Selling Meal Kits by Telling Good Stories

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“Personal experiences are the connective tissue of what works, the best form of marketing.”— Jared Cluff, Chief Marketing Officer, Blue Apron

When Blue Apron was founded, in 2013, it was one of the first meal kit companies. Today, the sector has grown enormously with innumerable competitors entering the space. But Blue Apron, which had an IPO in the summer of 2017, has remained a market leader. Jared Cluff, Blue Apron’s chief marketing officer, recently spoke to SheReportsTM about the company, its marketing and why personal storytelling is really what matters.

What were the marketing challenges in launching Blue Apron?

The company was founded on the pretty simple idea that home cooking shouldn’t be so hard, from the planning to the shopping to the prepping to the cooking to the cleanup. Our mission has always been that we want to make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone.

When I joined the company in 2014, we had to do two things: Explain to the world what a meal kit was, and, at the same time, establish Blue Apron as the branded leader in this new category. It was an interesting challenge, because in the early years no one knew who we were and no one knew what the heck a meal kit was. Fast forward five years, and today we have 80 percent aided brand awareness, 40 percent unaided brand awareness. And you’ve seen everyone from the pure-play direct competitors to the biggest names in grocery realize that there is real consumer insight here, there is a real consumer benefit that this product, the meal kit, is able to deliver to folks.

You’re known for leaning heavily into nontraditional marketing, working with a lot of influencers, podcast marketing, content marketing.

The term “nontraditional” is interesting because we don’t really view many of these channels as nontraditional. Our perspective is that we invest behind what works, and we are eager to explore and innovate as best as we can to figure out what works. What we found is really important is to use a channel that can effectively and authentically tell our story. When you look at some of these “nontraditional” channels — influencers, podcasts, content marketing — we’ve found that what makes them effective is that we’re able to use them to explain what makes us special. It’s the storytelling nature of these channels that we’ve found works very well.

Our mission has always been that we want to make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone.

Personal experiences are the connective tissue of what works, the best form of marketing. Whether it’s celebrity influencers or a podcaster recounting their individual experience or a friend recounting their personal experience — they have all worked very well for us. If you look at the channels we use, you’ll see that it’s influencers advocating for their experience. On podcasts, each of the hosts has received a delivery from us and they’ve cooked with us before they talk about our product. We make sure they do that. In content marketing, it’s editorially led reviews of our product, and behind them are humans who have used the product and are advocating for the personal experience of doing so.

Is that human aspect key in the meal kit space?

As a marketer, and stepping back from Blue Apron for a minute, I would say that authentic storytelling is incredibly important in the marketing mix for many brands. There’s so much noise out there. People are looking for genuine, authentic advocacy behind brands. That’s what we’ve really tried to do. Even when we’re leaning into more traditional channels, we’ve really tried to capture the essence of the stories that we’re hearing from our customers as a means to connect with prospective customers.

It’s the storytelling [“non-traditional”] nature of these channels that we’ve found works very well.

Like the What Cooking Can Do video campaign you did earlier this year, which ran on both TV and in digital. It’s still very much telling a story about how people are using your product.

That’s exactly right. The motivation behind that campaign is that we hear from customers literally every day about how Blue Apron has changed their lives for the better. That campaign was honoring those customer stories. It’s funny; we worked with our advertising agency to develop these stories, but as we did so, we realized that they were reflective of real stories that we heard from customers. So, for each one of them, there’s a real customer who shared that story with us.

How much of your customer base is women?

We would say that the majority of account holders are women. But if you look beyond the account holder, there are many other people cooking with that account holder. There are a lot of men in the mix. There are a lot of kids, grandparents, friends. So while the majority of our customers on paper are women, we’re really thinking more broadly about all the folks that are participating in the experience of cooking.

Given that you’re thinking about all these other people beyond your account holder, do you think about addressing your marketing toward women specifically?

We really do think about the shared experience of cooking together. If you look at our marketing materials, especially our TV advertising, you will see the consistent narrative that cooking is a communal, shared experience. It’s about bringing people together, not only in enjoying the meal but in preparing the meal. One of the neatest things we’ve learned from our customers is that Blue Apron is getting people to turn the television off, get back into the kitchen, open up a bottle of wine and enjoy the experience of cooking, eating, tasting new flavors — and doing this together with folks that you care about. So, we really think about the experience of discovery, of cooking, of enjoying. We are not narrowly focused on any particular customer target.

The #SeeHer initiative is focused on improving depictions of women in advertising. Do you think about how you’re portraying women, even if that’s not the segment that you’re targeting specifically?

We seek to show women as empowered, curious, creative members of our society, our communities, our homes — just as we seek to show men that way. We try to authentically communicate how customers are connecting with our brand, regardless of who they are. What’s most important to us is that we’re showing the power of home cooking and specifically the power of Blue Apron to unlock the best moments of the day. And that’s what we hear from our customers.

And it’s something shared together across genders, generations, family or friend relationships. Not a traditional mom-in-the-kitchen situation.

Our mission is to make home cooking accessible to everyone. We fundamentally believe that home cooking can make lives better. We see it happen. And that message is the focus of our marketing.