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Recipe for food & beverage brand communication


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Let’s admit it; we are all in small little ways ‘a foodie mindset’. It’s in human nature to be experimental with food and give in to indulgence sometimes and for few most-times. People tend to form a subliminal relationship with what they eat and drink, that form in to our eating-habits. Food and beverages have varied meaning to our lives which may differ from product-to-product, brand-to-brand and person-to-person.

Just as the preparation of a sumptuous meal requires a recipe, marketing food and beverages brands have their own recipe.

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Recipe for food & beverage brand communication

  1. 1. Recipe for food & beverage brand communication
  2. 2. 2 “It’s amazing how pervasive food is. Every second commercial is for food. Every second TV episode takes place around a meal. In the city, you can’t go ten feet without seeing or smelling a restaurant. There are 20 foot high hamburgers up on billboards. I am acutely aware of food, and its omnipresence is astounding.” - Adam Scott, The Monkey Chow Diaries, June 2006. Let’s admit it; we are all in small little ways ‘a foodie mindset’. It’s in human nature to be experimental with food and give in to indulgence sometimes and for few, most-times. People tend to form a subliminal relationship with what they eat and drink, that form in to our eating-habits. Food and beverages have varied meaning to our lives which may differ from product-to-product, brand-to-brand and person-to-person. It is a part of socializing for some; a relaxation trigger, an accomplice; to some it brings social pride, status and voilà a source of sheer indulgence and treats - a foodie’s paradise. Which is also why, each and every day, all of us get bombarded by dozens of messages from food and beverage marketers and their advertising. TV commercials, billboards, internet banners, shopper-level activation, QR codes, tell us your story, follow us on twitter, like us on facebook, packaging designs screaming for attention, storefronts, promotions, sampling, CSR initiatives, micro sites. Some get registered in our memory and most others don’t make a mark. Because, my work involves advising companies on how to build better and lasting brands, a lot of them being food and beverages, it came to a point where I wanted to find out the recipe for food & beverage brand communication. Decode what are marketers doing to makes consumers choose a certain brand of dessert or get drawn to certain brand of energy drink or a particular soup brand. Just as the preparation of a sumptuous meal requires a recipe, marketing food and beverages brands have their own recipe. Broadly, the ingredients fall into 3 layers – the functional, the emotional and the expression. Like cooking is an art, a skill, the brand-marketers, or should I say brand-chefs need to evaluate their ideal ingredients, ascertain the interplay between them, figure out how to make them work or should I say how to cook and finally figure out the best or most creative way to present or serve to make it appealing and irresistible. Slurp!   Functional   Emotional   Expression   Taste     Purity   Health   Convenience   Human-­‐connection   Pedigree   Attitude   Packaging   2
  3. 3. 3 The taste/experience is the basic and most fundamental expectation and ingredient for food & beverage brand communication. In many ways, it is one of the basic category expectations. Taste / experience can also translate in to the sensorial elements like crispiness, smoothness, sweet, sour, mellow, slow-effect, rapid action, etc. Having said that, the experience is not just physical or purely consumption based, the food & beverage brand owners seek to bring that experience much before the consumer actually buys it from their retail shelf, creating the desire and in many ways craving to have one. For example, most of the Häagen-Dazs’ & Galaxy chocolate’s communications are largely about an extraordinary surreal world of drool appeal, Philadelphia promises a heavenly experience, Oreo does it by ‘Twist-lick-dunk’ attracting kids, even-food service brands like KFC talk about ‘finger licking good’, snack brands like Doritos & Lay’s do it with their many and new flavors. Irrespective of how the brand is positioned, explicitly or implicitly a food & beverage brand cannot escape creating a drool appeal for their brand. Taste
  4. 4. 4 Food & beverage brands are as much about the people as it is about its products as it is so intertwined with our lives. The other truth is that there’s a foodie mindset in everyone, some more overt and who doesn’t like to relish eating and drinking well?! It’s certainly a category that has so much of the human truth & the cultural truth attached to it. For example, take lives of the homemakers, what she creates in her kitchen with her brands shows her love and affection, an opportunity to explore and display her creativity, it’s also her secret weapon at the same time her personal self-indulgence, it’s her source of motivation, sometimes agony, the list goes on. And again, it has varied meaning, emotion and degree of significance to everyone like bonding, socializing, togetherness, love, affection, empowerment, relaxation, liberation, release, fun, hospitality, even status and social pride. Food & beverage brands have leveraged these emotions in form of consumer insights and many have established deep emotional affinity with their brands, for example Coke with ‘open happiness’ brand platform, their friendship-machine activation is perhaps one of the good example of people bonding & togetherness, Knorr empowers women by telling them that ‘every meal is an opportunity’ to eat together, m&m’s are humanized fun candies, McDonald’s is the family restaurant for everyone, Nescafe is about little everyday moments, Mountain dew fuels the frenzy, while Red Bull ‘gives you wings’. Human connection
  5. 5. 5 Purity perhaps is the one of the important attribute that people consider, consciously and subconsciously, as it’s a category of physical consumption, having direct impact on health & wellness. That said, it is also true that sometimes (or many-a-times) people do trade off the purity factor to taste or value, but still there’s an expectation from brands (and regulatory food authorities) to maintain a reasonable threshold level of safety. From the consumer language, purity is about authenticity and quality of ingredients, the freshness, the more natural or naturally sourced the better (think the organic food category) and the less it is processed or modified the better (think food and beverage brands packaging that with messages like no preservatives or artificial colors or added sugar). On the other hand, ask a foodie about authenticity, it’ll be like a poem difficult to explain, but you may probably feel it. From the brand positioning standpoint, many brands have taken this route or have evolved to this platform. For example, beverage brand Snapple says it is ‘made from the best stuff on earth’, Haagen Dazs ‘ode to flavors’ commercial (evolved from taste/ indulgenceplatform)isallaboutauthenticityanddiscerningselectionofitsingredients, Tropicana’s Pure Premium packaging design suggests that it is as natural as having it directly from fruits - their ‘grower manifesto’ commercial also plays on the authenticity and knowledge (the timing of budding, water, amount of sun, etc.), Del Monte lays its emphasis on freshness ‘we pick and pack all of our fruits, vegetables and tomatoes at the peak of freshness — to lock in the vitamins, antioxidants and essential nutrients’, Heinz says they are ‘Grown, not made’, even the food-service brand Subway says ‘Eat Fresh’. Purity
  6. 6. 6 Ifpurityisthereason-to-believe,healthistheultimatebenefitsoughtbytheconsumers. Similar to the purity factor, consciously and subconsciously, consumers do care about nutritional value they derive from their F&B consumption, but also tend to trade off the nutritional value to taste or value offerings. On a lighter vein, that’s probably the reason why most (not all) foodies tend to be overweight. Because of the direct relationship between purity-factor & health-factor, the communication messages of the brands often cross each other. For example, Evian has ‘Live Young’ message with RTB of purity (from the heart of the Alps); Del Monte on the other hand calls its juices as ‘guilt-free-refreshments’ & with its chilled fruits it says ‘guilt-free pleasure’ directly taking-on the ice-cream desserts, V8-juice with its communication of ‘Could’ve hadV8’ provokes people to choose a healthier alternative, Kellogg’swithitsvariousproductsaddressingdifferent-age-groups&meal/snack-times is strongly on a health platform, one of their campaign ‘Drop A Jeans Size’ is aimed at women wanting to kick-start a healthier lifestyle after over indulging Christmas. Within the hot-beverage category Lipton says ‘drink positive’ while in malted-food-drink category Milo calls themselves as ‘the nutritious energy drink’. Health
  7. 7. 7 Some brands earn their credibility because of their rich heritage & years of existence. It is not such a crucial ingredient, but subconsciously (and even consciously) it does bring about reassurance and trust. The subtle indicators hinting the originality of a product increase its attractiveness. This explains why brands often communicate to consumers when they originated. For example, Heinz states that its tomato ketchup dates back from 1869. The Heinz label “since 1869” might not only indicate that Heinz has been around for a long time, but might also suggest that it was first, and thus original, in the ketchup category. The gradually-evolved quote of arms label shape is yet another subtle indicator of their pedigree. Similarly, Campbell’s layout of its flagship tomato soup can, with its red and white design and the metallic gold medal seal has evolved very subtly. Betty Crocker’s portrait has been updated seven times over the past eight decades - her hairstyles, clothes and demeanor have evolved to reflect the changing faces of American women, although she did not have a real physical identity. Coca-Cola recently celebrated their 125 years by a worldwide multi-media campaign reinforcing its rich heritage. Pedigree
  8. 8. 8 Some brands stand out from the sea of sameness by the way they present themselves. Although one can argue that all brands have some-or-the-other brand persona or fit into a brand archetype, but some brands sharply cut through the competitive clutter. It maybe a crucial factor especially when there’s not enough differentiation at a product level, but on the contrary even if there’s a sharp product differentiation having an unique brand persona adds on the to the overall brand appeal. For example, when Innocent juices launched it was the only smoothie producer in the market to offer drinks made from fresh fruit with the very simple idea that every product contains 100 per cent pure, fresh ingredients and no fruit concentrates. Over the past decade many other brands have come into the market with similar proposition, but Innocent still holds the edge because of its unique brand persona. It’s not the general loveliness of the brand, the bottles with knitted wooly hats, its quirky (some would say cloying) tone of voice or the vans covered with astroturf that made consumers love it so much, it is because it is such a shining example of the value of a brand to a business. Similarly, POM’s ‘playful-mindful’ persona makes it stand out of juices advertising clutter. Attitude
  9. 9. 9 When Ben & Jerry’s Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield started selling homemade ice cream out of a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, it was the personality and a little extra attitude that helped the business take-off. Jerry said, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” Ben said “Every company has a responsibility to give back to the community.” Those two simple ideas became the driving philosophy of the Ben & Jerry’s brand. Over the years they’ve had a lot of fun with crazy flavors, their names and the quirky, playful and colorful advertising.
  10. 10. 10 Packaging is one of the relatively long-term medium in brand’s communication mix. It is right at the center of brand’s consumer proposition and brand’s shopper proposition – therefore an essential component in communication mix. A good packaging design not just motivates shoppers to choose, but it also builds brand equity and supports what is advertised. Today, many brands have taken a simple product packaging to another level, where they see it as another media to engage consumers. For example, unlike Pepsi strategy of putting their brand ambassadors on the pack, Jones Soda found it more relevant to put consumer’s picture on their pack label with their ‘your photo, your soda, your brand’ campaign. My Jones website empowers its consumers to customize their own labels with their own pictures, their messages and choosing their flavor for their wedding, birthday’s, etc. Similarly, Orbit ‘u can’t touch this’ is another campaign where they strengthened their bonding with consumers by letting them select or create or submit their own a repulsive pack design online that would scare people away instead of attracting them to take gum from their pack. lets consumers’ create personalized gifts and favors that make any occasion memorable. ‘Share a Coke’ campaign lets consumers’ puts names on Coca-Cola bottles and cans. Packaging
  11. 11. 11 Packaging can also inspire the brand communication, for example, Absolut vodka. Apart from their official website there are ad archives created by Absolut fans. Limited or special edition is another route many brands have explored to generate buzz and gain fresh traction like Evain’s Paul Smith version.
  12. 12. 12 The convenience factor in food & and beverages is largely driven by the busy lifestyles, the aging population, marketers attempt to bridge the gap on the declining consumer’s culinary knowledge and skills and to simply put, take the chore out of the food preparation and the consumption process. For example, Nescafe has always positioned as an instant coffee brand. Maggi noodles also takes instant platform with ‘2 minutes to cook’ message. The innovation of tea- bags, frozen foods, ready-meals, ready-to-cooks, canned food and so many such categories or sub-categories have been built on the convenience platform. Even food- service-brands like Domino’s Pizza had campaigns in past with ‘30 minutes or it’s free’ delivery promise in some countries. Convenience
  13. 13. 13 Apart from the ease of use, saving time and overcoming complexity, today the convenience factor also offers other linked propositions / benefits like - the variety to explore, tools to experiment, availability despite the season and in some cases at a relatively lower cost. One example is California Pizza Kitchen’s frozen pizzas, which of course is linked to their popular full-service pizza restaurant, but it empowers consumers to ‘‘replicate the restaurant experience at home at a more affordable price than eating out’’. Their web site also offers consumers tips and ideas on other complimentary foods and even appropriate wines to create a full meal.
  14. 14. 14 To build a successful food and beverage brand focusing on the above ingredients can provide a handy framework to brand marketers. It may not be a ‘universally applicable methodology’, but it can serve as an analytical ‘toolbox’. The degree of importance for each ingredient may vary from brand-to-brand, the life-stage of the brand, the category maturity level, the cultural setting and the source of differentiating attribute. In summary, while most of the functional-parameters like taste, purity, health & convenience have fairly become a category expectation, the excellence within these can provide a strong rational hook if supported by a strong reason-to-believe. On the other hand, the emotional parameters like pedigree, attitude, human-connection and packaging can help brands gain irrational edge; of course promises rooted in human emotions got to be backed by substance / functional product truths. ThelistofquestionsbelowthatcanhelpF&Bbrandmarketersinthebranddevelopment / evolution process. Not an exhaustive list, but more directional points to consider or ponder upon: Taste: - Does my brand at a product level have any extraordinary taste/experiential-led support? - Is it unique and differentiated enough to give competitive advantage? - Will taste as a primary platform provide a sustainable long-term differentiation? Or allow message evolution in future? - Is this a motivating enough reason for people to immerse with the brand? Human-connection: - Are my functional product-truths established to take an emotional leap? (Note: it’s not necessary that emotional leap for brand has to be stage-wise) - Is my brand in a category where I have insignificant product/functional differentiation? (Note: it doesn’t mean that if the brand doesn’t have significant product differentiation, it can find an escape route through emotional message. Consumer is not a moron.) - Which human emotion should the brand connect to to have a seamless correlation with the product offering? Is this a motivating enough reason for people to immerse with the brand? Key learning and takeouts
  15. 15. 15 Purity: - Does my brand have a unique ingredient / purity story that can be convincingly substantiated? - Does it provide sustainable long term differentiation motivating enough to drive trials / usage? Health: - Does my brand have a demonstrable and credible health-benefit that can be claimed? - Can it be substantiated with research or endorsement from credible institution / experts? - Does it provide sustainable long term differentiation motivating enough to drive trials / usage? Pedigree: - If my brand has a rich heritage, will playing upon it dramatically add to the overall brand equity? - Do what degree should I utilize it? How do I balance it with the ‘nowness’ factor and be effectively relevant with times? - Should it be my primary message or a secondary feel-good legacy assurance? Attitude: - DoItrulybelieveinthebrandattitude?Doesittrulyreflectthebrandpersonality I’ve envisioned? - Is it differentiated enough sustainable in a long term? - Will I be able to consistently keep-up to the brand attitude and be relevant with evolving times? Packaging: - How do I envisage the role of my brand’s packaging – purely functional (informative, reflecting brand essence and proposition) or utilize it as another campaign-able canvas? - What should be the degree of evolution? - Am I looking to generate resonance or dissonance? Convenience: - Is there a product hook that can support this platform? - Is it trying to address one of the barriers in consumer’s lives, powerful enough to build on to this platform? - Is it differentiated now give sustainable differentiation later? Like with most chefs who carefully select the ingredients, evaluate the proportions, start the cooking process in line with their customer’s tastes, smell it-taste-it-pre test it, modify flavors / spices, present in the most creative way and finally, personally take feedback from guests, the tasks of brand marketers is pretty much similar.
  16. 16. 16 Author Rohit Arora is Strategic Planning Director at BPG | bates in Dubai, UAE. Within the food beverage category, he has worked on the strategic communication development or brand design projects of various food sub-categories like snack-food, biscuits, ready-to-cook mixes, flour, condiments and various beverage sub-categories like dairy, juices, tea, coffee, malted-food-drink, desserts for brands like Campbell’s Arnotts, American Garden, Pillsbury, Hershey’s, Al Rawabi, Tata Tea, ITC Foods, Parle, Aujan (Rani), Godrej among others. He has also worked with JWT and YR previously. Official contact:!/rohitsharing