For most businesses, especially in the food and beverage industry, 2020 was a tremendously difficult year. Individually, no one was left without an impact from the losses and lockdowns that swept the world.
Fortunately, with vaccinations underway as well as medical advancements in managing COVID-19, progress is being made, and a relative ‘normal’ has started to return, both in the public and private sector.
As we look toward a more positive-and hopefully safer-future ahead, many brands have managed to restructure their businesses and learned to ‘pivot’. Some, however, are still unsure about how, when, and where to market their products in a way that will build value for their organizations.
The future of their customer base is unclear, and although marketing departments and former agencies may have served their purpose in past years, the concept of relying primarily on live tastings and big events is still uncertain. For that reason, many brands are reevaluating the direction in which they need to go to properly market in a post-pandemic world.
In speaking to brand owners, many have questions such as:
- Is our current customer the same as they were before the pandemic?
- How can we get-or even stay-top of mind with that customer?
- Do we need to reposition our brand, and what does that look like?
- How can we better engage with our customers, and create meaning?
- Is now a good time to reinvest in marketing efforts, or should we wait?
‘Sweeten’ & Strengthen Brand Customer Relationships
For many brands, their customer focus before the pandemic was primarily with buyers. In the luxury alcohol space, that may have been sommeliers and bartenders at restaurants and wine bars. For food brands, that may have meant either their own customers at brick and mortar retail shops, or it might have meant grocery retail buyers, if they were in distribution. For others, marketing spend might have been heavily focused on sporting events, celebrity endorsements, or other ‘big audience’ strategies.
The reality of shutdowns, takeout, limited to no stadium audiences, and ‘to-go only’ menus that maintained for the majority of 2020 spotlighted a different reality, and a wake up call to brands. Smart owners recognized that the ‘customer’ cycle is still in motion until the person that consumes the product, and they needed to stay connected and in contact with the customer for longer than a baseball game or tweet would allow.
Brands also had to take a step back and start listening and learning whom their ideal customers are, what matters to them, as well as how a brand or product like theirs could potentially fit into that customer’s lifestyle and needs. It was only then that a brand was able to connect on a deeper level, solve a problem, and become the ideal choice well before that customer visited a retailer.
Brands needed to ask deeper customer demographic questions, for example:
- What else does this person like or care about?
- How can my brand show that I also support this?
- How can my brand become more useful to this customer?
- How can I create value or meaning?
- How can I solve a problem or fill a need for them?
Create Opportunities To Engage
This deeper customer analysis was the process that our agency used for two clients, helping a brick and mortar food brand transition into online sales, as well as creating a program to leverage their strong social presence for sponsorship and collaboration opportunities. In other words, find and develop a secondary revenue stream.
The food brand also launched a national catering program, enabling shipments to help businesses ‘gather’ with their employees virtually and create team-building opportunities, solving a much needed issue at the time.
Keeping an eye open to new opportunities and behaviors was also how we helped shift a wine client’s product line from concession focused-now completely out of the question-to position the same product as the ideal choice for takeout orders, to help restaurants increase menu sales, and to enable ‘low contact’, safer ways to sip together-and yet remain socially distanced. The key takeaway: brands needed to look for opportunities to engage with customers and assist retailers in their time of need.
Stay Top Of Mind
Using digital platforms like Zoom, Facebook Lives, Instagram IGTV, TikTok, and etc are great for connecting with fans. By personally inviting fans, influencers and industry personalities to ‘hang out’, our brands were able to forge close relationships with those who are important to them, including distribution teams. Doing this helped elevate our clients beyond just a product on the shelf.
Utilizing events like hosted and sponsored wine tastings on Zoom or Google, social media group chats, as well as seasonally themed virtual parties with collaboration opportunities and giveaways, we created opportunities to connect one-on-one with customers, learning more about their likes, loves, and what they would like to see more of from our brands.
In addition to direct customer engagement opportunities, our team also developed hypertargeted, seasonal media pitches, ensuring that our clients were not just available, but truly the ideal choice for news coverage and mentions.
The results of that media outreach and strategic pitching? Over 5 billion US readers saw our clients in 2020, and one client stated that they’d seen an increase of 130% in ROI, compared to 2019. They are now on track for a 40% increase in 2021.
This has helped brands that typically counted on foot traffic and events at retail brick and mortar to pivot to delivery, pick up, and more eCommerce sales. The added result of this strategy heavy approach? One of our food brands was approached by Walmart to test in multiple markets. This obtained an opportunity to expand into grocery retail with a 100 store chain.
Continue To Build Customer Relationships
As states begin to reopen, finding opportunities to move your conversations and relationships offline. Unfortunately, there are still restrictions and limitations in place. This being said, finding partners that you can collaborate with will be helpful. For wine and spirit brands, this comes in the form of on premise locations, especially those with outdoor seating.
Seasonal menus, recipes/pairings, and events/tastings are just some ideas to boost visibility to both your brand and the venue. As the weather begins to warm up during spring, food trucks and other venders may be great options as well.
Also, remember that an effective brand campaign may take time to create, implement, and build results. Media mentions are incredibly valuable, but they don’t come overnight. This being said, your hard work can help your brand stand out from the competition in this ever evolving new economy.
If you would like to learn more about creative ways your business can prepare to survive the next pandemic, please contact our team at 321-285-6225, or email us discuss your needs.