Brand Authenticity and Marketing for Small Food Companies

Before jumping into the foodtech startup and investment space, I spent many years marketing cookbooks. Marketing can sometimes feel like a bucket without a bottom: no matter how much you put in, there's always more that can be done. And, with the rise of social media, the terrain has become more fraught with both possibilities for exponential growth and challenges in rising above the noise. 

What has become clear in the new food movement is that authenticity and brand transparency are paramount for consumers. But, what's happened in the intervening years is that consumers now see themselves as just as much part of the brand's story. Whereas a few years ago, we wanted to hear about the bearded artisans, farmers and indie producers who made our food products with love and care, we now want to be able to engage with brands in a way that says this food product represents something about me, the consumers. We've moved into a "values-based" food buying system where the customer has become part of the brand story. 

And while none of us are strangers to social media, there still seems to be a huge disconnect in how brands empower their best customers to become advocates for them. We've all seen those hyper-promotional brand social media accounts that just share marketing and discounts and product updates, without any sense that they even care about who their customers are or how they use their product.

Smart food brands realize that the brand story is owned just as much by the consumer as it is by the company and harness that energy to power word-of-mouth marketing online. 

I realize this is easier said than done. And I won't pretend to have an exhaustive guide to the subject below, but here are a few common sense places to start:

Know thy customer, know thyself - it's amazing to me how many small brands forgo the very straightforward yet important process of building user profiles for their products. This goes beyond just demographics and household income. This is about what motivates them, what inspires them, what kinds of TV shows they watch and podcasts they listen to. Are they health-conscious, athletic, price-sensitive, environmentally-oriented? Figure out the traits that are most important to your product and try to build a profile around those. Remember also that you can have more than one kind of customer and can tailor outreach to a number of different profiles. 

Follow the 3 P's: Personalize, Personalize, Personalize - building your customer profiles is important not only to be sure your product finds the right fit in the market, but also because it can drive your marketing efforts. For instance, if you have a customer profile that is socially-centric or community-oriented, you might find that testing in-person events could be a worthwhile way to generate word of mouth. Similarly, if you have a consumer that is more health-conscious, you can tailor your messaging, or modify your channels for outreach to engage the right consumers with the right sorts of talking points. Rather than being generic with your brand message, you might find you have a half-dozen brand messages or tactics to engage different audiences. 

Ask and you may receive - oftentimes the difference between getting consumers engaged on social media or not can be as simple as printing something on your packaging, or encouraging users to share their posts, photos and comments with you online. We all have experienced the paradoxical nature of sharing online, where users are more likely to share a negative experience than a positive one. By being proactive in outreach and finding ways to inform your consumers that you want to hear from them, you may find you have a ready audience of advocates who want to engage with you. 

**Here it's also helpful to note that hashtags and other forms of keyword or link tracking can be helpful in collecting data on follow-through and engagement. Remember to include these in campaigns, outreach or even on your product packaging! 

There are no new ideas... - ...but plenty of good ones! Find inspiration from brands that are doing some impactful things and identify some takeaways for your brand. I've been enamored with the work of the folks at Drink Maple in Boston, they've employed some remarkable guerrilla marketing savvy to expand their reach without spending a lot of money on traditional sponsorship or promotion. Find brands either in your space or outside of it and draw creativity from what they are doing.