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9 facts about your brand you BETTER know

I grew up with the certainty that I did not "like math”. I don’t know how I came to the conclusion originally, but it followed me all the way to graduate school. I shamelessly would state this to anyone who was even remotely talking about numbers. And I didn’t challenge this - even when I actually enjoyed (and got an A!) in my graduate school Accounting class.

After b-school, I found myself at Pepsico, in the Frito-Lay marketing department. If you know anyone who has come out of the Pepsico marketing factory, you likely have heard about their fanatical commitment to analytics. Frito Lay, in particular, is a data heavy organization, as they benefit from point of sale data that warehouse and other non-DSD (Direct Store Delivery) organizations lack. Ex-Frito People would agree that no matter their experiences otherwise, they are immensely grateful for the hands-on analytics training. I am no different.

In my first year at Frito Lay, I went from “I don’t like math” to being a numbers junkie. As an associate brand manager, I was responsible for brand tracking — pulling brand business reports to keep up with performance. And with weekly data pumping out of their well-oiled sales machine, we had to be ON IT every single Monday morning.

But it wasn’t enough to have the numbers — you needed to really understand them as business drivers. You didn’t want to get caught in an elevator with a senior leader and not be able to answer “so, why is Lay’s down at Walmart this week?”

Those lessons have STUCK WITH ME.

But do facts really matter?

There’s nothing more powerful than facts. In business, there are no alternative facts. Either you're winning, or your not!

And as a Brand Marketer, there are some facts critical to doing your job. Never mind being great at your job — as far as I'm concerned, you can’t even be average without knowing your business!

Strategy starts with a basic understanding of the facts - without that, you're doomed from the start.

Having a deep understanding of these numbers unlocks the ability to make more strategic decisions on a daily basis. It helps you put everything else into context and make moves consistent with your objectives. For example, deeply knowing and understanding these facts helps you react to a recent customer sales meeting, the latest innovation idea from R&D, the social media chatter after the Super Bowl, and even providing feedback on the latest round of radio scripts.

KNOW YOUR FACTS and you will be better positioned to make all the important decisions to drive your brand forward.

So print this list and make sure you know them and your whole brand team knows them. You’ll thank me for it!

Now, this list can represent an overwhelming amount of data depending on the size of your brand. It's not important to know these numbers exactly. What is important is having a ballpark number in context (company, competitor, other categories, etc). As you'll see, context is a recurring theme in this post...

Brand Fact You Must Know #1: DOLLARS

Ok, this is a gimme. Everyone knows this, right? Good, because you should. And while you don't need to know it down to the penny, you do need to know it in context. For large companies, this number helps you understand how the organization prioritizes your brand vs other brands or other business objectives. It tells you the role you have in your company's growth target and what kind of marketing budget you should expect to get (or maybe need to ask for). For smaller organizations, this number is your end all and be all -- not making money? Not gonna have a job! That's it.

Externally, whether in absolute or in share, you need to understand your dollars vs. competition. It tells you a lot about your position in the category and gives you clues to how a retailer might treat you. And, in the end, it tells you how consumers are voting -- are they voting for you or someone else?

Brand Fact You Must Know #2: VOLUME

Depending on your category, you may never look at volume. And that is a huge mistake. Whether measured in cases, pallets, units, ounces, pounds, gallons or whatever, volume tells you a lot about how much product you're getting out the door. And, the more product your consumer is... consuming, then the greater the relationship with the brand. As for competitors, similar to dollars, volume tells you a lot about your place in the category. And for some categories where price sensitivity and competition makes your life difficult, volume is everything.

Brand Fact You Must Know #3: TOPLINE CHANGE

You've got dollars and volume down, and that's great. But context goes beyond how those numbers look in relation to the world around you. You also need to compare it to yourself. Are you growing? Are you stagnant? Are you (heavens forbid!) declining? This is another gimme, I realize, but worth noting that the specific number is not always important here. It's a symptom and you better pay attention before you wind up with an incurable disease. Or worse yet, not getting credit where credit is due.

Brand Fact You Must Know #4: DISTRIBUTION

Distribution tells you the availability of your products to the consumer. It's pretty straight forward how important that measure is on your brand’s health. But distribution is more than just a blanket number – it's loaded with sub-bullets! Channels, shelf placement, facings, promoted distribution, and on, and on, and on. To get closer to all the sub-bullets - head to a few stores. Do some data gathering for yourself. It will be eye opening.

Now, don’t get overwhelmed. Having a baseline understanding is an important starting point – you really just need to understand how easy it is for your consumer to get their hands on your product. What's the point of all the other work you do if they can't get their hands on it??!

Brand Fact You Must Know #5: VELOCITY

This is a metric of how well your brand is doing its job with the most important person -- the consumer. This is one of those measures that says yes they love you or --- well, what else is there?

Velocity tells you the speed at which your product is moving off the shelf. Here, again, context is critical. You need to know how fast is your product moving off the shelf vs. key competitors as well as the category average. Velocity is also a symptom --- unlike distribution which you can improve directly, you must impact the drivers of velocity in order to impact velocity. Product functionality, pricing, merchandising, packaging, etc, can all have a hand in the strength or weakness of your velocity.

It's important to note that this is a retailer-favorite -- many brands have fallen victim to not meeting velocity benchmarks set by hard-nosed buyers who have no patience for "brand-building".

Brand Fact You Must Know #6: HOUSEHOLD PENETRATION (HHP)

HHP tells you what percent of households in your market definition (e.g. the USA) uses your brand or product. Comparing your HHP number to that of the category and your key competitors can tell you several things: how well you have penetrated existing category users; whether the category has room to grow; how important a category this is to retailers, etc. You can even extrapolate how many people have tried your product, how many people are category purchasers, and how many are competitive buyers.

It can be hard to get this number without purchasing panel data from a publisher (like IRI or Nielsen). However, you are able to ballpark this with sales numbers for your brand, competitors, the category and benchmark categories.

Brand Fact You Must Know #7: REPEAT

Getting a consumer to buy your product once is a BIG task. You have to drive awareness, be relevant, solve a problem or deliver on a need, be in the right place when they need you (or remember they need you) and then for the consumer to actually be willing to pay the price. So, you got that far huh? Great. Are you satisfied with a one time purchase? You better not be!

You need them to come back - forever!

Repeat will tell you what % of your users are coming back to your brand. If this number is too low vs. category averages or your competitors, then you have work to do. Repeat is the long game -- consumers who come back, time and again. Understanding if they are coming back is step one - from here you move to WHY are they not coming back... but that's for another time.

Brand Fact You Must Know #8: MIX

If you haven't caught on yet, putting things in context is the underlying theme in this list. Mix is nothing but context. And, honestly, I cheated a little on this one -- Mix itself is not really a data point. Instead, I am using it to refer to two distinct sets of data that I find extremely useful.

First, there is your customer mix: dollars and volume by customer, which tells you which are your most important and your weakest customers. Second, there is your product mix, which tells you which products are responsible for your growth and which products are weighing your business down. Finally, there is the cross section -- what products you're selling most of, in which customers. E.g. your top selling item at Walmart may be your worst performer at Whole Foods.

These data points help you prioritize your tactics, your resources and even make the tough decisions to "kill" things (or retailers!) off. Clearly, this is helpful in the annual planning process, but knowing this data cold is also critical. Intuitively knowing your mix can help you react to opportunities and problems on a daily basis with more strategic clarity.

Brand Fact You Must Know #9: ANNUAL GOAL

So what's the point of all this if you have no marker to work towards? This one is at the end of the list but arguably it could be first. Knowing the target for your business is MISSION CRITICAL. Whether that is top line growth, trial, profitability, whatever.

And note that I say "GOAL", singular, not "GOALS". This is important. Often we have multiple things we're working towards, but there should be a focus-defining goal that stands above all others, and for which you should be outrageously committed. All other decision-making should be in service of this goal and you should keep a death-stare focus on this number (er, assuming it's a number - I'm looking at you brand equity!).

What other brand facts do you find critical to your strategic decision-making?

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