Chobani's Identity Crisis (and What Saved Their Business)

Dec 21, 2021
Chobani's identity crisis (and what saved their business)

If you’re a fan of Greek yogurt, you’ve heard of Chobani.

Though Chobani wasn’t the first company to bring Greek yogurt to American shelves, they are arguably responsible for its popularity, turning it from a specialty product to a dominant fixture of the category.

But ironically, when a product becomes common, it becomes, well — common.

About a decade into its success, Chobani began facing competition from lookalikes that ate into its once-sizable market share. Other brands wanted a piece of the action. With nothing to fundamentally distinguish its product from others in the dairy aisle, Chobani began to do some soul-searching.1

They realized that in order to move forward, they had to go back to the beginning.

In 2007, Chobani began as a Turkish man’s dream to recreate the Greek-style yogurt he had grown up with. When Hamdi Ulukaya moved to New York from the Middle East, he found American yogurt to be watery and full of sugar.2 He made up his mind to begin producing thick, protein-rich yogurt for the US market. He bought a defunct yogurt plant, revamped it, and named his new company Chobani. Chobani means shepherd in Turkish, a word Ulukaya wanted to use to anchor his product to the spirit of the mountain farmer.3

The core of Chobani’s mission, when it began, was to bring better food to more people. It’s simple enough — but what it gave to Chobani during its crisis was a chance to expand that philosophy, dig into it, and use it as a diversifier and differentiator.

In 2017, the Chobani brand got a completely new look that mirrored its original values. Whole fruit imagery, bold colors, and rounded text were combined with pithy sayings, such as, “Eat the food you want to see in the world,” “seed change,” and “food is mightier than the sword.” 4

But that was simply the message. To fully demonstrate their values, Chobani focused on sustainability, charitable projects, improving broken systems in the food industry, and making their products accessible to more people. They leaned into their story, continued to innovate their product line, and moved toward a greater impact — fueled by their mission.

As of today, the revival of Chobani’s spirit, echoed in their rebrand, has kept them relevant.

The Importance of Your Mission

We don’t often recognize how difficult it can be for first-to-market businesses to stay on top. But we know the tales of those that have toppled. From AOL to Motorola, Blackberry, Blockbuster, Atari, Xerox, and Sears, we all remember prominent businesses that became marginalized or failed when the competition came rushing in.

What separates your product from a competitor’s product? Your mission is not just your differentiator, it’s your anchor. It allows you to ride the waves of the changing market, rising competition, and consumer trends without getting blown out to sea.

Your mission is also your map. It informs your direction, your path, and your objectives. Without it, you will be tempted to follow others indiscriminately or change course on a whim. Worse yet, you might drift or be pulled along by a current — and end up where you were never planning to go.

So where does a mission come from? In storytelling, a character’s mission begins with an inciting incident. This is typically some kind of crisis, transition point, or epiphany. As a business owner, you have one as well — it’s the reason why you chose to start your business. For example:

  • You may have detected a dire need in the marketing that wasn’t being met (an epiphany)
  • You may have experienced a personal crisis that led you to help others overcome (or prevent) the same challenge you faced.
  • You might have been looking for a way to build a different type of career or start over (a transition point).

Examples of Inciting Incidents that Precede a Mission

Here are some examples of inciting incidents that precede a mission:

Professional Event:

  • Recognizing a gap in an industry
  • Creating a solution to a problem you’ve experienced
  • Earning a particular degree
  • Discovering how to monetize your skill set

Personal Event:

  • Having a spiritual awakening
  • Realizing what your gifts are
  • Entering a new phase of life
  • Becoming part of a new community

Professional Challenge:

  • Not being able to finish an educational program
  • Experiencing a failed business venture
  • Losing a job
  • An economic downturn

Personal Challenge:

  • Being diagnosed with a major illness
  • Losing a loved one
  • Having a near-death experience
  • Suffering from an addiction or mental health condition

There are many more. Your story is unique. The story of your business is more than just “a way to make money.” The experiences, desires, and needs that brought you to the point of creating your business are important. Values embedded in the origin of your mission can be clarified and used to drive your business to future success.

Exercise: Charting the Story of Your Business

What is your inciting incident?

At what point in your story did it become important — even urgent — for you to begin the work you’re doing? You may have experienced multiple events that led you to where you are today. Go back and discover what brought you here, and write it down. Like Chobani, you may find yourself revisiting, and expanding upon, what mattered in the beginning. It may be exactly what you need to move forward in the right direction.

 

This is an edited excerpt from my book Mission, Market, Message: The Actionable Guide to Marketing for Small Business Owners, which you can purchase on Amazon.

Sources

  1. McCue, M. (2020, May 22). The Keys to a Great Rebrand: Advice From the Duo Who Revamped Chobani and Spotify. Adobe 99U. https://99u.adobe.com/articles/61031/the-keys- to-a-great-rebrand-advice-from-the-duo-who-rebranded-chobani-and-spotify.
  2. Dobrovski, K. (2017, July 2). The Story Of Chobani Is About Much More Than Yogurt. Medium. https://medium.com/@KatinaDobrovski/the-story-of-chobani-is-about-much-more- than-yogurt-5a8902eb8016.
  3. About: Chobani®. Chobani. https://www.chobani.com/about/.
  4. UnderConsideration. (2017). Get me to the Greek: New Logo, Identity, and Packaging for Chobani done In-house. Brand New. https://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/archives/new_logo_identity_and_packaging_for_chobani_done_in_house.php.