How CPG brands can stand out in crowded categories

By Lauren Ramaska, Media+ Managing Partner

The CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) space is one of the most saturated categories today. While significant growth has created new opportunities, it has also presented many challenges for new brands and products looking to stand out, and for legacy brands striving to maintain market share.

From our experience in the CPG space, we’ve found that leveraging a value-based marketing approach can help differentiate your brand. Here are several key strategies for putting this into practice:

Lead with Your Brand Values.

Today, consumers expect brands to lead with their values, with 94% of consumers saying it is important that the companies they engage with have a strong purpose.  The most successful CPG and retail brands have well defined brand ethos that serve as the foundation for their marketing strategies. This entails everything from target audience to brand messaging and content to their media investments. Brands like Patagonia and Lush exemplify this approach well; Patagonia’s campaigns often revolve around environmental activism, which resonates authentically with their eco-conscious audience. Lush’s decision to leave social media supports its commitment to supporting mental well-being values over mainstream marketing channels. Authentically leaning into your core brand values, even if it involves risks, will foster stronger consumer connections and maintain a competitive edge. 

Speak to Your Core Customer, Not Everyone.

Most CPG brands can’t afford mass-reaching campaigns that compete with national or global advertisers. They need to be smart and deliberate with who they connect with and how. Allow your brand purpose to guide you to your core customer segments rather than basing your target audience solely demographics. With 82% of shoppers wanting a brand’s values to align with their own, it’s crucial for brands to develop campaign personas based on consumer psychographics, values and passion points. This approach not only uncovers audience segments that align with your brand values but also helps identify innovative and authentic ways to connect with them. 

Leverage Strategic Media Partnerships and Collaborations.

For many CPG brands, the traditional “spots and dots” media buy just doesn’t cut it. They view media as a curated, holistic experience that connects their brand to consumers. The medium(s) in which they choose to invest are as important as the brand message they communicate. Identify media environments, channels, and platforms that align with your brand purpose and values and partner with those media outlets to create holistic, 360-degree programs that delivers custom brand touchpoints, driving deeper connections with consumers. For EnviroKids, a Nature’s Path brand, we created an integrated media program that elevated its core mission of empowering children to protect endangered species and environments. Our strategy seamlessly integrated the medium and message through authentic collaborations with Nat Geo Kids and curated influencers, creating custom content that encouraged kids to take action and save the planet. 

Consider your distribution strategy.

Evaluate how you’re getting your product into your consumers hands. Does your distribution strategy align with your brand values/purpose and ultimately with how your customers want to transact with you?  There are many ways to extend your distribution strategy outside of the mainstream channels like big-box stores and Amazon to drive trial and convert new customers. Find distribution channels and environments that align with your brand values. 

Direct-to-Consumer (DTC): Many CPG brands are building their DTC channels to cater to consumers’ needs and protect their data from e-commerce giants like Amazon. DTC channels provide a direct line to your customers, allowing for personalized interactions, better customer service, and a deeper understanding of customer preferences and behaviors, leading to increased customer loyalty and higher lifetime value.

Pop-up Shops and Experiential Marketing: These innovative strategies create unique, immersive experiences that engage consumers in memorable ways. For example, a pop-up shop in a trendy urban area, niche retail space (Yoga or Cycle Studios) or a special event at a popular festival can attract significant attention and drive product trials. These events also provide valuable opportunities for direct consumer feedback and interaction.

Online Marketplaces: Consider leveraging online marketplaces that align with your brand values. Niche platforms focused on sustainability, wellness, and other specific market segments can provide a more targeted audience for your products, enhancing your brand’s credibility and attracting like-minded customers.

Embrace Technology, but Don’t Devalue Human Intelligence.

Today, AI is all the buzz. Brands inside and outside of the CPG space are evaluating how to leverage AI to increase productivity, streamline processes and enhance profitability. AI offers many benefits, such as personalized customer experiences, and automated operations that can significantly boost efficiency. However, don’t devalue human intelligence. It’s people who have built brands and people who consume brands, so the human side of marketing remains irreplaceable. Human creativity, emotional intelligence and the ability to understand nuanced customer needs and cultural contexts are critical to building meaningful connections and fostering brand loyalty. The best results come from a balanced blend of AI’s capabilities and human insight, ensuring that technology amplifies, rather than replaces the human touch in your marketing strategy.

In the crowded and competitive CPG landscape, standing out requires more than just a great product. By leading with your brand values, targeting your core customers, leveraging strategic media partnerships, refining your distribution strategies, and balancing technology with human insight, your brand can build meaningful connections and drive sustained growth. As you navigate this competitive landscape, remember that authenticity and purposeful connections will set you apart and drive lasting success.

more insights