Is Expo West the “Superbowl” of Gutsiest Brands?

Mar 10, 2022

Last month, marketers were watching and celebrating Superbowl ads, the annual brand extravaganza where audacious creativity collides with extraordinary spending. Many of these brands serve as great examples of what we like to call the Gutsiest Brands”.

This week, the consumer brand world converges at Expo West, a fascinating event that brings to life the story of innovation, brand building, and entrepreneurship, like few others. Thousands of exhibitors will introduce an enormous array of natural ways to change our eating, drinking, cleaning, healthcare, and personal grooming habits. Brand participants range from those still making products in their kitchen and garage, searching for their first shot at retail distribution, to those who have become trendsetters and substantial brands, in many cases already reaping the rewards of investment or acquisition by the world’s largest companies. 

The participants in this natural brand menagerie represent the alternative “superbowl” of Gutsy Brands. Many of these brands are led by founders who had a very personal experience or struggle that stimulated a potentially great solution, or closely observed the experience of others in need of a new and better choice. These brands and leaders ooze “leading with empathy” (one of what we believe to be the four pillars of a Gutsy Brand). They have lived in the shoes of the consumer and determined that there must be a better way. They had the energy, drive, and creativity to “pioneer a new idea”, and stood boldlyand persistently to see that idea emerge as a real brand and product. Without a doubt, they each faced tons of trade-off decisions and did their absolute best to avoid compromising the insights and values that stimulated their idea from the getgo.

Some of these brands will be wildly successful, paving new paths for entire categories, and may even create ingredient and flavor trends that become nearly universal. Some of these brands will serve a very small, but appreciative niche of consumers. Others will work their butts off to succeed, only to be met with the harsh realities of the most competitive consumer brand marketplace this world has ever seen.

Walking the floor will be retailers, big brand marketers, and investors alike, searching for the next big trend, the next product to emulate, the next company to acquire. Who will be the next Chobani or Kind Bar?   

What fascinates me about this event is that it is a true marketplace where so many want and need something from one another. 

Many big brand marketers have limited success at true breakthrough innovation. They rely on these start-ups to stimulate a new product idea or drive growth through acquisition. Brand managers are often passionate and feel real ownership of their products and projects, however, they are distant from the founder experience and mentality, and the reality of their P&L and company limitations seemingly create barriers to brand building…the innovator’s paradox. 

Retailers are hungry to be the first to see that next big thing that will allow them to differentiate. The best don’t just put these new brands into distribution, they make them a cause that has huge mutual benefit. And the great private brands, are jumping headfirst to be innovators themselves as they build their own brands to increase affinity, driving bigger baskets and more frequent trips. 

The founders and teams passionately driving these new ideas and brands, are eager to be noticed, to be supported, and to build meaningful business and value. Many will thrive while others fight to survive. I can guarantee that every one of them wishes they had just a small portion of that Superbowl ad budget to shout their message to people who would love their product if only they knew about it and tried it. 

GutCheck has a passion for supporting innovative brands and founders, enabling them to understand and connect deeply with the people they seek to serve. We invite you to listen in to our new Gutsiest Brands podcast where we sit down with entrepreneurs, innovators and investors and learn from the highs and lows of their stories. 

Written By

Rob Wengel

Rob Wengel

Chief Executive Officer

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