For the few that never heard about it, Innocent is an English fresh smoothie company founded in 1998 by three young friends – with basically no marketing budget.
Nowadays, Innocent’s has a turnover of more than £ 100 millions (and by the way – in 2013 the three founders have sold 90% of the business to Coca-Cola for a total amount of about £ 300 million)
How did Innocent reach these numbers, starting from scratch and with little or no money to invest in marketing?
This is a story which is worth analysing, as what the three English friends did can be a great lesson for all the fresh produce companies that believe they cannot have any success in marketing since they have no big marketing budget available.
First, Innocent’s founders have been great in developing excellent products – a thing that costs time, commitment and requires appropriate skills, but does not involve huge marketing investments.
Indeed, developing an outstanding product does not cost much more than producing a good one.
Only, it implies more work. It is far easier to be happy with a good standard product than trying to reach superior levels.
So, outstanding products, to start with.
But more than often, having an outstanding product is not enough to get outstanding business results.
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Here’s where the geniality of the three Innocent founders came out on top: they created an exceptional brand.
Starting with the story behind it.
On their website, you can read that it all started at a music festival: “The boys sold their first smoothies from a stall at a music festival in London.
A sign above the stall reads “Should we give up our jobs to make these smoothies?” and people are asked to throw their empties into bins marked ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. (‘Yes’ wins.)
Interesting story, right?
For sure something out of ordinary and worth talking about.
Besides, they developed an attractive, humour rich packaging, with labels not only used to list ingredients, but full of nice stories and jokes.
All this contributed to create a unique, distinctive brand – one you can’t help noticing.
Did this all cost a lot of money?
Surely not. It took geniality, creativity, entrepreneurial skills – but for sure, no huge marketing budget.
So, exceptional products, and an outstanding, unique, distinctive brand were the starting points on the road towards success for Innocent.
What were the things that – building on great products and a distinctive brand – led Innocent sales from £0 to more than £100 million in little more than 10 years, and that all companies with limited marketing budget can try to imitate?
The winning moves were basically two.
A great distribution and trade marketing strategy was the first.
Innocent did not rush into presenting products to big retailers, as many would have done.
A wise decision, as probably retailers would have not been that keen on listing unknown products that were not going to be supported by big ad spending.
Instead, Innocent started from the “Out of home” channel, targeting take away shops, sandwich bars and the likes.
Besides, they initially focused on the London area only, where chances of success were higher due to the many “young professionals” that were more likely to be interested in products like the ones offered.
Here’s the first takeout that anyone can get from Innocent’s winning trade marketing strategy: choose your sales channel, your selling area and your customers carefully – basing on where your products can be more appealing to consumers.
Focus there and there only, and possibly expand to broader areas in the future only after consolidating your success in the place where you started.
Does this strategy need a huge marketing budget?
Not really – but it dramatically increases chances of success for any new product.
Besides all this, what was the remaining ingredient that led Innocent to success?
We all know that new products needs to be launched via a communication campaign.
Otherwise, there’s a huge risk of consumers not buying them simply because they don’t know these products exist.
Easy to say – but how to communicate to consumers if you have no marketing budget to invest in costly advertising campaigns?
Innocent found the way to do that – they developed and executed an innovative internet based communication strategy, specifically built around great content production and diffusion via social media.
Indeed, since early days Innocent has a blog used to publish articles that may be of interest for their target consumers: from suggestions on how to eat more healthily, to recipes to get kids eating more fruit and vegs, and so on.
The blog’s objective is not to directly advertise Innocent’s products, but to propose meaningful and worth being shared information to the reader.
All this using a friendly, human and funny tone, far away from common corporate talk.
Content is then amplified through a sapient use of social media.
The combination of interesting content, which are often shared by readers with friends – and a great use of social media allowed Innocent to reach a meaningful popularity among target consumers in a few years’ time.
Did all this cost much money?
Definitely not. Innocent did not have a marketing budget to start with.
It took creativity, willing to experiment new ways to communicate, ability to write useful content for readers – but surely not big money.
This should not surprise us – internet made marketing much more democratic than times ago.
Someone rightly said “once, your marketing success was proportional to your wallet, nowadays it is proportional to your brain”.
This line is great in describing the huge changes that marketing went through in the last years – and provides food for thought to all small companies that believe marketing is only for those who can afford to invest big marketing budgets.
If you are interested in fresh produce marketing, download the free e-book “Introduction to marketing for fresh produce”
(this article was originally published on Freshplaza.com in October 2014)
Pisani Produce Marketing is a training & consulting agency for the produce world. It has been founded by Maurizio Pisani, former Chiquita and Fresh Del Monte executive.