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Food Brands Have Seen A Seismic Shift In Consumption Influencers: Steve Bryant, President, Publicis Consultants USA

Publicis Consultants USA, a food & nutrition marketing agency under MSLGROUP, recently co-produced a report on how social and digital media are replacing mom as the go-to culinary source of knowledge for many people.

Called ‘Clicks & Cravings: The Impact of Social Technology on Food Culture’, the study was jointly developed and conducted by consumer research firm The Hartman Group and Publicis Consultants USA. The Hartman Group is a provider of global research on consumer culture, behaviors and demand and a leading advisor on market strategy.

Here are some more fascinating bites from the study:

  • While eating or drinking at home, nearly one-third of Americans use social networking sites. Among “Millennials” (18-32 years old), this figure jumps to 47 percent.
  • Almost half of American consumers learn about food via social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook

The Clicks & Cravings study also offers several lessons for food and grocery brands developing digital campaigns across the world. It’s no longer enough for food and grocery brands simply to be present in the virtual space or build up legions of followers.

In a quick tete-a-tete with us, Steve Bryant, President of Publicis Consultants USA shared his expert opinion on the trends in the sector, challenges faced by brands, how they can tackle the different types of consumers and influencers that the study has identified and some very interesting examples of food brands that are finding new life in digital and social media.

What are the broad trends in digital media strategies adopted by food and grocery brands this year?

Far and away, the biggest movement has been the rush to befriend vast legions of consumers for brand Facebook pages. Brands are now working to make these “friends” into more than discount or prize seekers.

Brands also continue to court influencers to speak for their brand innovations – those influencers are increasingly online, yet often reaching their audiences both online and offline media. Above all, the smarter brands are developing a conversation calendar so they always have something great to talk about and socialize.

What are the primary challenges that food and grocery brands face when it comes to digital campaigns?

Brands need to understand how to use the medium with greater finesse. Consumers are happy to get deals or recipes from brands, but those are not great relationship and preference builders. In social media in particular, consumers prefer relationships with real people. Corporations and brands do not qualify, with some exceptions. At a minimum, they need to adapt a human voice. Better yet, they can have real people within the company represent it to consumers, or work with credible third-party personalities as proxies or endorsers.

Please share with our readers the reason behind conducting the study ‘Clicks & Cravings: The Impact of Social Technology on Food Culture’.

We knew that digital and social media would change food culture — we want to know what how much and how fast. The extent of the change was startling, and the implications profound. For food and beverage marketers, the Holy Grail is in understanding what motivates each consumption occasion.

We’ll look back in ten years and recognize this as a seismic shift in consumption influencers.

What are the key takeaways from the study for brands?

It’s a long list, but here are two: Smaller brands are being empowered to rise quickly with a great story but with minimal marketing investments. That doesn’t mean they can reach scale, but they can take the luster off big brands and make them seem lumbering, staid and uninventive by comparison.

The pace of change and rapid opinion shifts made possible by online media are also rendering annual planning cycles quaintly antique. Brands need to start managing online opinion and discussion, much as financial managers monitor the stock market.

The study talks about different types of users – Spectators, Dreamers and Doers – tell us more about them and what is the ideal mix of these users from a brand’s perspective?

All three have an important role to play and they work synergistically. Brands will succeed when they craft an approach that motivates all types of users. “Spectators” use social media as an extension of their network of friends, family and peers. They use social media for product reviews, recipes and good deals. Brands need to design content that appeals to and motivates this group to purchase more.

“Dreamers” curate and push food related content through social networks. They aspire to have larger followings and more influence than they currently do. Brands that make content irresistibly share-able will motivate this group to light a fire among their friends. Brands can also partner with Dreamers to help them build an audience while romancing the brand.

“Doers” are the most engaged of the lot. They are the core of food and social media, and create content that inspires followers. Brands should treat the Doers as they would journalists and columnists. They have acquired the same level of influence – and in some cases, more – because they are trusted to speak from the heart, rather than as the employee of a media empire.

Please share examples of food or grocery brands that have adopted such an approach and the results.

Coke does a great job. In fact, if you want to find leaders in this space, look to brands that court Millennials – they have the most urgent imperative to invest in digital channels and social media share of voice.

That said, when we look back in five years, we’ll recognize that even the more socially advanced brands are still in the infancy stage.

Some of my favorite and most inspiring examples are brands like King Arthur Flour and Roman Meal Bread – these are very old brands that are finding new life in digital and social media. We work with Roman Meal, a whole grain sliced bread targeted at women over 45 years – not exactly the target that leaps to mind for social media markets. Yes, we’ve helped them collect a highly engaged Facebook community that loves the brand and looks for it in store.

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