Would you be bold enough to show up to a food expo … without food?
Natalie Knopp and her story team at Kashi made that gamble at the Natural Products Expo West and it paid off. Kashi’s “anti-booth,” as it came to be known, generated buzz for the brand, the Certified Transitional initiative it’s spearheading, and the hardworking U.S. farmers striving to go organic. For her efforts, and for her drive to tell stories that spread her brand’s values, Natalie was named to the 2018 Event Marketer B-to-B Dream Team.
We recently caught up with Natalie for a conversation about storytelling and connecting face-to-face with an audience.
Q: So, you were named to the 2018 B-to-B Dream Team! How does it feel?
NK: I was so thrilled to be part of the Dream Team, especially to be on the Dream Team panel at the Experiential Marketing Summit. To be around such inspiration, it’s where I thrive. It’s where my team at Kashi thrives. We’re constantly seeking inspiration, and being on the Dream Team just elevated my mission to connect with people, to drive forward a message, and to really plug in and get inspired.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your role at Kashi?
NK: I think I have one of the best jobs at Kashi. I get to take the brand’s strategy and turn it into meaningful touch points for our consumers, whether it’s experiential events, marketing, trade shows, or on our packaging.
Q: That sounds like fun. What do you love most about it?
NK: I love that every day I walk into Kashi is different. I could be at a yoga festival with tons of yogis. Or I could be at a farm, meeting Certified Transitional farmers who want to move into organic farming.
Kashi is an inspirational place. I'm so lucky to be a part of the team that loves inspiration and puts it right back into their work.
Q: Speaking of inspiration, what inspires you?
NK: I love to find inspiration from our audience. Our audience at Kashi is so uplifting. For example, not too long ago, we started a composting challenge. This is something our demographic is very interested in: the health of people and the planet. With everything we learned from their trials and the different things that challenge them, we could speak very authentically to our audience. Becoming 100 percent food-waste-free was very important to us. Our purpose is the relentless pursuit of positive impact through food.
Q: How do you get to know this audience better?
NK: When I’m able to speak to someone in person, versus online or social, I have the opportunity to get into conversations that would never have happened online. We’re able to get really close to the details. I can tell them about stories of farmers I’ve met that want to make the transition to organic, but financially can’t. The desire is there, but the barriers are high. We’ve had light bulb moments with farmers in that same situation.
We've been able to harness the inventor's mindset on our team to create change and create opportunity for people like our growers, and for our consumers to see value — to give them a voice as foodie activists to support something.
Q: You just mentioned “light bulb” moments. It sounds like the now-famous “anti-booth” was one of those light bulb moments.
NK: It always makes me laugh, because I’m a very positive person. I think it’s incredible that Event Marketer called our exhibit the “anti-booth,” because I am not really anti-anything we do at Kashi. But I can see where they were going with it, because we filled it with a whole lot of nothing.
Most brands show up with their innovation to sample. But we didn’t show up with sampling counters. We didn’t have any food. We showed up in a whole new way. We minimized to maximize — simplifying to create impact.
We shared a statistic that less than one percent of U.S. farmland is organic. A lot of people at Natural Foods Expo West have been going to that show for years and are very familiar with the natural organic landscape. And the statistic surprised them. That was an invitation to have a conversation about our new Certified Transitional standard.
Really our booth was more than the booth. It was an invitation to move farmland forward.
Q: Tell us about Certified Transitional and how the idea came about.
NK: Let me tell you a story about a small team that set out from Kashi on a field trip to a farm outside of Grand Rapids, Mich. They met with a farmer named Karen. The team and Karen were talking about the transition to organic and how difficult that is. It takes farmers three years to make that transition.
And we had a light bulb moment with Karen, because she said something that would completely change our view of farming organically. She said that she would rather support a farmer in transition to organic than a farmer who was already organic. And from that we were able to create a certification that Kashi and any brand can be a part of. And it was one that we shared at Expo West and invited other brands to join. Now, together, we can increase that less-than-one-percent of U.S. farmland.
Q: Shifting gears a bit… What gets you excited about the future of event marketing?
NK: Gone are the days of rinse and repeat. We have a millennial audience that wants more than what we're giving them. They’re tired of brands talking to them. Instead, I see providing audience platforms in communities for people to rally around and make a movement happen.
There is nothing that can replace a face-to-face interaction and creating that emotional connection with your brand. That’s not going anywhere. I love doing that.
I'm so excited that I can share our consumers’ journey. We were able to walk that forward at our trade show just a couple months ago, where we could tell the story that one person can make a difference one box at a time.
Q: How does Kashi engage the five senses with its live experiences?
NK: Engaging the five senses could be a challenge for most brands. But we work in food. And we’re so lucky that we get to offer samples of our food at a lot of events. So, you’ve got taste. You’ve got smell right away with the fragrant ingredients in our tasty food.
We've even engaged with Michael Franti and put on yoga concerts. We've created movement. It’s a full sensory experience where we'll have yoga festivals come to life, even with instruments that are made from ingredients that Kashi has in its food.
Q: Wait, instruments? How did you make them?
NK: We had pita tambourines. We had bongos with beans and all kinds of exciting things. We really love to get creative.
Q: What advice do you have for maximizing budget?
NK: I believe that creativity comes from constraint. Budget is always an ongoing challenge. Once you really look at all your objectives, and you question them, and you configure them so that they can fit budget, sometimes you find opportunity and savings. You can really make a stronger impact once you challenge your objectives.
Q: How do you ensure that Kashi’s brand values are represented everywhere you go?
NK: Kashi is driven by an inventor's mindset. When you think about the word “invention,” it means to find out or to discover. We discovered that we can no longer just speak to the health of people without also considering the health of the planet.
It's also through our inventor's mindset and our purpose paired together that we realize that food can create change: change in ourselves and change in the world. It’s to live our purpose to make sure that that change is a positive one.