Is Your Food Brand in the Conversation?
Having worked nearly 20 years in the fashion industry, I learned early on how trends come and go with the seasons. You can be hot one day, and easily gone the next. Learning to successfully navigate these swings can be the difference between being a fad or a thriving, sustainably profitable business. Regardless of industry, leveraging trends can be magic to marketing. And as a food marketing pro, knowing how to spot food trends long before they hit can be a real game changer for you.
Prior to becoming a food marketer, I led Public Relations for a global fashion outdoor brand and learned firsthand the power of brand relevance. After several seasons of flat to single-digit sales, our global recognition was fairly high among older generations, but perception was poor among younger generations and millennials. Simply put, our brand had aged with our customers and we were no longer relevant. A signal of certain doom unless something shifted.
As we approached key milestones, I saw signs that the shift we’d been waiting for was finally on its way. As I reflect on this experience and apply it to my new role in food marketing, I see a few standout strategies that best positioned us to regain our former mojo. These also have relevance in the food world as well.
Align with Your Audience’s Trending Passions
As our fashion company faced the fact that we had aged with our customers, each department looked for ways to revive the brand. Sales looked for new distribution, product tried new designs, and marketing developed new campaigns. But, in the PR world, things work quite a bit ahead of the mainstream. This role has permission to test and try things other departments can’t. So, to evolve PR from making noise to truly using it to drive the brand forward, I had to find a way to weave the brand into the moments that matter to our younger targets.
As you look to attract new food customers, try going beyond what and how they consume your product. Ask yourself, what are they reading? Watching? Listening to? Where do they go for fun? What are the causes they align with? When these micro-moments intersect with today’s food trends, you have incredible opportunity to insert your brand. But only if you do so in a way that is authentic to your own brand story.
Take for instance Reddi-Wip and the commercial it ran during the Bachelor final this year. The commercial demonstrated the brand’s understanding of the audience by poking fun at a highly controversial moment during the prior season. The food advertisment not only reached the nearly 8M who tuned in to the final episode but, it also reached another 35K through the stars Instagram.
Food Brands Using Trends to Connect: Reddi-Wip (Bachelor Commercial), Ben & Jerry’s (Political Stand), Starbucks (PSL’s to Unicorn Frapps)
Partner with Unexpected Partners
Five years prior to our 30th anniversary we collaborated with a couture fashion label WAY out of our league. The special project was highly exclusive. We only made 200 units and each sold at a price point 10X higher than our average retail price. It sold out instantly, but the real game changer was the press we received due to unexpected nature of the partnership. The project completely reframed the brand and laid the groundwork for the future.
The right partnership brings your brand out of the shadows and into the lives of new consumers. Take for instance some of the hottest food collaborations announced this year like, Pizza Hut’s pizza ordering “Pie Top” shoes. The limited-edition partnership with the Shoe Surgeon revived the pizza brand’s NCAA partnership, aligned the brand with a very young, progressive audience, and they had a 150 percent YOY growth in social engagement. This proves the right partnerships act as a catalyst. They aim to disrupt, entertain, and delight their target audiences. And, when done right, they present an opportunity to change the script.
Food brands Using Partnerships Well: Dunkin Donuts, Budweiser, Pizza Hut, Doritos, BenRiach
Resurrect Family Favorites
The saying, those who stand for nothing fall for anything, is a great brand mantra. Because, when a brand loses sight of its heritage, what does it stand for? In my story, we tried to encourage a shift in our customer base by shunning our iconic product. We literally tried to bury it in the collection. No marketing. No promotions. No PR. In fact, I had to tell editors “no” when they asked to review one of our heritage products.
As mainstream interest in nostalgia and irony piqued, the time had come to embrace our heritage styles instead of hiding from them. To do this, we partnered with a younger-focused retailer and relaunch an exclusive capsule collection. Sporting a new logo celebrating our milestone, the collection was supported with marketing featuring our original brand story. Over the next two years, the brand found its way into articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and in mainstream consumer publications like Glamour and Vogue. Needless to say, our media impressions skyrocketed and the brand was back on the map.
Hands down, having a rich brand story is something that sets you apart from the competition. So, find a way to authentically share yours. Spend time going through your brand’s archives, talk to your long-standing employees, gather images, and curate this in a way that celebrates your heritage. Even if you’re a start-up brand, you have a story to tell. Need some inspiration, take a look at what Planter’s has done to bring back one of its fan’s favorite snacks.
Food brands telling their brand story well: Clover Sonoma (Videos from famers), Impossible Burger (Mission behind the brand), Vital Farms (Direct storytelling, transparent supply chain), Planter’s (Honoring heritage favorites)
Shift Perceptions with Images
In the case of my fashion outdoor experience, images changed everything for us. To capture a new look for the brand we used a press event as a backdrop and set-up a mock-photoshoot. Using our product, a professional stylist, and models the photographer was asked to have fun shooting while guest watched and mingled. The images we brought back had a dramatic impact on everyone and set the tone for the future direction of the brand. Looking through those images, I’m still amazed at what we accomplished with a limited budget, few models, a fun photographer, and a fresh perspective.
If adding a photo next to an item on a menu increases its orders by 30%, imagine what great images can do across all channels. Images can move mountains but more importantly, it helps your target audience retain your brand long after it was seen. If fact, 65% more! Applying this with the hottest food trends, there are creative ways to capture product beyond traditional food photography. Take a look at what Carl Warner did with Tenderstems.
Food brands using powerful images: Tenderstems (Creative Food Photography), Barnum’s Animal Crackers (PETA approved package image), Unicorn Superfoods (Shockingly bright and colorful), Oreo (Super Bowl social media)
Fill the Right Distribution Channels
As the year progressed, things were on fire in my corner of the fashion outdoor world. The brand had finally become part of mainstream conversations. Media coverage declared us the hot product of the season. It was a PR dream. But, was our work converting more sales? And if that wasn’t the case, was our effort still considered a success?
With all the brand excitement, we should have been sold out. But unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Consumers couldn’t find the product! It took another year to align our retail channels, develop a product segmentation strategy, and complete our assortment.
Sure, you’ve secured your channels of distribution and you’ve fought for premium shelf space. Since 7 out of 10 shoppers still visit a physical store, you’re in good shape. Right? Wrong. Times are changing and the younger generation holds some serious buying power. The question to ask is, do your current channels of distribution match the next generation’s path to purchase? If not, it’s time to fill the gaps. The story of pretty much every meal kit service demonstrates importance of the right distribution.
Food brands elevating their distribution strategy: Meal Kit Companies with grocery partnerships, V8 Hydrate (online-only launch)
Don’t Just Wait for the Next Wave, Use the Momentum to Create Future Success
Throughout all my experiences I’ve learned being relevant doesn’t just happen, brands have to create (and maintain) their place within everyday conversations. Sometimes this happens organically while other times it can feel like you’re waiting for that darn pot to boil.
Being relevant takes persistence. It requires insight in food trends and a commitment to your brand identity and values. But, perhaps above all, it demands you continuously evolve authentically with your customers. So, what story will you be telling from here? Might I suggest being bold and beginning with who you’ve always been?