Product World talks to Zawwar Khan, a former Pepsi and Proctor & Gamble brand manager turned CPG launch specialist about brand strategy, and the intersection of products and creator brands.
You’ve worked on over 25 CPG launches, what were some of the most challenging ones?
In corporate CPG innovation, challenge often comes from misaligned leadership. The hardest projects I worked on were the ones where VPs and C-suite interjected with rogue opinions late in the development process.
As the prime mover for the innovation, it is my responsibility to represent the voice of the consumer and make it heard in the meeting rooms. An example on this was the Doritos 3D Crunch project (2021 Super Bowl Launch ft. Matthew McConaughey).
There were a variety of conflicting internal opinions on flavor, most of which contradicted what consumers told us in our product research. We tested flavors in market, and eventually, what the consumer wanted ended up becoming the winning flavor!
When conducting product innovation, you have to do your best to advocate for the consumer voice over all other opinions, sometimes even your own!
Why are you excited about creator-led brands?
There are a select few creators who are sitting on some brilliant ideas and innovations. They are just looking for the right operator to help them get started.
What most people don’t understand is that creators are often times consumer research behemoths, collecting consumer quality & quantity research by analyzing comments, engagement, and overall content performance. They know:
- their audiences biggest pain points and tensions
- they have a strong POV on the best and newest product innovations in the market through brand gifting
- and they themselves are a consumer of their category.
Today’s CPG founders have to cough up tens of thousands of dollars to get to such clear consumer insights.
If a creator wants to start a CPG brand, any advice for them?
Take a step back and ask yourself: is this really the best way for me to drive value to my audience? Launching a brand/CPG product is the cool thing to do right now, and too many creators are overestimating the scale of their idea, their ability to drive repeat purchase, and the time they think they have to run the company.
As a creator, could you take that free time and maybe apply it to product licensing? Or a co-create with an existing brand? Or maybe something in media, like paywall content, digital courses, or live events!
How does brand management in your past at brands like Pepsi differ from brand management for new creative brands?
The principles for what makes great brands are still the same. I highly recommend the book “How Brands Grow” by Dr. Byron Sharpe, if you are curious to learn more about these principles.
The constraints are different with creator brands…not necessarily greater or less than at PepsiCo, just different. For example, we have to find suppliers who can meet our MOQs rather than working with internal production. We don’t have shelf space distribution that 100 million Americans are walking by every week, we have to constantly post valuable content to earn “digital distribution” to drive awareness.
But we also have a very forgiving audience that we are launching with. If our product receives negative feedback, we can address it head on, apologize, and fix it. This audience might actually feel even more connected to the brand if mistakes & errors are addressed correctly. However, there is almost no margin for error when you’re a billion dollar brand.
Any essential software or subscriptions you recommend to entrepreneurs in this space?
More important than anything is relationships. Go connect with operators, manufacturers, and founders. You never know how they may be able to help! This is a lesson I have had to learn since leaving corporate: my network is my most valuable asset. but to answer your question, I love ImportYeti when I need to quickly find a competitor’s overseas supplier for some sort of a physical merchandise product/accessory.
Charm.io is great for high level DTC competitor insights. Social blade to dive deeper into influencers/creators: I use Social Blade to answer what is a creator’s growth rate and engagement.
Any thoughts on DTC vs retail vs Amazon?
High level, I see the three channels as playing three distinct roles:
DTC: The heart of your business because this should be your most profitable channel and where you have the greatest access to customer data. This is where you should be rewarding your customers most and where you should be trying to pull customers in to, who are still shopping in other channels.
Amazon: Great for driving awareness and driving trials. Many customers are starting their shopping journey on Amazon and you don’t want to miss them because you aren’t there. Thousands of 4.5+ stars on Amazon speaks volumes and can often be the only major validation needed for a customer to take a shot on your brand. If they buy and they love you, how can you try to shift them to another channel though?
Retail: Drive scale of a validated set of products with a much larger set of consumers
Any tips or tricks for long term success in building a creator brand?
Building a brand with talent (celeb, athlete, or creator) feels like a cheat code to most founders right now. Let me let you in on a dirty secret: it isn’t. Many talent led brands are dying slow, slow deaths. They see massive sales in week 1, but without a strong product, they aren’t able to pull in repeat purchase and often become an afterthought for the creator and their audiences.
Talent-led brands that see long term success are the ones that are rooted in a great product that brings a unique proposition that solves a tension for a set of consumers. If it doesn’t do that, there is no way that a consumer is going to come back and buy again.
- Other quick thoughts on your brand strategy:
- Try to focus on high AOV items.
- Try to make your product giftable.
- Compliment your brand with a great content strategy.
Creators are great at making content, so have them lean into your brand’s content strategy to ensure your brand continues to stay relevant long after launch week.
How should larger companies be approaching working with creators on their existing or new brands?
Licensing and co-creates! Regular influencer marketing and brand deals are great, but if there is a particular creator who is converting particularly well, lean into them with collaborating at a deeper level. Invite them to co-create a product or flavor or even just license their name for a new product in your lineup.
Make sure to really involve the creator in the product development, because that authenticity will come to life during their launch announcement. If the creator sounds engaged and excited, so will their audience.
What are brands whose product and marketing you really respect in the space?
I love these brands because they have accomplished the most critical hurdle for talent led brands: they have transcended the talent and their audience:
What are you working on next?
I have been serving as a consultant and advisor for a variety of creators for almost a full two years. Sometimes juggling up to 7 creators and brands at one. Something I have been lacking is focus.
I am ready to focus on just one creator-led brand. Now, instead of getting pitched by creators, I am pitching them with brand concepts! I’m feeling quite excited about what’s to come.
The one thing I have promised to myself though, is to always leave a couple hours available every week to advise brands looking to build creator strategies and creators looking to build CPG brands. You can book me for a “1 on 1” at the link below
Zawwar makes himself available for brand management reviews and consultation calls. You can find his schedule here if you need some 1 on 1 time! 1-on-1.com/zawwar
Learn more about Zawwar’s services here.
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This interview forms part of a series of interviews with brand specialists and product strategists. See other interviews here.
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