Believe

It seems to be the most remarkable form of alchemy: put some water, sugar, a few vitamins and a deceptively simple-looking label on a bland plastic bottle, and what do you have? Shazam! If you’re Vitaminwater, an enhanced water that seems to single-handedly reinvent the non-carbonated beverage sector (and, in the process, extract a $4.1 billion buyout offer from Coca-Cola Co.).

No question, the outsize reward harvested this spring by the creators of that brand and their investors woke up a lot of folks to the potential power of a new brand. There is no question that the Glaceau-created brand arouses a fervent loyalty from many of its consumers. Is that kind of connection (and the financial reward that it can bring) really in the cards for every entrepreneur? Of course not: the vast majority of new brands will fail. That doesn’t mean there are no guidelines worth following that might better your chances of inspiring faith in consumers that your brand understands them and can satiate their needs, from refreshment to better health. There are, sort of. Throw in healthy dollops of inspiration and ingenuity – and perhaps the agility and sensitivity to market conditions that’s born of desperately trying to meet payroll each week – and maybe you can brew up the next Vitaminwater. Indeed, when this magazine quizzed executives associated with such past and current brand successes as Snapple, SoBe, Fat Tire and Vitaminwater for their rules of thumb, we were surprised at the consensus we got from many of these self-styled marketing renegades.

What did they say? If you want to have a hope of success these days, the trick, in essence, seems to be to approach the consumer with a distinct point of view and to commit to putting staff resources into the market to make sure your concept isn’t distorted on its way to the consumer. You’ve also got to be willing to continually tweak the concept until you’ve got it right. From this perspective, it’s easier to understand why it’s so difficult for larger companies to strike the right note, given their elaborate processes built on consensus, their heavy commitment to existing distribution channels and approaches, and internal pressures not to trespass on existing brands plying adjacent segments.

Most of all, successful beverage entrepreneurs say, don’t overthink the whole thing: a clutter of complex themes and messages coming at consumers is almost certain to undermine any chance they will be willing to make that leap of faith to pick your brand up off the shelf. It offsets any sense of freshness, authenticity or sheer fun that you may be trying to inspire. Indeed, overthinking new launches may be one of the errors that bedevils major beverage companies most in their often tepid attempts at innovation. For a down-to-earth perspective, it’s helpful to turn to the blunt-spoken John Bello, who, after turning NFL Properties into a licensing juggernaut, created the SoBe beverage brand and sold it to PepsiCo. Currently a general partner at Sherbrooke Partners who’s on the continual prowl for promising investments (one of them, Izze, was also sold to PepsiCo), Bello has a good vantage point of startups in many businesses.

“In retrospect, every business is hugely competitive and there’s not room for much in the way of new entries, whether you’re talking about autos or sports or beverages,” Bello said. “But people’s views change and that creates opportunities for something exciting, new and different. In most consumer areas outside technology, there’s not much that is not a commodity, so it’s how you evolve, adapt and put a new coat of paint on what’s going on in the marketplace. If you take a basic business and adapt, adjust and reflect the changing dynamics of the marketplace, you can compete with the giants, who’re slow to react.”

So what are some of those basic rules of developing a successful new beverage brand?

Make the product different – but don’t fight certain core conventions.

No question your product will have to be different in some of its fundamentals; marketing alone won’t carry the day. There has to be a kernel of real innovation somewhere in there. With rare exceptions, though, the trick is to stop short of an outright paradigm shift, which is likely to befuddle the wholesalers, retailers and consumers you need to reach. There are certain underlying conventions of formula, packaging and positioning that it’s foolish to fight. In other words, the trick is knowing which conventions to breach in order to make a statement, and which ones to stick to so your message isn’t fatally undermined. Or, put yet another way, you want to be as differentiated as possible so people will notice you. But you have to follow some rules so people will get what it is you’re doing.

From the 8 oz. canister of Red Bull to the pharma-lite look of Vitaminwater, a strikingly different package can carry the burden in coaxing a consumer to pick up a brand off the shelf. By now a classic example of a marketer that chose the right rule to break AriZona Iced Tea, which launded in the early 1990s. In launching the brand in the 23.5 oz. cans they knew from their beer activities, brand creators Don Vultaggio and John Ferolito were warned by experts against conveying their Southwestern theme in pastel-colored graphics, which would be far too recessive on a cluttered store shelf. The founding duo reasoned – correctly, as it happened – that if every other beverage marketer was following the same playbook, then their pastels were sure to jump off the shelf. Of course, they proved to be right.

But the strategy only worked because it didn’t violate any fundamental conventions, such as the one that dictates that diet drinks go in whitish or silver packages. Perhaps the pastels carried overly feminine connotations for the demographic group that AriZona was trying to reach, but that was offset by the macho dimensions of the “big boy” can.

These days, certain can sizes and profiles shout “energy drink” to consumers, so that using them for another segment requires extra work on the label in letting consumers know it’s not an energy drink (as with, for example, Airforce Nutrisoda, which is packed in Red Bull-like 8 oz. cans). Some new rules seem to be getting written on taste when it comes to energy drinks, too: either too candy-like or too subtle a taste may undermine the core consumer’s belief that the product really is efficacious.

It’s better for your label to have an excess of personality than to be too slick, which consumers often will interpret to be corporate. And a proprietary packaging structure is almost always a big win, if the cost is not too prohibitive. Fortunately, there sometimes are shortcuts available. For their distinctive wide-mouth 20 oz. glass bottle for AriZona, the brand’s creators didn’t go to a high-priced packaging consultant but instead drew inspiration from other aisles of the supermarket – say, the salad dressing and steak sauce aisle. For INOV8 Beverage’s Hydrive energy water, partners Mike Weinstein and Brian O’Byrne found a tall, slender bottle that was in use only in Canada, for an alcoholic beverage. Thus, they benefited from the favorable economics of using an existing form factor while still coming off to their American retailers and consumers as entirely new. And since they were trying to be a different, better-for-you energy drink, they weren’t bound to slavishly adhere to the slim-can convention that dominates the core part of the energy drink sector. Tradeoff: the bottle’s 8-inch height makes it difficult to fit onto a conventional cooler shelf.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good creation myth – but make sure it’s based upon more than a kernel of truth.

Intriguing creation myths, attached to a believable founder, can be a powerful awareness-building engine for a nascent brand. A handful of brand creators – Boston Beer’s ubiquitous Jim Koch comes to mind, or the trio of down-to-earth creators of Snapple – have skillfully played on their offbeat-but-Everyman personas to capture the imagination of consumers – and, just of important, of mythmakers in the media. In his role as “Lizard King,” where he was always quick with an outrageous soundbite or stunt – often at the expense of Snapple – Bello drew a constant stream of media coverage that helped give the brand itself an outsize presence.

Meanwhile, over at Snapple, when its humble founders were out of the picture, Snapple marketers did well by dialing up the presence of a personable receptionist, Wendy the Snapple Lady, as a new embodiment of the brand. Truth is, the media can’t resist creating icons to represent a new trend. Seth Goldman, with his mensch-y, Honest Abe demeanor, draws media attention far out of proportion to the size of his Honest Tea business. Ryan and Jeremy Black, the buff, we-were-surfing-in-Brazil brothers behind Sambazon, seem to score high on the media-intrigue scale, generating coverage of their smoothies made from acai berries harvested in the Amazon rainforest. Some beverage experts also like the chances of Alex Hughes, the 30-year-old, telegenic doctor behind Function drinks, who hasn’t yet quit his day job as a pediatrician in LA. “A good-looking doctor in the same age group as his consumers might work,” figures INOV8’s Weinstein, whose prior accomplishments include running A&W Brands and turning around the Snapple brand after its disastrous experience while owned by Quaker Oats. “If I was running Function Brands, it wouldn’t.”

Consumers seem to be drawn to democratic stories about how one of their own – no smarter, or richer, or better-looking – was able to parlay a novel insight into a prosperous new career. Electrical engineer and homebrewer Jeff Lebesch, after an enlightening bike trip across Europe, decided to name his own Belgian-style ale Fat Tire in honor of the journey. These days, a particularly fertile variant of the myth involves parents concerned about the welfare of their children who decide to invent their own, more nutritious beverage. After all, moms are more likely to trust an entry – say, a Hint essence water – devised by one of their own than one conjured up by a faceless corporate giant, right? In all these cases, good frontmen provide a useful peg for journalists looking for uplifting bootstrap stories, for distributors and retailers who can’t keep straight the avalanche of new products being pitched to them, and for Internet bloggers looking to keep a step ahead of their readers in uncovering the next big thing. But – as the experience of beverage entrepreneur Larry “Buzzy” Twombly showed, when his inspirational story about his recovery path from a motorcycle accident that had derailed his professional hockey career was exposed as largely a fabrication – if there’s no truth to the myth, it’s likely to catch up with you with devastating results. The media that previously lionized you are sure to turn on you.

Make sure your brand has a point of view. Then make sure your partners and employees embody that point of view.

A new brand should have a positioning – or evolve to one – that can be captured in a phrase, whether “healthy hedonism,” for SoBe, or “renegade energy” for Monster Energy. If it can’t, the position likely is too complicated or muddy. It should have a point of view, even an implicit world view. While consumers may realize that even whimsical startup brands are the product of a corporation that has making money on its mind, they still want to think it has a higher reason for being than just that, even if that motive is nothing more elaborate than infusing fun into a staid, settled category. Nor should the launch seem blatantly fabricated, as new launches from major companies often tend to be. Too often, launches can seem to be following mechanical criteria rather than being sparked by any real passion or insight: “Coffee is really popular these days, and we make a great cola, so how can Coke Blak miss?” (It missed pretty widely, and Coke discontinued production in late summer.)

And just as a person is defined by who his friends are, brands are defined by the web of associations, endorsers and retail environments they’re seen in. It’s worth keeping that in mind when choosing your route to consumers. Aura-conferring retailers like Starbucks, Central Market, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco help; a presence in more humdrum, price-driven chains like Wal-Mart can hurt. In trying to decide whether Izze was more worthy of an investment than other sparkling juice brands in the market, Sherbrooke’s John Bello said the clincher was that Izze had shown up in the Starbucks cooler. “Because that’s where opinion leaders go, it rose above the competitive clutter,” he said. “It had that fourth dimension.”

In developing his new Monster Energy brand at Hansen’s Natural, senior vice president Mark Hall eschewed the conventional route of purchasing event sponsorships and media buys. Instead, he and his associates approached extreme-sports athletes directly, on the slopes, carrying a wad of cash that was sure to get the attention of this famously cynical cohort, suspicious of the promise of riches being proffered by businesspeople. (Hall approached athletes who’d just qualified for the semifinals, guaranteeing that they’d be getting TV time.) “We literally went to the X Games with $25,000 in our pocket and signed people on the spot,” Hall recalled.

Perhaps more than any other company, Glaceau has made working on the Vitaminwater and Smartwater brands almost a cult undertaking – epitomizing the mandate that each employee has to “be the brand.” Employees are well-stocked with product to consume conspicuously in public, on the theory, as distributor and former Glaceau board member Ken Sadowsky put it, that “everything is a one-to-one interaction.” (The most well-hydrated fellow panelist observed by this writer in a jury room in Manhattan a year or so ago turned out to be a Glaceau marketing executive who continually sipped from a large bottle of Smartwater.)

To emphasize that the most honorable duty is in the metaphorical trenches, out on the street, the company for years has undertaken what has been internally dubbed the “Mike Ro Classic,” weeklong events in which almost everybody in the company, from Mike Repole and marketing chief Rohan Oza down, heads out into the street to open new accounts and otherwise work the brand, with rival teams pitting Northern versus Southern California, for example, or North Texas versus South Texas. The event bangs home the notion that, at Glaceau, there is no higher calling than to embody the brand in front of retailers and consumers.

Similarly, though the company has developed an extensive roster of athlete endorsers, Repole and Oza have tried to insure that the athletes were already consuming the brand on their own before any contacts were made between the two – in other words, that they were true brand zealots rather simply mercenaries. “It’s not contrived. It’s really what the guys are drinking. That’s the difference between top-down and bottom-up marketing,” emphasized Sadowsky, who runs the NA portfolio of Massachusetts distributor Atlas and held a seat on the Glaceau board until India’s Tata made a major investment last fall.

Increasingly, there is an ethical component to a brand’s identity. An expanding group of consumers seems to want choose not just a good-tasting beverage with healthier attributes or a pleasing shtick, but a manufacturer whose core values are in synch with their own. At New Belgium Brewing, the Fort Collins, Colo., craft brewer whose Fat Tire has enjoyed explosive growth, the brand’s founders, Lebesch and his wife Kim Jordan, “wrote down the template of core values before they even bottled the beer,” said chief branding officer Greg Owsley. Even today, when the brewery has grown to scores of  employees, “just about everybody around can probably quote you four or five core values off the top of their head,” he said. Nobody is hired – no matter what their skills mix or experience level – if they can’t demonstrate how they’re in synch with the brewery’s core values.

New Belgium donates $1 per barrel sold to philanthropy, bestows an ownership stake on each employee at his or her first anniversary (they also get a bike) and runs the brewery off wind energy. Emphasizing values such as these sometimes means avoiding tempting marketing strategems. For example, the meteoric growth of Fat Tire Amber Ale might have inspired the company to rebrand itself as Fat Tire Brewing to streamline its marketing task as it rolls out to new markets. Certainly, Sierra Nevada’s marketing job is considerably eased by having the company’s name and all its products branded as Sierra Nevada. But, Owsley said, that would be risky for New Belgium. Because the company’s core values are so central to all its brands, from Fat Tire to Blue Paddle to Mothership Wit, “New Belgium really becomes the long-term pact with our consumers,” he said. So the company must remain New Belgium Brewing.

That was brought home to Owsley in a conversation with an exec at the local Anheuser-Busch brewery. “You know, we could make Fat Tire better than you,” he recalled the exec saying, referring to A-B’s technical mastery in producing beer on a large scale at consistent quality levels. “But we could never sell it, because people want to buy it from New Belgium Brewing.”

Challenges on ethical grounds can arise with startling frequency – as bottled water companies have seen as concern grows among consumers about the wasted packaging and energy that go into shipping water long distances in bottles that rarely make their way into the recycling stream. No surprise, then, that water marketers are moving quickly to employ far less plastic (as with Nestle Waters in the U.S.) or to find ways to offset their carbon footprint (as with Icelandic Glacial in the new “carbon-neutral” bottling plant it is building in Iceland). Marketers know all too well that issues like these have become key factors in some consumers’ buying decisions – even for as seemingly trivial purchase as a bottle of cold water.

Don’t overestimate the power of conventional media to drive your business.

Because marketing giants like Coke and Pepsi have done such masterful work on television and other purchased media for so long, beverage entrepreneurs often aspire to scale the same heights – if only they had the cash flow to support such a push. But that can be a mistake. Such media – especially TV – are expensive, often difficult to target well, and by theirvery nature can undermine a brand’s image as being a homey startup from an inspired amateur. Indeed, though it’s causing plenty of soul-searching among major marketers, the fragmentation of traditional media in some ways plays to the strength of startups. For one, targeted marketing via the Internet can be cheap, and ingenuity often trumps financial resources in getting a viral buzz going. Truth is, for startup brands, PR and in-store promotion often blur with outright paid media in getting the brand message across. “In the hierarchy of where to spend money, media can be a low priority,” said Weinstein, who readily acknowledges that TV ads he ran behind Mistic and Snapple in the 1990s were intended as much to impress the trade into taking the brands seriously as to actually drive consumers into stores. From a standpoint of pure efficiency, he regards radio tie-ins tied to sampling at major local events as more sensible – as he’s doing with his new brand, Hydrive, in its key Boston market at events like College Fest or the Boston Marathon.
As it happens, the annals of breakthrough beverage brands are littered with accounts of marketers who had difficulty making a successful transition to TV. After a brilliant run of memorable radio ads featuring Sam Adams’ witty but down to earth creator Jim Koch, Boston Beer groped for years to find the right tone and message for its TV ads. It’s noteworthy that the breakthrough came when, rather than continue to overthink its strategy, the company shot some straightforward footage of Koch selecting hops and pursuing other quotidian aspects of brewing a fine craft beer, for intended use at its visitor center in Boston. Company execs realized that the footage, with an engaging informality, might work just as well if repurposed for TV. By lacking the overt fingerprints of “marketers,” as had prior efforts such as one featuring a hokey Sam Adams character, the campaign came off as more convincing for a brand that is still very much driven by the vision of its founder.

One closely watched recent experiment with the TV medium has occurred at New Belgium as it has moved its Fat Tire beer into new markets over the past two years. Rather than offering the hyperkinetic, special-effects-laden ads that might suggest a big company, the company went to the opposite extreme with a laid-back tableau of a cyclist “following his folly,” per the company’s tagline. The low-key tone and execution, with sunlit country vistas against a guitar arpeggio on the soundtrack, work hard to counter any concern that TV may be an overassertive medium for a “discovery” brand like Fat Tire. Still, though he terms the ads’ two-year run “wonderful,” branding chief Owsley said the company won’t be running the ads this year or next, for both targeting and cost reasons. “It’s a really hard medium to reach people, and it was getting expensive, too, as we open San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’m not sure I can find our consumer in episodes of Nip/ Tuck, while I know I can find them in Outside magazine. I just wasn’t reaching enough people for the ROI. We sold enough beer in many markets to pay for the ads, but I literally didn’t have enough money to support all the markets and assure sustainability for the message.”
As it happens, for the sometimes elaborate story that Fat Tire wishes to tell, print has proven more effective – and with as many as 15 percent of those who see the print ads visiting the brand’s Web site, they can see the TV ads there, anyway. Meanwhile, Fat Tire has no second thoughts about its commitment to more immersive brand experiences, like its Tour de Fat mountain biking sponsorships.

Remarkably, if one of the conventional levers of media power, TV, remains off limits to most new brands, another is becoming increasingly available. As consumers stray from the beaten track of mass-market soft drinks and beers, they’re forcing a realignment of priorities among the major entertainment properties, from film studios to ballparks, that traditionally have tied their promotional efforts to old-school beverage partners like Coke or Budweiser beer. In their effort to reach consumers with health or premium messages, barriers have gotten lower for relatively small brands. Thus, Jones Soda gets pouring rights for Seahawks games at Qwest Field in its home market of Seattle, while Honest Tea, based in nearby Bethesda, Md., garners a role at RFK Stadium with the Washington Nationals. Even more surprising, Disney has begun to hedge its long reliance on Coca-Cola as a promo partner for new movie releases in favor of such humble startups as San Francisco’s Hint essence water and Airforce Nutrisoda, a Minneapolis-area functional beverage marketer that is owned by, of all people, Pepsi’s No. 2 bottler. Both brands have managed to carve out visible promotional roles in major Disney releases like Meet the Robinsons and The Santa Clause (Hint) and this fall’s tentpole release, Enchanted (Nutrisoda). These can be highly effective, because they hitch the brand’s identity to a familiar partner and open the door for all kinds of on-pack and in-store pegs. Best yet, from all appearances those marketers didn’t have to fork over any cash, either. This is truly a new landscape for beverage marketers.
One change wrought this decade is that distributors have taken on ever-wider portfolios of beverages and started doing less of the daily grunt work of building brands. Thus it’s become the marketer’s job to make sure that the crucial execution link between brand and consumer occurs at the street level. “At the end of the day, with all the choices about where to allocate resources, it’s manpower at the street level that should be the priority,” said Weinstein.

That can be hard to swallow for some marketers, given the slice of margin distributors take for the presumed value they add. No question, there still are lots of distributors who do take their role as brand-builders seriously. But to abdicate that role entirely to distributors is a mistake, say veterans like Weinstein.

“Sure,” he said, “you’re doing the work of the distributors. But in markets where we don’t put people, the salespeople don’t sell anything.” Indeed, to win distribution in the first place, it often helps to send in your own people first to crack the major chain accounts. At $50,000 per head and up, hiring those bodies doesn’t come cheap for a young company.

Few would doubt that the gold standard in building an effective army of foot soldiers on the street has been set by Vitaminwater marketer Glaceau – so much so that, in announcing its acquisition of the company, even Coca-Cola execs – who’re not generally known for their humility – said they had much to learn from the company on that score.

The concept evolved from founder Darius Bikoff and his COO Mike Repole, himself a former distributor, recalled former Glaceau board member Sadowsky. Their thought was, since the distributor picking up your brand carries numerous other brands, how does he prioritize your brand?

“The normal incentives can break down with the sale force in the street looking for the path of least resistance,” he said, as time concerns or language barriers may cut a call short. Traditional crew drives and ride-alongs are unquestionably effective in bringing focus to the brand, but the tradeoff is they are staffed by people from other regions whose time would be better spent concentrating on their local market. The insight of Glaceau’s execs: Why not put feet on the street as their core competency?

Whether summer interns or entry-level staffers, these people were trained well on the brand’s core attributes, instructed in which competitive brands should be targeted for shelf space, equipped with a key-account list and turned loose in the market. True, earlier  new-age marketers – Mistic is one that comes to mind – had employed such staffers before, but none had done so in such an orchestrated manner, with such a high financial commitment. Sales and marketing are kept as separate functions, at both the local and regional level, though the two sides are encouraged to work closely together so that the local sales exec, for instance, might call his or her marketing counterpart to request that the GTV be brought in to generate sampling. (That’s short for “Glaceau Tasting Vehicle,” which resembles a TV news remote truck complete with satellite dish but is configured to facilitate the handing out of 10 oz. sample bottles.)

There’s no question that factor makes it harder – and definitely more expensive – to launch a brand today. “You need more money to put feet on the street,” said Bello. “Distributors want you to sell the brand in yourself, and they want perpetuity contracts. Those things are almost prohibitive obstacles.” Where building a new brand might have required $5 or $10 million a decade earlier, now it runs $25 million or more, Bello asserted. He guesses that Vitaminwater spent $85 to $100 million. Looking at the $4.2 billion windfall it brought from Coke, it clearly was worth it.

Don’t coast. Keep tweaking the brand.

It’s often remarkable how little a successful product resembles the version that initially went out into the market. Snapple, remember, began as a cider brand with an unpleasant penchant for exploding on store shelves. The same certainly was true of the beverage launched by Bello as South Beach. It was intended as a lifestyle line somewhat in the manner of New York Seltzer or Clearly Canadian. During what Bello calls his “$2 million learning in the marketplace,” the line failed to garner much traction –– but execs noticed that while four of the original six SKUs seemed dead on the shelf, a couple seemed to stir some consumer interest. The one called Orange Elixir was particularly intriguing: the orange-carrot blend (South Beach execs used “elixir” because they were afraid to put the word “carrot” on the label) offered elevated levels of beta carotene and vitamin C, and that seemed to strike a chord with fans. That insight prompted a decisive shift to a new positioning – “healthy hedonism” – a change of brand name from South Beach to SoBe and the introduction of a lizard motif to dial up the personality of the brand. Employing some of the same ingredients that Red Bull was pioneering in energy drinks, the company launched a black tea with reinforced with gingko biloba, guarana and ginseng as first in a restaged line with functional and nutritional ingredients. The call to arms, “Drain the lizard,” though it seemed to fight the good-for-you orientation of the rethought line, was intended to banish any impression among consumers that these drinks were medicine, even though they picked up ingredients such as yohimbe and creatine that were mainstays of more esoteric health/wellness channels. As self-titled “Lizard King,” Bello was happy to wage a PR battle with reigning new age deity Snapple as a way to generate coverage and awareness. The message was amplified by associations with extreme sports athletes and free spirits like Bode Miller and John Daly. “We captured the interest of opinion-leaders. Kids knew about it and talked about it, and it all tasted good,” he said. It was a far cry on every front from what started as South Beach, but it worked.

Research can help. But never be driven by it.

When thinking about research, it doesn’t hurt to keep constantly in mind that every infamous market failure, from New Coke on down, was backed by a stack of favorable consumer research. Clearly, being slavishly guided by research is a mistake. But it can also seem reckless to go by gut instinct alone. So what’s the happy medium? Probably to use research as an early warning system to detect flaws in your idea, but not as an affirmative way to design and launch products.

If you’re going to reach out to consumers, it’s important to go to them with a fully realized product, not just vague concepts. “You’ve got to get close to what the package will look like,” said Weinstein. “It’s not a conceptual sell, it’s a physical sell.”
Observational research can help assure that a brand consumers rave about privately doesn’t turn out to be something they’re embarrassed to be seen drinking in public. And when consumers resoundingly say no to an idea, it’s worth taking heed. “We are constantly amazed at ideas we have that make sense – but when we show them to consumers, they don’t make sense,” said Weinstein. Take a caffeinated OJ called Go-Jay he considered during the caffeinated-water mini-boom of the late 1990s. Focus groups quickly but a brake on that. Consumers said, “Don’t screw up my orange juice,” Weinstein recalled. The idea of reinforcement fought the connotation of orange juice as being pure. (Of course, that was then. A decade later, energy producers are having another go at the idea, albeit positioned as energy drinks rather than enhanced OJ.)

Weinstein was similarly guided more recently while developing the energy water Hydrive at INOV8 Beverage. Given the favorable buzz about green tea, that was going to be the first flavor in the line – until consumers’ opinions were sought. “It never worked,” Weinstein recalled. “None of them thought it would give you energy. They saw green tea as relaxing.” So the partners stayed away from that ingredient, even as other companies chose to go with green-tea-based energy drinks under brands like AriZona and Steaz. Time will tell if Weinstein’s research led him in the right direction.

The bottom line on consumer research? “We try to do as much consumer work as we can, within budgetary constraints,” Weinstein said. “You need to listen to as many people as you can in the early stages designing the product. We show stuff to the Fedex guy, the postman, four women in a pr firm across the hall. We listen to everybody and don’t dismiss anybody’s opinion. But you can’t research how people respond and tell their friends once a product is out in the market. New Coke might have been fine if not for all the news stories about how people hated it.”