Be More Human: Learning From Oatly’s Brand Strategy
July 16, 2020

Industry AnalysisBe More Human: Learning From Oatly’s Brand Strategy

Analysis on how Oatly rebranded from a generic alt milk brand, to a cult lifestyle brand, resulting in a recent $200M investment from Oprah and Jay-Z among others.
What can brands learn from Oatly on brand growth?
    • Taking time to understand your target audience and identifying how to position your brand as part of their lifestyle is key.
    • Oatly relaunched to reach out to the “stealth health” community- people who transcend the niche group of vegan or plant-based consumers. Instead, reaching people across consumer groups on the basis of delicious taste, environmental values, health and humour. Humour and taste being key to extend reach and drive popularity with people who wouldn’t ordinarily pick up a plant-based milk, but may be open to a cheeky health benefit whilst gaining some social credibility and feeling like they are doing their bit for the environment.
    • Oatly embarked on this journey as a result of its relaunch and hiring John Schoolcraft as the Creative Director, working closes with the new CEO Toni Petersson. A power duo.
    • Prioritise your business’ internal culture as much as its external culture. They are symbiotic – one influences the other. Share your vision or manifesto document or booklet with all current and future employees- aligning to a north star and bringing everyone along for the ride. 
    • Remember brand personality will resonate with people. Repeat after me: “MY BRAND IS NOT MY LOGO!”

Part of Anthro’s raison d’etre is encouraging businesses to put people and the world’s health before profit, and encouraging industry professionals to adopt this mindset in work. Making a brand be more human, develop a set of authentic values and morals – a purpose and way of communicating will set you up for success. Strong brands have the power to make real change in the world for the better. Audience understanding and brand purpose are the best way to do this. And Oatly is doing just that. 

We hear more than ever that companies doing good for the world – green and socially responsible businesses – outperform other businesses.

I’ve been a proud drinker of Oatly since around 2014 when I first stumbled across it in Whole Foods or Planet Organic (I forget which…) in London after its relaunch. Taken in by the unique packaging, minimal and healthy list of ingredients, the wit and the transparency about carbon footprints – I quickly became part part of what can now only be described as a cult following.

Oatly was established in the 90s, how then have they become one of the world’s hottest brands? How have they built this cult following? What is it about Oatly that differentiates it so discerningly from  any. other. alt. milk?

In 2014 they relaunched to become what we all know and love today. They focused heavily on switching from a product focus, to a lifestyle focus- presenting a set of values and a way of life to their audience. The relaunch’s focus on target audience, purpose and values is how the company has managed to grow at such speed. Most recently taking the alt milk category to new heights by winning a $200M investment from the likes of Oprah and Jay-Z no less, led by private equity giant Blackstone – taking the Swedish oat milk maker to a value of a whopping $2B now.

The company says its mission is to turn what people eat and drink into “moments of healthy joy without recklessly taxing the planet’s resources”. It has certainly turned consumers on to oat milk with sales almost doubling to $200m last year, aided by new products including ice-cream and yoghurt.

The reason I’m telling you about Oatly is because I want you to know that when you focus on your audience and how your brand, product or service fits in with their life, that is the sweet spot in business. Identifying and communicating your values and brand purpose is a sure fire way to build relevance and success.

In an interview with The Challenger Project John Schoolcraft explains how Oatly found its updated positioning and purpose.

“As in lots of conceptual development, we initially looked at the origins and roots of the brand. We recognised that if people drink our products, they’re doing something good for themselves in terms of their health but also for the planet in terms of the carbon emissions and land usage from production… you see all the numbers, and the statistics, and the scientific reports, and you realise that animal-based eating is killing the planet and killing people. We knew we needed to do more than just sell a product, we needed to have a far bigger visionary ambition. So it really became about Oatly contributing to a plant based society, or for us to at least encourage steps in that direction.”

Then what? After they identified what they stood for they:

  • Completely revamped the packaging- despite potentially confusing or losing existing buyers, they went for it because they believed it could look cooler and more engaging- different from every other milk product on the market.
  • Scrapped the marketing department and product managers in favour of an in-house creative team instead
  • Created the Change handbook – a book outlining the vision of the brand. Given to every single member of the company, the Change book shared information on the vision and the motivations for it, as well as conceptual development. Everyone was brought along for the brand journey. (New joiners today still receive a copy of this manifesto!)
  • Did the work. The Oatly team didn’t just talk about the changes, but they got on a executed- giving colleagues all the time and help they needed to make it happen.
  • Speak their mind. So many brands don’t share a deep enough personality with the world, so their relationships with their buyers can only be shallow as a result. Oatly aren’t afraid to be interesting and take a stance.
“We ran a full-page ad in The Guardian called Bigfoot. It included a lot of our beliefs as a company; our view on what’s wrong with the current food farming system, on race and gender equality, on how the pursuit of profit without consideration for the planet should be considered a crime – these are some very political statements – brands don’t do that. But we find that as our beliefs are around nutritional health and sustainability, we’re able to talk quite honestly because we’re not bullshitting. I think that’s the key, people appreciate an authentic and honest brand. Even if a company is honest about the things it is not good at, it will just come off as being the type of person that people want to hang out with.”

Oatly’s approach to brand and business warms my heart – they embody everything I try to push in this industry, and in my career to date, which is to be more human in business. There is so much good that can come from being a good, honest and true in business. A brand with a personality is always going to resonate way more with a human’s personality than a boring (potentially immoral) money-making corporate machine.

And remember- a brand is not your logo. Good brands runs deep.

“… logos don’t talk. They’re boring. If a brand is relying on its logo in 2016 then it’s not doing its job as a brand.”



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