6 ways to create a killer brand

Why do some brands fly? What is it exactly that makes the ‘feel’ of a product or service so instantly enticing that it attracts customers like a magnet? To find out from someone who’s built one of the most successful UK brands of the past 10 years, we interviewed Juliet Barratt, co-founder of sports-nutrition brand Grenade. The company she and her husband Alan launched in 2010 has spent five consecutive years in the Sunday Times’ Fast Track Top 100 and was valued at £72m when the couple sold a stake to Lion Capital in 2017. Currently, Grenade is the fastest selling health-food snack bar in the UK.

Here’s how they built it, in the words of Juliet…

Lesson 1: Become experts in your niche

“Before launching Grenade we ran a sports-nutrition distribution business selling other people’s products. From this, we gained extensive knowledge of what sold well, what sold less well, what people liked and what they didn’t like. This gave us invaluable insight into what kind of product to create, including its look and feel. Using this knowledge, we were able to start planning our brand ideas and developing the IP from 2006 onwards – four years before we actually launched.”

Lesson 2: Be distinctive and memorable

“One crucial thing that we discovered early on is that people found it really hard to remember what products are called when they stepped outside the gym or health-food store. Consumers are bombarded with brands and adverts every day. We decided it was absolutely critical to create a distinctive brand. It wouldn’t matter what language you spoke, or where you were in the world, you’d instantly know our product by its look and feel. That’s why we came up with the Grenade name and spent a lot of time and money developing our grenade-shaped container. More than anything else, it had to be memorable if it were to stand out on the shelf.”

Lesson 3: Be edgy but not offensive

“There’s a difference between being edgy and offensive. Lots of brands have launched and thought, ‘Let’s be rude, swear and try to offend people’. I don’t think that makes a good brand in the long term. It might bring you short-term sales and make people notice you, but I don’t believe that consumers will ultimately buy into you. We’ve always said that we simply want to stand out while still being respectful to everyone. If people love us, then brilliant. If they don’t, that’s fine too… just as long as they’ve noticed us.”

Lesson 4: Maintain your authenticity

“To spread the word about Grenade, we recruited a team of ambassadors who love what we do and were keen to shout about us. We didn’t pay them; we just gave them product. They really bought into the Grenade world and helped us to grow. Word of mouth from people who genuinely love what you do is more valuable than celebrities being paid to stand there and say: ‘I use this; it’s great.’ Consumers are savvy and can tell when they’re seeing paid-for PR puff. Someone with 5,000 followers genuinely loving your product is, for me, worth more than someone with 100,000 followers being paid to say they use your stuff when in reality they don’t. It’s easy to sell someone a product once. It’s much harder to get them to buy it again and again. If you mislead people or make ridiculous claims, that makes your brand less authentic and therefore less magnetic.

Lesson 5: Look everywhere for inspiration

“I’ve always loved brands. I used to go into duty-free shops and spend an hour looking at the designs of the alcohol bottles – even though I don’t drink. It’s so clever that companies can sell what’s basically the same liquid for anything between £10 to £1,000 a bottle depending on the brand. When building your brand, you need to look at what other brands are doing. You also need to understand what your target consumers are buying, what music they’re listening to and what they’re wearing. All that information helps you to build your brand in the most effective way.”

Lesson 6: Align your brand with your personality

“It’s far easier to build your brand if you genuinely believe in it yourself and identify with it personally. If you spend time trying to portray a brand that’s not ‘you’ – that doesn’t fit in with your passions and interests – it’s going to be really difficult. It’ll be almost as if you’re lying to yourself and your consumers. If, on the other hand, your brand is a true reflection of you, you’ll enjoy your work much more and your customers will find it easier to relate to you and your messaging. We’ve also always been careful to never dilute or change our branding just to follow a new trend. We’ve stayed true to our vision which has meant that our brand has kept its identity and always remained authentic.”

Of all the insights above, Juliet’s second – “focus on being distinctive and memorable” – is probably the most important. By creating a brand that stood out in the right way for its target market, bursting off the shelf and leaving an indelible image on people’s brains, Grenade’s founders were able to blow the doors off the market and grow at explosive pace. When it comes to brand building, standing out like a beacon – in a way that appeals to your particular market – is one of the simplest and most powerful strategies available. But, it’s probably a combination of all six which have propelled grenade to such success. How many of these six are true for you and your brand?