Implications for marketing…
Without a doubt the biggest change in food and beverage preferences in the last 30 years is the redefinition of food quality. Fresh, real food and elevated recipe choices are redefining every channel of food and food retail as varying degrees of processed product falls from grace.
Guidance: Ignore or downplay food culture shifts at your own peril.
Alongside this phenomena another equally interesting and linked behavior is on the rise: we call it culinary culture, or simply stated, emergence of a more sophisticated palate that calls for higher quality foods, ingredients and preparations – whether at home or outsourced.
- Cooking expertise is celebrated.
- Kitchens are inhabited.
- Perimeter departments and commissary at supermarkets are transforming.
- Chefs become stars.
- Bars evolve to food-friendly gastropubs.
- New restaurants of every global flavor imaginable proliferate.
- Convenience stores begin to offer fresh produce and higher quality prepared foods.
In the place of convenient-forward and more processed foods is a consumer search for distinction in flavors and freshness, plus a genuine appreciation of choices that ring local, seasonal and artisanal dinner bells.
As insight and research expert Harvey Hartman said about the sea change in a recent article he penned, “The overriding impulse is toward the redefinition of quality – the foundational restructuring of what it means to enjoy a quality food experience.”
Mission, transparency and corporate behaviors now influence purchase
For what seemed like a millennia, the standard consumer criteria for food purchase was taste, convenience and price. As the premiumization of everything takes root, new qualifications have arisen in the purchase motivation set – centered around key questions such as:
- How was the product made and by whom?
- What’s in it?
- What’s the quality of ingredients?
- Is the supply chain compromised?
- Does the company adhere to ethical and sustainable practices?
The call for a new marketing model
Whether CPG or food retail, the old menu of advertising amid layers of price promotion are by definition challenged in any alignment with these shifts.
Advertising is essentially a “push” medium based on assertions of product feature and benefit. While price promotion has its ongoing place, the rules of engagement have moved decidedly towards authentic storytelling on quality and practices over cheaper.
One other thing to note as we move further along this path: eating is a cultural practice. As rituals change and food meaning, goals and habits evolve, the applicable solutions in communication must change with them.
Then what tools rise to the top as a gateway to informing, educating and engaging people in a more relevant and impactful way? The three key ingredients now include a proper ratio of:
- Content marketing – both video and narrative – to elevate storytelling as a mash-up of information, emotion and entertainment
- Social media community investment and integration to create ‘social proof’ and community conversation
- Earned media leverage to engage in credibility and influence in support of validating and verifying the veracity of what we want people to know and believe
These three tactics inherently are geared towards building trust, because best practices require a less self-serving and more consumer-centric approach.
If these three tools are not optimized in the mix, there could be trouble on the horizon. Old model solutions simply don’t work as well in strategic recognition of these food culture shifts and the way consumers form relationships with businesses they care about.
We often get asked, “What kind of agency is Emergent?” To some extent we defy silo definitions on purpose. Emergent works across all vertical practices (content, PR, advertising and social media) deploying our expertise in the food quality evolution and among the quality-seeking consumers who drive it. Emergent is a brand communications agency – providing consumer insight-based solutions rather than applying stale tactics that won’t resonate with today’s consumer.
We can confirm one indelible truth in the age of consumer control: As Seth Godin said, “Content marketing is the only marketing left.” It coalesces around credibility, informing, sharing, journalism, reporting, social outreach, community engagement and entertainment.
According to KPCB Internet Trends 2016 and PageFair, adblocking software on desktops is up 16 percent year on year to 220 million users globally, while mobile use is up 94 percent to 420 millions users – and shows no signs of slowing down.
What does that tell you?
Consumers are blocking conventional advertising in vast numbers. That’s why publishing relevant and engaging content is so important.
Emergent is in the genuine engagement business, built around our astute understanding of how people behave and what they care about. We don’t focus solely on the self-interest of the balance sheet, instead we concentrate first on consumer desires and passions. This reciprocity model leads to growth in a food-enlightened era.
Food culture has changed and with it comes a new paradigm on the marketing pathway – that all food and beverage purchases are now symbolic signals of what we want people to believe about us.
Lifestyle communication is not a peripheral idea. Rather it’s mission critical.
Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent Healthy Living. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.