Balls of Steel. Three words, or rather one award, which has caused quite a stir over the past few days. Launched by smoothie brand true fruits, the Balls of Steel award honors entrepreneurs who display courage, decision-making strength and steadfastness in the face of market pressure. These qualities not only describe the award, but also reflect true fruits’ core brand. We spoke with Nicolas Lecloux, co-founder and CMO of the company, who describes how this mindset also drives their marketing strategy.
Nicolas, congratulations on the “Balls of Steel” coup! That was one heck of a PR stunt – can you tell us what the response has been like?
Thank you, but first I’d like to make it absolutely clear that this was not a PR stunt. “Balls of Steel” is a serious award in honor of something lacking in Germany: courage. There are numerous awards presented to companies for excellence in sales, efficiency or profitability, but there has never been an award to reward entrepreneurial courage. We wanted to address that. Because we are entrepreneurs, we value courage. We don’t like to see people going down the path of least resistance.
Of course I completely agree that the Balls of Steel award (the trophy features a steel cast of the founder’s actual balls) is quite a controversial symbol. We were simply looking for a strong symbol for an award that honors courage.
The response was extremely positive. Due largely to Balls of Steel, we’ve had huge publicity and wide coverage which has led to new nominations.
You say that the award itself may be offensive to some. true fruits is generally known for its provocative communication. Is provocation your trademark?
It’s true we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But we do take our business very seriously. Without a great product, a great marketing strategy is useless. The fact is, we make great smoothies from delicious natural ingredients.
We ensure our business communicates the way we would do personally. A kind of a “take it or leave it” mentality if you will. We don’t care if not everyone likes us and we don’t beg for a spot in your shopping cart. We do our thing and if people like that, then it’s cool and if not – well that’s not terrible either. Veering from our course was something we never would or could do and we’ve followed this philosophy from the very beginning. And no, it’s not provocation. We just like to have fun and we don’t take ourselves so seriously.
Of course we always ask ourselves “Can we actually do that?” And there have been times when we have decided against doing something. The things that we do end up presenting to the general public have been through a careful selection process. (laughs)
You spoke of a “take it or leave it” mentality. What about the people who think that what you are doing isn’t cool?
We don’t have a marketing document that describes our target group. So in that sense we don’t really have a target group. We make smoothies. Basically everybody can drink those – it doesn’t matter if they are young, old, students or business people. We want to provide them with communication support that makes us happy. That is our thing. Of course in doing so, this has an ostracizing effect now and again, but frankly you can’t please all of the people all of time. What we have learned along the way is that you can’t make everyone happy. We have a unique sense of humor and our own opinion about things and we’re not about to change that. People who are not OK with that don’t have to buy our products and don’t have to follow us on social media. We firmly believe that it is even better for a brand to be loved by some and hated by others – that’s how you show an identity. We want love or hate; we want friction – that is what we seek as people and ultimately what we seek as a brand.
Do you have any marketing idols? Is there anyone whose marketing strategy you admire?
Actually, since we don’t focus on marketing, we aren’t so familiar with other companies’ marketing campaigns. I recently read a quote I liked in the Steve Jobs biography: “It’s not the customer’s job to know what the customer wants”. And basically that’s the direction of our strategy. We don’t do any market research because we simply don’t believe in it. That’s because if you ask people what they want, you are unable to inspire them by introducing something new. We believe that you have to create a truly great product. Then you become a leader instead of being a follower.
You said that you don’t have a strategy paper in the drawer...
We do have a brand handbook, but it also explicitly states that there is no specific target group. We make delicious smoothies and if people like them, that’s great. Our communication is us – it’s authentic. And that actually draws people to us. Most brands today simply follow the customer. As a customer that annoys me. As a consumer I dislike all the begging for attention and vying for the consumer’s favor. I know what I want and I don’t need anyone to tell me what I should consume. And I think that others tick like we tick. They want to make their own decisions. That’s why we avoid clumsy advertising and hold back on communication. We have a few things going on Instagram and Facebook, but we are more restrained when it comes to advertising in classical media.
If you could sum up your marketing strategy in three keywords, what would they be?
Years ago a colleague of mine made the following comment, and I would like to quote her because I think it’s fitting here. We want people to see something from us and think “God, they’re crazy”. Maybe that’s where our tendency to provoke comes from. I think that if you do what everyone does, you aren’t an innovator. Our ambition is to be extreme and test the limits. Not only to provoke, but because we want to innovate and discover how far we can go to achieve that. By doing that you also discover more about yourself. The idea of the seed juice (Samensaft) campaign from Marco is a perfect example. To explain this, “Samen” in German means seed but also sperm. So when we were marketing our chia seed “Samensaft”, we couldn’t help but think of all the connotations. We didn’t want to ignore the humor in the wordplay, because that wasn’t us. So we came up with slogans that highlighted the wordplay.
Your marketing campaigns come from your gut instinct. So how important are the hard performance figures to you? Or do you think that it’s ultimately more important to put everything into the brand? Where does your focus lie?
We are pretty strong branding fetishists. Branding takes a bit longer and requires more effort, but it is also pays dividends in the long run. In the recent BrandEins magazine marketing issue, there was this nice image that depicted the difference between marketing, advertising and branding. In that context, we are clearly leveraging the branding angle. Although each time we post something, we do look to see if people like it and try to understand which mechanisms are effective.
Performance by all means, but not at any price. Because ultimately it has to fit to the brand that we want to be. When all is said and done, if we don’t address the people who we want to reach, that doesn’t benefit us either.
With 84,000 Instagram followers, true fruits outperforms many of the biggest brands. How important is social media for your brand?
Actually it is very important for us, because these are virtually the only channels we are on and where we actually interact with customers. We love Instagram because it permits an visual presentation. And users can decide whether they like these presentations or not with the swipe of a thumb. In that sense we don’t annoy people. The same applies to Facebook. Snapchat, in comparison, is too demystifying in our opinion, I personally find it quite annoying and our brand doesn’t really need it. However, we do use Snapchat as a research tool. It helps us to observe influencers with whom we would like to cooperate with. But we have a good feeling about Instagram and Facebook. We are currently exploring Pinterest, especially the upcycling sector. The issue of sustainability – how can I reuse the bottle and how can I use it to make my home prettier – are especially important topics here.
In 2015 true fruits broadcast a couple of TV commercials. How successful were they and will we be seeing any more commercials in the near future?
BBDO approached us a few years back and a cooperation emerged. The truth is that when we started out, we would never have been able to afford an agency like BBDO. That’s another reason why we’re so strongly linked to social media, because our start-up didn’t have any budget for a huge marketing furor. So basically our strong brand focus and social media presence arose from necessity.
What does your marketing strategy for 2017 look like? Where are you headed?
We aren’t a company that makes annual plans. Much of what we do is instinctive. We are open for opportunities that present themselves and things that just happen. But we also often reject things and say no. That is also important to keep the brand pure and authentic. But all in all, we operate mostly intuitively and just do whatever we want to do next.
Nicolas Lecloux is co-founder of true fruits, CMO andresponsible for corporate communications.