The Seven Musts of Marketing

09.14.17 / David Lemley

Retail Voodoo has developed a diagnostic tool around what we believe are “The Seven Musts of Marketing.” We use this series of seven critical marketing disciplines to benchmark our clients’ brand within their respective category. This process simplifies the communication strategy across multiple channels and streamlines the messaging into a cohesive, ownable narrative that delivers a brand’s message to critical audiences.

Over the course of time, this tool evolved into a pyramid because it helps everyone involved to see clearly how each of these marketing disciplines ladder into one another. The theory is simple: a strong foundation is the key to any structure (whether physical or abstract). In the case of the “Seven Musts,” an outage in the foundation will cause the communication hierarchy to collapse like an imbalanced pyramid.

During our work with many, many brands, we have had the good fortune to refine and optimize this diagnostic tool to make it useful to even the most academic of CEOs and skeptical CMOs in the world of food and beverage, wellness, and outdoor fitness. The “Seven Musts” have evolved with technology and our focused practice of brand transformation, through our strategy-first philosophy (e.g. advertising used to be much more important with multiple channels and social didn’t exist when we first started crafting our theories over 20 years ago).

While reading through this Retail Voodoo Pink Paper we hope you consider your own brand, its narrative arch, and ponder the impact of holistic brand strategy across your marketing systems.

We ask a series of simple questions for each of the “layers” or “musts” in the pyramid. The answers are then used against a rubric of what perfection could look like for each brand. We then compare all the communication musts a brand needs to compete effectively in its given category. When complete, we compile the answers into a version of the pyramid and benchmark our client and its competitive set within the context of those answers.

This article is written from the top down, so you as a reader can experience the gravity of how the layers connect. We believe this will aid you to think of your own brand while exploring the layers. However, our work actually occurs in reverse order based upon a different kind of gravity – just like ancient civilizations, we must build our pyramids from the ground up, one layer at a time.


Social media sits at the top of our pyramid because it's low cost and easy to do. But because it's cheap and easy, a lot of people get it wrong.

Brands become overconfident with their content and spend too much time mimicking the competition. They start thinking they can buy engagement (or buy likes). But we all know that likes – and even engagement – do not necessarily translate into sales. They simply give the illusion of this.

Think Your Content is Unique? Swap Logos with a Competitor and Think Again

Brands fail to have a successful social media presence when their content isn’t ownable. In other words, we see brands lacking a point of view or a unique tone of voice. One of the tests that we run to check for this involves swapping out logos of products in different posts with their competitors’ logos. If you can replace the brand’s logo with any of its competitors,’ then the content lacks originality and won’t stand out to consumers. This perfectly highlights how much like their competitors they look, so they understand the need for change.

It’s remarkable how each category tends to have its own distinct generic look and feel. Once brands break out of this mold and define their perspective, they demonstrate how their product is meaningfully different in the marketplace.

Show How Your Product Fits into Your Audience’s Lifestyle

We often see brands aligning their product with too many lifestyles – diluting their message and lacking consistent storytelling. However, success stems from focusing in on a specific, targeted audience. Instead of showing your product simply existing in a lifestyle, share how it lives and fits within that lifestyle.

Our partners at DRY Sparkling nail the concept of a “lifestyle brand” perfectly. They use social to drive engagement and have a clear and distinct reason for why social exists for their brand. Their strategy is rooted in a deeper understanding of their audience. During the brand strategy process we identified the DRY audience consisting of a metropolitan-minded woman (amongst other attributes). We mixed together different lifestyles that made sense when put through DRY’s filter – a little bit of foodie with a little bit girls-night-out thrown in. Their consumers look at their social media and instantly see how DRY fits into their everyday life and understands them rather than just pushing product at them.

Vary Your Content to Speak to Individual Niches

It is important to have a variety of content to speak to different audience segments and address different needs. For example, if you were to have ten posts; we would prescribe two should be educational, four should be aspirational around life, and four could be about product. A healthy mix keeps your audience interested and engaged.

When we started with Sahale Snacks, they had a powerful social channel, and when we assessed them, the top of their pyramid was completely glowing yellow. However, the brand struggled to create trial-and-use education. They integrated lifestyle into their marketing, but the depiction of too many different lifestyles confused their customers. As a result, they just didn’t know how or when to enjoy their product.

Now, the brand focuses on engaging consumers and educating them on how the brand fits into their daily life. They show how their products can seamlessly jump from one life situation to the next, while maintaining that gourmet, friendly feel.

So, how do you measure if your social strategy is effective and provides value to your brand? If you are growing organically – not through purchased engagement or exchanging coupons for likes – it’s a good sign. You want people sharing your content and actively talking about it.


Before the days of email and text messages, direct marketing simply meant post cards and snail mail. Today, direct has evolved into an opt-in, subscription-based world. This type of Direct gives brands the power to engage in conversations with consumers in a longer format and on a more intimate level. It provides the opportunity to tell your brand story in a way that you cannot do with social. Since you’re taking the time to get people to engage beyond the deal, this is not the place to be couponing.

Invite Consumers into Your Narrative

Let’s use the example of Alden’s Ice Cream’s newsletter. While they used to just share a photo of someone enjoying ice cream on a sunny day because it’s hot, they now provide value beyond the product. Instead of saying, “Hey, it's hot! It's July! You should eat tons of vanilla ice cream!” they now say, “Here’s how to make an ice cream birthday cake from this product.”
Then they introduce you to the 40 family farms they created relationships with  to sustain multi-generational organic farming, making consumers feel like do-gooders by association. All they have to do is eat ice cream – tough break, right? Telling this type of deeper story helps the audience feel like they contribute to that family farm. As a result, price no longer becomes an issue.

We see a huge opportunity for companies to adopt “old school” direct in a new way. This includes producing bespoke pieces that have a higher production value. Think of versioning and back-end marketing integration that speaks directly to the customer and invites them to have a them-focused conversation about your products and services.

Although direct mail is also easy to do, it takes a little bit more effort than social media. However, it gives brands the opportunity to be more intimate and have a conversation with the key consumers. Your brand must take the time to get them involved in why you exist beyond product.


The digital world and the physical world come together on websites. They need to be deep, robust, and chock full of information, where people feel they can spend time learning about your brand. You want your customer to be able to come to your site and dig deep into who you are, why you exist, and how they can get involved. Use your website to move visitors from merely buying products to a place where they can get involved in everything your brand stands for beyond the transaction.

A Website Should Not Be a Brochure

Your website should be alive and constantly changing so that people have a reason to come back to it. Since users will come to your site from any page, we see websites as a powerful way to encourage users to “choose their own adventure.” This way, no matter where a visitor enters, they can easily navigate to information that is relevant to them, all while being surprised and delighted along the way. This means brands need to think about the kind of content they produce, how it's getting out into the world, where people are likely to find it, and how they might come to the site. Once you have customers on the site, you must figure out how to drive them to your calls-to-action. When users take these steps, your brand will increase loyalty, overcome price resistance, and ultimately make sales.

Offering website visitors promo codes and deals dilutes your message. You've already done something of higher value to get visitors to site in the first place, so to have the discounts and coupons be the thing that they connect with makes them less likely to engage in why you exist beyond the deal. That is really what your website should be all about; why you’re here beyond the deal, why you're here beyond the transaction, and why you exist in the world beyond making money. That is the key to helping people move from customers to stark-raving fans.

Living Intentions does a terrific job of integrating storytelling, design, and values-based communication into their e-commerce platform. They help the consumer understand why the ingredients are so expensive, what they mean when they talk about sustainability, and why their particular approach is so rare in the world. By having their own e-commerce platform, they control pricing much more easily as well. While they also sell on Amazon and do well there, they cannot control the prices of third-party vendors or other retailers. By having their own e-commerce platform and being able to have their story right there, it reduces the possibility of mistrust.
On the other hand, selling from your own website is not always the smartest business choice. Let’s take DRY for example. Before we worked with them, they were shipping cases of product directly to clients, and it was eating into their margin. Shipping individual cases of soda in glass bottles across the country is expensive. Our recommendation for DRY was actually to move to an Amazon platform because that way, the price included the shipping.


All-in-all, websites should not be brochures but interactive engagement beyond the deal. It’s your chance to tell your huge story about why you exist in the world and why people should care.


As we look at in-store, we look through the lens of brand – specifically focused on packaging design systems where you have products on the shelf of a retail experience when your brand doesn’t own the store.

30-10-3 Rule

Our basic guideline to evaluate the strength of a brand’s in-store presentation is called the “30-10-3” rule. Here is how it works:

At 30 feet, your packaging should help identify the category.
At 10 feet, your consumers should be able to read your brand’s tradedress or core identity (and ideally your logo) in order to navigate to it from feet away.
At 3 feet, your story, features, benefits, and purpose should be so compelling that consumers pick up your package and allow it to whisper in their ear. After all, once your product is in a person’s hand, they’re more likely to buy.

Category Navigation

The simplest way to make category navigation understood is to have you visualize looking for milk in the grocery store. The vessels, varieties, and design language all work together to instantly telegraph milk.

Now let’s think about how this might work at REI or Dick’s Sporting Goods. Our partner Body Glide is a great example of this. They used to disappear on shelf; they looked like every other product within the category. We helped them revolutionize their look and we set them up so that now they are – without any question – the category navigator for athletic anti-chafe balm at 30 feet. You can drive straight to it. The color system and the new identity we built for them makes their packaging the de facto category navigation. And this all happens within seconds, without the consumer realizing.

Brand Blocking

When your product lives in a box you don’t control in an environment you don’t control, brand blocking is crucial. Essentially, this is where a consumer can easily identify your product and all offerings within that line. Color and identity come into play here. This works even if you only get three facings. If you have a good system, you’ll stand out.

While walking through the Philadelphia Airport recently, our team noticed a brand with a significant number of facings – so many that it's actually intimidating (their sales team are true rock stars). Unfortunately, their packaging is recessive and looks like a value-priced generic version or low-end private label. Subsequently, all of the smaller brands with stronger packaging, better brand blocking, and more legible identities stand out and disrupt the shelf more effectively.

Design Aesthetics

When we think about design aesthetics, we want your brand to look like it belongs in the life of today’s shopper (and does not look frumpy, old, outdated, or that the particular item could have been sitting on the shelf since the 1980’s). Yes, an outdated look implies to today’s busy shopper that your product may have been sitting on that shelf for the last 37 years. It’s important to match the contemporary vision lexicon of your product category, while trying to be at the forefront of that. That's how brands become disruptive at shelf - whether you like it or not. If you can't disrupt, your brand will likely compete on price (and nobody wins on price, except Walmart).

Packaging That Whispers In Your Ear

In-store is your first, best, and most-likely sales person. Sometimes, the shelf is the only touch point the consumer has with your brand. You need to make sure your brand can show up in a meaningful way to get your potential consumers to give you permission to whisper in their ear.

Teton Waters Ranch packaging is a good example that follows the 30-10-3 rule all the way through. They use an intentional mix of visually compelling imagery and iconography combined with easy-to-use information (such as the check-list of “no baddies”).

This package excels in storytelling, brand building, and overcoming price resistance. We call this passing the “flip test.” The flip test is best demonstrated while waiting in line at Starbucks. Next time you are there, take notice the carefully curated offering of innovative snacks. Then, notice how intimate their packaging feels. Pay attention as you instinctively flip the package over in order to engage in its ingredients, nutrition content, brand promise, and narrative.


Advertising is an essential tier of the pyramid, but is losing relevance quickly. Marketing is moving away from “Command and Control” methodologies – pushing your offering out to a world that had little choice but to receive your message. In today’s world, many users choose not to engage in media where advertising exists at all (think Netflix). Modern humans have rewired our brains to ignore invasive communications like banner ads.

That said, advertising needs to provoke people to think about your brand. It's about stopping consumers in their tracks and demanding attention. It's repetition. But it really is more of an art than a science.

Brands need to communicate how they are meaningfully different in a show-stopping way. Similar to social, when benchmarking a brand’s advertising, we will swap out competitor logos and put them on the ads to see if they are interchangeable.

We find that each category tends to have this insider baseball conversation happening, which is great for all the marketers within that category, but it doesn't often translate for consumers. With this strategy, there’s no opportunity for brands to grow or new audiences to stem from it.

Who’s in Your Tribe and How Will They Recognize Your Call?

Once you identify who’s in your tribe, you have permission to kick everyone else out – which feels very counterintuitive at first. But it’s the best way to see real growth and it invites like-minded humans to come to you.

This is where advertising gets more into the art versus science. Successful advertising that speaks to your tribe comes down to tone and voice. You must make sure your tribe can recognize your unique call. This is what a good friend of ours calls “the dog whistle.” Only those you’ve identified as members of your tribe will hear your brand’s silent call, and leave all others unable to hear it and therefore, unable to opt-in to your brand.

To make sure your ads are in front of the right people, you need a terrific media buying partner. This person will show you the data of how your tribe lives, works, and shops.

Essentia is a terrific example of using advertising to invite people to join a movement. While the category has grown steadily for the last four years, Essentia experienced twice as much growth as everyone else in this category. They attribute this to the repositioning of their brand and a deeper understanding of their ideal audience (and then having a smart media partner).

In advertising, be brave but be values-based. Be who you really are based upon what you can do for the world, and don’t just be a product.


Public relations sounds so easy. After all, it’s really just placing stories and getting respected third parties to talk about you. But when viewed through the lens of brand building, PR is is an integral foundation of all of the other “Marketing Musts.”

A concentrated, focused PR campaign should be part of every brand relaunch. Developing an advertising campaign, in-store experience, direct and or social program that includes a supporting PR arm is far more effective than one without.

How do you create naturally occurring (organic) evangelists for the brand? For people to swear by your brand, your story needs to be good. Really good. It must be way beyond just explaining the technical functionality. Earned media touches on emotional storytelling and human connection, followed by functionality, features, and benefits. Yes, you can get into the nitty-gritty details, but it needs to have a personal story to it as well. Otherwise people won't care.

Make Technicalities Easy-to-Digest

When you have something that has a technical component to it or a complex benefit structure, getting third party experts to speak to the benefits in a scientific, yet human way can be extremely challenging, but still most effective.

All the medical, nutritional claims (whether real or imaginary) overtly expressed or implied will be met with the hint of skepticism if your story doesn’t include, well, your story. Instead of pushing the nutritional education or science on the public we advocate that you get personal with your origin story and then let it compel people to discover the science of your offering on their own.

If you insist on weaving science into everyday life, make it tangible. Don’t tell us what happens in a laboratory (or worse, in a focus group). Instead, share with us how it worked on a weekend trip with your family and friends.

People Say All PR is Good PR, But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Smart PR

Ask yourself – is this a compelling story? Are we easily gaining earned media? We caution all founders, brand owners, and people looking for a PR agency: just because you get your brand mentioned in stories doesn't necessarily mean they’re the right placements. Quantity does not necessarily equal quality.

Recently we had a new client that was featured in the same issue of a nationally respected health magazine in two different articles. While the PR firm was busy high-fiving over cocktails to celebrate their double-placement, we had to gently point out to the client that the first article was about the evils of their category (listing them as least evil) and the other was about which health benefits were absent in their product.

Know who you are as a brand, what promises you will make, and then how you want to show up. Ultimately, you have to know your target audience and how they consume media.


In an era of eroding trust for brands and hyper-choice in nearly all categories, customer education forms the foundation of our entire “Seven Musts of Marketing” pyramid. It plays to the other “Musts” because without customer education, your pyramid will topple over. Customer education is your opportunity to explain why you exist in the world beyond your products, and then to weave the reasons into your “why” (why your business exists beyond making a profit). It’s your brand’s chance to get people to buy into your mission and your vision of how you're going improve the world.

This is also the place where you can make any complex or technical functionality easier to understand. We see this at play frequently in highly technical outdoor gear, functional foods, and complex consumer goods. Brands often make the mistake of drowning people in information to the point that consumers cannot hear or absorb what they're being told.

The opportunity to explain your technical details gets more meaningful when you clarify what your brand stands for and how you integrate your mission into your products. If you do this in a completely jargon-free way, your brand will be stronger at overcoming price objection.

One of the things Essentia struggled with for years was how to explain the benefits of their product without sounding like either a bunch of hype or a rigid scientist. It got to the point where people who had never tried the product were responding with strong skepticism to paid media. When Essentia simply told their founder’s story and connected his humble beginnings to the idea behind their overachieving H20 tagline (and offered an invitation to join their movement), it encouraged people to connect the idea of superior hydration to their lives.

In conclusion, customer education is really your first and best opportunity to explain why you exist in the world and what your products and your brand stands for beyond featuring the benefits. You can then bring features and details into that conversation and talk about your brand in a way that helps customers evangelize for you.

A strong foundation in customer education is the key to any branded messaging structure. Then a robust and highly focused PR campaign will build a platform so that your customer education is readily available. Advertising is an important part of any growth plan, but care should be taken to make certain it's delivering against what makes your brand unique. In-store is critical because it's often the first and only expression of you brand a new consumer will see. Lastly direct and social are the ways to converse with your audience.

Retail Voodoo's version of the “Seven Must of Marketing” is best viewed holistically as a series of critical marketing disciplines we use to benchmark our clients’ within their category. Our goal is to simplify their communication with a unique narrative that works across multiple channels.

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