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#48: Refining your brand strategy with Meghan and Sam

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#48: Refining your brand strategy with Meghan and Sam

Welcome to episode #48 where we’re diving into branding for your consumer goods brands. Our co-founders, Alison and Karin, have teamed up with dynamic duo: Meghan Martin, our Strategy Director, and Sam Laubach, our Creative Director to bring you this episode. Meghan and Sam, cousins and business partners, started Here and Now Creative Co. years ago to bring strategic and eye-catching branding and packaging to the CPG world. Fast forward 5 years, and their work has graced Forbes, Shark Tank, Vogue, and beyond, AND they’ve now partnered with UMAI to provide branding and packaging offerings under the UMAI umbrella. Get ready to talk about brand strategies and packaging expertise, folks. Let’s dive in! 🎧 

Let Us Break It Down For You…

[0:59 – 5:05] Introduction to Meghan and Sam
[5:07 – 6:12] The decision to team up with UMAI
[6:13 – 9:23] Exploring essential brand strategy elements and their significance 
[9:24 – 11:30] Effective visual identity strategies for brand differentiation
[11:31 – 15:14] Brands and trendy visual identity: fad or strategy?
[15:15 – 19:04] Optimizing brand visual identity: strategies for success
[19:05 – 22:26] Common branding pitfalls
[22:27 – 23:52] Branding advice for small and emerging businesses
[23:53 – 25:33] Closing + affordable Mini Brand Guide for startups and emerging brands

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#48: Refining your brand strategy with Meghan and Sam

Alison Smith: [0:17]
Howdy, listeners. We’re Alison.
Karin Samelson: [0:18]
And I’m Karin.
Alison Smith: [0:19]
And we love growing CPG brands.
Karin Samelson: [0:22]
We’re the founders of a digital and social media marketing agency, UMAI Marketing, and creators of The Consumer Goods Growth Course, where we’ve helped grow dozens of brands to six and seven figures.
Alison Smith: [0:32]
We’re former in-house marketers turned consumer goods marketing educators, who’ve set off on a mission to provide CPG founders and marketers with actionable strategies that drive community and sales. We’re talking real results.
Karin Samelson: [0:46]
If you’re wanting to learn simple, actionable, step-by-step strategies needed to drive real brand growth, without breaking the bank or sacrificing your social life, then this is the podcast for you. Let’s get into today’s episode.

Karin Samelson: [0:59]
Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison, co-founders of UMAI Marketing, and we’re being joined by Meghan Martin and Sam Laubach, our new strategy director and creative director leading our branding and packaging efforts here at UMAI. Thanks for being on the podcast today, y’all.

Meghan Martin & Samantha Laubach: [1:24]
Thanks for having us.

Karin Samelson: [1:26]
Yeah. How’s your day been?

Meghan Martin: [1:28]
Good. Good.

Samantha Laubach: [1:31]
Good, good. Excited to have our chat today.

Karin Samelson: [1:32]
Yes, we’re talking branding.

Alison Smith: [1:37]
Branding is so exciting. I’m excited for this.

Karin Samelson: [1:41]
Yeah, and honestly, we have partnered … We now have branding and packaging at UMAI, but Meghan and Sam have a lot to teach us, as they’re the experts. So we’re going to kind roll through some of that and hopefully learn alongside of you guys. But before we start, we’d love to get a little bit of background on how you came into these roles. So Meghan, do you want to start?

Meghan Martin: [2:03]
Yeah, absolutely. I’ll kick it off. For me, I had started my branding career pretty much right out of school. Was working at a creative agency, and then after that went in-house for a tech company. And then I remember working in that tech company, we were sitting in a meeting with a creative agency and I was like, “Wow, I really would like to be back on the other side of the table.” So not long after that, Sam and I started freelancing together and then we decided to go for it full time. Now we’ve had here now for the last five years and have built brands for lots of different types of businesses and been able to work with clients pretty much all over the world.

Karin Samelson: [2:42]
Nice. Yeah, that’s such an interesting thought of being on the other side of the table and just being like, “This isn’t right. This doesn’t feel right.” So glad you could get back onto the creative side, agency side.

Meghan Martin: [2:55]
Yes. It was eyeopening for sure.

Karin Samelson: [2:58]
Sam, what about you?

Samantha Laubach: [3:01]
So I had some in-house experience when I was still in school. And then when I graduated I had another in-house job. And I remember being, for lack of better, I was unfulfilled with what I was doing. I was doing a lot of websites, a lot of more digital work. And I remember at that point I think I had dabbled a little bit in branding. And I remember Meghan texting me one day being like, “Why don’t we join forces?” And at first I was like, “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how that would work.” And then eventually we went for it and then the rest was history. Basically we went full time, and five years later our work’s been featured in Forbes and Vogue and we had a client on Shark Tank. It’s been a wild ride. Many twists and turns. And now we’re here.

Alison Smith: [3:48]
Yeah, y’all are just so creative and killing it. I love it. I mean, Forbes, Vogue, Shark Tank. That’s amazing. How did y’all feel when those publications and media happened? How does that feel?

Samantha Laubach: [4:05]
It’s so satisfying. I remember the Shark Tank being … Because we’re cousins also, so our whole family knew, everyone was watching it. It was a really big deal. It was very, very cool.

Meghan Martin: [4:16]
Yeah, Shark Tank was probably the biggest, because it was TV. We could actually watch it in real time. So that was probably the biggest one. That was pretty awesome. And then the others were media publications, so they’re still exciting, but not quite as fun as being able to watch it on TV.

Karin Samelson: [4:32]
Sorry, I have to say, the Sharks have seen your work. That is so crazy. That’s a big deal.

Samantha Laubach: [4:38]
It is so crazy. Yeah.

Alison Smith: [4:43]
Were any deals made? Did anyone … Who made the deal?

Meghan Martin: [4:47]
Yeah. Think it was Mr. Wonderful.

Alison Smith: [4:50]
Love it. And now, I mean we’re so excited to join forces, with just such an amazing talented duo. So let’s give everyone a bit of a background on how we decided to just team up.

Meghan Martin: [5:07]
Yeah, I think we’ve known each other for a while. We’ve worked with the same clients, we’ve referred work back and forth to each other for quite some time, and then the conversation kind of started of why don’t we see if it makes sense to just actually work all under one roof? And then you guys kind of brought that to the table and we were like, “Yes, let’s try it.” And it made a lot of sense. A lot of our clients have asked, “How do we continue working on our end?” It’s hard to just give a client a finished project and be like, “Okay, that’s it.” And not be able to help them continue to grow that brand. So it made a lot of sense on that end to be able to continue seeing how the brand can grow beyond just initial launch.

Alison Smith: [5:50]
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it just makes so much sense that the continuation of how the brand should look goes more into the strategy on how we continue to present the brand to actual consumers, whether it be retail, or D2C, e-commerce, what have you. So makes a lot of sense. We’re super excited about it. Let’s now get into the nitty-gritty and teach everyone your ways. So tell us first a bit about what’s included in a brand strategy. Why is it important for brands to really nail that down?

Meghan Martin: [6:32]
Yes, brand strategy is super important. Brand strategy is the why behind everything that you do. It’s essentially the foundation of your brand. And it allows you to answer the questions, does doing this thing make sense for my brand? Does talking to this audience or following this trend even makes sense for my brand? So that’s where strategy comes in. And what’s included varies depending on who you’re working with and what their process looks like. But for us, the process includes mission, vision, brand statement, your brand assets or idea, your target audience positioning and your unique selling point, and then also your brand values. Those are kind of the core things that we focus on, on brand strategy. And then all of those allow us to then make the right decision for design and for the creative work.

Karin Samelson: [7:24]
Yeah. And what does the brand risk if they don’t establish this at the beginning?

Meghan Martin: [7:34]

Samantha Laubach: [7:34]
Everything. Yeah.

Meghan Martin: [7:37]
A lot of things for sure. But I’d say the biggest is inconsistency. And that is the thing that everyone asks us for. That’s what everyone wants out of their brand when they come to us is how do I create something cohesive? How do I create consistency across all of everything that I’m putting out into the world? And that strategy is what allows you to do that, especially that core essence of who you are. That’s what creates that consistency. And without it, you’re going to kind of be guessing a little bit. You don’t have any filter for, again, that question of does this make sense?

Karin Samelson: [8:11]
And so a brand that maybe is a little bit down the road, they’ve been in business for a few years and they think that they have that bund up. Is it ever too late to reflect back on it, to work on it again, to breathe new life into it?

Samantha Laubach: [8:31]
I would say no. I feel like it’s- You really should be evaluating it, if not every year, I would say twice a year, just making sure, are we still talking to the same target audience? Has that shifted? Do we need to make any changes in our messaging? Are we staying true to our brand values? Say you’re launching a new product, does this even make sense for who we are as a brand, or are we just trying to appeal to all these different people? So I would say it’s never too late.

Alison Smith: [8:58]
Yeah. And if you really are noticing those cracks and inconsistencies, then I mean it’s the same with marketing. We bring on a brand and we notice certain channels aren’t making sense, the ROI is not there. We go back to the foundations and really think about the basics and what’s really going to work. So same with marketing really aligns there.

Alison Smith: [9:24]
So tell us how new and existing brands can use their visual identity to really stand out in their space. I mean, there’s so many categories like ready-to-drink coffees and things like that that can seem overcrowded. So how can that brand stand out on the shelf?

Samantha Laubach: [9:48]
I would say do a competitor analysis. That’s the biggest thing and that’s part of the strategy. And also figure out what makes you different. That’s again, that big part of the strategy is how are you unique from your competitors? Is it your story? Honestly, it all goes back to strategy. Our design is so intentional that we don’t do any creative or design without making sure that it’s super, super intentional.

Meghan Martin: [10:12]
Yeah, I’d agree. It all comes back to strategy at the end of the day. And your values again are going to help your unique selling point compared to your competitors. And also your values, I would say are your biggest points to refer back to when you’re trying to figure out how do I stand out, and what makes me unique.

Karin Samelson: [10:31]
Yeah. So standing out isn’t just what’s on your pretty packaging, what it looks like on the shelf? Well, that’s a big part of it. There’s a lot that goes on in the backend. And honestly, I can’t tell you how many times that we’ve had discovery calls with people that were interested in marketing and we say like, “Okay, who are your biggest competitors? Just so we can jog our memories, have a good idea, write it down so we can do some research later.” And some brands will say, “We don’t have any competitors,” or, “We don’t know who they are.” And so that’s honestly, it’s not a red flag because we’re all learning, but it’s a moment to reflect and be like, you do have competitors. Somewhere along the line you have somebody that’s doing something similar unless it’s completely new innovation, but how often does that happen? So that’s a really good reminder to do that analysis and do all that upfront strategy work to make sure you stand out.
So let’s talk a little bit about trends in branding. We see it a lot where a lot of packaging, a lot of branding kind of looks all the same because it’s following this super Gen Z trendy stuff that’s going on, but it’s cute and it’s nice for now, but what are your thoughts about brands hopping on these trends when it comes to their visual identity and their brand identity?

Meghan Martin: [11:57]
Yeah, I think that’s where, again, favorite word of the day strategy comes in because, again … Yeah, I think, and a lot of founders get Shiny Object Syndrome as well where they’re like, “Oh, we like what this brand’s doing and this brand’s doing.” And as you said, it’s a trend right now, but is that going to last the length of time? And that’s again, we’re coming in, what are your values? What is your story? What makes you unique? And then that influences the design. So we’re not just looking at the trends we’re looking at, yes, we obviously want you to look current and modern, but also beyond that. What happens in five years when gradients are no longer popular, or whatever the current trend is? You have to be able to think long-term, and think deeper than just, “Okay, this is pretty right now.”

Alison Smith: [12:49]
I love that you talked about ingredients too, and I love that y’all dive that deep. I recently had a conversation with someone in the keto space and their branding was all about keto. And that was huge, and they probably made a ton of money when keto really was at its peak, but if you go to Google Trends right now, it’s slowly on the decline and now they’re like, “Oh, shoot. We have to rebrand and rethink not only our packaging, but our messaging and who we’re targeting as well, because it’s now not the biggest thing in the world.” We’ve moved on. So it’s just really huge that y’all actually dive in that deep to really consider things like that as well.

Karin Samelson: [13:34]
I really like that you brought that up, Alison, because Meghan said gradients like color gradients.

Meghan Martin: [13:43]
Gradients. So true. It’s true.

Samantha Laubach: [13:44]
Which is so true.

Meghan Martin: [13:45]
It trends across the board.

Alison Smith: [13:48]
Meghan, you said gradients?

Meghan Martin: [13:50]
Yes, gradients, yeah. Like the design. Yes. But ingredients too. Because your brand is more than your product as well. Actually really good brands, the product doesn’t matter. People go in, you see these brands that are super successful and it’s because they’re selling beyond their product. They’re selling something that people want to be part of beyond the product. So that’s something always we push founders to think about as well is, who are you? What do you stand for beyond just this product? Especially if you’re starting new in a category, this is kind of an interesting place to be because right now, yeah, you might not have competitors in that category to Karin’s point, but you will, especially if you’re first in your category, and then they’re going to come in and do it better. So how do you keep that expectation and keep your recognition and your own space, your own lane in that category when you’re no longer the only one in it?

Alison Smith: [14:55]
Yeah. Well, sorry for not hearing you correctly, but I’m glad we got to talk about that as well. We’ve dug really deep into kind of the behind the scenes, the strategy, the messaging, and you did speak on Shiny Object Syndrome, but I really want to hear y’all’s thoughts about the actual end product, whether it be the packaging or just their overall typography, visual identity, things like that. How can a brand really execute their best visual identity? What are the most important things? What goes on the packaging? Let’s talk about really the pretty stuff.

Samantha Laubach: [15:43]
I mean, pretty packaging always wins. It’s always going to, so I think it’s just, again, staying true to who you are, and all of those pieces are part of the puzzle of what makes up your brand. So I feel like you don’t have to have the most interesting looking font. You can have a really simple clean font, but if it’s done really well and it communicates what your product is really well, and people can understand what it is on the shelf automatically, people don’t want to have to work to understand who you are and what you’re selling. So being able to communicate it in a way that’s clear and looks really good, they don’t have to waste any brain calories on it. That’s the biggest thing.

Meghan Martin: [16:20]
That is something I think a shift in packaging that is definitely happening. Having a ton of call-outs on the front of packaging used to be so important, and that’s how everyone did it. And now I think you’re really seeing this change, this shift into just simplicity. And it’s interesting because, and it’s a question we get a lot of, what do I need to put on my packaging? How much stuff should I have on the front where it’s visible? And I think it really depends on the impact that you want to make. I’ve seen brands that do really well, that actually have literally nothing but their logo on the front. They have no information about the product, but when they’re sitting on a shelf already in category, you already have that context of, I know what this product is because it’s sitting with these other products and it’s in this place in the store. So it’s interesting, and I think it just goes back to strategy as everything does. But, yeah.

Alison Smith: [17:21]
Yeah, I mean, we love that y’all are strategic minded. Just another anecdote, back in the day we worked with a brand and their consumer was most definitely women who were 65 and up. And they decided to rebrand. They did not work with y’all, even though we asked them to work with y’all, they worked with someone else. Not going to name names. It was a beautiful rebrand, but it had gradient, actually, I’m pretty sure it had gradient. It was going after the Gen Z category, which is fine. You do want to expand your user base. Absolutely. But it just did not fit whatsoever, and we had a hard time really going after the actual consumers. It was a fairly new brand. And that just goes to say, if you are going to work with a branding or packaging agency, and you decide not to go with us, that’s totally fine, but just make sure that strategy is equally as important as creativity with that agency. Otherwise, you’re kind of set up for failure down the line when you go to actually market your brand.

Karin Samelson: [18:41]
That was a tough one. We really loved the brand so much, and it was so fun marketing to this older crowd. And they are purchasers, they have the money, they could buy whatever they want, whatever they want. And then it was like, “Oh, okay. This just isn’t the same.” Yeah, womp-womp. But yeah, that’s upsetting.

Alison Smith: [19:05]
Yeah. Okay. Well, let’s close this out with a big question that I think every brand really wants to know, is maybe on their mind. What is the biggest mistake that you see brands make when it comes to their branding? Or we can talk about packaging.

Samantha Laubach: [19:22] 
Not adhering to your brand guide or style guide, and jumping on every single trend. Because again, it’s not going to be consistent. No one’s going to know who you are. You need brand recognition. That’s one of the most important things. And brand loyalty. And not adhering to your brand guide is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

Karin Samelson: [19:41]
Can you give an example of that, Sam? Yeah.

Samantha Laubach: [
Say you’re on Canva and you want to start using this new template, and it’s every other week, it’s a new template. And no shade to Canva at all, I think it’s a great tool, but it’s more of like when you’re using pre-made designs that weren’t designed for you with your brand, and your fonts and your colors and even your imagery, then you’re designing these new things every single time. And when someone’s on their Instagram or whatever and they land on this post, they’re not going to know that that’s your brand because it’s like, “Oh, this doesn’t even look like what their brand looks like.” So we see it all the time, and it’s a shame. As brand designers, it’s a shame.

Meghan Martin: [20:23]
Yeah, it’s tough, especially if you’ve designed the brand and all of a sudden you’re like, “What are you doing?” Yeah, that’s a big one. Mine would be similar, but not having your core essence of who you are defined and trying to piece things together or just, again, I think early stage, if you’re not thinking bigger picture, you start thinking, I need a logo, I need fonts, I need a color palette. And you’re not thinking about the full picture. And that’s again, where inconsistencies come in to play because you don’t have that full vision defined ahead of time. So similar to Sam’s, but more in the core essence of who you are beyond your visuals.

Alison Smith: [21:06]
Yeah, I mean, we are all for Canva templates. Use Canva templates, just upload your typography and your colors first, use the template and then click one button and it’s your typography. I mean, that’s the only thing. Just make sure that you’re actually using what your branding agency gave you.

Meghan Martin: [21:30]
Yeah. And repeat them. I think that’s the other thing is, again, it’s the, “Oh, we’ll put a new template, and a brand new thing.” And it’s something else new. Reuse and repeat and create consistency because that is how you get that recognition. And you can keep using the same layout per se, or you can keep using same elements to create that consistency without changing it completely every single time.

Karin Samelson: [21:54]
Yeah, I think that’s a big thing that we see with marketing too, is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel all the time. And we tend to over complicate things as humans all the time because we want to be better, we want to perform better, we want it to look better. But it’s just a reminder that if your brand identity is strong and your visual identity is strong, then there’s no need to reinvent it all the time. It’s lean in to what was built for you with your brand and product in mind. So I love that advice.

Is there anything else that you would like to leave our audience with in terms of a lot of folks listening have smaller brands, emerging brands, and if they have been using Canva templates and not following their brand guidelines, or they maybe haven’t even started creating their branding yet, what would a big piece of advice be for them?

Samantha Laubach: [22:53]
Get really clear on who you are, what makes you different. And if you don’t have a visual identity yet, then pick four colors that you want to use for every single asset you create and stick to them. And then choose one or two fonts, and just keep it simple. I think when in doubt, just keep it simple. I think people over complicate it and it doesn’t have to be at all. But I would say the biggest thing is get clear on who you are and what makes you different.

Meghan Martin: [23:!19]
Yeah, that would be mine as well is … Well a little bit more to it. Get clear on who you are and also, who are you beyond? What do you want to be known for and what do you want to stand for beyond your product?

Alison Smith: [23:36]
Love it. I feel like everyone should ask their self that too.

Meghan Martin: [23:41]
It is. It’s kind of the same. Yeah.

Samantha Laubach: [23:42]
Branding is very personal and it’s kind of like a person. It really is like a person.

Alison Smith: [23:48]
Treat your brand like it’s a human being. Love that.

Samantha Laubach: [23:51]

Karin Samelson: [23:52]
Well, all right. Thank you so much Meghan and Sam for being here during this episode and talking about branding and educating us. And thank you everyone for tuning in. And we want to share something that we are now offering to a exclusive group of founders each month. We are introducing a mini brand guide offering for early stage and emerging brand founders at a very, very reduced price point. So you guys know we love giving back where we can and we talk to dozens of founders every single month who have the same pain point. Their product ideation and development is super strong, but their branding needs a lot of support and guidance to gain consumer interest and sales down the road. So as mentioned in this episode is the importance of a well constructed and thought out brand guide before you start on anything else, including your marketing.

And that’s why we’re opening up applications for our mini brand guide. To help you refine your brand’s visual identity, we’ll be taking on only three brands a month and in only one week, we will help you define your brand direction, including color palette, type, hierarchy, imagery, use and direction, brand voice and examples and strategic elements, as well as application mock-ups so that you can see this direction in action for your emails and social posts and all of your marketing. So if you’d like to apply for an exclusive spot, go to to learn more and apply now. And we can’t wait to help you refine that visual identity.

Karin Samelson: [25:34]
Thanks for listening to the UMAI Social circle, y’all. We’re here to support you in your CPG journey, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any new podcast episodes. And while you’re at it, please leave us a review on your listening platform of choice. Shoot us a DM at UMAI Marketing on Instagram, if you have any topics you want us to cover on new podcast episodes.

Alison Smith: [25:53]
And don’t forget to access our free masterclass where we’re showing you how to create a solid marketing strategy. You can access that at, and we’ll meet you back here for the next episode.


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