Drafting a Marketing Plan for Soylent


#1

Hi, there.

I am quite shocked at noticing that nobody
has started a thread centred on how to market Soylent as a product and/or
trademark. And I’m not counting that one about the Soylent mixing robot, as
that threat would seek to make Soylent into a passing fad.

I mean, people: have you ever heard about pricing to sell? Or a SWOT analysis? Or the
KISS principle (Keep It Stupid Simple)? Or just about a million
reasons why people would avoid coughing up half a grand for robotic,
single-purpose blender, especially when a regular blender runs at some
twenty bucks? Or, of the two persons posh enough to toss half a grand
on a single-purpose blender, one of them complaining bitterly how he had printer
problems rather than breakfast? And the other writing a seething
review that, because he lives in Florida and the humidity is so high,
all the powder cartridges get clotted ever third day? This last one
would, of course, raise hygiene concern a mile high, would raise
questions about automated cooking machines outside of commercial and
industrial applications, and we would likely gain the nickname
“Soil-shake”, which we would never live down before Nestle rolls the
Soft Super Supper, Roche claims the European markets with Future Cal-C-Tose, Unilever launches Slim Fast Complete and Kellogs and Quaker roll the Liquid Breakfast and the SpeedShake…

Thus, I’m starting this thread.


First of all, we would need to look at the Marketing mix. And call me old fashioned, but I like going by the 4 P’s formula: Product, Price, Promotion and Place.

Product:

By now, Soylent already has two variants developed by Rob himself: the very first Soylent, which provoked on Rob a phenomenal weight loss, and the second Soylent, which stabilized Rob again. Then we also have on the group trials for women’s Soylent and proposals for a heavy-activity Soylent.

Furthermore, almost anybody reading this post should already know of Soylent as a product: a one-step, fully nutritious meal. As the current paradigm of Marketing dictates that “everything is a service”, then Soylent can be defined from three different perspectives:

Price-conscious consumer’s perspective: “it relieves you from worrying about eating well with little money”

Time-conscious consumer’s perspective: “it lets you have a full meal really fast”

Health club user’s perspective: “it’s an efficient, cost-effective way of not worrying about what you eat”

There’s also a fourth possible perspective, but it is a narrow niche, the outdoorsman: “it is good food that is very compact and very light on my backpack”. I would prefer grouping this one with the previous and calling them both “Health-conscious consumer with disposable income”

All of this boils down to: four product formulas times three different market approaches, plus one narrow niche market, equals thirteen (12+1) potential products.
(I know that brand expansion is a blunder, but I’m discussing that further down.)


Price:

Soylent is cheap and should be kept that way. However, having a number of different market approaches, Soylent doesn’t need to be dirt-cheap in all of its presentations. As this has to do with market segmentation, I will go into that when I discuss Promotion.


Promotion:

(I know that not everybody out there is trained in
marketing lingo, so I’ll try to dumb down my explanation until
everyone can understand it.)

I already said that we have thirteen separate potential products. I have already said, too, that performing brand expansion is idiocy. Skip the following text if you are trained in marketing:

Brand expansion: it is an incredibly common blunder of
executives not professionally trained on marketing, who think that
because people are talking about their narrow product line, they can
make people expand their minds into a wide product line. There are
tons of possible examples, but I’ll go for some classic academic
examples:

(1) 7-UP: Remember the big launch of 7
UP in the late 70´s? Remember how huge it was, being the “Un-Cola”?
Remember how, riding their big wave, 7 UP decided to launch 7 UP Gold
(Ginger-Ale flavoured), Diet 7 UP, Cherry 7 UP, Orange 7 UP, Diet
Cherry 7 UP, Diet Orange 7 UP, Caffeine-Free 7 Up, Caffeine-Free Diet
7 UP, Caffeine-Free Cherry 7 UP, Caffeine-Free Orange 7 UP,
Caffeine-Free Diet Cherry 7 UP, Caffeine-Free Diet Orange 7 UP, etc.?
Remember how people almost forgot 7 UP, and PEPSICO and SNAPPLE bought
it for pennies, and nowadays 7 UP is nothing but a brand
name?

(2) Heinz Pickles: The Henry Jones Heinz
Company, founded in 1869, was the undisputed leader for one product in
the condiment market: pickles. However, if you ask an average American
what he relates with the word Heinz, he’ll answer “ketchup”. That was
a huge blunder of Heinz: when they launched Heinz ketchup, they
actually managed to make people relate the word Heinz with ketchup, at
the expense of people forgetting about their pickles. In the end,
nowadays Heinz is a giant in the ketchup subsector, but their pickles
(and mustard, mayo and BBQ sauce) are nothing but faces in the crowd.
They are actually considered lucky, though: they could have lost their
position on the pickles without gaining it on the
ketchup.

(3) Xerox: Do you guys remember that,
for most of the 20th Century, the word Xerox was used as a
verb meaning “To photocopy”? Do you remember that photocopiers used to
be called “Xerox machines”, regardless of who was making them? Well,
thanks to their continued efforts at brand expansion, people nowadays
refer to photocopiers as “photocopiers”, and the Xerox Company has
become nothing but a face in the crowd of business machines and office
automation.

Thus, brand expansion is not feasible. At that, it isn’t even a rational choice.

So, how to market thirteen possible varieties of Soylent? Or should we just forget about the wide product line, going for a simplified, narrow 4-product line?

Not really. Even the quickest SWOT analysis will pick up that one of the greatest Threats to Soylent is that, being the product so simple, competition will appear as soon as any big company cares to try. This can be converted into an Opportunity by us becoming our own competition, having three companies targeting the three different markets with narrow, overlapping product lines (plus that one niche product).

We can take example from the Bimbo Group,
the largest bread-making corporation in the world, or perhaps more important
for the Americans reading this, the owners of Sara Lee: despite having
literally hundreds of products, Bimbo has been a company that has never
believed in brand expansion. They don’t even create new brands, but new
companies:

They first opened (as Bimbo) in 1945 with a narrow line of sliced bread. They did launch a few varieties of sweet bread, but when they decided to really push into snack cakes in 1954, they created their
first secondary company: Keik (later renamed as Marinela in 1957). Then they decided to go into fried potato chips in 1971, and created Barcel by buying and retooling a chocolate factory. On 1974 they then moved into normal-sized cakes by opening Suandy and into traditional Mexican bread making by opening Tia Rosa. They moved into candies and chocolate snacks by creating Ricolino in 1978. They went into ready-made sandwiches in 1990 by launching Lonchibon (although as a Bimbo line, rather than a separate company as usual). And from 1998 to date, they have made a sport of buying or creating companies (many in foreign markets) and keeping them on the race with narrowly specialized product lines.

What matters to us the most is that Bimbo has always liked to keep quiet its ownership over its other companies, going to the point that, before they were forced by law to publish their financial
statements over the internet, they wouldn’t even acknowledge the other companies beyond “strategic partnerships”.

And somehow, they made the Mexican public think for almost thirty years that Marinela, Barcel, Suandy, Tia Rosa and Ricolino (and a few others) were completely separate companies, with nothing but strategic
partnerships making Barcel trucks distribute Tia Rosa breads, Marinela snacks and Milpa Real tortillas, with Marinela and Ricolino buy fruit preserves from Carmel Marmalades, and Suandy cookies and Wonder bread be baked in Bimbo factories.

The second lesson we can take from Bimbo, and perhaps the most important as far as Soylent is concerned, is self-competition: while Bimbo has different marketing approaches and carefully differentiated brand images for all of its companies, the different Bimbo companies compete fiercely against each other on every single market overlap, thus marginalizing any real competitors:

Tia Rosa competes directly against Bimbo’s line of sweet breads. Suandy is a mass produced competitor against the more artisanal El Globo for simple, upscale cakes. Suandy has butter cookies and Tia Rosa has snack sizes to compete against Marinela cookies. Ricolino, Marinela, and recent acquisitions JoyCo Candies, La Corona Chocolates and Vero Candies compete for shelf space on corner stores. And then, there’s the cake: Wonder and Bimbo created the Mexican market for box bread through a fierce marketing war spanning from 1985 to 1995 (before so, Mexicans made sandwiches almost exclusively from Bolillos and Teleras (French buns) and Cuernos (croissants)), and to date the Mexican public still doesn’t know if Wonder is a strategic partnership or just another mirror of Bimbo.

(continues on another post, because the local system doesn’t allow to post long threads)


Marketing Majors.... Time to formulate a plan for Soylent Marketing
#2

Applied to Soylent: each of the three markets get their own
treatment, with their own company, with their own marketing strategies. And any
given consumer only gets to perceive two or three competing products, so they
get enough to perceive competition but not enough to get confused and move
along.

The price conscious market: they get Soylent by name.

While I believe that the word Soylent can be easily dissociated from the concept “cannibalism”, I don’t believe that it will be economically feasible to dissociate it from the concepts of neutral “cheap” and negative “desperation”. “Desperation”, on the other hand, can be easily turned into the positive “bare necessities”.

Thus, it would be unfeasible to market the name to upscale markets. The marketing strategy would need to be “guerrilla”, and we would likely become a staple on Detroit, food drives, disaster relief efforts and emergency supply pantries.

Guerrilla, on marketing strategies, means that the company or product doesn’t want to stir the waters against the giants, rather looking for an underserved sector where it can take roots. The typical academic
example from the burger wars in the 80’s and 90’s would be White Castle. As Soylent, our main competitors would be other guerrilla fighters in the sector (like SPAM and Cup Noodles), but we would have instant advantage by being fully nutritious.

The Soylent product line and brand image would need to be drab, transmitting the concept of bare necessities: Black print on white boxes, a product as concentrated as possible (which means dry powder + oil) on simple pouches, simplistic publicity.


Advertisement would also need to be as unpretentious as possible, although careful focus groups would need to be conducted in order to make sure that the adverts aren’t taken as offensive:

TV ADD FOR SOYLENT 01:

Characters:
Woman: stereotype of lower class housewife, unattractive,
thirtyish. Wears ugly glasses and a housedress or equivalent. Man:
stereotype of lower class outside worker, thirtyish. Wears protective
clothing and a reflective vest over a jacket.

Location: Kitchen in an inner city apartment, lower class.

Atmospheric sound: Inner city street noise, muffled. Calculator and
pencil sounds taken from on-scene props.

Duration: 30 seconds

Full Sequence:
Cue in: (long shot, high camera angle, wide angle lens) panoramic take of a tiny, lower class kitchen, darkened, with the woman pouring over bills under a desk light.
Cut to: (high camera angle, normal lens, hand held camera) the camera approaches the woman (from full shot to medium shot). The woman works a calculator.
Cut to: (bird’s eye camera angle) sweeping close-ups on the contents of the table (mostly supermarket bills and the like) intermingled with left-crabbing extreme close-ups of specific lines on the bills (price of tomatoes, price of carrots, prices of meat products, et al), which end on the woman’s hands picking numbers from a notebook and typing a long addition on a desktop calculator.
Cue: door closing sound.
Cue: sound of boots on wooden floor, rising.
Cut to: (Extreme close up) pencil writing {Big number} and underlining it.
Cut to: (low camera angle, looking over the woman’s shoulder), as the woman looks up, the man appears through an open doorway. As he finishes approaching, she stands up, gives him a brief kiss and sits down again.
Cut to: (high camera angle pans down to eye-level angle, medium shot) the woman looks up at the man, looking worried, then down at the paper. He moves to her side and looks down onto the paper.
Cut to: (close up, slanted): the woman’s hand taps the hand-written phrase: “Monthly food bills: {Big number} per person”
Cut to: (wide angle lens, low camera angle, medium shot) the man smiles at the woman and pulls from his jacket a box of Soylent, which he puts in her hands.
Cut to: (normal lens, woman’s POV) Close up of Soylent box, then close ups of the printed elements of the front of the Soylent box (the name, the slogan, the nutrition table)
Cut to: (eye-level angle, extreme close-up) The woman’s eye blinks and dilates
Cut to: (woman’s POV, extreme close up) momentary still of the words “Nutrition Facts”, then the camera scans down a long column of “100%” numbers on the nutrition facts table.
Cut to: (man’s POV, close up) the man has the pencil in his hand. He crosses {Big number}, then writes underneath {small number}
Cut to: (medium shot from the front, eye-level angle) the woman looks up from the papers and into the man’s face
Cut to: (high camera angle, close up) the woman’s face develops a beautiful smile.
Cut to: (long shot, high camera angle, wide angle lens, unfocused) the man walks away from the table, turns on the lights and comes to sit down at the table.
Simultaneous to previous sequence: Superimposed text, very large, appearing one line at a time:
“Soylent”
“Perfect Nutrition” “Cheap”
(END of spot)

There could also be a fifth Soylent (one for seniors), but I haven’t seen anybody get started on it yet.

The time conscious market: Fast = impatient = high school & college market. The
presentation would thus need to centre around speed-of-delivery (thus the
product would likely be presented fully dissolved in an appropriate amount of water,
so the consumer just shakes it and drinks it). Provisionally, I’m calling the
company Fast Lane Lifestyle Foods Inc., with all the products being
“FastLane” something or another. The marketing strategy would need to be
offensive.

An offensive marketing strategy is that of an up-and-coming opponent
that aggressively wishes to assert ownership of the market or dethrone
the current leader, and where the new player constantly reasserts its
superiority over the already available options. If there is already a
leader, however, the offensive strategy tends to become ‘stuck in
gear’ and needs to be constantly renewed. The two classic examples of
offensive marketing are Burger King and Pepsi, each of them always
hunting for greater market share from their two market leaders:
McDonalds and Coca Cola.

The marketing campaign wouldn’t only be introducing something completely new into the
cafeteria & campus market, but also something new into the breakfast market;
thus, the marketing campaign would need to be two-pronged: a direct campaign
targeting the young consumers (the cafeteria & campus users), and an
indirect campaign targeting their mothers (those who see them rush out without
having breakfast).

The following add would be for printing on housewives’ magazines:

One potential problem could be the shelf time: the previously dissolved Soylent could become a pretty solid sediment after a few weeks on the shelf. This could be turned into an advantage, though: we could insert a glass marble as a shaker (and a sports-cap or similar sieve so nobody swallows it), then enter pop culture by becoming the Western World Ramune.

The Upscale market: This market could be either the easiest or hardest to win. It is
the easiest because of the million executives that would welcome a quick and
reliable meal that won’t steal time or attention from their work. It is the
hardest because it requires very careful study on everything that’s done for
it, and because it cannot be attacked directly. It calls for a flanking
marketing strategy.

A flanking marketing strategy is that of attacking the central market
without calling confrontation with the leaders, or in a way that the
consumer feels that they are consuming something while they are
consuming something else. Examples abound: Carl’s Junior and Wendy’s
are flankers within the burger market. Snapple and Dr. Pepper flank
the cola market. Papa John’s flanks the pizza market. Subway and KFC
flank the fast food market, even if they point in opposite directions.
Costco and Sam’s Club flank the supermarket sector. MEC.CA flanks the
outdoor-outfitters market in Canada. Mini and Smart flank the car
market. Dremel flanks the power-tool market. Polaroid used to flank
the photography market. NECA flanks the action figures’ market.
Welovefine flanks the media merchandise sector. I could go on like
this for days!

Anyway, the sector would likely call for an up-down manoeuvre, like an endurance-oriented dietary supplements company that then ‘notices an opportunity’ and launches a line of general consumption products. In reality, their flagship product would be a performance - oriented Soylent, and then they would descend into the normal Soylent.

I’m provisionally calling it “Marathon Liquid Meals Company”, with a Flagship product called Marathon Food: Runner (or perhaps Marathon Food: Liquid Sandwich), and three salient products: Marathon Man: Executive, Marathon Woman: Executive and Marathon Food: Overweight. Why “Liquid Meals”? Because a minimally hydrated Soylent would be possible to eat from a tube and push down with water, while dry Soylent would need to be dissolved into the water. Besides, the Executive formulas would likely need to come fully dissolved in order to be easy to drink.

Imagine the following in a billboard over a commuting highway:

“Discover that you don’t need caffeine if you are perfectly nourished.”

“Try Marathon Man: Executive for a
week”

And of course, I can’t forget that ‘narrow niche market’ of the outdoorsmen. That would be the 13th product: say hi again to dry Soylent, now in a sophisticated, racy package!

And there could be one more product from the Marathon Company, but I think it overstretches the Marathon name: “Marathon Food: Iron Pusher”.

This leaves us with the following products:


And the following marketing structure:


Place:

The Soylent product line would likely sell in four possible ways: corner stores in low class neighbourhoods, lower and middle class supermarkets, on survivalists’ magazines, and whenever a disaster decides to knock the bottom off the warehouses.

The FastLane product line would sell either inside campus or in middle and upper class supermarkets.

The Marathon product line would sell
through drugstores and health clubs, eventually dripping down to upper class
supermarkets.


And, of course, I’m not a human nutrition expert (or think that any of us are), or
some god who can see inside the entire market’s minds. Anything that Soylent
makes will need to be passed through a qualified nutritian or nutriologist, and
anything concerning marketing always has to be put through surveys and focus
groups.

Comments?

And, by the way: I want in.


#3

Impressive. But we should really wait for Soylent to come out, there’s a lot of assumptions there that are related to the formula.


#4

So you just go around doing free marketing for things without being solicited?


#5

It just won’t be kept cheap when packaged as one-day supplies with oil included.
I’d go with the micronutrient mix for a month where you must add your own macros, which saves a lot of volume and weight. Possibly a second version with Whey Isolate and the Carb mix included, but that should be it!


#6

I’d really be interested in either a no-carb or no-carb/no-protein version (I’m on a ketogenic diet), and imagine all the versions you have to add your own oil and water (unless he finds a viable dry source of fat). Liquids are heavy and expensive to ship. I’d imagine most people want a version with everything available as a dry ingredient as it requires the least amount of thought.


#7

At this point I’d be happy with an exact recipe and manufacturing instructions.


#8

@cameronmalek >So you just go around doing free marketing for things without being solicited?

You’d be surprised the amount people will do for free for something they’re interested in.


#9

But each person nutritional need is different, how would you deal with that in “one package fits them all”?


#10

But each person nutritional need is different, how would you deal with that in “one package fits them all”?

That’s not nearly as true as you think it is. From what I can tell soylent exceeds any reasonable daily requirement of trace minerals/vitamins. People’s bodies will take what the need and discard the rest, that’s one of the points of poop.


#11

Some things in excess are peed out, but what about the things that when in excess just accumulate?

And what about people that need much more of one ingredient? Or much less? Or is intolerant to something? I mean, yeah, we could make different packages like “babies, kids, pregnant women, men, women, elderly, lactose intolerant, lactose intolerant kids, lactose intolerant babies, lactose intolerant pregnant women, athletes, lactose intolerant athletes, weight loss for kids, weight loss for men, weight loss for women, weight gain for men, weight gain for women, weight gain for kids, bodybuilder version, chocolate flavor version for kids, vanilla flavor for kids, strawberry flavor for kids” I WANT THE CHOCOLATE FLAVOR AND I’M NOT A KID.

Also, you would need to make those in “per day packed”, “per month package”.

As you see, there could be infinite variations of Soylent, and I doubt there is enough demand to occupy an entire supermarket shelf. Or maybe there is, but the cost of making so many different packages and handling all the distribution would be higher.

I think Soylent would be better niche oriented, selling customized formulas and shipping batches for each person.


#12

Doesn’t have to be a supermarket shelf.
I think Soylent could be worth it’s own shop in major cities (which can also provide consultations), and for those living far out and really wanting it there is still ordering over the internet.


#13

It could be combined with my non profit idea, to approach non-niche-audiences. Hey, being non-profit is the only way I’m going to see Soylent in less than 10 years in my country, and pretty much any country besides the US. And maybe Canada.


#14

Some things in excess are peed out, but what about the things that
when in excess just accumulate?

Believe it or not, my friend, but nobody in human history was ever concerned with carefully measuring vitamin daily doses before the discovery of vitamins. And even through that, to date the general wisdom is to simply get above the 100% daily dose, and not overdose too heavily on vitamins A and D (where the overdose tolerance only runs to 350% and 500%).
If your doctor is telling you otherwise, go and find a real doctor, not a hypochondriac on a white coat.

And what about people that need much more of one ingredient? Or much
less?

Those kinds of people are the kinds of people who can’t survive outside of hospitals and plastic bubbles.
They are outside the norm, so unless you want to specialize on them, you ignore them.

Or is intolerant to something?

Intolerance and allergy are minor concerns, as far as marketing is concerned, unless your market studies say otherwise. Companies usually focus into their market segment, then aim at the needs of the average.

For example: have you ever heard of a Kosher pizza? That’s a pizza coming from a Kosher-certified, veggie-only pizza parlour. Now, have you ever heard of a gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, tomato-allergic Kosher pizza? Such a pizza is an empty box: no bread, no sauce, no cheese and no popular toppings.


#15

I’d go with the micronutrient mix for a month where you must add your own macros, which saves a lot of volume and weight

You would indeed be saving a lot of volume and weight, because you would be having nothing but a specially balanced vitamin pill.


#16

While some versions (the Marathon brands) could indeed go to specialized upper crust stores, the real pay dirt would be making the flagship brand in just a few versions, then positioning it in lower class corner stores and competing for shelf space with Spam and canned tuna.


#17

Do you think this is a proper marketing plan?
This is just a sketch, so unfinished that I would have gotten a fail mark if I had presented at school. I presented it because I know is holey, so it needs feedback.

Do you have any useful comments, or are you just a lolcat?

And, BTW, if you are on a ketogenic diet, then you are outside the norm. Companies either focus on medical diets, or ignore them.


#18

This is assuming the goal of the company is just to be one more product in the shelves of a supermarket. From what he have said in his blog posts, I think Rob is concerned about the difference between daily requirements of different people. I think he wants to change the paradigm of how humans nourish. What about fighting hunger? Spending so much time and money in pointless marketing things instead of making Soylent available to everyone for the better of humanity, it would make Soylent just a product, not the new concept of nourishment.

Before you do a marketing plan, you must know what’s the goal of a company. I know that, and I’m not in business school.

Also, as an engineer in training, I know that there are people who just want to make money. But there is also a lot of people who just want to work for a better world. Call me naïve, I don’t care.


#19

Ignacio, I think you’ve developed it to the point where a “normal person” wouldn’t easily be able to notice errors without being told where to look.

That being said, where do you perceive the weak-points and gaps in your strategy are?

Zequez, I think you’re being naïve if you think that for whatever reason going the non-profit route will make the company spread faster. If anything, in my opinion keeping it not for profit will guarantee it will only stay local to cali with maybe some people able to order things online. If Rob really wants to get soylent out there to as many people as possible and cheaply as possible, his best bet is to develop a successful company then turn his eye to philanthropy in 3rd world countries, etc.


#20

I, for one, don’t like that we’re going so heavily into the commercial side of things without the recipe coming out.

No matter what happens, if Rob doesn’t release his personal recipe I’m going to be very very disappointed. Bar the discovery of some very serious side-effects, if we go forward with vending machines, marketing plans, copyright, copyleft, lawyers and all that jazz and his original followers don’t get to see the original detailed recipe - that’s really really bad.