The Value of Values — Using Emotion to Drive Greater Engagement for Food & Beverage Brands

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You’re a consumer. Think about your favorite food and beverage products. Why do you love them? Is it because of their taste, scent or texture? Do you love them for their production methods or environmental policies, their packaging or their ingredients? Maybe you love them for how they make you feel — for their functional benefits, nostalgic sentiment, or for the idealistic impact the purchase represents. Like the products themselves, it is more likely some formulation of all the above.

Regardless, food and beverage products for consumers are both emotional and sensorial experiences — emphasis on experience.

As consumers, our experiences are comprised of preference-based attributes stored in our brains (what we like), coupled with deep-seated sentiment we hold in our hearts (how we feel). We love the foods we love because we enjoy the flavor. We love the foods we love because we appreciate how they are produced, how buying them makes us feel about ourselves, but also because they remind us of treasured experiences — like the familiar scents, sights and sounds of family gatherings, or the warm memories of spending time with friends.

Foods and beverage products are connectors.

How can you use this understanding to make connections with your specialty food product customers? How do you drive greater customer engagement, resulting in more meaningful experiences and bottom-line profitability? The answer requires a combination of data and heart.

THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR VALUES
As a specialty food and beverage brand producer and marketer, you have a lot on your plate and a long list of operational responsibilities. But the three things that keep you up at night, spinning in your mind’s eye like aging roller hotdogs in a c-store, are the following questions:

  • Is my product market-ready?
  • Do I have the right retail shelf space, both in the physical and digital realms?
  • Are consumers going to buy it, like it, and buy it again?

These are big, heavy questions to mull over. However, better sleep is in your future. You can fulfill your dreams of flawless product formulas and obstacle-free production. You can maintain the perfect inventory-to-retail-buyer ratios with dedicated best-in-category shelf space. And because of these things, you will also have happy, loyal customers who not only delight in consuming your products, but eagerly share your brand story.

It sounds like a dream, but it’s not.

Some brands have already mastered this process. You know their stories — from Terra Chips to RXBAR to Halo Top — vastly different in category, yet very similar in success. Each has faced the same resource challenges, product development hurdles, stonewalling retailers and customer issues that you face.

What sets them apart? What is their secret ingredient?

To find it, you have to look below the surface — not at what they do, but at what makes them who they are. What is their “why”? Do you see it? It’s their values.

So what do their values have to do with their success, to becoming market-ready, to getting the right shelf-strategy, to engaging the right customers at the right time in the right place with the right message, and to ultimately driving more product sales and bottom-line revenue? The short answer? Everything.

Those brands not only identified, but also applied their values to every decision they’ve made. They bake their core beliefs into every product they’ve produced, reference them with every retailer they’ve pitched, make them visible on every package at shelf, and felt through every customer touchpoint — be it advertising, catalog, social media or website.

So what are your values?

Take a look at this list of the 10 most critical values of success.

  1. Purpose — You want to make a different kind of product, in a different kind of way that will have an impact on something beyond profit.
  2. Vision — You imagine what’s possible and you’re dedicated to making it a reality.
  3. Drive — You push through complex development challenges, finding innovative and resourceful ways to have a market-ready product.
  4. Insight — You consume vast amounts of data before, during and after formulation, development and testing to ensure your product and approach are just right.
  5. Authenticity — Your brand is packaged in a way that represents you, your story and the quality of your product in a manner consistent with your purpose and vision.
  6. Resolve — Your conviction is relentless:“no” is not an option because your product provides value to retailers and consumers alike, meeting their needs while making the world a better place.
  7. Enlightenment — You hire partners who specialize in the things you don’t — like consumer research, engagement and conversion, or customer loyalty.
  8. Readiness — You invest in direct-to-consumer channels, in media, PR and influencer tactics that educate, motivate and enable them to buy your products in-store and online.
  9. Responsibility — You are mindful of how it all works together, actively assessing store velocity and marketing performance to connect dollars spent to dollars earned.
  10. Passion — You are an evangelist for your product and the values it represents, working to build a community of like-minded consumers, partners & stakeholders who collectively share your vision and strive for its attainment.

Your values are your secret ingredient. It has been said, “you don’t attract what you want, you attract what you are.” This is the power of intention.

ATTRACTING CONSUMERS WITH YOUR VALUES
According to the 2017 Edelman Earned Brand Study, 30 percent of consumers are making more belief-driven purchase decisions, emphasizing that they will buy, switch from or avoid your brand, even boycott it, over your policies and practices.

Plenty of data exists on the influence of values on brand purchase decisions and loyalty. A simple Google search will produce countless articles on the subject. This shift in how and why consumers make purchasing decisions is part of a massive reordering of consumer priorities. In this new world, consumers are conscious: they make informed decisions about brands based on whether they align with their own values.

So how do you align your values with those of your customers? The answer is both simple and difficult. You have to put what you believe at the center of what you do. If you claim that treating customers like family is a value, you can’t outsource your customer service to the cheapest option. If you pride yourself on care for the environment, your packaging should reflect it. It’s not enough to say you care if your actions simultaneously suggest you don’t.

When you have a product that truly embodies your values and priorities, you will naturally attract people who value those same things. So when you tell your story, focus on your values–who you are, what you stand for. Explain how those values inform the design and care put into your product and how you operate your business. By demonstrating common values with your consumer, you make purchasing your product a highly rewarding choice.

If you do all of this, as the brands mentioned above have, you will make your customers’ decision much easier. They will choose your product over and over again because doing so makes them feel good about themselves. They will tell everyone they know because they feel so strongly about your product. Pretty soon you’ll have a network of passionate ambassadors sharing affinity for your brand online and in-person, driving sales and creating even more new fans.

VALUES SELL, PERIOD
Don’t make the mistake of imagining your customer as a purely rational, calculating purchaser of goods. As people, we hunger for meaningful connections with others, and as modern consumers, we expect to see our values reflected in what we buy. By leading with who you are and what your values are, as opposed to a list of product features or discounts, you are forging a more powerful and lasting bond with your consumers. You’re giving them what they want, which is a good feeling about the purchase in addition to a great product. It may sound touchy-feely, but the data backs it up. Use this insight to bring a little more heart into the equation and sleep better at night.

GET HELP
Contact me at cw@christopherwitham.com to learn more about how and where to apply this in your direct-to-consumer marketing strategies.