Whether you’re a Bullvine reader in rural Ontario or a 5000 cow herd in California, you are affected by the image consumer’s have of milk as a food product. That means you’re subject to the same brand demands as Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and Dasani. Only those three companies may have bigger advertising budgets, and they intend to stay ahead of milk on the consumers first choice beverage radar. The names that have become iconic brands in the beverage industry didn’t get there overnight, and they are fighting an ongoing battle to maintain their position at the top of the heap. Do they ever screw up?  Yes!  Do they quit when they’re down?  Never!

“But” you say,” Everybody knows about milk!  There’s nothing new to brand!”  Well.  If that’s where your thoughts take you, then you have just guaranteed that you will be forever under the milk branding Blunder Dome.  (Read more: MILK MARKETING: HOW “GOT MILK?” BECAME “GOT LOST”) Milk is an excellent product.  Milk is a healthy product.  Unfortunately, neither of these attributes will guarantee that milk is the consumer’s first choice of beverage. Don’t try to hide your light under a dome – especially not under a blunder dome.

Salute the Power of Branding

You know that branding has worked when there is only one brand that you would consider using.  For me, all tissues are called “Kleenex.”  I only clean windows with “Windex”. For years, I made “Xerox” copies, regardless of what machine I was actually using to produce them.  Likewise, chap stick and aspirin have moved beyond product names to generic titles used for all similar products. Although I have no explanation for the ”X” factor in the first three examples, I readily admit that branding has influenced this consumer in a major way.

Now let’s look at milk branding, where we have a full range of examples to choose from.  On the one hand grocery aisle, consumers choose milk jugs (USA) or milk bags (Canada) with very little brand identification to choose between.  At the other extreme, our industry has enjoyed celebrity with branding campaigns such as “Got Milk?” and celebrity “Milk Moustaches”.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the dairy industry could milk this type of branding for all it’s worth?

Sorry, I find puns irresistible.  But seriously, I wish our dairy products were as in your face.  Before I further jeopardize my opportunity of writing for The Bullvine, let’s take a look at industry blunders, that could undermine dairy industry branding.

BLUNDER #1: Fear of What’s Next

It’s more than six years since Alltech sponsored “Bounce Back 2010” Symposium. This example was presented. “Think of it: There are two beverages. One is full of sugar; rots teeth can rust nails, causes obesity and has zero nutritional value. The other is full of calcium, full of protein, and is nature’s perfect food. The first one sells for $4.39 per gallon; nature’s perfect food for $2.69 per gallon.”

“Why is it we allowed this to happen?” Alltech President Pearse Lyons asked those at the Symposium. He went on, “The first beverage, Coca-Cola, even has the audacity to call itself the “real thing.” Coke has done a tremendous job of marketing itself to consumers and creating a brand image. Milk hasn’t.” Lyons concluded, “Guys, we have to brand our industry, we have to brand our ducts.”

BLUNDER #2 ACCEPTANCE of BORING

When it comes to a choice of being under attack or being boring, some will deem boring to be acceptable. Being boring has very negative branding consequences that eventually affect all aspects of branding. Can anyone explain the milk marketing love of plastic? If we are trying to sell milk as a first choice beverage, we’ve got to move beyond the big plastic jug and the plastic bag. I am lucky enough to prepare school lunches for my grand-children. It is always a plus when the packaging encourages the selection of milk products, and I don’t have to fall back on, “it’s good for you” or “because I said so”. It is even more exciting when the choice is confirmed and gets eaten.  Milk drinks, yogurt drinks, and cheese, are quite often the first choices.  Remember when ice-cream occupied that dairy space all by itself? Even my five-year-old grand-daughter knows about calcium for healthy bones and teeth.  “Grandparents should drink milk.” And “Oh look we have new yogurt bottles!” I applaud the imagination that ties children’s drinks to containers, colors, and promotions that they can relate to.  It’s great to see more choices that relate to other age groups, including teenagers and seniors!

BLUNDER #3 Terrible Tag-Lines

The right slogan can go a long way toward making a brand memorable. Unfortunately, an awful tagline is also unforgettable. The rule with taglines and slogans is always to Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS).  That’s why “Got Milk” was perfect.  Unfortunately, it is all too easy to turn good intentions into bad taglines.  These three that I have personally penned should have been locked up forever:

“Our good breeding shows.”

“You need an udder drink.”

AND

“We stand behind our cows!”

Yes, I suffer unresolved guilt over these, but I have enjoyed many hours googling “tag lines that failed” so I comfort myself in knowing that even big companies can fall on their branding faces.

One example, although not a beverage, does come from the food industry. In the early 1980s, Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers was struggling to differentiate itself from its competitors. At the time, they had this quickly forgotten tagline: “You’re Wendy’s Kind of People.”  I am sure some of us can remember the year 1984 for the introduction of Wendy’s unforgettable octogenarian, Clara Peller, who vaulted Wendy to the top with the catchphrases, “Where’s the Beef?” Now that’s tagline branding the goes from terrible to terrific in three words.

So do your best and then relax.  If you’re trying to improve, you’re in good company.

Blunder #4 Flying Under the Radar

Thinking that it’s a good idea to keep under the radar is a horrific branding blunder.  Modern day families are under every kind of pressure as they fight, and often lose, in searching for work-life balance. The dairy industry can ensure that milk is present at the touch points of everyday life.  Milk at home.  Milk in food establishments, Milk in schools, churches, and community centers.  Failure to promote milk at the benchmark experiences of home and family life represent a failed opportunity for the positive branding of milk. Even if the national industry struggles to do this, we can do our part in our local communities. Milk sponsorships not only celebrates a food product but showcases it with the best parts of community life. Play them up.  Share some milk.  Take every opportunity to let people know why you are passionate about the dairy industry.

BLUNDER #5 Leaving Milk Alone!

One of the biggest mistakes we make is the one of trying to isolate ourselves from competition.  Seriously? Do you have one item menus? We aren’t in competition with the entire food industry.  We are in competition with other beverages. You know what I’m talking about.  We are missing an opportunity if we don’t find perfect partners for the perfect beverage we produce. Milk is a natural for partnerships.  Milk and cookies.  Cheese and Pizza.  Milk and Cake, Pies, etc., etc., etc.  Which partner to choose?  What do you drink milk with?  “If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.” is the way to pull the dairy industry out from under the blunder-dome.

Fortunately, in the U.S. DMI (Dairy Management Inc.) is more than six years into partnerships with Domino’s Pizza, McDonald’s and others. We need to move beyond milk as a commodity and promote its value-added role in the value of specific menu items.  Beyond the perfect partnership of taste, it’s time to publicize the move to more nutritional choices.  The big brands are doing it! Let’s bring milk to the table!

Turning BLUNDERS into BRANDING:

At the end of the day, you might tell me that someone else (bigger, bolder or higher up the food chain) is responsible for the branding of milk.  You could be right, but an industry rides on the shoulders of those who produce the product.  We can all do our bit to turn branding blunders into positive branding. Here are five ways to turn blunders around.

  1. Brand Milk FEARLESSLY: Never fear mistakes. Milk branding is all about action.
  2. MILK is EXCITING: Share the milk “WOW” factor whenever you can.
  3. PUT a TAG on MILK: Find a way to put your passion for milk into words.
  4. MILK the CROWDS: Put milk on the table wherever people gather.
  5. FIND MILK PARTNERS: Find great partnerships so that when people think of certain foods, they automatically think of milk too!

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Branding milk is important. But as any good marketer knows, you have to connect with consumers and speak their language.  Let’s not seek so much industry protection that we close ourselves off from success.  It’s time to move beyond Blunder-Dome and continually re-commit to positive branding for the dairy industry.

 

 

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