State Your Position and Let the Marketplace Agree

Last month our BevNET team spent a grueling, fast-paced time covering the Expo West show in Anaheim. The show is overwhelming in scope and size, and the aisle miles take its toll on your body and soul. To those in attendance, you know what I’m talking about and how large and successful the event has become. Thousands of brands were exhibited, with beverages one of the prominent category to enjoy the spotlight. The vast array of natural and organic product offerings are dramatic evidence of where food and beverage industry is going. Expo West captures the essence of today’s retailing. The thousands of retailers and distributors gracing the halls were a reflection of the importance of the show.

Over the course of the three days, I met with most of the beverage companies exhibiting. It was a most enjoyable time to sample, taste, scrutinize the packaging and hear about the uniqueness of each of the brands. They were some of the most innovative and unique formulations products to come down the pike. Each claimed its special position in the marketplace. I dutifully listened to the claims and tried to see the fit in the pantheon of beverages past, with an eye to the future. I can’t tell you how many brands told me that they were a category creator, and at least, a radical new spin or direction on an already defined category. I think not. If that were the case, beverages would be such a splintered arena with hundreds of categories and it would be too hard to manage and execute.

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I always try to put myself in the minds of the retailers and distributors that these companies covet. They are tasked in deciding which brands to take on their shelves and in their bays. While you might want to be a new category creator, they work within the confines of their business model. It is not easy to create space for a brand that doesn’t fit in their parameters. Also, you don’t get to decide where the brand will be placed even though it’s crystal clear to you that it deserves space in a particular set. It is great to position your brand to them, but you must keep in mind that they’ve seen it all and heard it all. Don’t back yourself into a corner with your unique positioning.

I understand your zeal and love for your brand; that’s what makes the industry so great. Yet, you must be realistic in your positioning, claims and posturing. The retailers and distributors have a long term, largely successful game plan. Be realistic in approaching them, and help guide them to where you think your brand should be. Much of what I heard wasn’t guiding, but dogmatically pushing. The approach must be modified to achieve placement and success.