“8 P’s” for creating a £100m brand without advertising

A client of mine in a big food company recently said to his team: "Look at brands like Kettle Chips, Dorset Cereals, Gu chocolate puds and innocent. They've grown into big businesses without TV ads. Why can't we do the same?!"

Good question. And it got me thinking. After all, the brands above are not small "challenger brands". They are leader brands in the premium segment of the markets they operate in. For example, innocent has sales of over £100million, Kettle Chips almost £60million.

Thinking about what has helped these premium leader brands win, I went back to the good old fashioned "4 P's" of marketing (product, price, promotion, place) and added a few more (promise, personality, pack and patience) to make it 8 P's.

Screen shot 2011-06-20 at 09.58.04 1. Promise

All the brands mentioned have a nice story that drives everything they do. Kettle Chips pioneered the idea of hand-cooked chips. innocent told the story of starting up a small business that would be "innocent" by using no nasties and giving 10% of profits to a charitable foundation.

Screen shot 2011-06-20 at 09.59.21 2. Personality

Closely linked to the point on promise is personality. All the brands above have a very strong and distinctive personality which comes across in the tone of voice they use to talk to us. Often, this reflects a strong founder leading the brand, like James Averdick at Gu and Richard Reed at innocent. They give a human face to the brand that helps bring it to life and create PR.


3. Product

Sure, all the brands have emotional sizzle. But they also have a great product "sausage". Gu puds are fantastic chocolate creations, using clever technology to make the inside all soft and runny. Kettle Chips were the first to use fancy flavours like "sea salt and crushed peppercorn", whereas most crips at the time were pretty basic.

4. Premium

The most obvious "p" is premium priced. For example, Dorset is still priced c.50% above mainstream muesli like Alpen. And Kettle Chips are c.20% above Walkers crips (I wonder if this premium has dropped as the brand has grown in scale). The premium price helps create an aspirational image, and means more money to invest in packaging, product and promotion.

Their role has not to been to challenge a market leader, David & Goliath-like. Rather, they have created a new market segment in which they are the leader brand. Indeed, its ironic that although these brands are often portrayed as "challenger brands", they are in fact leaders who have to defend against challenger brands launched by bigger companies. Kettle is the leader defending against Walker's Sensations and Red Sky. And innocent had to defend vs. Tropicana Smoothies.

5. Place

Some of these premium leader brands started out with selective distribution. innocent sold in smaller stores and coffee shops before going into big supermarkets. Kettle I think used out of home sales at the start as well. This has the benefit of building a bit of image, targeting upscale consumers at the start and also creating a track record of sales to help supermarket listings.

Screen shot 2011-06-20 at 10.25.43 6. Pack

Perhaps the most important bit of marketing for these brands is of course packaging. They all have a highly distinctive identity which creates stand-out on shelf and tells their brand story. For example, although I work with Jordans Cereals, I can't help but admire the work Perry and his team at Big Fish design have done for Dorset.The new box format, pastel colours, visible product window and use of pack copy to communicate have all helped them establish a strong market position.

7. Promotion

By using the 6 P's covered so far, brands like Dorset, Gu and Kettle Chips have grown into significant businesses with no or limited advertising. The same went for innocent until a couple of years ago. And I think this is less down to things like Facebook and email newsletters, and more down to good old fashioned word-of-mouth and personal promotion. For example, you go to a friends house and have an amazing pud, and the host sells the Gu brand (unless they pretend they made it).

8. Patience

Last but not least is patience. Most of the brands discussed here were were privately owned to begin with. The owners were prepared to take their time in building the brand and business. Although all of them have now been taken over by private equity firms or bigger companies.

In conclusion, its not impossible for a team in a big company to create the next Gu, innocent or Dorset. But this needs all the 8 P's of promise, personality, product, price, place, pack, promotion and patience. And this is hard to do in a big company.

Which is why a more obvious strategy is to be on the look-out for the next Gu and buy a share in it early, when the price is pretty low.