Rethink your approach to branding

By Travis Coley

Joseph and Anna Maria Severino learned the art of pasta making from Umberto Casoli, an artisanal pasta maker in Rome, Italy. In 1971, they returned to America with recipes in hand and introduced their uniquely handcrafted pasta products made from 100% Semolina flour.

Flour, eggs and water — it doesn’t get any simpler than that. With simplicity came a conundrum: If your product consists of these three ingredients, how do you compete, position your brand and differentiate yourself from your competitors?


Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters: Business Across Generations

Family businesses represent 80% of all firms in the U.S., according to Forbes, and the next generation of business owners is taking over at an unprecedented rate. These days, it’s often Baby Boomers passing down family businesses to Millennials or their younger Gen Z counterparts. Aligning Millennial and Gen Z styles, preferences and business goals with company history and brand strategy can be tricky, especially when the previous generation holds veto power, as they often do..

In 2005, second-generation family business leader Peter Severino (now president of Severino Pasta Co.) came to Whitepenny with a challenge. Severino was a regional brand that primarily sold fresh pasta direct to consumers (B2C) and wholesale to regional restaurants [white-label]. Peter wanted to create a brand that could compete nationally. He recognized the burgeoning opportunity tied to locally sourced, family-made products. Consumers wanted to know where their food was made and who made it. The other challenge? He needed to get Mom and Dad on board.

Challenge #1: We’ve Always Done It This Way

The second generation of the Severino family (Peter, Louis and Carla) share the same passion for pasta as Joseph and Anna Maria, but they had a different vision for the company and business model. First, go national via retail, and then leverage the internet via an omnichannel distribution network (retail, ecommerce, and delivery) — think Whole FoodsAmazon Fresh and Purple Carrot.

Joseph and Anna Maria were supportive but cautious. The elder Severinos had carefully crafted a brand and product portfolio that were synonymous with handcrafted, locally manufactured pasta with all natural ingredients, by the Severino family. Their business was a beloved South Jersey institution. But they had legitimate concerns: In attempting to expand coast-to-coast, would the brand be diluted, would it lose its premium position and would the community feel as if the Severinos had moved on? In short, would Severino still be Severino?

Challenge #2: How can we make the intangible tangible?

When you go to Severino Pasta in Westmont, N.J., there’s nothing better than getting your freshly made pasta layered into a white cardboard box. No logos. No catchphrases. Just perfect pasta handed to you with a smile by the person you’ve known for years. That intangible feeling, that affinity, is hard to replicate in the aisles of a supermarket or as a component of a meal delivery service box. On the national stage, the Severinos needed a brand that captured their family story and a brand that would resonate with customers not just in South Jersey but in Dallas, Seattle and Miami.


Along with a branding challenge, they had a distribution challenge. In order for the move to a national brand to make sense, they needed to convince giant retail organizations that Severino pasta belonged on their shelves and in their freezers.

Severino needed a brand strategy.

Solution: Just add Famiglia

Joseph and Anna Maria Severino’s story is an American tale. It combines family, exploration, opportunity, new beginnings and entrepreneurship. The Severino brand speaks to bringing family and friends together around the dinner table to share in great food, conversation and tradition.

Today, the Severino brand story is rooted in family, and that family element is the foundation upon which every brand decision is made. It began with a conversation about a photo – a great image of Joseph and Anna Maria in their first pasta shop in 1971. That photo became the cornerstone of the Severino brand strategy. In every piece of marketing, on every package, there were Mom and Dad. One image came to represent why people connect with this brand – when you buy Severino, you’re not just buying pasta, you’re buying a seat at the family table. It’s a table where you appreciate good pasta and good conversation. It’s a table where no matter what’s going on in the world, you’re expected to be there. It’s a table where you revere the past and marvel at the future. Severino pasta is the same as it has always been: eggs, flour, water and a whole lot of family.


The Secret Ingredient: Authenticity

The first question that usually comes up after hearing a story like this one: “That’s great for Severino’s, but how does this relate to my business? I don’t have a product to sell.” Our response: You do; you just need to identify it. Every brand, ranging from a B2C product business to a B2B consulting company, was built around a core idea. If you track back to a company’s origin story, you’ll always find an aspirational kernel that sits at the center of the company’s reason for being. That core idea doesn’t change. But just because your reason for being doesn’t change, your brand strategy does as market conditions fluctuate, new distribution channels emerge and marketing opportunities arise. The Severinos were smart enough to see that the future was in 1) distribution in high-end grocery stores (Whole Foods) and 2) direct-to-consumer channels (Blue Apron, Amazon Fresh), and they were experienced enough to know that when you’re selling flour, eggs and water, the story behind the product really matters. Seeing your business’s future and adapting your brand without changing what’s at your core is the key to successful brand strategy.

So, where do you start? Take these first steps:

1. Ask yourself this question: “What do the next two, five and 10 years of my industry look like, and how must my consumer experience adapt?”

2. Audit yourself: Take three of your core consumer touchpoints (e.g., your website, your social channels and your pitch deck) and ask yourself, “Does my brand's differentiator come through, and does our consumer experience meet current consumer demand/market conditions?”

More often than not, we see a disconnect between what you want people to say about your brand and what you're saying to them. Close that gap, and you're well on your way to a positioning strategy that is both unique and authentic.


Travis Coley is Director of Growth & Strategy at Whitepenny.

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