Turning CPG Branding Upside Down with Michael Keplinger


November 2, 2020

michael keplinger on brand.001

“The marketplace has changed so much—there are so many brands on the retail shelf—the packaging is all there is. We turn the traditional brand development world upside down.” As a partner and leader of the research team at brand strategy firm SmashBrand, Michael Keplinger has a bold new approach for inventing and reinventing CPG brands. We discussed all of this and more on this week’s episode of the On Brand podcast.

Enjoy This Episode Now

About Michael Keplinger

Michael Keplinger is a partner at SmashBrand, an agile brand strategy agency for consumer packaged goods that specializes in a complete approach to market research, product design, and testing. After earning a degree and early career in computer engineering, Michael’s entrepreneurial drive took hold and he soon found himself developing market strategies for his own consumer product business. There, he quickly found a talent for connecting seemingly unrelated dots to discover room for innovation and opportunity. At SmashBrand, Michael makes ample use of his philosophy regarding consumer products, that the key to success is about seeing everything from the eyes of the consumer and anticipating how they will react to a product or message.

Michael currently leads SmashBrand’s research team to develop strategies for clients and to optimize various aspects of branding and packaging through testing. This best-foot forward approach to optimizing from a consumer perspective is likely the single biggest impact on marketing any brand can do, and over the past decade, he has developed an agile methodology and proven platform for consumer testing and integrated it directly into SmashBrand’s entire process.

Episode Highlights

What led this computer engineer to branding work? I’m always fascinated at what’s led someone to work in branding. As a computer engineering grad and successful entrepreneur, he first found his way back to business school. Once there, he fell in love with the science of consumer behavior, which would mold his approach at SmashBrand.

The packaging recipe for success. “Packaging has to do a lot of things rather quickly.” This requires a scientific mix and balance of words, visuals, spatial elements, and white space. You also have to test different ideas. “Testing is nothing new. Without the ability to test you’re left with subjective opinion.”

What do you do with a stagnant CPG brand or category? This represents a lot of Michael’s work. A solid first step is making sure it doesn’t become stagnant in the first place. “What becomes the new norm is incremental change. You have to continue to refresh to maintain your brand positioning.” If you’re constantly changing—even a little bit—change itself becomes less risky over time.

What brand has made Michael smile recently? Though they’ve experienced a tumultuous couple of years, Michael shared why Uber is brand that makes him smile. “They play a huge role in transportation in our society. They’re (re)building a brand around why they exist.”

To learn more, check out the SmashBrand website and connect with Michael on LinkedIn.

As We Wrap …

Did you hear something you liked on this episode or another? Do you have a question you’d like our guests to answer? Let me know on Twitter using the hashtag #OnBrandPodcast and you may just hear your thoughts here on the show.

On Brand is sponsored by my book Brand NowDiscover the seven dynamics to help your brand stand out in our crowded, distracted world. Order now and get special digital extras. Learn more.

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Until next week, I’ll see you on the Internet!

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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.




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