Jamie Mitchell, formerly Innocent's UK Managing Director, and now CEO of Daylesford Organic, shares with us his thoughts on why small brands can always win against big ones. Many thanks to you, Jamie.
In his words:
"Having worked with, met with and generally hung out with lots of small, independent brands, one thing comes through over and over again when I think about which ones are most likely to succeed in their chosen (viciously competitive) market: “I think, therefore I am”. OK, so maybe linking Descartes' existential theories to strategies for small brands may be a bit of a stretch, but let me try and convince you.
Small independent brands have something very powerful over their big company competitors: they have people who live and breathe the brand. They have what marketers like to call inside-out values, where the values of the brand is simply a mirrored reflection of the values of the people inside the business. When people think of the innocent brand as natural, honest, humorous, or challenging, these are the internal company values too. If people think Gu is a brand with a worryingly serious passion for chocolate desserts, go meet some of the chocolate loving people who work there.
These sorts of brands ‘think’, so they exist. "I think, therefore I am."
On the flip side, take most big company brands. Out of the thousands of employees who might touch the brand, in production, sales, finance, and so on, often only one or two people (the brand managers) are exclusively focused on that brand. How can it possibly generate a personality, a set of values, in an environment mixed up with so many competing voices and personalities?
But why does this matter? Well, big companies don’t think it matters because they still have a model of developing a product: a set of brand guidelines, a big budget and a 30 second advert. And that can still sometimes work in big, stable categories.
But if you want to innovate, and to engage customers in a genuine relationship, it helps if there is something real underneath. Compare the conversations between independent brands on twitter with the big corporate brands, and you can see how different the relationships are. One is transactional and commercial and fake. The other is like old friends.
For many small brands, however, the culture and values may not have been set up clearly in the first place. That means you need to be sure who you are before you start chatting too much with your customers.
At Daylesford, my current home, I joined at a time when it wasn’t sure if it was a sustainable food brand or a luxury lifestyle brand. And that showed inside the company, with people passionate about different things. This year, we have gone back to our roots – to the farm where everything started and, in truth, where most of the team admitted their passion for the business came from. A farm truly like no other, with a clear purpose to Make Food Matter. Once we all realised this, we could start talking to our customers with more singularity about who we were, and with the honesty, integrity and natural passion that you could never copy with a script or set of brand guidelines. And importantly, it’s believable and trustworthy. Which is one of the reasons why, today, our customers are showing signs of increasing loyalty to our food."