With a background in traditional CPG marketing, I used to believe that emerging brands should cast their eyes to the big guys to learn how to market their products or services successfully. Certainly, many global brands are still creating campaigns that are the envy of the industry. But more and more frequently, entrepreneurial brands are setting the gold standard for customer engagement.
In the past, major brands ruled both share of mind and share of shelf. But today, trust in traditional brands is at an all-time low. More than 50% of people say their trust in big business has declined over the past few years, according to a 2014 Harris Interactive and Nielsen study. Customers are demanding greater transparency and authenticity. Iconic brands are losing market share to emerging companies that are doing a much better job of connecting with consumers.
What is their secret? Many entrepreneurial food brands are driven by passion and fueled by a belief in a healthier (and tastier) product. This inherent passion achieves what many established brands are finding difficult to emulate: a values-based connection with customers. This connection results in deeper engagement, loyalty and satisfaction.
What can all marketers learn from emerging brands about establishing emotional connections with customers?
- Focus on the most important question, and make the answer your mission. As author Simon Sinek famously said, “It starts with why.” And your “why” can’t be to sell more salad dressing, cupcakes or juice boxes. Your ‘why’ needs to be more than the sales chart moving up and to the right. It’s the reason you get up every morning. How can you change the world? The answer is your mission.
Enjoy Life Foods makes free-from foods with the motto ‘Eat freely. Enjoy fully.’ Their mission is to provide great-tasting, allergy-friendly, non-GMO, gluten-free products. “And if we can’t be great-tasting, we don’t do it,” said Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer for the brand. This focus has led Enjoy Life to be on Inc. Magazine’s “Fastest Growing Private Companies” list for eight consecutive years.
- Align with your customer’s values. Quick, tell me about your customer. Did you tell me about their gender? Age? Income? That’s fine. But demographics alone won’t take you to the top. Most purpose-driven marketers instinctively tap into the magic place where your company’s and customer’s values intersect. Our values, more than any other factor, influence why we buy, what we share and what we recommend. We want to do business with brands and companies that share our values.
For example, family-owned Tessemae’s All Natural is one of the fastest growing condiment companies in the country. In addition to producing some of the healthiest condiments on the market, they are helping to provide wider access to fresh food. The brand recently launched ‘Crop Circles”, which are pop-up farmers markets in the heart of underserved areas nationwide.
- Listen more than you talk. Truly bullet-proof strategies come from actively listening to your customers. What do your customers value most? How do they live their lives?
“Everything we do is about dialoging with our consumer,” said Warady of Enjoy Life, whose company uses social media to have a dialogue with consumers. As an example, Enjoy Life recently announced its hugely successful baking mixes with probiotics, despite warnings from retailers that the space was over-crowded. “We care less what the retailer says; we care what the consumer says. They didn’t ask for probiotics, but we heard them say, ‘You know, we really have digestion issues and we’re not getting enough protein.’ We have such a passionate consumer base that they want to talk. And so when we want to know things, we’ll ask them.”
- Focus on relationships, not campaigns. For a marketing campaign to be effective in today’s landscape, marketers should realize that it’s no longer effective to simply shout your message through a megaphone. Instead, we should take advantage of the opportunities to foster one-on-one conversations with our customers and fans.
“I’m on social all the time. Our consumers know that if they tweet at me or tweet something, I’m going to see it, and I’m going to respond. I also personally go to about 15 consumer-targeted events around the country a year. People say to me, ‘You’re the chief marketing officer. Why are you here?’ And my answer is, ‘Because I’m the chief marketing officer,” Warady said.
Todd Fletcher, executive vice president of marketing for Tessemae’s sums it up nicely: “I think what people are seeking is that they don’t want to be marketed to anymore. They want to have a relationship with the brand that they’re inviting into their home.” Indeed, building authentic customer relationships is the most critical step in earning lasting engagement and loyalty.
Julie Lyons is president of values-focused marketing agency, Zenzi Communications, based in Encinitas, Calif.
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