Food marketers need to redefine website.

The way website is defined, “a group of World Wide Web pages usually containing hyperlinks to each other and made available online by an individual, company, educational institution, government, or organization” according to Merriam-Webster, has led to the general consensus that websites are static works of technology…a project finished once launched.  However, for food and beverage marketers, their websites mean more than that to consumers.

Food and beverage brand websites are visited by 60% of consumers, who are influenced by website content in making food purchasing decisions, according to a recent Nielsen study of 29,000 consumers with internet access. In a recent Hartman Group study, 45% of respondents indicated that they visit food and beverage websites at least once a week, while 17% claimed they visit such sites daily.  Sorry Merriam-Webster, but clearly it’s time to redefine website.

Back in the 1990’s, websites were developed as online brochures, typically augmenting or sometimes even replacing the printed counterpart.  However, with the explosion of social media and interactive online capabilities, consumers have come to expect a dynamic experience with the websites they visit. Once developed, websites become organic, continually evolving spaces that capture new visitors as well as retain past visitors through dynamic content. For food and beverage marketers, a static online presence, essentially a brochure, is not adequate to sustain a brand in today’s marketplace.

Marketers tend to view website development as an expense, but once the website goes live, they often don’t make the transition to viewing the website as an asset. In order to thrive and bloom by achieving ROI goals, websites, like any garden, need to be tended. Content needs to be continually refreshed, and features and functions need to be updated and added. Food marketers have a wealth of relevant content to draw upon to keep their websites fresh and interesting, from new products, line extensions, serving suggestions, recipes, nutritional information, coupons, promotions, contests, and news.

Since websites are never really “done”, it’s time to think differently about defining them. They really are dynamic digital spaces, created by organizations to support defined objectives, that are continually adapting to changing information and marketplaces through interaction between people, objects and places. Food marketers need to think in these terms to keep their brands and products relevant.

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How old do you think email is?

For some of us, email may seem ancient since we’ve never really lived without it…it’s always been there. For the rest of us, there was a life before email and we do remember hardcopy inter-office memos and mail systems.  Either way, email has affected the way we do business and promote goods and services in profound ways. So, happy birthday email, born on August 30, 1982, via a US Copyright, issued to VA Shiva Ayyadurai for a “computer program for electronic mail system”.

While email has been around for a while now and may not seem as on-trend as Social Media, it remains an effective and relevant marketing communication tool. It is both an immediate and targeted messaging vehicle with an exceptional ROI, upwards of 4000%, according to several research studies.  That should not be surprising considering that 94% of all Internet users go online specifically to read and send emails, the most utilized internet activity, according to a 2/11/13 Center for Media Research Brief.

Food and beverage marketers have relied on promotional emails and should continue to include them in their marketing and promotional efforts. The task is to create promotional emails that recipients want to read and share. Successful promotional email campaigns are based on creating content rich emails that spark consumer interest not only in the product or service being promoted, but in the content that surrounds promotional messaging. Here are three very important marketing objectives to keep in mind when developing a promotional email campaign:

1. Break the “sell” monotony: messaging focused on content breaks the monotony of the “sales pitch”, with visuals and other meaningful content that supports the brand and product.

2. Create consumer relevancy: content rich email can create consumer relevancy by providing interesting and useful information that relates back to the brand and product.

3. Facilitate consumer sharing: content rich emails, even promotional ones, can encourage social and viral sharing, extending the reach and shelf -life of promotional emails.

As we celebrate email’s birthday, food and beverage marketers should continue to include this powerful communication tool to not only sell, but build brand equity and extend consumer awareness.

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Brand logo evoluton vs revolution. What’s the difference?

Brand logos broadcast a unique, memorable, and clear message about the products and services they visually represent. For food marketers, a brand logo can have a long shelf life, but as trends and markets change, it may become necessary to make adjustments. The question is:  what kind of adjustments?

Since there has been an investment in branding over time, the value of an established brand logo can become considerable. There may be many reasons to consider only minor changes to an otherwise serviceable brand logo such as refreshing the look to reflect current trends. There may also be many reasons to consider a complete logo redesign, such as mergers, acquisitions, reorganizations, and re-direction of product or product category focus. The brand logo change then becomes a decision between brand logo evolution or brand logo revolution.

Making any change to a brand logo should be supported by a strategic business objective. This will not only assist in garnering the support of all the various stakeholders, it will also set a clear direction for the creative effort. Making any changes to a brand logo can have both emotional and financial impacts, so it is an effort typically undertaken infrequently, a once-a-decade kind of effort. Here are the degrees of brand logo change to consider, ranging from change, to evolution, to revolution:

1. Change without change. This is akin to getting a haircut without losing any length. The change is subtle, basically leaving the overall design of the brand logo intact and unquestionably recognizable. This effort usually revolves more around the message and design elements that support the logo rather than changes to the logo itself. This strategy works well for established brands with positive images within their market base. It allows the brand logo to remain relevant in a changing marketplace.

2. Brand logo evolution: Many brand logos are continuously tweaked over time to maintain relevance and encompass changes in brand strategies, but the underlying logo mark is not fundamentally changed or lost. Two high profile examples are Nike and Apple, whose products and target audiences are very dynamic. Brand logo evolution is a great strategy for brands that have established themselves as innovators and maintained their positive image over time.

3. Brand logo revolution. As history has shown us time and again, revolution is aimed at total change. For brands, this can be necessitated by major strategic shifts or by market and business events of seismic proportions. These factors can be both internal and external to the organization but the net result can be a brand logo that has completely lost its utility. As the organization redefines itself and its products and services, a brand logo needs to be developed from the ground up. In recent times, some industries have been more effected than others, such as healthcare, airlines, and financial services, and we have seen many complete re -branding efforts.

If you’re uncertain where your brand logo falls on the continuum from change, to evolution, to revolution, ask these questions:

1. Does your brand logo fit with your current business model, as well as your strategic direction for the future?

2. Does your brand logo resonate with your current and projected target market?

3. Does your brand logo convey your brand message in relevant ways?

4. Does your brand logo function and translate well across all media platforms, such as online/digital, broadcast, and print?

5. Does your brand logo clearly differentiate your brand from its competitive set?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, it is probably time to consider a brand logo assessment and possible design effort.

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Social media platforms…simple diversions or marketing tools?

Facebook.  Foursquare.  Instagram.  LinkedIn.  Pinterest. Twitter. Vine. YouTube.  A few of the most popular social media platforms that vie for everyone’s attention every day. From a food marketing perspective, social media can have a great deal of utility in connecting with consumers, building brands, and generating sales, but with one big caveat: they need to be designed as marketing tools and not simple diversions.

Everyone looks for some diversions everyday…an opportunity to disconnect from daily responsibilities for a short while. Social media fills that need very nicely. However, with the right focus and messaging, social media can be designed as a powerful marketing tool.

Here’s the difference:

Facebook as a diversion:  check to see what other people are doing

Facebook as a marketing tool:  stay connected with food brands, products, and other consumers

Pinterest as a diversion:  browse interesting images

Pinterest as a marketing tool:  search for menu and recipe ideas, serving suggestions, and food products

Twitter as a diversion:  follow amusing hashtags and conversations

Twitter as a marketing tool:  source of real-time food product information and consumer engagement with products

To make effective use of social media, food marketers need to consider their brands from several aspects. While there will always be some diversionary aspects to a brand’s social media, combining those with marketing aspects creates marketing value in social media.

An emotional outlet:  the connection consumers have with food brands and products

A mental escape:  the opportunity to use food brands and consumer experiences as a brief diversion

A learning opportunity:  how food brands and products can be used

A purchasing resource: where to purchase specific food brands and products, and promotions and incentives to purchase

By keeping all of these perspectives in mind and offering engaging content, food marketers can create loyal fans who frequent their social sites and share with their networks. In this way social media platforms transition from simple diversions to real marketing tools.

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Social media vs email. It’s not really a competition.

Social media versus email, the pseudo competition of two marketing platforms. First it was email that was touted as the new, best way to reach target audiences and generate sales. Then social media developed into a formidable force in engaging target audiences, and email was declared dead. The time has come to set aside this pseudo competition by better understanding the marketing value of social media and email, and how each functions in the sales funnel.

Social media is perfectly suited to the “mid sales funnel”, where information is gathered. It provides the platform for brand/target audience interaction with promotions, coupons, news, and entertainment. It is also as much a platform for communication among consumers as it is between brands and consumers. Messages are more controlled by target audiences than by the brands themselves, and interest and engagement may be driven by something “cool” going on at the moment rather than a sincere interest in the brand per se. One of the most important aspects to understand about social media is that it is not really permission based like email.

Email is much better suited to the “bottom sales funnel”, where transaction decisions are made. Since email is typically permission based, the target audience has already expressed a more than a passing interest in the brand, therefore a more likely intent to buy. Email is one-on-one communication, and for that reason the appeal becomes personal and offers/promotions can be tailored to each recipient’s interests or needs. Email marketing is totally focused on the intent to buy, and as such is used as the sales “closer”.

A comprehensive marketing plan should include both platforms, each being used to maximize its unique contributions to brand building and sales. Food and beverage are one of the most talked about categories in the social sphere, presenting marketers with a tremendous opportunity to build brand loyalists and develop opt-in lists for successful email campaigns.

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Want to grab email subscriber mindshare? Feed them some content.

The competition for email subscriber mindshare heats up every day as inboxes fill up. Having a good sender reputation and clean, opt-in lists is only half the battle, at best. You must provide content that grabs subscribers attention and distances you from your competition.

Developing content rich messaging as part of your email strategy meets three very important marketing objectives:

1. Break the monotony:  email marketing is a form of promotion, but if that’s “all you brought” it is unlikely that your subscribers will keep reading the same basic message. Content focused messaging breaks the monotony of promotional messaging and helps to re-engage your audience.

2. Create relevancy:  content rich promotional emails create relevancy by providing interesting, useful information.  They can also create subscriber perception of the value of your brand and its ability to meet unmet needs or address a challenge.

3. Facilitate sharing:  content rich emails, even those that are promotional, can inspire social and viral sharing. Spreading the word to new audiences and potential customers is a marketing gift that can’t be purchased directly, so give your subscribers an incentive to share through interesting content.

For food marketers, creating a content-focused email campaign should not be difficult because of the wide range of material available and the generally high level of consumer interest in food and nutrition.  Here are a few content development ideas to consider:

1. Recipe and menu suggestions that feature products and lifestyle eating occasions…any  opportunity that positions your products as a perfect meal or ingredient solution.

2. Product lists categorized by interest such as most popular, best sellers, eating occasions, meal or ingredient solutions…any category that positions your product as an established solution.

3. Q and A’s with nutritionists, chefs, other experts…anyone in your organization that is uniquely qualified to answer consumer questions about your product, and food and nutrition in general.

4. Comments, discussions, and consumer activity on social sites…let your subscribers know about the buzz going on.

The more meaningful the content you include in your email marketing, the more you increase the odds that your target audience will engage and share.

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Pins stick around much longer than tweets and Facebook posts.

The shelf life of a tweet is measured in minutes. That’s the time a brand or product mention hangs out on Twitter. Facebook fares a little better with a shelf life measured in hours, according to a recent study by Pinqora, formerly Pinfluencer, that tracks and measures Pinterest activity. By contrast, a Pin has a shelf life measured in weeks. Yes, weeks is the timeline that Pins generally get seen and repinned on Pinterest, but repins can and do occur months after the original Pin. Considering that food/recipes/lifestyle are the top categories of consumer interest on Pinterest, there is enormous marketing potential for food and beverage producers on this site.

What makes Pinterest so unique in the social media sphere is that it is designed as an idea sharing platform and as such encourages leisurely search and recurring visits. Facebook, Twitter, and many other social platforms are structured for immediacy and posts become irrelevant quickly as the the conversation moves on. Since food and recipes are occasion driven, pinners search the site for ideas as the occasion arises for them, which could be daily, even several times daily, or weekly. Pinterest is designed as a destination site that always has new as well as lasting ideas.

According Pinqora, Pinterest functions more like a search engine, but with two big differences. For example, when a consumer enters a search term on Google, if the results on the first page or two do not match the need, a new or refined term is entered and new results appear.  On Pinterst, there are no results pages, just a continuous scroll of relevant results. In addition, Pinterst results are visual. This encourages users to stay on the site and continue to scroll/look at results, some of which could have been pinned weeks, even months ago. Most importantly for food marketers, food and recipe Pins remain relevant for a very long time.

There has been a lot of conversation about collecting Facebook “Likes” and the marketing value of them. For food and beverage marketers, a comprehensive social media plan should consider the immediacy platforms like Facebook, as well as the idea sites like Pinterest. Adding a Pin button on website pages to encourage Pins of recipes and serving suggestion photos can have both a short-term and long-term ROI for food marketers.

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Are your promotional emailers easily actionable?

We’ve all received promotional emailers that leave us scratching our heads. They’re all about the brand and what the marketer wants to say about it, but there is no indication how the brand and marketer are going to help you. The best way to build brand loyalty is to understand what the customer/consumer is looking for and delivering that in the most direct, expedient, and friendly manner.

So many emailers contain multiple messages and potential actions, with lots of copy about brand and product attributes … new products,  product features, discount offers, and so on. The first task is identify the objective of the emailer and focus the message. Here are some tips to develop an effective and easily actionable emailer.

1. Define the objective:  What is this emailer intended to accomplish…build brand awareness, introduce a new product, remind customers/consumers of the value proposition? While a well crafted emailer may meet more than one objective, it should be designed to focus on the most important one.

2. Define the target audience:  Who is being targeted…new customers/consumers, current loyal and active customers/consumers, past customers/consumers who have been inactive for awhile? The message and offer to each of these audiences would be different. One size does not fit all, and email lists should be segmented so that audiences can be appropriately targeted with separate promotional messages.

3. Define the action:  What is the target audience supposed to do…click through for a coupon, recipe and menu ideas, product specific information, online purchase? Once the objective and the target audience are defined, the desired action is easier to define. If the target audience is new customers/consumers, an incentive to try the brand and product would be an appropriate action. If, on the other hand, the audience is current loyal and active customers/consumers, an invitation to view recipe and menu ideas to discover new ways to use the product would be an appropriate action.  While multiple actions may be appropriate, such as offering coupons to current customers/consumers, there should be one action in the emailer content that is clear and relates to the defined objective and target audience.

4. Make it easy: How does the target audience get from the emailer to the offer…preferably with one click to the appropriate website page. This seems so obvious, but yet so many emailers do not provide a direct actionable link. The more circuitous the route, the more time it takes, and the more frustrated the target audience becomes. Make it easy, direct, and quick.

Food marketers need to step out of their marketing box and think like their customers and consumers. What would you want to know about your product, what would motivate you to try it, how easy is it for you to get from the emailer to the website to get to the information you’re looking for? The answers may generate more easily actionable emailers and improved email campaign results.

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Websites vs Social Media: which is more important to a food brand?

With the proliferation of social media, many food marketers have been tempted to ask, “do we really need to invest in maintaining our brand website…or, do we need a brand website at all?”.  This may be the wrong question to ask, but before this question can be addressed, it is important to understand the three categories of interaction or media that food brands have to reach their consumers.

1. Paid Media: This is “paid for” advertising, pure and simple. For example, display ads, paid SEM and keywords, pay-per-click, content sponsorships, and other paid opportunities available on social media sites.

2. Earned Media: This is “unpaid for” advertising and promotion resulting from organic search by maximizing SEO.

3. Owned Media: This is the gold standard of media in that brands own this space and control the message. Websites are a prime example of owned media.

Websites, which are owned media, are the source of content that feed paid and earned media. For example, most consumers begin with a search engine site (i.e. Google) to find a product or brand, and search results will typically lead them to brand websites. The messaging and experience they have on a brand website is completely under the control of the company that owns the brand. Conversely, consumers may not typically “visit” a brand’s Facebook page, they may “bump” into it by chance, and research data has shown that they rarely return. They go to the source:  the brand’s website, which consumers are confident they can rely on for consistent, accurate information about the brand and its products.

Social media sites are sharing sites and the brand content that consumers choose to share there typically comes from brand websites. For example, pins on Pinterest typically originate from visual content on brand or marketers’ websites. They are not typically repinned from branded Pinterest pages. The organic nature of social sharing is dependent on external source material that catches the fancy of consumers and is brought to social sites.

In website vs  social media , the right question to ask is: how can the power of a brand website be maximized to effectively use the power of social media?  There are four basic areas where branded websites can maximize their ROI: resource for brand and product information and benefits, marketplace for consumer purchases, destination for an interactive brand experience, and connection between consumers and the brand’s story and values. Whether a food brand chooses to focus on one of these areas or all of them, as owned media a brand’s website tells the story the brand wants told and shared.

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Consumers get cues from colors on food packaging.

Color can have profound effects on consumers, making it an important element in food and beverage packaging design. Research into the effects of color have revealed that consumers subconsciously respond to color with very specific social and cultural messages. Understanding the responses evoked by color can provide insight into which colors may be most appropriate for specific food product packaging.

In effectively using color on food product packaging design, the task is to match the brand message, product positioning, and product category with colors that will reinforce product marketing efforts and drive consumer purchase decisions. The flip side is to make certain that consumers are not given miscues through the use of color on food packaging.

Here are some cues on color:

1. Blue:  Blue is a universally appealing color that studies indicate most people like. It connotes a sense of trustworthiness and dependability. According to a recent Journal of Business study, consumers are 15% more likely to return to stores with a predominately blue color scheme. For example, a blue color scheme for food packaging would be a good choice for products with a positioning statement focused on dependable product performance.

2. Green: The color green has become the poster child for environmentally friendly, natural, organic, and fresh. While it is pervasively used in food product packaging, the color green remains a good choice for products in these categories based on the ingrained connection consumers have with this color.

3. Red: Red is considered the strongest emotive color and marketing experts caution that red acts as an alarm to consumers. On food packaging, red is best used sparingly, primarily to call out specific information in the context of another, less alarming, more soothing color scheme.

4. Yellow: Yellow is a color that evokes high energy. Marketing studies have also found that yellow stimulates appetite, which explains its prevalent use in QSR and fast casual foodservice operations. The use of yellow on food packaging, for example, may be a good choice for snack foods or self-indulgent products such as candy, which are often purchased on impulse.

5. Orange: Research has shown that orange is associated with affordability and fairness in the responses of consumers. Retailers such as Home Depot, whose message is one of value, use orange in their brand identity and throughout their retail environments. Contrast this with Lowes, a Home Depot competitor, whose color scheme is primarily blue and whose positioning is primarily one of trust and dependability. The color orange would be a good choice for food products whose primary message is value and affordability.

6. Purple: Throughout history, purple has been associated with royalty. It evokes in consumers the notion of luxurious and expensive, but probably worth the cost. Purple is widely used for cosmetic and fragrance packaging, at both ends of the price point scale. In food packaging, purple can be seen on chocolate candy and individually wrapped frozen treats packaging, particularly for those brands whose message point is focused on a little self-indulgence.

7. Black: Black is the calling card color for sophistication and luxury. It is commonly seen on high-end cosmetic packaging and is also used by more affordable brands to upscale their position. Black is a strong statement for food packaging and works best for products that are positioned as upscale rather than products positioned for their value proposition.

8. White: Marketing experts affirm that consumers associate the color white with purity and simplicity, as well as honesty and modernity. In food packaging, Pillsbury Simply…Cookies line of refrigerated, ready-to-bake cookies is an example of using primarily white packaging to reinforce the positioning of this product as having a minimal number of ingredients and being quick, easy to bake off.

These color cues should not limit creativity in packaging design, but they do serve to remind us of  the power of color. The most important take away for food packaging design is that color should be chosen carefully so as not to miscue consumers about the positioning of a product.

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