Nielsen’s Breakthrough Innovation Report 2013 named the Talking Rain Sparkling ICE brand as a winner with a “Marathoner” activation strategy. The brand posted two-year revenues in excess of $200 million, and the brand is reportedly on course this year for over $350 million is sales.
According to Nielsen’s report:
“Marathoners take a more deliberate approach. They spend one-third less than Sprinters on advertising in the first year, and build distribution more gradually. Consequently, their sales levels in year 1– while impressive – are typically only 60% of what Sprinters achieve. However, they continue to build distribution in years 2 and 3, and maintain relatively consistent levels of advertising support. The result? Marathoner’s sales grow at a 46% annual rate, matching Sprinters in year 2 and surpassing them in year 3. And they achieve these sales with less than one-half the Sprinters’ advertising support levels. That is a big deal.”
While the brand may seem like an ‘overnight’ success, Forbes’ Karsten Strauss makes it clear that the business was developed over 25 years, building from regional origins in the club channel, with Costco and BJ’s, followed by national expansion with Kroger.
Talking Rain’s “Marathoner” success can be attributed in part to focusing the product portfolio.
According to CEO Kevin Klock, interviewed by Elaine Watson in Food Navigator, in 2010, Talking Rain had three brands in its beverage portfolio:
- Sparkling ICE, a lightly carbonated, ‘naturally flavored’ zero-calorie beverage with vitamins and antioxidants, sweetened with sucralose
- Twist, a flavored water
- Active Water, a vitamin-water.
At that time, the firm’s sales totaled $25 million, and the company was struggling. Talking Rain took a risk and focused on the best-performing brand (Sparkling ICE), discontinuing the other two brands.
This focus helped management hone in on the best product characteristics, using the top performing Orange Mango flavor as a benchmark. The brand put its limited available funds behind targeted marketing support and grew from that point in a classic “Marathoner” move.
The Sparkling ICE success story resonates with me, as I find many companies trying to support growing numbers of brands and product lines-- more than is viable from a marketing and innovation perspective.
Making strategic choices of where to focus can seem difficult, like ‘giving up something.’ In reality, fragmenting resources, including management attention, sales attention, marketing spending and innovation/research and development support, often leads to a lack of results. Talking Rain was able to focus its product portfolio and lead Sparkling ICE to success. The brand is now able to expand strategically, adding additional flavors and Sparkling ICE Lemonade, a new product line designed to naturally grow the brand’s success.
The lesson many organizations can learn? Talking Rain first had to pare back its brands, in order to give the most successful one the resources and room to grow.