Katie Mleziva Gets Real About Brand Strategy

Katie Mleziva, founder of Real Food Brands, speaks with Tera about why brand strategy is so important to the long-term success of scaling food and beverage brands.

In Edible-Alpha® podcast #88, Tera talks with Katie Mleziva, founder of Real Food Brands, host of the Real Food Brands Marketing Podcast and instructor for our upcoming Building a Brand That Stands Out training course. FFI is a strong advocate for locking down your brand strategy early on so it can be systematically and intentionally engrained in all areas of your business. As a brand strategist, Katie helps natural food and beverage companies do this through defining, aligning and activating clear, consistent brand strategies that resonate with consumers.

Before striking out on her own, Katie worked in brand management and marketing for Kraft and other Fortune 500 companies, which informed the concepts she teaches now: “I took those big-business ideals, streamlined them down and resized them for small entrepreneurial startups and emerging brands looking to scale up.”

Next, she and Tera discussed the importance of branding for food companies. Basically, unless a brand establishes an emotional connection with consumers and why it’s special, shoppers may see it as just another brand of cheese, cookies, kombucha, [insert any product here]. Katie said entrepreneurs are often so engrossed in their products and business operations that they don’t truly think through how their brand benefits consumers—or know how to convey that benefit through branding. She helps them to think externally so they can transition from just having great products to owning a strong brand. As FFI Founder Tera Johnson often highlights in our Boot Camp your business is more than your products!

But to do that, food, farm, and beverage entrepreneurs must first lock down their values and vision—know who they are as a brand before attempting to sell it to others. Then, Katie stresses the three C’s: consumers, competition and company. Brands should identify their target consumers based on demographics and psychographics and determine how exactly the brand benefits them. Next, they should look at what their competitors are doing and saying to ensure their brand offers a suite of attributes that truly stands out from the competition.

Based on consumer needs and the competitive landscape, companies can establish a few main brand pillars, qualities such as sustainability or locally sourced ingredients. Katie explained the importance of aligning brand strategy around those pillars: “If your whole brand strategy is the north star, this is the light that shines on the path to say we’re on right path. If we’re building everything around these pillars, we know we’re sticking to what we said we wanted to do in terms of overall vision.”

Another important element is brand voice, which should be consistent throughout marketing, messaging, packaging, and internal and external communications. Cohesive voice gets the team on the same page and lets consumers know what to expect.

After defining (or refining) and aligning the brand strategy comes activation—how the company executes based on its business goals. This involves everything from posting on Instagram to creating an advertisement.

This work can be challenging for entrepreneurs, yet it is definitely worth tackling. That’s why Katie is so passionate about coaching brands through the process. We look forward to working with her on our three-day Building a Brand That Stands Out workshop May 19 to 21. Hope you can join us too!