Brand relevance is changing the way consumers shop. Personalization is driving the conversation between brands and shoppers. The old rules no longer apply. Creative disruptive brands can amplify their voice with a compelling selling story.

The theme for today’s episode is complacency, and how every brand needs to fight against it. How every brand needs to strive continually to be better than every other brand on the shelf, in the market, and in their category. 

Let’s face it: The last thing you want to do is get lost in all the noise, and the clutter in your category. So how do you stand out? How do you differentiate yourself? How do you make a mark in the category? More importantly, how do you get your product on more retailer’s shelves, and into the hands of more shoppers? 

This impacts every brand. And I do mean every brand. Whether you’re online, or a traditional brick and mortar, or use a blended strategy, this is the one thing that every brand needs to fight against. 

In the words of our guest today, he says that you need to swim faster. You need to work harder. You need to be better than every other product on the shelf. So how do you do that? How do you stay on top of the competition? How do you stay relevant in front of the eyes of the consumer and of the retailer? And how do you do it without going broke in the process?

That’s where this podcast comes in, and other resources like it. Think about it: this podcast is more than just entertainment. It’s an opportunity to sit down, one on one, with the thought leaders in the industry. To be inspired by their stories, and to learn from them.

Today I have the privilege to introduce you to Michael Sansolo. I’ve known Michael for quite a while. As a leading industry voice, as a thought leader, as an author, as a keynote and featured speaker at several industry events, Michael brings a unique perspective to the industry by the way that he looks beyond the four corners of the package, or more importantly beyond the four corners of the store.

Michael focuses on trends outside of retail to better understand what’s coming up, what’s next. In a minute, for example, you’re gonna hear a story about how a brand uses personalization to help build a relationship between the customer and the brand.

Download the show notes below

Click here to learn more about Michael Sansolo

Click here to learn more about Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council

Click here to learn more about MorningNewsBeat



Hello and thank you for joining us today. This is the Brand Secrets and Strategies Podcast #60

Welcome to the Brand Secrets and Strategies podcast where the focus is on empowering brands and raising the bar.

I’m your host Dan Lohman. This weekly show is dedicated to getting your brand on the shelf and keeping it there.

Get ready to learn actionable insights and strategic solutions to grow your brand and save you valuable time and money.


Dan: Welcome. The theme for today's episode is complacency, and how every brand needs to fight against it. How every brand needs to strive continually to be better than every other brand on the shelf, in the market, and in their category.

Let's face it: The last thing you want to do is get lost in all the noise, and the clutter in your category. So how do you stand out? How do you differentiate yourself? How do you make a mark in the category? More importantly, how do you get your product on more retailer's shelves, and into the hands of more shoppers?

This impacts every brand. And I do mean every brand. Whether you're online, or a traditional brick and mortar, or use a blended strategy, this is the one thing that every brand needs to fight against.

In the words of our guest today, he says that you need to swim faster. You need to work harder. You need to be better than every other product on the shelf. So how do you do that? How do you stay on top of the competition? How do you stay relevant in front of the eyes of the consumer and of the retailer? And how do you do it without going broke in the process?

That's where this podcast comes in, and other resources like it. Think about it: this podcast is more than just entertainment. It's an opportunity to sit down, one on one, with the thought leaders in the industry. To be inspired by their stories, and to learn from them.

Today I have the privilege to introduce you to Michael Sansolo. I've known Michael for quite a while. As a leading industry voice, as a thought leader, as an author, as a keynote and featured speaker at several industry events, Michael brings a unique perspective to the industry by the way that he looks beyond the four corners of the package, or more importantly beyond the four corners of the store.

Michael focuses on trends outside of retail to better understand what's coming up, what's next. In a minute, for example, you're gonna hear a story about how a brand uses personalization to help build a relationship between the customer and the brand.

Here's Michael.

Michael, thank you for coming on today. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you got to where you're at today?

Michael: Dan, first of all, thanks for having me on. It is a pleasure to be with you again. For the folks listening in, Dan and I just recently met at a conference.

My background has been, I've been with the food industry in one capacity or another for about 30 years now. At one point, I worked for Progressive Grocer Magazine, I was the editor in chief there for a while. And I went from Progressive Grocer to the Food Marketing Institute, the biggest association in the United States representing food retailers. I left them about 10 years ago.

I now am an independent consultant, and most of the work that I do is now with the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council, which despite the name and the obvious brand in the name is actually geared toward getting retailers together, getting them to discuss some of the problems they're all facing in business today, and we do reports about it. And Coca-Cola is our sponsor, but they do not influence anything that we do. That's a wonderful gig, and it's been just a joyful ride. It's a great industry to work with, and I have always enjoyed it.

Dan: Isn't that tied to what Willard Bishop started several years ago?

Michael: Bill Bishop was the first research director of those councils, yes.

Dan: That's what I thought.

Michael: That's very good memory on your part. Yeah, he stopped doing it about two, three years ago.

I had the real honor, I took over for Bill about eight years ago on the grocery council, and now about two years ago on the convenience store council. And it's like following a legend, following Bill Bishop. But I learned so much from him.

That's absolutely the work he used to do, and by the way, to anyone listening, the studies that we've put out, you can find them at All the studies are offered to the industry for free. And we look at things like some of the changes in competition these days, how do we attract and engage good employees, what the meaning of omnichannel is, all of these very, very current issues, because the studies are directed by retailers for other retailers, so they're very business focused.

Dan: Bill is a good friend. What a tremendous person to have that connection with. But to your point, we talk about this kind of stuff a lot. In fact, he was actually on podcast episode number six, so you have to go back and listen to that. But what a tremendous resource.

And then part of his Brick Meets Click, what he's talking about are communicating that, or sharing that message with the greater community, so I have the privilege of being one of his black belts on that too.

But what a tremendous resource, in fact, actually, I had him on one of the CMA webinars. So always a blast to work with him. I didn't know that you were a part of that, that's very interesting.

And again, the reason I wanted to have you on the podcast today is because you have the larger view, meaning the 30,000 foot view, of what's going on in the industry. So I've had the privilege of reading a lot of your articles, and following you career for quite a while. And sharing, listening to you on stage at the CMA conferences, and other conferences, and finally I launched the podcast, I decided I needed to have you on. So thank you for making time for us, I appreciate it.

Michael: Oh Dan, it's an absolute pleasure. And by the way, thank you for the reminder, because folks can also, I blog now. Like Dan, we're all moving into these modern times. Bill Bishop too, with his Brick Meets Click website.

I blog at, which has been around, believe it or not, for about 15 years now. And Kevin Coop and I write about, we believe there are lessons for industry. There is so much change in society and industry these days. We try to seek out, from sports, to movies, to eating, we look for examples of change in our society, and how we can distill lessons for business folks.

There's no way any of us can know everything these days. We've got to be out there, actively listening, looking, and learning, all the time. So I applaud what you're doing also, Dan, because this is a great idea, doing these podcasts. Yes.

Dan: Thank you, I'm having a lot of fun. And to your point, I'm thrilled that you connected with Kevin. I'm trying to reach out to him too, and bring him on the podcast as well. But I've been following him for quite a while, as I mentioned when we talked a couple days ago.

I was talking to Phil Lempert, and we were talking about, one of the challenges that a lot of brands have, the larger brands have especially, is that they get siloed. They get very focused on their niche, and they don't really look outside that. Well, little brands, smaller brands, struggle even more, because they don't have the ability, necessarily, to go to a different market and see what else is going on. And so to be able to leverage insights from you, from Kevin, from Phil Lempert, from Bill Bishop, etc., that gives people a perspective that they would not have otherwise.

And the point is this: If you're not paying attention to what's going on on shelf, what's going on in the community, what's going on in the world, that impacts you, and that has a lot to do with your success.

Can you share some of the stories around that? And I guess where I was going with that is that you had an article that you recently wrote about a bike accident you had, and not to shine a light on that, but you talked about your learnings, and how you took something that was sort of mundane, not mundane, not to you obviously. But something very simple-

Michael: It wasn't mundane while it was happening, I can tell you that, yes.

Dan: You said you're still starting to heal.

But point is, that you're sharing an insight that you got revelation that has a lot to do with how all of us go to market, and how we interact with food, and retail, etc.

Michael: It's a great setup, and I will tell the story about the bike accident. I apologize to any bike riders listening to this, because they're all gonna wince as I tell this story.

I know there's one of the old Yogi Berra quotes, and Yogi Berra quotes are always so great, because they're nonsensical and they're so wise at the same time. And it was something like, "You can see a lot by just looking around."

One of the things Kevin and I kinda take as a mantra is by keeping your eyes open, and also by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you may see and learn things that you might not otherwise see and learn. We recommend to people, whatever kind of retail, or whatever kind of manufacturer you are, you have to be looking at other products and other stores.

For instance, let's say you make soup, just to pick an example. And you might say, "All right, I make soup. I've got to look at different ways that soup is being sold." I would suggest you've got to look at how cars are being sold. A company like Carvana, who is coming along, finding a new way to sell cars. Or CarMax. You have to go to a shopping mall and see what a company like Victoria's Secret is doing to engage shoppers.

I don't want to leave people out there questioning what actually happened to me. I was on a bike ride about eight, nine days ago. I live in the Washington DC area, and we have had just immense amounts of rain this spring. And I'm out riding, and the pavement, I didn't have a lot of maneuverability, I didn't have a lot of room. I hit some wet leaves, and nothing good comes from that moment. The bike went right, and I went left and down really fast. And when you fall off a bike, I was only doing about 11, 12 miles an hour, so this was not a Daytona 500 crash. I ended up with a lot of scrapes, as you might imagine, a lot of bruises.

But the freaky part of it, and this is what I tried to draw the lesson for the blog, was two days after that happened to me, I use an app to track my rides. It's an app that's offered by Under Armour, the sporting apparel company. I got a note from the app, with an article on how to recover confidence after you've had an accident on your bike.

Dan: Amazing.

Michael: And I thought, "That's kinda creepy. How did they know that?" And the interesting thing is, Kevin Coop, who's my partner on Morning News Beat, he uses the same app. He did not get that article.

And the point I was trying to make with that blog is, we have to recognize that technology is enabling companies to know an awful lot about us. And there is that strange line between what's creepy and what's cool. The story that I told in the blog was, two days before my fall, my wife had ordered some sneakers from Zappos. And there was one pair she didn't like, and to follow Zappos' rules, she went to a UPS store and sent them back. In the five minutes it took her to drive back from the closest UPS store, she got an email from Zappos letting her know that her account was being credited. And she said to me, "How did they know I returned the sneakers? I just dropped them off." And of course, we puzzled that one through, that obviously Zappos has an agreement with UPS that they quickly get alerted, and they turn around and they alert the shopper.

Again, I think we all have to recognize, this is the world we operate in. That a company can delight a consumer in seconds using this advanced technology. But by the same token, my smartphone somehow conveyed a message to Map My Ride, therefore Under Armour, that my velocity on my bicycle stopped instantaneously, and somehow stopped badly. And they knew to send me that article.

And I think for all of us competing in this new age, we have to recognize the cable stakes have changed. We are gonna have to embrace and understand technology, and use it in a way our shoppers will find cool, not creepy. That's a tough line. God knows we are all learning that at the moment.

Again, just so you know, the scars are healing, the scabs are finally wearing down. And I actually, I have gotten back on my bike, which was the number one thing in that article. It said, "Get back on your bike, and don't be scared of it." And I've ridden about 20 miles sense, so I'm feeling like I'm no klutz, I can actually keep a bike going in the right direction.

Dan: Did you scratch the bike?

Michael: The bike emerged beautifully. Although I'll tell you, the worst part of it was, I was riding with about 20 other people. And again, this is the Washington DC area, you figure out of 20 people, the odds had to be there'd be one doctor in the group. I basically had nothing but lawyers. So if I'd wanted to sue, I had all kinds of help on that. But no one was there to help me with the blood and stuff, I did that all on my own.

Dan: Well that's good.

Michael: The bike is fine, I'm fine. We're all going forward at this point.

Dan: That's good to hear. In fact, one time, it was kind of off the subject a little bit, I bought a really nice full suspension mountain bike. And I popped myself up over the curb, and it was the first time I had ever used it. Anyhow, I flipped over, and I was laying on my back, oncoming traffic's coming at me, but I didn't wreck the bike. I didn't scratch it at all. It was a brand new-, anyhow. Side note.

I appreciate your sharing that, and I love this story. And the reason I love this is because this is again, something Bill and I talk about. Bill coined the term personal supply chain, and what that means is that if you can't find something you want in one retailer, you'll just go someplace else. The point is this-

Michael: Absolutely.

Dan: Yes. Consumers have a myriad of places to shop, of places to spend their money. And the retailers that are doing the really fantastic job of being able to capture that consumer, and as Phil Lempert would say, create theater within the store, and build around the shopping experience are the retailers that are winning.

So the reason that this is important is this: As consumers have a lot of different choices to be able to shop different places, one of the things that Bill and I talk about a lot is personalization. And to be able to help a consumer like you by personalizing, you and your wife, personalizing the message to let you know that you matter, that you're important, that's making you relevant, and helping you to become a part of that conversation, that buying decision. And that improves your relationship with that app, or with that particular retailer.

Again, this is one of the things that I wanted to really to talk to you about. So at the CMA conference where we were talking, there was an opportunity to listen to a lot of brands talk about a lot of creative strategies to connect between the consumer and the product. And the point is that the consumer journey's changing. And to what you're talking about, this is very forward thinking. The brands that don't adopt these strategies are the brands that are gonna get left behind. Your thoughts?

Michael: You know Dan, I agree with you. I think we're at a point, and this is an unusual point, it doesn't come along every day. Usually you can make the comment about business, that you always have to find a way to get better somehow. Be more efficient, be more effective. And that's a strategy, not just for survival, but for even thriving.

It seems that right now, we are in an era of almost revolutionary change. The change is happening so fast. And you used a word before that I think everyone has to, you've got to almost put it on a piece of paper, hang it up in your office, and ask yourself the question every day. And that word is relevance. The question you need to ask yourself is "Am I relevant?"

In this new society, if I am looking to buy something, if for some reason, my bike had been damaged, and I needed to go out and buy a new bike, probably the first thing I would have done is gone on Google and started out by hunting the bike shops in my area, so that I would know that my trip to a bike store, they would have the kind of bike I'm looking for, they would have the values I'm looking for, and so right off the bat, I as a consumer, I'm in charge using this technology.

But I think what came up at the CMA event, and by the way for anyone who doesn't know, that's Category Management Association, is that as an industry, we have spent probably the last 20, 25 years trying to gather and figure out how to best use data so that we can, as best as possible, meet the shopper needs every time they walk into a store, every time they look at a shelf, every time they look at products.

Dan, what I took away from that conference this year, is however good we've been at that, it's no longer good enough.

Dan: Right.

Michael: That we live in a day and age where data mining has gotten so exact, and so fine, that to your point, it's the personalization of the consumer's need.

And I'm gonna support a whole lot of what you said. I think experience is going to become essential. If a store simply thinks, and one of the studies we just did on the Coke council got into this. Traditionally, people said the three most important elements of retail success were location, location, location. It doesn't matter anymore. Because now the location has to be able to be good enough. I can sit on my sofa, watching a baseball game, and talk to many of the devices in my house, to Siri, to Alexa, we have everything, and start ordering items. For a store to get me to come to them, I have to say, "I like going to that store so much, I am gonna put up with the inconvenience," not that it's that hard, "of getting my car keys, getting in the car, driving, parking, walking into the store."

To your point, there are stores who are doing that. And again, this is why I say we've gotta be widespread. One of the stores I like when It comes to biking is REI. You go into REI, and you are immersed in the atmosphere of outdoor activities, whether it's hiking, skiing, kayaking, or biking. And their staff seems very geared to, we know who's coming in, we have to match that enthusiasm.

Dan: Yes.

Michael: So you're not walking into a store where you say, "Hey, where are the bikes?" And somebody sort of grunts at you and points. You're talking to people who are bike fans, or kayaking fans, and they want to discuss your needs with you.

This is the, and as I say, the new table stakes. What used to be good enough is simply no longer good enough. We're all gonna have to rise to a different level.

And that goes right down to products. A product on the shelf cannot just be static anymore. It's got to tell a story. And the story may be in your packaging, it may be in how you are linking your web materials, or your social materials to support that. But you just can't be an item. You've got to, you have to answer a need. It's hard. And I understand that. And I sympathize with all the folks out there, with products, with stores, because what has been good enough, and it's not a matter of running faster. You've got to run substantially faster than you've ever run. You may have to fly now. This is a new world that we're in, and it requires just a whole new level of thinking to move forward these days.

Dan: Absolutely. And what a great example. REI is an experience. If people haven't had an opportunity to go in there, it's not just a matter of, "Here, we want to sell you something," but you've got people, like you said, that are very passionate saying, "Here's what I use, and here's how it worked best for me." I've talked to a lot of other people-, that experiential journey is what's so important, it's what builds that relationship, that trust.

And then of course, the return policies and everything else. Love them. Fantastic retailer.

Michael: And let's remember, REI operates on a model that seems very powerful today. It's, in essence, a co-op. So when you go to buy something at REI, they don't want to sell you the product, they want to bring you into the community.

Dan: Yes.

Michael: And because of that, if you go online, anyone listening right now, if you decide to go Google bicycles, and if there's an REI near you, you will see through Yelp reviews, they have a very devoted community. And they'll talk right to the points you just mentioned, Dan. That it's not just about selling you the product, it's about how you use it. How others have used it.

In essence, they bring you into the ecosystem of REI, so you're thinking, "You know, these guys, boy, they know what they're talking about. They're gonna help me do better at what I am doing."

I'm sure if after my bike accident I had gone into REI, somebody would have said, "Okay, let's discuss what happened, what you can do about it." And they would've, they couldn't have hit me with the personalization that my app did, but they would have seen my bloody shirt and all. It was really a wonderful day. And they would have known exactly how to say, "This is not a small thing, we've been there, and here's what you do about it."

That's an extreme example. I see it, there are supermarkets I go to that do a great job, there are always new products, because it's agriculture. There are new seasons. And they will talk about, "Oh, here are some products that we now have in stock. Here's how you select them. Here's how you store them. Here's how you prepare them. And of course, here's how you taste them." And by doing that, the consumer gets an education. And instead of just buying a product, they're suddenly buying a meal. They're buying an experience.

Where I live, we have a couple of retailers who are great at this. I think Trader Joe's does a fabulous job on this. I live near a Wegmans, which for anyone who's not in the northeast, Wegmans is a celebration of food.

Dan: Yes.

Michael: Whole Foods. You walk into a Whole Foods and look at the signage. They are telling a story aisle after aisle about what the products are, how you use them, and they will talk about where they got them. Who the farmer was, or where the company is.

And that way, as a shopper, they're engaging me in a whole new way. And they're getting me to get out of the business of saying, "Okay, it's 2 for $5 here, it's 3 for $7 there," and I'm just doing price comparisons. Instead, they're connecting with me, and that's what we need to do in this new era.

Dan: Absolutely. Building community around that. And just, full disclosure Michael, I don't think REI sells training wheels, just kiddiing. One of the things, not for big kids, anyhow.

One of the things that you said, shoppers want what they want, that's one of the points I keep driving home. Shoppers don't want to be sold. They want to buy. And they want to buy from retailers, from brands that understand and appreciate their position. That personalize what they're trying to look for, just like you've been saying.

And the reason I wanted to bring this up and point to this is, again, a conversation Bill and I have a lot of times. Shoppers look beyond the four corners of their package. So it's not just you walk up to the aisle, to the store and say, "Okay, this is a red box, or a blue box." You want to understand what's going on with that package, and what goes into making it, and the transparency, and the mission behind the brand. Those are so relevant and so important.

As you were saying, and thank you again, Michael, for saying that, is that those shopping experiences change. Shoppers have changed in the way, their journey. And if brands and retailers are not doing an effective job of being able to help the shopper on that journey, to be able to tell that story, I love the fact that you put it that way, then they're gonna lose out. Because it's those disruptive small brands, and again, that's my niche, that are really changing the way shoppers think about food.

So let me bring it down to this point: one of the things that you and I have discussed, and I've seen it at other shows as well, is that the large brands are struggling to grow sales. And it's a lot of retailers, mainstream retailers or mainstream brands, tend to try to reacquire the same consumer over and over and over again, and I do mean reacquire, meaning that they try to figure out a way to get that consumer to come in and buy. They try to entice the consumer by discounts, and great promotions, and stuff like that. But the small disruptive brands, the natural, organic, plant-based, etc. brands, are the ones that are driving sales because they're having that relationship, like you discussed with the REI situation example. That they're having a relationship with that customer. Where they're not just saying, "Look, here's what you need to buy," but, "Here's something that's gonna help you. Here's something that's gonna benefit you. Here's how I use it, this is why this is important."

And so the point being that, as a shopper goes to a store shelf, in a traditional store, and they don't have that support staff in the store to be able to help every single person, that shopper's most likely taking that journey on their own. Through their smartphone, and they're checking out to see recipes, and what friends and family and people think about it.

And the reason I wanted to mention this is because I think the old way of looking at things was that the shopper journey was, it ended as soon as someone checked out of the register. Not anymore. Shopping doesn't end, even well after the consumer takes it home.

Michael: It continues.

Dan: Your thoughts, your ideas around that?

Michael: I totally agree on that last point. The shopping journey is now a continuum. It starts well before they enter the store, and it ends well after they leave.

It's funny, Dan. You remind me, and again, like I say, we don't sell these reports, so it's not like I get commission on them. One of these Coke councils recently looked into social media. Because for a lot of businesses, let's remember, social media is relatively new. And most of the people running companies right now had been around much longer than social media, and are learning this environment.

One of the things we learned with social media is the consumer wants a certain kind of connection. They want us to provide information that helps their lives. Let's talk about diet, let's talk about recipes, about menu ideas. And what they are getting from most businesses when they look at them, whether on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, wherever it might be, it they find out that chicken breasts are now $2.69 a pound. Which is, let's be honest, that's a really boring discussion in a social media setting. I think a lot of business is gonna have to start, to exactly your point, we have to talk to the consumer in the new voice that they are looking for.

I know when I go to a store, and let's be honest, most people, the average supermarket has somewhere around 35,000 distinct items in it. And the average shopper, in a year, is maybe buying 200 of them. So for the most part, they're shopping on autopilot. For you to break through that clutter, with your packaging, however your messaging is being done, you've got to make yourself be special.

I recently, and Dan, I was explaining this to you a couple days ago, that I recently did a project, this is the National Confectioners Association. And they run this spectacular show in Chicago every year called "The Sweet and Snack Expo." Which, as you can imagine, is snacking paradise. Every candy, it's just incredible. Inside it 10 minutes, I can't eat anymore.

One of the things that I do with them each year, is I moderate a session that's loosely based on the TV show Shark Tank. Where we have some buyers, and we allow a fairly small company, in front of an audience, to make their sales pitch. It is so instructive to attend a session like that, because the buyers say things. When someone is talking about their product, they tell you all kinds of things about it. They tell the story. They bring the passion. And the buyers will sit there and say, "That's great. But my consumer is gonna see this package on the shelf, along with 25 competing items. I don't see how your story is coming across."

For folks out there who are launching products, you've got to think about what makes your product different. What makes it special. And make for damn sure that your packaging conveys that. If it is a health message, explain it. Make sure it is out there, it is plain as day, and then maybe you have some verbiage on the package, or guide people to a website. Guide them someplace where you can talk them through that story.

Gotta remember, we capture the shopper's attention for such a small piece of time. And if it's just one more product, if it's just a slight variation on what's already there, the consumer might say, "I've been buying product A for 30 years. Why am I gonna change to this new product? I don't know anything about it." You have to tell your story, and you've got to think about the values that the consumer really, really makes important.

The one place, you and I have been in violent agreement on this entire podcast so far. I'm gonna give us one area of slight disagreement. Experience and value to the consumer is very different shopper to shopper.

Dan: It is.

Michael: Right now in our society, there are people who are doing very, very well economically. And there's an enormous portion of the population that is struggling economically. And for folks like this, you've gotta make sure also, you go to stores like Aldi, like Dollar General. Because they are really connecting with shoppers, because they understand the motivations of the shoppers who go into those stores. That it's a matter of my budget is limited, how many meals can I drive out of that budget? And those companies do a wonderful job of showing people that we're gonna help you stretch your food dollar.

Again, it's important for you, everyone, to know what's different and special and important about their product, their service, their store, whatever it might be. But it only matters if you've identified the right consumer audience who's looking for that. It's like, you wouldn't want to bring out a product geared to Mexican Americans in a market that has no Latinos. It wouldn't, it could be the greatest product, it's not gonna sell. You've got to know who your customer is, so that you're selling to them. And if you get too broad and too general, no one knows who you are. Why am I gonna suddenly pick and start choosing your product?

It goes back to the point you and I started with. You've got to be out there, you've got to be looking, and you have to be learning. Because we're seeing it everywhere. I see it with pop-up stores, with food trucks. All of them are giving us lessons on what is exciting the consumer today. And if somebody is out there with whatever kind of niche product it may be, you have got to bathe yourself in that niche. You have got to make sure you're connecting with that niche.

Honestly, Dan, I think that's why these podcasts you're doing are so important, because we cannot over tell that message. We really can't. People have got to realize there is no guarantee of success unless you connect with the shopper. And unless you make yourself important to them.

Dan: Thank you for sharing that, check's in the mail.

Okay, so thank you for sharing that, because it's so relevant, and so important. Thank you, because this is why I do the podcast, and all the content I put out. And by the way, I launched a free Turnkey Sales Story Strategies course, to teach brands how to tell their story. Because to your point, and thank you for sharing that, that the story gets diluted, and all the noise and the clutter, and people don't hear the same story the same way the founder would tell it. And today's world, as busy as we are, as many distractions as we have, if your story doesn't resonate throughout the entire sales funnel, then that's an issue.

And I love the fact that you're talking about getting the consumer to be able to go off the edge of the package to a website, to tell them about what's going on. I know of a couple brands, Michael, that actually have such great transparency. One brand has cameras throughout their plant 24/7. I know another brand where you can scan something on the bottle and you can actually see when it was planted, when it was packaged, all the details. Complete, full transparency.

And consumers want to feel good about what they're buying. So also having your mission. Because one of the things that I talk about a lot is consumers can't necessarily take time off work to go work in a food bank, or go to a third world country, or help someone out. But being able to buy a product that supports an important cause that aligns with your values, that's another opportunity for brands to help get in front of their consumers.

Back to what you were saying, that also, the class, having your story, also helps you identify what products need to be sold where. A lot of the problems that I see, Michael, are that a lot of brands are so eager and so hungry to get distribution that they don't think about whether or not that's good distribution. So in other words, if you're selling, like you said, if you're selling $12 jar of peanut butter to a blue collar neighborhood that mostly food stamps, and they don't have a lot of discretionary income, it's going to fail. So the brands need to be in a position where they're helping the retailers understand who their consumer is, and they're in a position where they're also helping the retailer connect with that consumer beyond just the shopping experience.

One of the things that, I love the fact that you were talking about, and by the way, I'm starting to do some work with FMI as well, writing articles of progressive grocers, is that people are starting to pay attention to this. And this is where these small brands fit in. The small brands are more closely connected to their core consumer, as you said. It's not social media to talk at us, they're having a relationship with that customer. It's all about experiential marketing. And so the fact that those smaller brands are able to have a one-on-one relationship with their core customer, like you and I are talking today, it's what's differentiating them, and helping them stand out on a crowded shelf.

Do you have any thoughts, or anecdotes around that?

Michael: I want to start, again, I'm gonna put us in slight disagreement on one thing. I know that small brands can definitely find some advantage to that kind of connection. I think it's very important for small brands to realize that social media enables a big brand to become local.

Now again, I mostly deal with retailers. And when social media first exploded, I remember a lot of retailers saying, "Boy, this is a great way for me to show my community connections." But even the largest chain now has the ability, and we all know who the largest chain is. They can now, through local stores, they can get messaging out there. They can talk about, because even a global company is hiring local people, and that means money into the local economy. And people love that notion of supporting local. Well, the multinational can come around and say, "By the way, we're employing 200 people in this community. We have a plant. We are doing X and Y and Z."

So again, I would urge people don't make assumptions of what is and isn't an advantage. You've got to tell your story.

Dan, the other thing you reminded me, and I tell people always, you've got to have your eyes out there and look at things. I think one of the great things everybody should put on their to-do list each day now, the New York Times, which is a wonderful, wonderful newspaper, and I know politically there are folks who don't like it, but it's really a well-done newspaper. Their website is a study in modernizing. You go to their website now, and they at times have stories where they just don't have the article, they may have a short video where the reporter tells you something about what it took to produce that article. Where they had to go, who they had to interview. They are beginning to mix in both virtual reality and augmented reality to accompany stories, because they have recognized the experience of reading a newspaper, let's be honest, it's not a winning formula these days. And so the New York Times is saying, "We're gonna become this new medium, so that you can approach us all these different ways."

I think that goes to your point about packaging. The items on the shelf, I would expect it, if we're having this conversation in two or three years, by then there are gonna be numerous retailers, and numerous manufacturers finding a way to create augmented reality disruption points in the shopping experience. Otherwise this store is gonna become simply too passive and too bland. It might be that I'm walking down an aisle, and suddenly a master chef will be standing in front of me, talking to me about a product.

You know, this tragedy of the past few days with Anthony Bourdain, because he was the kind of person you could have seen food companies, you have a short video that pops up with Anthony Bourdain saying, "I know you've never tried this seasoning, here's how it's used in Indonesia, or India, or Sri Lanka. And here's how you can use it in your cooking." Suddenly, even a center store shelf becomes a wow moment. And it becomes a menu, and an idea generator.

Again, I think for smaller companies, technology these days has made a lot of things easier. So to your point Dan, that you may want on your package, it could be QR coding, it could even just be a simple link, so that let's say you've got this wonderful product and you want to talk about local values, family values. Don't discount the ability to make a connection with the consumer using these technologies. Give them every possible way to connect with you.

And then we all have to think of ourselves, anyhow, I always love metaphors. We have to be Velcro these days, so we stick to everything. And no matter what that shopper's walking by, you want to find a reason to stick to them. They say, "You know what? I've got to try this product. It's interesting because of reasons A, B, C." And you don't care if 10 different consumers come by, and for 10 different reasons pick your product. You actually want that to happen.

And let's remember, let's go back to our social media discussion. If they like it, and they like you, they will talk about it. And they will become your advocates. And in fact, I think you want to be out there advocating among your shoppers, that if they use your product in an interesting way, have recipe creation contests, so that somebody might say, "You know, I bought this, and I used it to make something else and it was fabulous, and here's my recipe." People love sharing recipes on social media. We have to become a catalyst for that activity, because then our products start taking on a much bigger persona.

And again, in this new era, all of these things can actually be done in affordable ways. Dan, I'm sure this is a point you hear a lot. Young people are so much more savvy with the technology. I'm a baby boomer, so it's a constant lesson for me. I am not a digital native. I am constantly learning the language. I know my children do it much easier. We have to make sure that we're hiring folks from the younger generation. And here's the hard part: We've got to listen to them.

This didn't happen, actually, at the CMA conference Dan. It happened at another conference I was at recently where I moderated a panel of a group of millennials. And we got talking about social media, and the millennials all said Instagram is woefully underutilized by industry. That Instagram is perfect to put up pictures, recipes, menu ideas, and they said, "But we never see companies out on Instagram. You're missing a massive opportunity." And a lot of the folks in the audience, who happened to be boomers, afterward came down and said, "I don't know Instagram." They may not know Snapchat.

So we've got to be nimble, we've got to be learning, we've got to be evolving every day. That comes from having conversations with people who are different than yourselves. Which is hard to do. We're in our offices, we have our friends, we have the people we like to go out to lunch. I always try to suggest make a friend out of somebody who wouldn't be your friend. Somebody from a different generational cohort. And my God, the things you will learn.

Dan, I want to give one more story, because actually this is my column today on Morning News Beat. Just because I like to see things. I went to the Washington DC gay pride festival that they had this weekend. Just to sort of walk around, to see what was going on there. And what shocked me was how many businesses were exhibiting in the gay pride festival to talk about how the LGBTQ community is welcome in, whether it's their stores, or their banks, or whatever. And how they are catering to that community.

And if anyone wants a reason to know why this matters, I thought one of the most clever booths that I saw was from Amazon, who is a company that's reshaping commerce for all of us. How does Amazon make itself different at a gay pride festival? Well, they changed their name to 'Glamazon', which was really cute. And they were handing out beer cozies in all the colors of the gay pride flag rainbow. And people, they had a crowd there picking up these beer cozies non-stop, because everyone knows Amazon, and they were getting this reinforcement that Amazon wants your business. And we want everybody's business.

And I saw other retailers there making a strong point that we are not gonna discriminate on the basis of anything. We want your business, we want you to consider us as a place to work.

So again, I've got to be honest. Going to the gay pride festival, I don't have to tell too much about myself, I think this comes across self-evidently. It's not where I usually hang out. It was an incredible lesson to me in how businesses are evolving these days to show a different face to different communities, and to show a friendly and welcoming and inclusive face. And again, we have to do that. We are not gonna survive by doing what worked for us 20 years ago. That was a very different era. In fact, last week was a different era. We are gonna have to be pushing ourselves to discomfort so that we are trying and experiencing new things. And that's how we're gonna win over new markets, and new consumers.

Dan: Well said. And kudos to you for trying something different, something out of your comfort zone. A lot of people need to do that.

I want to go back to what you were saying with the New York Times. That's kinda one of the things that I talk about, or celebrate a lot in the podcast. Retailers and brands working together to collaborate, to have that more experiential, here's what we do, here's how we do it, here's why we do it. Building community around that story.

Michael, you're gonna love the podcast that comes out this Thursday. It's with Stephen Hughes. And we talk about the millennial journey, and how relevant they are. And he's building his business around the way people think, and the way people interact with the shelf. It's a great conversation. He's a boomer too, and the point is that we're talking about how instead of being stuck in the way things have been done, this is the way your grandfather did it so you're gonna be successful, we're talking a lot about the new trends, and how he's connecting with that consumer, to your point, through social media and beyond the edge of the package, and really making a lot of those great connections, so thank you for sharing all that.

One of the things that you were talking about-

Michael: And Dan, let me build one point on top of yours.

Dan: Yeah.

Michael: I was actually doing a meeting just last week with Kikkoman, who's the world's largest maker of soy sauce. And one of the discussions, and when you're with a company like that, you discover that soy sauce can get used in all kinds of foods. In things I never would have thought of. You can actually use soy sauce with ice cream, which sort of blew me away.

I asked someone from Kikkoman if they produce articles and recipes that retailers can then just pick up and put on their own websites. I would say to the folks listening who have products, right to your point Dan, you want to actively partner with retailers. So if you have a product that addresses a specific health need, or has a specific taste profile, don't be shy about producing articles that you would say to retailers, "By the way, here's our product, but we also have this knowledge base behind it. And we can provide recipes, we can provide articles for your website, for your social content. Because if I'm retailer ABC and you're manufacturer XYZ, you helping me connect with my consumer makes you a partner. And more than ever, people want partners. Again, don't make assumptions.

And by the way Dan, I love your point about we have to change the way we do things. I think Dan knows this about me. Kevin Coop and I wrote a book a few years ago on how to draw lessons from movies. And one of my favorites is obviously a chapter I wrote in the book. If anybody's ever seen the movie Babe, the story of the pig who becomes essentially a sheep herder. And the whole movie is about breaking barriers, that there is a way things have always been done, that is not an answer to the way things will always be done. So if you need a lesson in that, it is this wonderfully cute movie from about 15 years ago. But it reminds us that sometimes we have to think and push ourselves out of the box, and we are gonna find wonderful solutions. It won't be the easiest solution, but it might take us to a whole new level. And that's gonna be essential these days.

Dan: Well said, good book too. I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, it was interesting, I was at the CMA conference a couple years ago when you guys released it, when you guys first announced it. I was at the book signing. So that was kinda fun.

But I appreciate your saying that, because one of the things I talk about a lot, Michael, is that ripple in the pond. And the point is this: these small disruptive brands are the ripple in the pond, long before they become the tidal wave and end up on a big retailer's shelf. To your point, having content, this is something Bill Bishop and I talk about as well, having content to be able to support the retailer with, to be able to help the retailer tell your story, is really the key to help yourself get notice.

I had a really good podcast episode with Ben Friedman of Lucky's Market and we talked about how they partner with brands, and they have that interactive relationship, so that they're not only relevant within their community, but people go out of their way to become a part of what Lucky's is doing, and to see the new and different things. And to me, that's the future of retail.

I appreciate again, the fact that you've got the 30,000 foot view. One of the things that I invite you to do is, in my world, in the world that I typically play in, focusing on this ripple. Where this ripple begins. The retailers and the brands that are playing in this space, that are working with those consumers who want something that isn't transparent because it's a slogan, but yet they can look beyond the four corners of the package, and they want to know that the company, that brand is invested in missions, and in different things that are relevant and important to them. That they can trace the ingredients all the way back to their origin. It's those unique brands that are really driving sales across all these shelves.

So getting back to the CMA conference, as we're trying to figure things out, a lot of the big brands are so busy focused on using the big data that they're not paying attention to the trends. And this is one of the points that you were talking about earlier. So to be able to focus on why consumers are doing and more importantly, as you said, being able to look at real world to be able to tell a story that helps support what's really going on. At the end of the day, that's a learning that I think more people should take time to really focus on, smelling the roses, so to speak. Your thoughts?

Michael: I think those are all very valuable points. We have to understand, and this goes back to the start of retail, however long ago that was. Everyone out there listening to this, if you have a brand, and you think it is really special, understand there is no constitutional guarantee that you get on the shelf. You have to, remember, every retailer is gonna ask themselves the questions of to put your item on the shelf I am taking something else off the shelf. So there has to be a reason why you are-, it's almost alchemy, that you are gonna be better for me than what was there before.

That's why, back to one of the points you made, Dan, you've got to tell your story so clearly. I actually, I do worry that at times, if we all understood ripples in the pond that are gonna become tidal waves, we'd all be geniuses, and we'd all be billionaires. The truth of the matter is, we're not. We don't always see where these microtrends that are gonna become macrotrends. So I think it's real important that if you're bringing out an item that has a point of distinction, if it's a new taste, a new flavor profile, you've got to talk about it. Because the consumer isn't ordinarily just gonna say, "Oh, I want to go there, because it's new."

I will tell you think, and Dan, I think you have been witness to this. When I go to a lot of trade shows, I have noticed this for years, and back when I was at FMI and we had a gigantic show back then, the big retailers go to the trade shows not to see the brands they are always working with, because they always see them.

Dan: Right.

Michael: They go looking for new and different ideas.

Dan: Well said.

Michael: They go looking for products that they can put on their shelves, that you can't find someplace else, that start taking them someplace new.

And by the way, the big brands, these guys are pretty bright. Look at Sriracha in the past few years. Or kale, or quinoa. These products have grown from something that if we went in a time machine and went back 10 years and said, "Hey, everybody's gonna wanna eat kale." People would have told us, "Take all the kale you want, because nobody ever wants that stuff." And today we find it in everything. The same thing with Sriracha, the same thing with quinoa.

The big brands are watching these trends, and if a microtrend, if a ripple looks like it has potential, they are gonna get involved.

Even to the smallest supplier out there, if you have a really interesting corner on the market, I would say all the things Dan and I have been talking about, with this need to constantly press yourself forward, to find a way of getting better, stronger, faster. You have to do that, because the world is not gonna sit there and say, look, you've got this really unique product, we're gonna leave you alone and let you make a billion dollars. Everyone is gonna copy what you're doing, and try to take it away from you. So however innovative you are, your advantage is over so fast. You've got to keep learning, you've got to keep moving, you have to keep growing. There is no standing still and succeeding anymore. I'm not sure it ever worked, but certainly it doesn't work today.

Dan, I think to your point, it's, we've got to be new. Innovation is such an overused word. But everybody loves an innovative product. One of the things I always like to talk about is, there is probably no one who is listening to this podcast today who's listening on a Nokia device. No one. But if we went back, 10, 12 years, Nokia was the number one supplier of cell phones in the world. And they're gone. The iPhone is only 11 years old. Eleven years ago, none of us knew about smartphones, we didn't know about apps. And a new product, thanks to the geniuses at Apple, came along and changed our lives that fast.

Things like Snapchat, Instagram, these have not been around a long time, and we see how they solve a need and they grab the consumer's imagination, and explode with them. And I think we have to be thinking in this fast time, this is the world we're in. It is fast, it demands excellence, and it demands an innovative spirit.

Complacency is always the enemy. And again, Dan, I would say, the one comment I'd make on behalf of large brands is I think they understand it. And they are looking at how do we keep our brands relevant? How do we keep changing our tastes, our nutritional profile? Whatever it is that matches the changing consumer need. The wheel keeps going forward. It never seems to go backward.

Dan: I had a great conversation with Paul Green of Organic Indian, that's today's podcast that's gonna be released, where we're talking about how this is where the big brands are learning from the small brands. They're paying attention to what the small brands are doing. And the point being is this, he's former P&G, I'm former Unilever and Kimberly-Clark. And we get very siloed in the way we do things. And there are excellent companies, and they do an amazing job. But these small disruptive brands are challenging us to think differently, and the comment I made to you yesterday was, "Just because your mom likes it doesn't mean everyone else will."

Michael: That's right.

Dan: So, to be able to amplify that message, and to be able to communicate that through your story, and leverage that at retail, and by the way, one of the reasons why this, in my mind, is so important, is because these small brands can't necessarily afford to pay all the fees that some of the retailers charge them. And everything's negotiable. And so the small brands are able to get on a retailer's shelf by leveraging the importance of their consumers going into the store is so critically important.

And where I'm going with this, Beyond Meat, for example. People are lining up for that stuff. And a retailer who doesn't have it on their shelf is missing out. And if your neighboring, your competitor has it on their shelf, then you're missing that core consumer.

I'm trying to teach brands how to leverage these strategies to be able to drive sales in their store.

One of the things you're talking about is innovation, I'm so glad you mentioned that. The small, disruptive brands are innovating based upon what their consumers really want. Where the larger brands, a lot of times, I don't mean generically speaking, but a lot of times a lot of the brands, when they innovate it's a new flavor, new packaging, or something like that. It's not real innovation.

And so again, this is where Kyle and I were talking about how these large brands are starting to really pay attention to the way that the small brands do things. Tom Peter's quote made the point that bigness is automatically badness, because of the way you do things, and you get stuck in a rut. It's hard to turn an oil tanker around. My bosses used to say that when I worked for Unilever all the time. But these small, nimble, agile brands are able to better connect with, and be able to relate to, and have a conversation with, as you said, the millennials, and the up and coming generations. So thank you for sharing that.

You mentioned that you were in FMI. Kind of bringing this home a little bit, one of the things that FMI is somewhat famous for, at least in my circle, is FMI was instrumental in spearheading the practice of category management, years ago. Now, while it's evolved and changed quite a bit, the fact that you guys were cutting edge and leading edge back then, I was working for Unilever back when this came out. And I remember how, you guys were such an integral partner with us, and P&G and some other big brands, and trying to leverage these strategies.

One of the things, going back to what you said, and I love the fact that you did this, people weren't paying attention, necessarily, to everything that was going on around them. But through category management, instead of trying to drive volume on shelf, we try to drive contribution on shelf. We tried to focus on how do consumers buy? Why do they buy? And when they buy, what's in their shopping basket? An entirely different conversation.

Can you talk about some of the evolution that you've seen of category management? And since it was founded to where it is today? Especially since you just hosted the CMA conference.

Michael: Sure. And I have the good fortune, and I was at FMI when all this began, and not everybody, we don't always know history, but history matters.

A lot of what changed, and this was in the early 1990s, the food industry was suddenly threatened by another force, which was non-traditional operators, who suddenly started taking a massive share of sales. And when I say non-traditional in this case, this was the time of the birth of Walmart Supercenters, and tremendous emergence of companies like Costco. Up until that point, supermarketing was mostly done by supermarkets. And suddenly, an enormous share of the business moved to these big box players.

The industry in response was trying to figure out how did this happen? How did we lose that connection with so many shoppers? And we launched this project called The Efficient Consumer Response Movement, which was to study all the various points of inefficiency that had sprung up through legacy systems, and just through bad behaviors. And part of it was category management.

A big piece of category management was understanding that every product, not just every category, not just every department, but every product has to have a specific role on the shelf. You can't just have products because you have products. There's got to be a reason why you have the product.

One of the reasons I think the current CMA conference is such an interesting convergence to attend, because if you are out there, and you're a product manufacturer, you should be asking yourself this question, that if you were sitting down with a retailer, what am I gonna do on the shelf? What's my reason for being? What's their reason for having me?

And again, it used to actually be fairly simple. There were four reasons products were on the shelf. It could be a destination category. Something that we had that was really special, that would actually get the shopper to come to our store. You talked about the Beyond Beef people, and that is one of those kinds of products right now that certainly for people who are vegetarian, or embracing the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, this notion of having this plant based product that has so many of the properties of meat in terms of taste and sensory feel, that'll get me to go to a store. It becomes a destination product.

Most products are basically routine products. They're things we expect to be there, they fill our cart. And it is no shame in being a routine product, but you have to know who you are.

The other two areas were convenience, it's good that you have it there because it makes my shopping trip simpler. And then of course things that are seasonal, or promotional, that may not be there all the time, but fit a certain need. We're coming into summer now, it might be sunscreen and suntan lotions, it might be other items like that.

But it's important for a product manufacturer to understand the kind of role they may play. And it could be a different role for different shoppers.

Dan: Yes.

Michael: And different retailers. And that's important.

I think to your point about where category management is today, it's so much more enabled by data and technology. That if I were out there working with somebody on a new product launch, you can't just go in and say, "Look, here's how we see it happening." And I think Dan, this goes to your point. You don't go in and say, "Look, I've made this barbecue sauce, my neighborhood loves it when we have the neighborhood barbecue party." They don't want to know that. Because everybody makes a barbecue sauce like that. You've got to come in and say, "Look, I have done some testing, and neighborhoods, we have tested it, it works well with millennials. It works well with vegans, with Latinos." Find those places where you can say, "These are the kinds of people who it's attractive to," so that a retailer would look at you and say, "I have those shoppers. And what are we going to do to get them to try it, to taste it, to use it?"

I think Dan, I don't want to gloss over, because you made so many good points in the previous take-

Dan: Thank you.

Michael: There are some basic financial realities of getting on the shelf. Let's not gloss that over, let's not ignore they happen. When you go to a retailer, it goes back to a point I made earlier. If you have a new product, I have to remove another product to get you on the shelf. I have to do that in every store, I have to do that in every warehouse. And that's where there, lots of times these fees come in, because the company is saying, "There's a lot of work to be done to go from Product A to Product B." And they will then say, "And you have to understand, Product A right now is giving me support in terms of advertising, sampling, displays, whatever it might be. What are you prepared to do?"

I think you've got to, as you're preparing your sales pitches, you've got to be, you definitely have to be talking about why my product is special. Why it is something new and important to the shelf, and that's where innovation comes in. That it is not just Product B replacing Product A. It is product A plus, plus, plus, plus. And by putting it on the shelf, shoppers are gonna see this and say, "It's special, this is something I want to have." Beyond Beef is a great suggestion there.

Dan: Thank you.

Michael: Just so you know, when retailers see a truly innovative item, they are gonna do handsprings, they are gonna do whatever it takes to bring you in, because they want those truly innovative products.

Dan, you talked about being at Unilever. Unilever has always had, I don't even know how many varieties of ice cream they have. But they went out of their way to get Ben & Jerry's into the fold at Unilever. And when Ben & Jerry's ice cream came along, it's not like the world needed another ice cream and those two guys decided to do it. But they did ice cream differently. And every time you pick up a pint of Ben & Jerry's, they tell a story. It is the Ben & Jerry's, it's unique to them, it's unique to their style, and they have built this magnificent following. And in essence, they have built a fabulous brand. Sometimes with flavors that others would have said, "Really? You're gonna put that in ice cream?" They do it, and they explain it to you. Why and why you're gonna love it.

They're a wonderful example of a company that went into a shelf, the freezer case is as competitive as any place in the store because it doesn't expand easily. So everything is a zero sum game in the freezer case. For an item to come in, another item must go out. And the Ben & Jerry's story, because it's a story of innovation, of storytelling, and those are the kinds of things. Look at those guys, they're almost the role models of what you want to be, because you want to go in and say, "Here's why we're special. Here's why the consumer will find us special, why our taste is different, why our ... everything about us. Our health profile, our local roots, whatever it may be. Look at those guys.

Again, this all comes into the looking around thing. And here's a great assignment. Go out and buy yourself a pint of Ben & Jerry's today. And read the carton. The container always tells a story of Ben & Jerry's. Always. They never miss, whether it's Cherry Garcia or Phish Food or whatever it might be, they are, it's fun, it's quirky. Next time, go to a freezer case, and try to count how many varieties of ice cream. How many SKU's are there. Those guys manage to bowl their way onto the shelves.

If you read their story, it wasn't easy. They really had to work very hard to get that shelf space. But they did it. And they have managed to maintain it, because even though they're part of Unilever, and again, Dan, you were there, they basically still play by the Ben & Jerry's rules. They still, even within Unilever, they still come across as counterculture. They're the role model for how to do it. I don't know if there's anybody who's ever done it better than those guys.

No one is saying this is gonna be easy, it's gonna be simple. It's not supposed to be easy or simple. We only succeed when we triumph over things that are difficult.

You laid out a whole bunch of important things there in your last statement. I hope I'm doubling down on them correctly.

Dan: The pushing thing.

Michael: The opportunity is there, but the opportunity isn't there simply because you exist. Or simply because your mother likes the taste of your barbecue sauce. The opportunity is there if you make it be there. And it's easier said than done. But it's what you got to do. Otherwise you're not gonna get a buyer's attention.

Dan: And I appreciate your saying that. Again, check's in the mail.

This is a whole reason for the free course that I put out there. This is the reason for the podcast. This is the reason why I wanted to talk to you and other thought leaders in the industry. I want to help small brands understand this. I want to help the small brands, and the small retailers understand how to differentiate themselves, stay within their guardrails so they'll be successful. And again, this is a lot of what I talked to Kyle about in today's podcast, so you're gonna love that.

But the point is this: Yeah, you do have to work hard. But if you stay true to who you are, and you stay true to your mission, and you can communicate that through your story. Again, you go to the retailer and say, don't just say, "I'm a nice guy, I've got a cool slogan, and I've got a great package. Please put me on the shelf," and hope and pray that they're gonna put you someplace not on the bottom shelf or maybe not in the back room. But put you on the shelf in the right place. You can't expect a retailer to take all the responsibility on their own.

You need to guide the retailer. You need to help the retailer understand, to your point, thank you for sharing that, why you're relevant. And why your consumer is perhaps more important to that retailer than another brand's consumer. Everything's negotiable. And if you can leverage that, like the Beyond Meat example, if you can leverage that with a retailer, then they're gonna bend over backwards, as you said, and I love that. They're gonna do cartwheels to help you gain shelf space, help you become a force on their shelf.

Ben & Jerry's is an excellent example. I've got a billion other examples about brands that are really changing the way consumers think.

Again, I appreciate you going through that, and category management, the data's important, you've got to have the data. But at the end of the day, nothing happens until someone buys something. Let me repeat that: Nothing happens until someone buys something. And shoppers can't buy your product if they can't find it. And if you can't help the retailer understand who your consumer is, and if you can't help the retailer understand why you are relevant because of the consumer that buys your product, then it's just a pay to play game. And at that point, really there's no strategy around it.

Michael: You lose. You lose.

Dan: Yes, you lose.

Michael: Right. The point I want to add on, and again, we're living in the new day and age. I'm like Dan, I'm a consultant, but the only person who works for my company is me. And I do this work with Kevin Coop on Morning News Beat. But back when I worked for an association, and I noticed this 10 years ago. When someone came in applying for a job, the day and age of somebody coming in and not knowing anything about a company, that's long over. If somebody came in and hadn't read our website, and couldn't ask me questions that showed they cared enough to know who we were before they got there, I was writing them off immediately. Because that's not a high hurdle.

I would say the same thing to anyone selling a product. If you are going into whatever retailer it is, you want to visit their stores, you want to visit their website, you want to see what their mission is. And that way you can look at your product and find the points of alignment.

Dan, I had mentioned this story, this session that I run at the Sweet and Snack Expo, which by the way is another great event for people to try. And this session that's modeled on Shark Tank, we actually call it the Power Pitch. A couple years ago, we had a buyer from Walgreens. And somebody made this wonderful presentation on very high end chocolate, and he pointed to the buyer from Walgreens, and he said, "Can I work with you?" And the guy from Walgreens said, "Do you know who we are? We are not a company that is selling this kind of product at that kind of price point. We're Walgreens. You're trying to sell me a product I'm never gonna put on the shelves of Walgreens." So you've got to know who that buyer is and what they represent. And it's a shame on you if you don't know that, because the information is so easy to get these days.

I would say before visiting any buyer, go to stores. Go to the website. Go see what works and what doesn't work, because we keep coming back to these words of partnership and collaboration. That's how we win today. And if you can go into a buyers office and say, "Hey, I've got a product that I think, with your stores, will be a win for you and a win for me." Win-wins are the best thing on earth. That's when a buyer looks at you and says, "Okay, now I know how to work with you."

If you go in and just say, "You know, I've got a new flavor that we have added to whatever. To sauces, to soups, to candies." You know what, that's a line extension. That's not a wow moment for anybody. And there always are gonna be line extensions. There always have been, and sometimes they become gigantic. But you want to be different. You want to be something special. You want to be an aha moment, because that's what everybody's looking for.

Dan: I appreciate your saying that. And again, going back to what we started this conversation with, that's why resources like you, like Kevin, like Phil Lempert and Bill Bishop, are so very important. Because it gives us an opportunity to look beyond our small little world, our cubicle or whatever you want to call it, to be able to see what else is going on in the world.

Because to your point, that's where the opportunity is. That's where you can get in front of a retailer to make a difference. And again, it's about having that story. That's why this podcast exists, it's why the course, it's what all my content is. It's what you're talking about as well. You've got to be able to tell the story. You've got to know who your consumer is, you've got to know who your competitor's consumer is. Why do they chose your competitor's product over your product, or vice versa? And more importantly, you've got to be an expert on the retailer. You need to be the eyes and the ears for the retailer that you're working with. And to your point, doesn't make sense to sell meat snacks in a store that caters to only vegan customers.

Michael, I appreciate your time today, thank you so much for coming on. Anything else that we missed? Any last thoughts you've got for the budding entrepreneur? Or the small retailer? Or even the big brands too.

Michael: You know, Dan, I think we've covered the important points. Because it is about getting out there. And again, trust me, Dan is not sending me a check at the end of the day. But I think all the listeners, you want to avail yourself of new and different ideas. And that's why you want to listen to Dan’s podcasts and, our subscriptions are free. We're just trying to help people to think about different lessons. I gave you the website for those, the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council Reports. Try to get stuff like that, because more than ever, we've got to be smarter, faster, stronger, all those kinds of things.

Complacency, arrogance, those are the enemies. And what we want to be, we want to be relevant, and we have to remind ourselves. That's why I say, that's the question you hang in your office. Am I relevant? And understand what was relevant yesterday may not be relevant today.

Dan: Absolutely.

Michael: We live in a fast-changing world. Complacency, it's death. Even the biggest brands you can think of, they are not complacent these days. They get up every morning saying, "How are we gonna stay there?"

And again, I said earlier, I love to use metaphors. To some of you this may have come through by my accent. I'm an original New Yorker. And I happen to be a fan of the New York Mets, which is just a recipe for suffering. There's another baseball team in New York, the one I hate, called the Yankees. And I've thought that the greatest gift the Yankees have ever had is the Boston Red Sox. Those two organizations drive each other to a new level of performance each and every year. They are always among the top three teams in baseball. And every year, they find a way to get better, because they recognize if they don't, the other will pass them. That's the model of how competition replaces complacency.

Dan: Well said.

Michael: Whether you have somebody like that or not, that's a challenge you have for yourself. You've got to talk to your team and say, “Complacency is our enemy. How are we better today than we were a month ago? Or two months ago? Or six months ago? Because that's what the world demands of us."

And Dan, again, I think the kind of work you're doing, of creating knowledge exchange is so invaluable these days, because we all learn from each other. More than ever. And to have a platform like this, what you are doing, where folks can share ideas, where they can share and learn, I welcome it. And by the way, you can contact Dan, he'll get the messages to me, if you have any questions or comments to me, I'd love to hear them.

We need to be learning and growing from each other.

Dan: Absolutely.

Michael: That's what the world demands of us these days. Nothing static works. The status quo is dead. We have to move on.

Dan: Love that. Could not agree with you more. Thank you for saying that.

One other point I'd like to make before we close is that if your name's on the brand, you can't blame the retailer, the broker, the distributor, the shipping company or whatever if there's an out of stock. You've got to own it. And so brands need to step up, and like you said, not be complacent, and they need to be able to own that. They need to be able to fix that. If you've got a problem like that, you need to address it before it occurs.

Again, Michael, thank you so much for everything. I'll be sure to put information on the podcast webpage and in the show notes about how to connect with you, Morning Beat, the Coca-Cola ad council, and all those tremendous resources that you shared with us. So thank you again for your time, and I look forward to seeing you at the next trade show.

Michael: My pleasure, Dan. Thanks for the opportunity.

Dan: Thank you sir.

Michael: Yeah, I'm sure we'll see each other soon, and for the rest of you, if we happen to be at a trade show together, come on by, say hello, tell me you met me through this podcast. I know that would make Dan very happy vicariously.

And that's one of the things we do. You've got to make friends in this industry, you've got to network your socks off. Don't hesitate.

Dan: What do they say about the rising tide, right?

Michael: Absolutely.

Dan: Thank you so much.

Michael: Yeah, but the rising tide can drown you if you're not swimming or floating. So let's keep that in mind. The rising tide's no guarantee.

Dan: I love that. That's a good second part to that.

Michael: Sure.

Dan: Well, thank you so much.

Michael: My pleasure.

Dan: I want to thank Michael for coming on today, and for sharing his insights.

I'll put links to his website, Morning News Beat, and the Coca-Cola Retail Council in this podcast show notes, and on the podcast webpage.

You can get to them by going to

We spent a lot of time today talking about how to keep your brand relevant, and front and center, with retailers and with shoppers. Put another way, how do you get your product on more retail shelves, and into the hands of more shoppers? This is exactly why I built my free course, Turnkey Sales Story Strategies.

Today's freebie: If you want to learn more about it, go to, or you can learn more about it in the show notes, and on my website.

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As always, this podcast is about you, and it's for you. I appreciate your listening, and I look forward to seeing you in the next show.

Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council

Michael Sansolo


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Thanks again for joining us today. Make sure to stop over at for the show notes along with more great brand building articles and resources. Check out my free course Turnkey Sales Story Strategies, your roadmap to success. You can find that on my website or at Please subscribe to the podcast, leave a review, and recommend it to your friends and colleagues.

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