seen many businesses struggle. Here are my top 10 tips for the understaffed, under-capitalized start-up, as well as the semi-seasoned, growing medium-sized company.
1. Plant-based Is No Longer Enough.
The market is growing at an exponential rate and splintering into many, expanding demographics. You can no longer target everyone with a plant-based attribute. You need to know for whom you are making your plant-based product. Moms who want healthy kids? Older people concerned for their health? Millennials worried about the environment? Gen Z taking a stand for animals? Find out and target your message to them for true and loyal engagement.
2. Strategy. It’s Not a Dance.
Sure, sometimes you pivot and adapt your strategy, but you can’t be shifting all the time, and just doing what others do can leave you directionless. So, you must nail your strategy and, generally speaking, stick with it while making tweaks along the way. If you don’t have a strategy for reaching and engaging your customers, that has to stop now. Plan your strategy and execute it efficiently to get out in front.
3. One Press Release Isn’t a Communication Strategy. Three Press Releases Aren’t a Marketing Strategy.
Engaging your customer isn’t a one and done kind of action. It requires consistent communication. Plan to have press releases every 4-6 weeks and have those press releases play a role in a broader marketing plan that includes an ad spend, social media, cross-promotion and more, depending on your product. It takes a Tsunami of effort to engage your customer and break through the noise, so leave no (marketing) stone unturned! Note: I highly recommend a Brand Deck as a starting point for all Marketing Plans.
4. Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day. Plant-based Businesses Are.
One need only look at NotCo to see how quickly a company can make great strides. Things are moving incredibly quickly so there is no time to sit on the sidelines. If your press release is picked up, share, put it on your website, thank the journalist, reach out to similar, but not competing, businesses for cross-promotion, engage influencers, stay visible. Shake, move, hustle, go!
5. Find Your Voice. Take a Stand. Now.
One of the reasons that David-type plant-based brands can go up against Goliath-like food conglomerates is because consumers increasingly want to know from top to bottom where the brand, as well as the company as a whole, stands on important societal issues such as the environment, animal welfare, health, diversity, equal opportunity, social justice. You need not take a stand on everything, but you must stand a stand on something. Figure out where you stand, now, and let it be known.
6. Company Cultures Can Crumble.
The problem with a quickly growing business is that it can expand so quickly that communication around company culture, mission and vision can get lost or forgotten. Be vigilant to grow the culture strongly from within while you work to remain a tight-knit family. This needs consistent attention – don’t wait for it to be a problem to be addressed
7. Testing, Testing.
Test everything you can! If you have a new ad campaign, test it. If you have new packaging, test it. If you have a new logo, test it. You may not be able to afford proper consumer research, but you can ask friends, distant family, friends of family, social media, etc. Garner as much intel as you can to move forward seamlessly.
8. You Have Super-Powers And You Are Going To Need Them.
(AKA. It Takes More Money and Work Than You Think.)
Being underfunded is incredibly stressful on the team. Whatever you think it will cost, add 30% and hope that you are close. The same is true for work. No matter how long you think the work will take, add about 30%. And, of course, there’s no way around the work. Luckily, your mission to help animals, the environment and people’s health is your super-power that keeps you jazzed and excited to be working like a freak every day. You’ll need it and never forget why you do what you do. It’s your kryptonite.
9. May Your Investors Be Strategic.
Finding investors who not only share their wealth and the vision, but open doors along with way are truly angels. May you have many.
10. Relationships Are Built and Destroyed.
Be careful. The plant-based world is a small one still. Burning Bridges will cost you unnecessarily later. Don’t be short-sighted. Build your relationships to last.
Bonus: I have found that it isn’t the smartest, prettiest, wealthiest, or even the most well-connected who succeed. Those who are the most successful are those who 1) react the fastest, 2) work the hardest and 3) make their money last the longest. Godspeed!