If you took a health or science course at any point during school, you likely encountered some version of the FDA’s Food Pyramid (or “MyPlate,” as it’s now called). Generations of students have relied on these graphics to jumpstart their understanding of the science behind food as fuel. But for so many of us, what we eat represents much more than just consciously balanced categories. The contents of our plates, bowls and cups can symbolize closely-held traditions, preferences and histories. Food, at its core, is very much “a cultural affair.”
As the owner of a Food & Beverage (F&B) business, you likely offer goods and services that speak to a certain value or behavior connected to how, and why, we feed ourselves. As a result, you have a unique opportunity to transform your products into components of a captivating, meaningful story. While such a story is certainly important to you and your brand, it can also be a powerful tool for attracting potential customers—especially if those individuals are encouraged to feel that they, too, are at the story’s center.
What is Your Story?
Your niche, and the way you market it enables your brand to stand out from the rest. When deciding how you’d like to tell your story, focus on what drew you to this specialization in the first place. Think about whether your own traditions, values and habits have helped to shape your business. This can also be helpful when determining how you’d like to summarize your story through a unique tagline or motto. Ask yourself, for example:
Do I rely on sustainably-sourced ingredients or materials, and if so, why?
Am I marketing a kitchen tool my own grandmother could have used?
Consider, as well, what ultimately served as your call to action. Again, ask yourself:
Was I inspired by my own experiences, or by those of friends and family?
Is my intervention driven by historical frustration over a particular component of food prep, mealtimes or dining out?
Did I seek outside advice on building my company, or did I focus primarily on my own opinions?
Piecing together your brand story through these, and other, leading questions will help you to create something meaningful not only to you but to others with similar experiences.
To most successfully inspire such a connection, ensure that your story emphasizes a customer-centric approach. To be customer-centric is to place customer satisfaction at the heart of not just the sale, but what happens before and after the sale has occurred. It is to respond to customer concerns in a way that leaves each shopping experience feeling meaningful and personal.
Customer centricity is a strategy that benefits buyers and sellers alike; brands that offer the best customer experience tend to “bring in 5.7 times more revenue” than brands that fail to put buyers at the heart of the business. Customer-focused companies also tend to receive more awards, higher ratings and better employee reviews.
A customer-centric brand story is one that promotes a message through which a person feels directly understood, spoken to and inspired. Once you’ve decided upon your story, allow it to shape both on- and offline customer interactions. While social media and other digital spaces are the most efficient platforms for interacting with customers, your core values should follow your brand wherever it goes.
How to Structure Your Story and Key Messages on Social Media
As mentioned above, social media is one of the most effective tools you can use to promote your F&B brand story. How you communicate your message and interact with customers, on these platforms can ultimately influence the amount of revenue you bring in. Thus, you want your followers to be immediately impacted by what you’re sharing. For ideas on how to structure memorable content, we can draw from the Heath brothers’ “SUCCESs Model” for ideas that stick.
S- Simple. Prioritize the core idea of your message. Consider whether it can be communicated “with an analogy or high concept pitch.” Make sure that whatever detail you feel differentiates your brand from the rest is immediately recognizable to anyone who reads your tagline or comes across your social media posts.
U- Unexpected. Don’t be afraid to break away from what’s stereotypical or “the norm.” Ask questions that leave consumers not only thinking about their previous assumptions but wanting to know more. For example, a fair trade, cooperative coffee brand might probe whether drinkers know the environmental impact of their average morning cup of joe.
C- Concrete. Draw consumers in with sensory language and visualizations. Eating and drinking are activities that engage all five senses, so this can be an especially strong addition to an F&B story. The smell of a certain spice, the texture of freshly baked bread, the sound of a sharp knife against a wooden cutting board—the opportunities for sensory engagement are endless.
C- Credible. Show consumers that you have authority in your specific industry niche. Recall examples of other brands or suppliers with whom you’ve previously worked, post pictures of your company exhibiting at tradeshows, and share positive reviews from knowledgeable sources.
E- Emotional. Speak to the values, practices and identities held by consumers. Appeal both to the individual (“What’s In It For You,” or WIIFY), and the collective (shared identity). Your customers want to see the human, rather than analytical, side of your business—as the Heath brothers state, “People care about people, not numbers.”
S- Stories. Not only do stories communicate a problem in an easily digestible way, but when told efficiently they can simultaneously offer a resolution and inspiration for further action. Gather testimonies from customers who’ve been helped by your brand. A company that bakes lunchbox-ready desserts free of the top eight allergens, for example, might tell the story of an elementary student with food intolerances, who for the first time gets to bring special treats to school.
Know Who You Are Selling To
Marketing your brand to “just anyone” might, at face value, sound like an efficient method of attracting a large customer base. The reality, however, is that “just anyone” is unlikely to invest in the same specialty good or service. To determine the characteristics of the people most likely support—and continue supporting—your brand, it’s helpful to put together a customer avatar. A customer avatar is “a detailed profile of your ideal customer.” Your goal here is not to capture an image of every potential buyer, but one of those who will most likely return, time and again, to your storefront (accompanied, perhaps, by some friends).
There are various ways to approach creating your customer avatar. Beyond the more superficial demographics required for a general marketing persona, Content Champion suggests you consider intimate characteristics of your avatar, including:
Their influence in the workplace
Their “hobbies, values, attitudes and interests”
Their goals, and hurdles they face in achieving them
Their social and traditional media consumption
What might deter such a person from supporting your business.
If your business has existing customers, interviewing a sample of those individuals is one way to start gathering the above information. You might do so in a one-on-one setting, via a video chat or phone call, or have respondents complete online surveys by providing the relevant details.
Content Champion also urges business owners to speak with members of their company’s various teams—Customer Service, Sales—to determine the most frequent customer concerns, types of feedback and interactions. Website, social media and email analytics will further provide insight as to which populations are the most responsive to various marketing techniques.
If, however, you’ve yet to establish a customer base, take a look at the social media pages of brands similar to your own. Content Champion recommends noting “the people who comment and engage most,” and exploring those individuals’ profiles for further details on their interests and values. Regularly look into relevant industry publications and forums as well. In addition to reading the article itself, pay attention to any accompanying comments. They often underline consumer concerns related to the niche at hand.
How to Stand Out From Your Competition
You’ve thoughtfully constructed a meaningful story and plunged deep into the identity of your ideal customer. It’s now time to tie these pieces together, and use them to help showcase what makes your F&B brand stand out from the rest—and, in a global market worth over $5650 billion, standing out is crucial.
Your marketing strategies likely already speak to the facets of your brand you feel are unique. Even so, it’s important to continue identifying these areas of differentiation so as to make them bluntly obvious to potential customers. Maybe your brand story highlights you being the first to work with a certain local farming cooperative or fund healthy lunches at a public elementary school. Whatever the core message, take that aspect, and capitalize on it. The more you do, and the longer that quality remains a part of your brand, the more likely your target audience is to take notice.
You might also approach differentiation through the lens of what makes your products, as Food Dive describes, “weird.” Charcoal water and butter coffee are examples of products that, through the addition of just a few unconventional ingredients to pre-existing beverages, have managed to transform customer curiosity into massive brand revenue. Don’t shy away from encouraging customers to expect the unexpected, especially if the unexpected is what distinguishes you from the rest.
Being an F&B entrepreneur gives you a unique opportunity to connect with customers through the celebration of food and drink. Once you’ve identified both the story and individuals at your company’s very center, you’re ready to make waves in this incredibly dynamic industry.