Modern eating habits have profound effect on food marketing.

There have been seismic shifts in our culture that have changed the way we think about and consume food. For food marketers, there are both upsides and downsides. These changes have created marketing opportunities through product innovations and realignments that did not exist a few years ago. However, these changes have also caused disruptions in food marketing as producers and foodservice operators have had to rethink their products and their messages. The Hartman Group, Inc. has succinctly summarized these cultural changes in their infographic, “Modern Eating in America”.  (Click on image below to view full infographic.)


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Developing brand names today…way more complex than in “Mad Men” days.

Developing a brand name has evolved into a very complex process that extends way beyond the cultural and geographic boundaries of the country in which the brand name originated. Developing a brand name now encompasses consideration of many more factors than in the day of “Mad Men”…pre-Internet.

The ultimate goal in developing a food brand name is to create an emotional connection with consumers that can be leveraged in all forms of advertising from logo/identity and packaging to promotional materials, print and online advertising, websites, and social media. Brand names represent a significant portion of the total value of a brand, in the case of Coca Cola it is estimated to account for approximately 30% of shareholder value. Considering the potential longevity and value of a brand name, here is a checklist of the most important considerations in brand name development:

1. Trademark.  For the short list of proposed brand names, is the trademark available in applicable trademark categories? It is definitely worth the effort to do this search first before proceeding any further in developing the brand.

2. URL. For the short list of proposed brand names, is the URL, or reasonable derivations, of the brand name available in both .com and .net?   While you may choose to use only one extension, you want to control the other so that in the future some enterprising individual  does not buy the alternate domain and try to sell it back to you. It is equally important to also perform this task before proceeding any further in developing the brand.

3. Pronunciation.  Is the proposed brand name easy to pronounce in its native language? Many brands have been tripped up on this one. If consumers have difficulty or are uncomfortable pronouncing a brand name, they won’t and that does not foster brand building. Food brands need consumers to talk about them, the more the better.

4. No negatives.  Are there any negative pronunciation issues or other negative phonetic impacts in other languages? We live in a global community with many languages other than the native one that are spoken or at least comprehended. The classic example is Chevy Nova, “no go” in Spanish, a misguided brand name for a car.

5. Memorable.   Is the proposed brand name memorable and easy to recall? Choosing a brand name with a strong tie to the brand promise is an important consideration in creating consumer recall.

6. Differentiation. Does the proposed brand name differentiate the brand from its competitors? Within the food industry, many product categories are very crowded and creating differentiation among brand names can be challenging, but the effort will be rewarded in building the brand.

7. Reinforces. Does the proposed brand name reinforce the brand’s story and promise? The stronger the connection between the brand and its promise, the easier it will be to build the brand and maintain a consistent brand message.

8. Translates. Does the proposed brand name translate to a visual metaphor? A brand’s logo is its visual metaphor and the brand name needs to translate to a visual mark that will resonate with consumers.

9. Relevance. Will the proposed brand name retain its relevance over time?  Brands with substantial longevity may need a refresh from time to time, but those brand names retain their relevance relative to the brand’s message and to its consumer audience.

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Do consumers trust what you say about your products?

Based on a recent YouGov Omnibus Survey (2014), 50% of US consumers who are aware of advertising claims, regardless of product category, don’t trust what marketers say about their products. Moreover, over 40% think that advertising claims are downright dishonest and almost 60% want beefed up requirements for  proving the accuracy of advertising claims. To be clear, advertising is defined as the claims made about a product whether in print, broadcast, digital, on packaging, or any other vehicles for the advertising messages.

The good news is that the food industry fared much better than many other product categories. Financial/insurance products, pharmaceuticals, cars, and diet products all were considered least trustworthy, each exceeding 20% of respondents who express this degree of distrust.  By contrast, fast food restaurants and and health foods were both at the 10% distrust level, while food products other than health foods were considered untrustworthy by only 6% of respondents.  Casual dining restaurants fared the best with only a 3% distrust response.

Some other highlights that relate to the food industry include that nearly 25% of US consumers tend to believe that the advertising claims made by the casual dining segment of foodservice fairly reflect the services, capabilities, and product quality they deliver. By contrast, fast food advertising is viewed as credible by only 16% of those surveyed.

Three common advertising tactics did not fare well. Comparing a brand with a named competitor is a less credible message to 26% of respondents. Touting awards won by a brand or product generated a fairly even response, 20-22%, either more likely to believe or less likely to believe the claim and its benefit to the consumer. Testimonials by experts/scientists resulted in 29% of respondents viewing such statements as not credible or relevant to them.

In developing message points for food advertising, branding, and packaging design, it is important to choose your words wisely.  Trust and believability are the core elements of branding, and without them brands struggle for market share.

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How did they come up with that food brand name?

Creating a new food brand name…where does the inspiration come from? There are many approaches to take in creating a food brand name and each has its upsides and downsides.  In the end, however, it is important to understand that whatever brand name is chosen, it must be unique, distinctive, memorable, and most importantly…ownable. It is equally important to remember that a name is only one aspect of the total brand experience and it will be the layers of brand story, presentation, and meaning that will build the brand.

Here are some approaches that can be used to create a new food brand name:

1. Invented names.  These are made-up words…think Eggo or Kleenex for example. Inventing a name has several upsides:  they are definitely unique and create differentiation in the market. They are a blank branding canvas in that these words do not carry any emotional baggage or associations. In the digital space, URL’s of these names are more likely to be available. The biggest downside is the time it may take consumers to associate a word they have never seen or heard with the product…it takes a little more patience to market invented brand names.  The most important caveat is to make sure that the name is not difficult to say or spell.

2. Functional/descriptive names.  These are totally literal brand names…think Pizza Hut or Weed B Gon for example.  These are the simplest forms of brand names, but with some creative tweeking, they can become unique and memorable. The biggest upside for functional brand names is that consumers know immediately what the brand delivers in terms of product purpose, and all that remains is to build brand awareness and a positive brand experience.

3. Associative/image based names.  These names evoke a personal response…think Red Bull or Mustang.  Associative/image based brand names rely on the response mechanism of consumers to associate the brand name with an image that encompasses the brand. These names are often metaphors for the functionality of the brand and build on the emotional needs of the target audience. The one caveat to remember with these types of brand names is to make sure that the brand name does not conjure up negative emotions, images, and responses. This is particularly relevant for global brands that have to play well in many cultures and languages.

4. Provenance based names.  These names are associated with the origin of the brand…think Evian or American Airlines.  These brand names are associated with their geography or history, their origin or provenance, and that association has a high value in terms of marketability. If the provenance is somewhat obscure, but still very relevant, it may take a greater brand building effort to educate consumers about the provenance of the brand name.

4. Abbreviations/initials based brand names.  These names are simplified or  truncated versions of brand names…think BMW rather than Bavarian Motor Works.   These brand names are often created when descriptive names are awkward or have lost their context and importance. It is not uncommon for brand names of provenance to eventually be reduced down to an abbreviation. It is important to make sure that the abbreviation does not inadvertently spell a word or have a double meaning that would be detrimental to the brand.

5. Founder brand names.  As suggested, these names are based on the brand’s founder…think Smucker’s or Newman’s Own. Founder brand names evoke a sense of trust in consumers, but only if the founder’s reputation is impeccable. A famous founder, such as Paul Newman, has the same or greater value as a celebrity endorsement. There is one caveat to consider in basing a brand on the founder’s name and that is if some future event clouds the founder’s reputation, the entire brand can suffer by name association.

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Tips for developing food packaging that sells.

Food packaging sells…it’s most often the first “ad” consumers see for products. Whether your product is a new start-up or an existing product with some shelf life, if you are not fully utilizing your packaging as a sales tool, you’re missing a huge opportunity. This is particularly important since packaging is advertising space, or media, that you already own.

In today’s hyper-competitive retail environment, food and beverage product packaging is an essential element in any successful go-to-market strategy. Studies have indicated that consumers give a food product package 5-7 seconds of their attention at the shelf level. That’s not much time to sell, so it’s extremely important that packaging design considers every aspect of consumer interaction. Here are some tips to consider in designing food packaging to maximize sell opportunities.

GRAB SOME ATTENTION. Packaging is typically the first visual and tactile experience consumers have with a product. It needs to convey the essence of the brand and the nature of the product inside. To effectively do that in the retail environment, packaging needs to excite. From the physical configuration to the graphics and color schemes, great packaging design grabs and holds consumer attention. Consumers seem to equate pleasing or interesting packaging with product quality, so in a sense, packaging is the gift wrap. At holidays and birthdays, there is a reason why we grab one gift first over all the others to open…it excites or intrigues us.

TALK TO CONSUMERS.  Grabbing attention is only the beginning in great packaging design. Once you’ve got consumers’ attention, it’s time to communicate. For food and beverage packaging, there is some information mandated by regulatory agencies and experienced food packaging designers know what to do to satisfy these requirements. The rest of the packaging is a blank slate to be filled with relevant brand and product information that resonates with consumers. This is an opportunity to advertise, but always respect the patience of your consumers and only give them information they can use. Well written packaging copy is as important as packaging visuals in winning consumers to your brand and product.

INTEGRATING PACKAGING AND PRODUCT. Many food and beverage products require reusable packaging, and that creates another opportunity to win over consumers from competitors. Packaging materials, configurations, and functionality are important to consumers.  A recent consumer survey regarding food and beverage packaging indicated that consumers place a high value on packaging that preserves product freshness and is reusable. In fact, 60% of respondents said they would pay premium prices for products in packaging that keeps food fresher longer, and 50% place a high value on packaging that is easy to re-use. It appears that investing in easy-to-use packaging configurations and materials that maintain product integrity is as important as the attention grabbing graphics and engaging packaging copy.

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Proposed Nutrition Facts Label Changes…Minor Adjustments or Major Overhaul?

It appears that most stakeholders in the the nutrition facts label conversation agree that updates are overdo. The devil, of course, is in the details. Which facts need to be updated, added, or deleted? How should they be presented graphically? In addition to the agenda of better informing consumers so that they can make better food choices, from the food marketers’ perspective there is an additional agenda: branding.

While the nutritional facts label on food packaging is mandated both in content and graphic presentation, and does not relate to an individual product brand, the nutrition facts label has become a brand in and of itself. Consumers recognize it, have learned to read it, and have formed a comfort with its familiarity, even if they would like some changes to the information. The question becomes: how far should the FDA go in updating the label, in light of the “brand” that consumers are familiar with?

Consumers want product information at the shelf level that they can find and consume quickly, usually in a matter of seconds.  Familiarity with the navigation of food packaging, and the nutrition facts label in particular, is extremely important in  consumer acceptance of change. The USDA released a study in January, 2014 that indicates that 42% of working age adults between 29 and 68 read nutrition facts labels most or all of the time when food shopping. That is an increase from the 2007 data that indicated 34% of working age adults read the nutrition facts label of food and beverage products most or all of the time.

With growing consumer interest in nutritional values of foods and beverages, changes to the nutrition facts label needs to consider both the information consumers are looking for and the format in which the information is provided. There is brand equity in the existing label, that like the brand equity in a product identity, has value, and the question in any re-branding effort is:  how far to go….minor adjustments that don’t take the consumer too far away from the familiar original, or a major overhaul?  It is important to consider consumer shopping behavior and the need to provide relevant nutrition facts that can be quickly read. If the objective is to get more consumers making better food choices, their point of reference, the nutrition facts label, should make it easier for them.

Nutrition Facts Label/Table – Proposed Changes to Content and Presentation (FDA 2-27-14)

Proposed Nutrition Facts Label Changes - FDA 2-27-14Graphic: Wall Street Journal/FDA

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INFOGRAPHIC: B2B Marketing/Sales Guide – Using Email, Social Media, Content Marketing

INFOGRAPHIC: B2B Marketing/Sales Guide – Using Email, Social Media, Content Marketing. Download the PDF from link below.


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The Power of Coffee and Branding…It’s Alive and Well at the Sochi Olympics.

If anyone ever doubted the power of branding, here’s an Olympic tale.

McDonald’s is the official Olympic sponsor and purveyor of food and beverages within the Olympic village. That means anyone seeking a hot cup of java or a specialty coffee or tea drink has to patronize the village McDonald’s.

The NBC broadcast crew, some 2500 of them, have access to a  private, covert Starbucks courtesy of NBC corporate for the sole benefit of its onsite crew. The beverages are free to all crew members, so there is no selling going on here. The Starbucks is located within the NBC broadcast center and without the proper credentials, no one can access this equally well-known purveyor of coffee and tea beverages. According to the IOC, no sponsorship rules are being violated here.

Here’s the power of branding part. Starbucks certainly has its fans and devotees, and given a choice, they would always purchase Starbucks over any other brand. So, when they can’t find a Starbucks within the Olympic village, but they see Starbucks cups walking around in the hands of individuals, their coffee brand sense is put on high alert. They start following the cups to find the coffee. To their frustration, they can’t cross the threshold into the NBC broadcast center to access their favorite coffee brand…Starbucks.

While Starbucks can’t profit directly from this brand tale, they have certainly confirmed the power of their brand and justified the investment they have made in branding. To be clear, this post in no way suggests that McDonald’s does not enjoy an equally enormous brand loyalty itself, nor that they don’t serve a good cup of joe too.

#starbucks  #starbucksatsochi #coffeeatolympics #mcdonaldscoffeeolympics #mcdonalds #nbcsportsolympics

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The first 3 questions food marketers need to ask.

It’s not at all uncommon for food marketers to contact us with a shopping list of marketing wants…email campaign, direct mail, social media, advertising, promotional campaigns. Of course, we are happy to assist, but  we really have to ask:  how did you determine that these marketing tactics belong on your marketing shopping list?

The answer to that question lies in a fundamental understanding of the terms strategies and tactics…and which comes first. I’ll answer the “which comes first” first:  strategies. They are the planning and definition of purpose phase in any endeavor. They define where you want to go. Tactics are developed to help get you there. So, it makes sense in marketing terms to define the strategies first because the tactics will easily follow once you know where you want to go.

Many food marketers struggle, in varying degrees, with the strategies definition phase. I’d like to suggest that there are just three questions to ponder and answer. Once you’ve accomplished that, you’re on your way to determining which tactics are best suited to support your strategies.

1. Why…why do we do what we are doing?  On the surface, this seems fairly simple. It’s the stuff of which mission statements are made. But, really focus on defining one clear purpose for your business operations. If you can distill everything else down to that one why, you have identified the basis upon which you make your business decisions. This why question defines your brand.

2. Who…who are we doing it for? The impulsive answer is easy…anyone and everyone who will buy your products.  The catch in this question is distilling the universe of customers/consumers down to that group that is really genuinely interested in the answer to the why question. Examining your current  loyal customers/consumers can assist in defining your target market. The answer to the why question also leads to identifying those customers/consumers who could benefit most from your brands and products. Look for the commonalities in your core customers/consumers and that will lead to a better definition of your prime customer/consumer profile or target market. Before you can sell, you need to know who you are talking to.

3. What…what do we do that is unique? Food marketers know that most product categories are very crowded. It’s the ones that “build a better mouse trap” that outsell their competitors. What is it about your brands and products that sets you apart…what can customers/consumers expect from you that they can’t from your competitors? Defining your competitive advantages defines your message to customers/consumers.

Once you have answered these three questions, you will know who your core customers/consumers are and what to say to them.  Now you’re ready for the tactics. Reaching target audiences is not a “one size fits all” proposition. Tactics need to be chosen based on where your core customers/consumers hang out and how to best reach them. Bypassing the strategic questions can result in costly marketing efforts that do not meet your objectives.

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Food companies, let’s have the marketing budget talk.

Whether it’s the food industry or any other, the budget talk between clients and their marketing/creative partners can take many twists and turns. Some clients are very open about their marketing budgets and the objectives they hope to achieve. Others play it “close to the vest” and prefer not to share marketing budget information with creative partners. We’d like to suggest that being open with marketing/creative partners about budgets and expectations is a much more successful approach in building a mutually beneficial partnership, and this is why:

1. Good partnerships are built on open, honest communication.  Clients are looking for creative partners they can trust and confide in during the course of working together on marketing initiatives. That means open and honest communication about all of the information relevant to the effort, including budget. If a budget has not been established, that’s fine….good creative partners will work with clients to establish marketing budgets commensurate with the scope of work and objectives to be met. If you are not comfortable sharing an established budget number/range with your creative partner, maybe the partnership is not a good fit. Sharing budget information upfront allows marketing/creative partners the opportunity to structure creative solutions that meet client objectives within the budget allocated. Everyone feels more confident in the partnership moving forward.

2. Not sharing budget information can lead to wrong assumptions.  Your marketing/creative partner will have to “fill-in the blanks” in preparing a proposal. Making assumptions for the sake of arriving at a number serves neither the client nor the creative partner well. Much time can be wasted in this guessing game, time that could be spent working on solutions to advance the client’s marketing objectives. If a budget has not been established because a client cannot determine the cost of the scope of work without input from the creative partner, then work together to define the scope of work and set a budget. This is a far more productive approach to budgeting than working through a series of wrong assumptions.

3. A good creative partner will work within an established budget. There are many options available to meet stated marketing objectives. A good creative partner will suggest solutions that are financially appropriate within an established budget. Likewise, a good creative partner will advise at the outset if a budget is really not adequate to meet a client’s stated objectives and both can work to find a solution by adjusting the scope of work and/or incrementally increasing the budget. A good marketing/creative partner will agree to an established budget upfront and, as long as the scope of work does not change, will work within that budget.

Choosing a great creative partner should be based on their creative talent, skill set, and experience. Once you have trust in a marketing/creative partner’s capabilities, it is far more productive to collaborate with them on budgeting, than to select another firm solely based on cost.

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