What Can Clean Growth Entrepreneurs Learn From the Story of Impossible Foods?
Impossible Foods was named Inc. Magazine’s Company of the Year for 2019 and has raised more money each year than the year before – $3 million in 2011, $6.2 million in 2012, $27 million in 2013, $40 million in 2014, $108 million in 2015, and $500 million at a nearly $4 billion valuation in 2020.
What can other entrepreneurs learn from this Clean Growth unicorn’s story?
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Impossible Foods understands two things about its customers, whether they are B2C or B2B:
- They love meat, not just for the taste, but also because it is part of rituals like weekend barbeques.
- They worry about the environmental impact of their lifestyles or businesses.
Discovering a mindset common to all its customers, whether they are B2C or B2B, means that Impossible Foods can be incredibly consistent in how it tell its story, focusing on the 20 to 30 percent of B2C and B2B customers who will generate 70 to 80 percent of their profits – at least for now.
Priming is an effect, demonstrated by psychological research, where our decisions are often hugely affected by context. Impossible Foods knows that both its B2C and B2B audiences are aware of the negative environmental impacts of animal agriculture – from the media, the rapid growth in veganism or flexitarianism, and in the case of business customers the pressure to make more meaningful sustainability commitments.
It primes this audience for change, by playing back these growing cracks in their lifestyles being compatible with their values or business as usual.
It’s often useful to identify specific problem in the system that doesn’t blame your target audience for its past actions. Impossible Foods does this by not making meat the villain, it’s the ‘prehistoric and destructive technology’ used to produce meat that is to blame.
This also primes the audience with the idea that a better technology can be found to produce meat.
Call to Adventure
Impossible Foods’ marketing materials are filled with slogan-style Calls To Adventure relevant to its consumer and business audiences, such as Eat a burger. Save the world (B2C) and Grill burgers. Not the planet (B2B).
The single Call To Adventure that best sums up its story is To save meat. And Earth.
To persuade people, an effective tactic is to cause them to experience what is known as ‘cognitive dissonance’ (where two of the stories they believe or their ‘cultures of control’ come into conflict) and then quickly offer your solution as a way to resolve the discomfort this makes them feel.
To save meat. And Earth brilliantly reconciles its audiences’ love of meat with their concern about environmental impact – who doesn’t want to have their cake (or burger) and eat it?
Crossing the Threshold
Change is hard, so you need to try to make taking the first step as easy as possible.
The Impossible Foods website allows you quickly find, buy, learn to cook, or sell its products.
The three challenges for the target audience of any business, tend to be trying the change, making the change work and living the change.
For Impossible Foods customers these are:
- Does it taste good?
- Where can I get it? / How do I cook it?
- Why is it better?
These are directly addressed by Impossible Foods key messages about the Gifts it provides as a Mentor.
Mentor & Gifts
People want things more when they feel scarce. One way to make your company feel scarce is to have a unique viewpoint on the Hero’s problem that can move a market, change a category or challenge the status quo.
For Impossible Foods this is “discovering what makes meat taste like meat – an iron-containing molecule called heme. Then figuring out how to make meat from plants – plant-based heme via fermentation”.
People will only come on a journey of change with you if they trust you. Credibility is a key factor. Impossible Foods uses the fact that its CEO & Founder, Patrick O. Brown, was a professor of biochemistry at Stanford University to create credibility and trust.
You might not have been a Stanford professor, but do you have relevant experience that will add credibility to your unique take on the problem?
People also prefer to say ‘yes’ to people they like. Throughout its marketing materials, Impossible Foods shows it is run by people who love the taste of meat (it’s just how it is currently produced that’s the problem).
The three gifts that a mentor offers have to align with the 3 challenges that customers will face.
This is done through Impossible Food’s key messages about its products:
- All the flavour, aroma, and beefiness of meat from cows.
- Now available in more than 8,000 restaurants and 5,000 grocery stores. Anything you make with ground meat; you can make with Impossible Burger – we have recipes and food industry resources.
- 96% less land, 87% less water and 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and it can increase revenue and drive traffic for restaurants.
Allies & Gifts
When they’re uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviours of others to determine their own.
Impossible Burger uses endorsements from consumers and businesses to enhance belief in its products:
- Reviews and WOM from customers and the media.
- Burger King serves the burger in all 7,200 stores. 9,000 grocery stores across the U.S., including Walmart Supercenter, Neighborhood Market, Kroger, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Gelson’s, Publix, Safeway, Trader Joes, Vons, and Wegmans stock Impossible Foods.
- Celebrity investors including Jay-Z, Katy Perry and Serena Williams.
Impossible won’t have had all of these on-board when it started out – but make sure you emphasise your existing Allies to enhance belief in your products or services. We see so many investor presentations that throw away these slides, by not fully leveraging them.
Finally, to go on a journey of change the destination has to be worth the journey.
To paint a picture about how buying a product or service can improve a customer’s life, companies focus on showing how it will help people ‘get ahead’, ‘get along’ and ‘get meaning’.
- Get ahead – advancing our status in our tribe(s}.
- Get along – advancing our connections within our tribe(s].
- Get meaning – advancing our purpose in life (or at least for this chapter in our life). This last one doesn’t have to be world changing – depending on your personality your purpose can be equally rewarding whether it benefits one other person or the whole world.
Impossible Foods paints an effective picture of the future for potential customers:
- Enjoying meat without the guilt (and with greater sales, traffic and revenue for businesses).
- Showing others that you care about your impact.
- Ending the prehistoric and destructive technology of animal agriculture – playing your part in saving the planet.
You have to show this Better World to your customers; you can’t just hope that they’ll figure out how your product or service will make their lives better.