What’s on your 2017 branding and marketing checklist?

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With 2017 fast approaching, it’s time for food manufacturers and marketers to look at their branding and marketing initiatives, and make plans. Here’s a checklist to help you get started:

1. Branding:  If you’re considering a rebranding or brand refresh effort, planning to introduce new brands or product lines, or extensions to any existing product lines in 2017, it’s time to get started on brand assessment and definition, name development, and brand logo design. When developing new brands, keep in mind the lead time for doing brand name and trademark searches, and registration processes and procedures.

2. Photography:  Do you have product photography, recipe or serving suggestion photos, or new package photos that need to be done? Do your existing photos look dated? Now’s the time to evaluate your photography needs for 2017 and plan/schedule important photoshoots.

3. Packaging:  It’s not too soon to begin the packaging effort to comply with the FDA’s new food label rules that are due by 2018. In addition, product repositioning or rebranding, new packaging sizes and configurations, eco-friendly “green” packaging materials, or just reducing the sheer volume of packaging materials are all important reasons to update your packaging for 2017.  For new packaging, including new packaging configurations, keep in mind that extensive lead times may be required for planning, fabrication, and printing of new packaging.

4. Website:  If your website has not been updated in the last year or more, it’s definitely time to revisit the content, features, functions, social media integration, and search engine optimization for the site. Whether you’re starting from scratch with a brand new website, or updating an existing one, don’t start another year with a site that has an outdated look, is not in a responsive design site, has outdated product information, broken links, missing social media and other interactive marketing tools/channels, and other problems. Make 2017 the year you invest in updating, improving, adding responsive and interactive capabilities, along with optimizing and promoting your website to increase exposure and traffic.

5. Online Media:  If you’re not already taking advantage of all of the promotional, advertising, and marketing opportunities available online, make 2017 the year you explore and invest in online media channels such as social media, blogging, and online advertising campaigns to generate engagement between your company, brands, and products, and your target audiences, both trade and consumer. If you’re already engaging in online media, make this the year that you improve upon those efforts by adopting and utilizing the latest channels and technologies.

6. Email:  Every day over 294 billion emails are sent, and recent surveys indicate that 65% of B2B buyers are influenced by emails that shape their perspectives of companies and brands. A well-designed email campaign should be part of every marketing program in 2017 because it can be a targeted, personalized, and cost-effective means to reach customers and prospects alike .

7. POS and POP:  Product sheets, brochures, catalogs, recipe cards, IRC programs/coupons, point-of-purchase signage and displays…these are the basic workhorses of food and beverage product sales, marketing, and promotional efforts. Get started now in developing or updating these items for 2017.

8. Tradeshows:  If you’re reviewing your tradeshow schedule for 2017, or have already made exhibit and travel commitments, are you ready for “show time”? Is it time for a new tradeshow booth, or a design refresh to your existing exhibit? How about updates to the graphics, photos, and messaging? Do you have new brands, products, line extensions, or services to promote that should be incorporated into your tradeshow exhibit and marketing? In addition to the actual exhibit, there are other tradeshow related items to consider such as new product/sales sheets, pre-show promotional and marketing communications such as exhibitor announcement/invitation emailers, and post-show follow-up emailers…all of these things will help make the 2017 tradeshow season more successful.

Let the food industry specialists at Taste Advertising, Branding, Packaging help you get started on developing your 2017 branding and marketing efforts now. Contact Taste today to schedule a free phone consultation to discuss your needs.

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What defines a great deal on website design?

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No one wants to pay more for the development of their website than they absolutely have to. There are numerous ads and promotions from website template sellers, DIY website services, and cut-rate “web designers” from all over the globe who claim that they can develop great looking sites at unbelievably low costs. Before you pull out your credit card and sign up for one of these bargain options, do you really know what defines “a great deal” on website design?

There is a big distinction between low cost and great deal…value. Spending as little as possible is only one side of the value equation. What that low cost is actually buying is the other side of the value equation. The investment in a website has to stand the test of value over time. Here are some important considerations before you decide if an unbelievably low cost website development option will maintain its value over time.

Websites have many touch points across a business.

Websites have moved way beyond the online brochure and for most companies they are central to many business functions, particularly marketing and sales. Food marketers need their websites to respond to the needs of their customers/buyers and their ultimate consumers. In today’s business environment, websites have become an integral part of everyday business functions and is “the source” for information globally. The organization of content, graphic aesthetics, functionality, and service interactions need to be well thought out and designed to meet the individual needs of the business. One size never has and never will “fit all” in terms of website development.

Today’s bargain often becomes tomorrow’s expense.

Most often, the “get a great deal on a website” vendors sell you their tools and then literally “push you off the dock” to figure out how to use them to your best advantage. Or, they provide an off-the-shelf template that may or may not really fit your content and functionality needs. With so many options and plug-ins, most businesses need the assistance of an experienced and well-qualified vendor to guide them through the planning process to make sure that all the bases are covered. While, the upfront cost for this level of service is not comparable to “get a great deal on a website” promos, it will be money well spent because going back later to correct oversights and misguided choices will cost more, both in absolute dollars and in having a site that is not meeting your business goals.

Experience really does matter.

Business owners and marketers often make the mistake of assuming that a vendor selling software or a “complete website development solution”, knows how to design a website. There are two phases to website development:  planning and implementation. Before you can build anything, you need to define what you are going to build, you have to have a plan. This is the time to define the features, functions, graphic and copy content, integration with brand identity, and target audiences. This is a creative process. Once there is a plan for the site, it can be implemented/produced. This is why selecting an experienced, well-qualified website design partner will help ensure that the investment you make upfront will continue to achieve your goals in the long run. The cost of developing a website must be measured against its value over time…that’s how to determine if you’re getting “a great deal on a website”.

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Why are food marketers already planning for 2017 tradeshows?

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Tradeshow season winds down in the fall, but savvy food marketers are already evaluating how this season went and making plans for next year. Why? Because it takes time to cover all the marketing bases and really be prepared for showtime.

To help get the most ROI from tradeshow exhibit and travel costs, here are some exhibitor tips.

1. Get the word out early. Some companies rely solely on tradeshow foot traffic to attract prospects, but this game of chance does not ensure that you’ll attract the best prospects. Developing a solid plan for pre-show communication allows you to contact the people you really want to visit your exhibit in advance. Social media, personalized email, website posts, direct mail, print advertising…all of these tools should be considered in developing a pre-show communication program. Once you’ve got a good pre-show communication program in place, it’s easy to replicate it throughout the year for each tradeshow on the schedule.

2. Unify your branding. One of the biggest mistakes a food marketer can make is exhibiting at a tradeshow with a patchwork of brand visuals and marketing messages. Everything, from exhibit design, product packaging, marketing materials, digital displays, down to your business cards should present a unified brand. It is tempting to “make do” with materials on-hand and outdated packaging, but the cost of these “cost saving” decisions can be pretty steep in terms of the misperceptions about your company and products visitors and prospects will take away. Investment in packaging design, great product photography, sales sheets, and updated websites really pay off when it’s time to present your company’s best face at tradeshows.

3. Follow it up. Chances are there will be some great conversations and requests for more information at the show, along with contacts that just might blossom into meaningful business opportunities. But little of this will actually happen without a good post-show follow-up plan. That follow-up plan should include a strategy at the show to gather as much information as possible, as expediently as possible, so that a good follow-up data base can be developed. Most tradeshows offer exhibitor support in gathering information through badge scanner systems, but exhibitors need to have a post-show plan for making effective use of the data gathered. Over time, building a promotional data base from each tradeshow grows a company’s promotional capabilities.

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If you could choose only one food marketing tool, which would it be?

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For many food and beverage marketers, this is a familiar dilemma. With so many budget demands to bring a product to market . . . distribution channels, promotions, advertising, both traditional and online, social media . . . one of the most effective marketing tools often becomes an afterthought. Packaging.

Packaging places brands directly into the hands of consumers because it’s tangible. Packaging is the one touch point that shoppers can’t ignore, and very often is the purchase decision clincher. However, to be a successful food and beverage marketing tool, packaging has to be much more than an afterthought. Here is what well designed packaging can do.

Packaging is a brand’s showcase. Eye-catching, well designed packaging delivers a great deal of food brand and product exposure. It creates space to highlight product benefits, tell the brand’s story, and elevate the brand’s positioning and value proposition.

Packaging is an information source. Consumers are much more savvy in their food purchasing decisions. Several recent studies have all indicated that more consumers are reading ingredient lists and nutrition facts, along with product recipes and suggested uses.

Packaging is an opportunity to redefine a product category. Consumers have long complained about food product packaging in terms of ease of opening, keeping products fresh with re-sealable closures, ease of at-home storage, and recyclable materials.  Packaging provides the opportunity, through the use of innovative materials and configurations, to break the packaging mold within a food product category and redefine the category.

Packaging is a food brand’s most direct link with consumers. If it is well designed and compelling, it is the one, “must have” marketing tool every brand needs to succeed.

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Consumers do read food labels, but when and why?

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Food producers and marketers are faced with updating product nutrition facts panels and ingredient lists to be compliant with recent FDA regulation changes. While revising packaging may be viewed as burdensome by food producers, there are also opportunities to address consumer concerns about what is in the food they are eating.

First, let’s look at consumer interest in reading food product labels. In a 2015 report “Weight Management and Healthy Living” (The Hartman Group) of those surveyed who are not watching their weight, over 40% always or frequently read nutrition facts and ingredients lists, and another 30% sometimes read them.  Of those surveyed who are watching their weight, 59% always or frequently read nutrition facts and ingredient lists, and another 22% sometimes read them.

Consumer motivation to examine nutrition facts and ingredient lists varies based on individual perspectives of health, wellness, and the food culture. Here are the motivators revealed by the report:

Nutrition Facts:

  • Looking for something specific such as protein or fiber
  • Avoiding something specific such as sugar, sodium, fat
  • Beginning a new diet
  • On a diet and learning about a new food product
  • Verifying a packaging health claim or serving size.

Ingredient List:

  • Looking for food allergens of concern
  • Looking for ingredients of specific health concern
  • Comparing ingredients with health or content claims made on packaging
  • Instructing other family members on ingredients, especially those of particular concern
  • Transparency and food safety concerns

Food producers and marketers have an opportunity during the packaging revision process to enhance product claims that are advantageous. These could be beneficial ingredients or nutritionals, or reinforcing what a product does not contain, such as added sugar or gluten. Satisfying the new labeling regulations is an excellent time to make any other packaging changes that will enhance a product’s competitive advantage.

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Transparency…a huge opportunity for food brands.

Consumers are demanding much more product transparency, forcing food brands and producers to re-think how and where they provide the information consumers crave. The recently released “2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study” took an in-depth look at how consumers view their food purchase decisions and what kind of information they expect brands to provide. Here are some highlights from the study which surveyed over 1500 food shoppers.

Source of information.  Only 12 percent of those surveyed named brands as their primary and trusted source for information about food product ingredients and benefits. Yet, over 65% of them expect brands and producers to take responsibility for providing this information. Clearly, there is a huge gap between consumer expectation and what brands are actually delivering in terms of product information. While consumers place a high value on transparency in their purchase decisions, they do not think that brands are providing all of the information they need nor do they like the ways in which brands deliver product information.

Consumer uncertainty.  An overwhelming majority of those surveyed, 80 percent, indicated that recently they had, in fact, consumed a food product that contained an ingredient they did not recognize or that they have seen on package ingredient lists before, but they do not know what that ingredient is or why it is part of the product formulation. More importantly, they do want to know what these unrecognized ingredients are.

Informed consumers.  Food shoppers want to make informed decisions about what they purchase and feed their families. Almost 95 percent of those surveyed said that it is very important to them that food brands and producers are transparent about all of the ingredients in their products and how those products are made.

Brand loyalty.  Over 80 percent of those surveyed indicated that they see additional value in more access to more detailed product information. In addition, some 35 percent indicated that they would not hesitate to switch brands if another brand provided product transparency. Clearly, there is a lot at stake for food brands in providing more detailed information that is easy to find and understand.

The mandated nutrition facts update provides an excellent opportunity for food brands to re-evaluate their formulations, labels, marketing messages and package design in addition to nutrition facts updates. It is clear that consumers will reward those brands that respond to their needs for more information and transparency.

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Blog posts vs press releases. Which one is the big winner?

In the not so distant past, writing and pitching press releases was the de rigueur when food brands wanted to make announcements about themselves. The “gatekeepers” were the reporters and editors of media who were approached and pitched to by PR firms. Social and mobile media have completely changed the landscape and now food brands themselves are the gatekeepers of their own publicity thanks in large part to blogs.

Writing a candid blog post has a much larger impact than a press release and here are some reasons why:

– Relevance and Reach.  For those savvy brands who have been blogging for some time and have built a following of both customers/consumers and peers, their targeted reach for any blog post is more relevant and valuable than a press release. They have the means to talk to the most important audience to them. Press releases get pitched and distributed to many publications which may or may not publish them. In addition, brands can’t be sure which publications their target audience is viewing – it’s a guessing game, albeit an educated guess. Developing a blog that provides meaningful content, relevant to a brand’s audience, posted on a regular basis, and supported by email is far more effective than relying on media contacts to publish submitted press releases. This is particularly important when a brand has a major announcement to make and whose audience is already established and easily reached.

– New vs Old Thinking. New thinking is centered on developing and controlling brand content and it pays off in many ways, but one of the most valuable is search. If a food brand has developed a library of interesting and relevant posts, people are going to find them no matter how big or small a company may be. The key is providing meaningful information and not just self-serving messages. A great blog post starts with first identifying a problem of relevance to the blog audience. Secondly, a creative solution is provided and lastly, a brand pitch can be made. Old thinking is indicative in the structure of a typical press release: all about me, the brand, is first, typically written in dry corporate speak. Blogs are interactive forms of communication, facilitating audience participation and exposure to a brand’s personality.

– The Media is Free. Food brands have options for getting the word out about their products, services, and distribution: pay a PR firm to write and pitch traditional press releases, pay a PR Newswire or other distribution firm for a one-off blast, or create your own content. While it may seem like a daunting task to write blog posts, as a brand stakeholder, you probably have more knowledge and enthusiasm than anyone about your brand, and you are in a better position to identify the issues of importance to your customers/consumers and peers. While the time you spend writing a blog is certainly not “free”, in the long run the results will pay off in building an audience, controlling the messages, and showing your brand’s personality.

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Is packaging a wise branding investment or just an expense?

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In most food product categories, the field is very crowded and the competition is fierce. Consumers often don’t perceive differences between brands in any given food product category unless a brand has made a concerted effort to connect with consumers and differentiate itself.

Product quality and performance are key differentiators, and the first in-store opportunity brands have to distinguish themselves is on-shelf through their packaging.  So, you have to ask, why do so many brands undermine their success at the shelf level with mundane “me too” packaging?

A 2014 Packaging Matters/WestRock (formerly MeadWestvaco Corp.) study underlines the importance and value of packaging as a significant purchasing influencer.  When asked about the influence of packaging on their purchasing decisions as new purchasers, repeat purchasers, and dissatisfied purchasers, survey respondents offered the following insights:

  • New purchasers: 65% indicated that packaging was a major factor in their first-time purchase decision.
  • Repeat purchasers: 55% indicated that their repeat purchase decision was driven by favorable experience with product packaging.
  • Dissatisfied purchasers: 50% indicated that they switched brands because of unfavorable experience with product packaging.
Packaging is the most tangible presentation of brands, at the most important touch point in the purchase decision-making process, in-store at the shelf level. Brands have about 5-7 seconds of a consumer’s attention to make a favorable impression and create a desire to choose their brand over competitors. The reality is that for consumers, the product = the product + packaging. Well designed packaging that reinforces brand values, positioning, and product attributes is a very wise brand investment.
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Consumers are becoming more distrustful of the food industry.

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Consumers appear to be more concerned and less trusting of the U.S. food supply. A recent survey conducted by a Wall Street food industry analyst reveals the following about growing current consumer sentiment regarding food safety and nutrition:

  • A majority of surveyed consumers, 55%, indicated they are becoming more distrustful of the food industry, an increase from 48% in 2013.
  • There has been a 10% increase in consumers concerned about food safety. Sixty -nine percent of those recently surveyed  expressed genuine concern about the volume of recent food related recalls over issues of salmonella and listeria contamination. Since January of this year there have been over 60 such recalls.
  • Survey participants were also queried about nutritional issues and were asked to assign importance to 20 health and wellness related food issues.  Sixty-three percent of respondents indicated that protein was the most important nutritional issue to them, up from 59% in 2013.
  • Consumers concerns about foods that are GMO, hormone, and antibiotic free have increased since the 2013 survey. Over 45% of respondents, compared to 42% in 2013, expressed that GMO-free food is a health concern,  and 56% named antibiotic and hormone free as important health concerns, an increase from 51% in 2013.
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Looking for strategic brand opportunities? Follow the food “packaging trail”.

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Food and beverage marketers are always looking for strategic opportunities to grow their brands. One, sometimes overlooked, place to start is with product packaging. Following the food “packaging trail”, from design, to the retail environment, to consumers’ homes, and to product use, there are many touch points and opportunities for consumer interaction with brands and products.

Here are 9 strategic brand opportunities that start by following the food “packaging trail”:

1. Choose your packaging materials wisely. The choice of packaging materials is driven by more than what your food product needs functionally for protection and containment. Consideration should also be given to your brand positioning and your core consumers’ expectations.

2. Your shipping cartons can be brand messengers. From a practical perspective, cost savings and a positive message regarding sustainability can be achieved through effective use of shipping cartons. In terms of brand messaging, well designed shipping cartons may also double as in-store product displays.

3. Make your packaging easy to stock. Brand stakeholders are at the mercy of in-store staff to keep their food products on the shelves, properly faced, and within use by dates. Packaging configurations and materials can make the job easier and ensure that your products are always available to shoppers.

4. Packaging is your on-shelf advertising.  Well designed packaging makes optimal use of the primary or facing display panel. Graphic layout, colors, visuals, messaging…all of these are part of brand building. At the shelf level, packaging offers a tremendous opportunity to differentiate food brands and product attributes, and is often the first opportunity many consumers have to “meet” your brand and product.

5. Create the touch factor with your packaging. Food product packaging that is interesting, with eye catching graphics and relevant information, is more likely to be picked up from the shelf and examined more closely. Functional considerations come into play such as ease of handling, legibility of product information, and packaging stability. Research has shown that once a consumer handles a packaged food product, there is an increased likelihood that the product will make it into the grocery cart.

6. Design your packaging for ease of use. A highly ranked, recurring complaint consumers have about food packaging relates to ease of use issues. The complaint list is headed by packaging opening and closing, closely followed by the ability to use/get all of the product out of the packaging, packaging that does not keep the product fresh for a reasonable time/use by date, packaging that does not fit well on typical pantry shelves or within refrigerators and freezers, and  packaging that separates important information from remaining packaging/product once the packaging is initially opened.

7. Consider product protection in your packaging. Nothing frustrates consumers more than food packaging that does not adequately protect product integrity and results in food product waste. Packaging must be designed to provide appropriate barriers to preserve product nutrients, taste, and freshness. Two of the most common complaints consumers have regarding the protection aspects of packaging are stale food and freezer burn for frozen products.

8. Keep your brand alive in the home. Packaging that is designed to optimize convenient storage in the home and discourage transfer of food products to in-home storage containers, keeps brands alive and reminds consumers which brand to buy again. Food packaging that is designed with an outer wrapper or sleeve, should always include a label on the packaging that remains and is stored in-home.

9. Make a positive lasting impression. There is growing consumer concern and interest in sustainability and waste. The best lasting impression any brand can make through its packaging is using biodegradable or recyclable materials, that easily break down for trash collection. Consumers want brands to be good stewards of the environment.

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