Three Ways Big Brands Should Think Small

scaleThis market ain’t your dad’s big-brand rodeo. Consumers no longer cling to household names because of forces like familiarity or inertia. In a prove-it-or-lose-it economy with the transparency of Internet reviews, consumers want the best product to fit their needs, and the options are vast. Big brands are losing sales to specialty shops online, crowd-funded start-ups and brands with a focus on values instead of mass production.

As a matter of fact, sales of Campbell’s, Kellogg’s and Kraft products have taken a dive this year after decades of growth. Baby boomers are still buying big-brand names, but the generations following largely are not. Here are a few tips big brands can take away from small businesses to reengage consumers:

1. Emotionally engage with consumers on a product level. Consumers want their products to come with a halo. Think “responsibly sourced,” “fair-trade” or “dye-free.” Your rewards are multiplied when you align your product with a social cause. Consumers feel good about making a purchase that effortlessly supports a cause they care for.

Small-brand example: THIS BAR SAVES LIVES. This small for-profit snack food company started with a simple premise—buy a snack bar and they’ll donate food (through a third-party nonprofit) to those in need. Consumers are able to be actively or passively involved in the process; they can simply buy a bar at Target, request to sell bars at an event, or even sign up to be a “campus activist” by selling bars on campus and spreading the word about global hunger.

Big-brand examples: Coca-Cola recently redesigned its bottles using 100% plant-based materials in an effort to go green. Also, Nestle ditched artificial flavors and dyes to meet the demands of health-conscious parents.

hand_sign-12. Launch like it’s your only shot. To a start-up, a single launch can make or break their brand. Oftentimes there’s only one moment for the stars to align and to create the brand the start-up dreamed of. The same is true for big brands. With brand-disloyal consumers, every launch needs to be the best to stay relevant.

Small-brand example: Warby Parker. Warby Parker directed its efforts (and all its loose change) solely toward its target market with editorials in GQ and Vogue. Plus, Warby Parker fits the bill for Tip #1—for every pair of glasses consumers buy, a pair is donated to someone in need.

Big-brand example: Taco Bell. How insane was the Taco Bell breakfast menu launch? Taco Bell has mastered the art of building unrelenting anticipation from fans about its next crazy product, whether it’s a partnership with Doritos and Fritos or a full-force poach of McDonald’s piece of the breakfast-market pie.

3. Think small, think specialized products. In the current market of brand skepticism, product and brand are one and the same. The most helpful thing you can do to win over brand-disloyal consumers is whittle down their 5,000 product options to the best there is—what you’re making, of course. The following brands kept their eyes on the product even when popularity could have led them astray.

Small-brand example: Huy Fong Foods. The cult following for Sriracha is impressive. This family-owned company’s sauces (three, total) rapidly expanded in popularity over the last 10 years. But its product line hasn’t. The only addition was a small contract with POP! Gourmet for Sriracha-flavored snacks featured in a small grocery chain. Huy Fong Foods has positioned itself as a trusted chili sauce expert, so keeping its product line small reinforces the message that they know what they’re doing.

Big-brand example: Fossil. Consumers face a selection of maybe 10 purses in store per season when the company could easily sell 100. The in-store displays are skillfully positioned and the products have room to breathe. There are no sloppy, overstuffed racks. No need to bombard your consumer when the goal is to be a fashion artisan.

Big brands can remain relevant beyond skepticism by thinking small. Aligning a brand’s products with values, launching products with gusto and embracing specialization will have consumers coming far and wide to see if the product lives up to its brand promise.