Brand Strategy

Food Marketing in an Accountable World: 5 Ways to Feed Consumers’ Minds, Hearts and Bellies

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Megan Henkel

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Those of us who do food marketing may find it hard to remember that there was a time when people ate food without asking about saturated fats, gluten-free options, farm-to-table fare, and whatever hot trend (or culinary villain du jour) is next.

What are marketers to do given the changing, never-the-same-as-the-day-before consumer who seeks more information, more innovation and more answers from food companies?

Here are five food marketing strategies to engage consumers within this changing landscape.

1. Fulfill the need for social experiences

Consumers are turning to digital avenues to meet their food needs. This is prevalent not only with online food ordering and recipe searching but with food research, including research into what, why and where to buy.

The resources consumers are seeking out are shifting online too.

“With food emerging as the leading topic of conversations on social platforms, food bloggers have become powerful social influencers with four times the following of other bloggers,” according to a report by MSLGROUP.

2. Deliver digital content that sates consumers’ desire to appear in-the-know

And 62 percent of people polled in a recent survey by Shareablee said shareability of food-related content increases based on its ability to make the consumer appear in-the-know. Digital content can be a powerful force for building brand awareness, and when it’s done right, it can play into the consumer’s motivation, as well.

It’s crucial to stop thinking about food brands in a static way. It’s not just about putting out recipes with beautiful photography. That alone won’t gain brand loyalty. Brands need to be out in the world, interacting with consumers where they are. That can be via a social channel with live video or even out at concerts, races and festivals.

Food is inherently experiential, so brands need to be interwoven in those experiences. Whatever best helps portray your brand image while providing consumers a memorable experience through interaction.

3. Don’t box consumers in

Take for example what for my money is one of the best food marketing campaigns from the last year, Honest Tea’s #RefreshinglyHonest campaign.

The gist: The company left cases of bottled tea on the sidewalks of large cities, asking for $1.00 in exchange for a bottle with a “How honest is your city?” call to action. Incidentally, the campaign proved that on the whole Americans are very honest.

More importantly for the brand, the approach reinforced its message of holding honesty and integrity in high regard—without overtly saying so. Thus, the “honest” in Honest Tea became more than just a name.

4. Embrace the dynamic between specialty and private label purchase

When shopping, consumers are actively making decisions on either price, value or emotion—or some mixture of the three. They’re also shopping more for food online, raising questions in the industry about how this will shape brick and mortar stores going forward.

As a recent report by Passport noted, consumers are often buying inexpensive staples so they can afford the more premium food options too. Which is to say, not everyone is a foodie, but not everyone makes boxed mac and cheese every day either. Day by day we’re approaching equilibrium between inexpensive, in-house cooking (the fast and cheap kind) and premium specialty food purchase (the slow and expensive kind).

This creates an opportunity to expand specialty food offerings where demand is growing but shows that Big Food is still prevalent among the masses.

5. Align your brand with a purpose

Increasingly, consumers want to know more about a company, who its people are and the process through which the food is made or sourced. Brands should consider how they can help consumers better themselves through the use of their product. At its core, what values does the brand uphold, that consumers also identify with?

That’s where the magic is.

Food and beverage brands have a real opportunity to harness emotion. What we eat and drink is connected to memories and emotions like nothing else. That means marketers can use that visceral nature as the main artery to reach the heart. This matters because while convenience is growing in retail purchases, research tells us that consumers are willing to spend more for goods when they can connect to the emotion behind a brand.

Get consumers excited about your brand’s purpose and roots. According to Benoit Garbe, as part of a joint study with Jim Stengel and Millward Brown, “Very often, companies were started not just to make money. They were started because someone saw a need for something bigger, and it went with a dream and a vision. Very often, that has been lost along the years.”

Megan Henkel

Can accurately guess the "feels like" temperature within 3°.

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