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Back to School Branding

Back to School Branding

               With Labor Day behind us and pumpkin spice flavored everything hitting the shelves, it’s time to start thinking about fall and the start of school. Back to school shopping season is the second biggest retail event after the holiday season, and with sales results showing online shopping is more important than ever, brand marketers and retailers have to embrace new emerging strategies to ensure they engage students and parents in stores as well as on digital channels.

               In the 21st century, technology is everything. The internet provides an efficient, if not the most efficient, way to reach millions of consumers with one click or hashtag. Sbarro Pizza, for example, is doing a back to school promotional contest for free iPads. This contest allows customers to participate in physical Sbarro’s Pizza stores, and on facebook, twitter, or Instagram by adding #sbarroscholar to their posts. This approach is not only a great way for the company to get customers excited about their product, but it is also a great way for Sbarro to build their online presence. Another aspect of back to school marketing that brands are becoming more aware of is how they vary their voice based on different social media channels. While kids are obviously the main target when it comes to back to school shopping, parents are also key players so it is equally important for brands to market to social channels adults use as well. For example, Pinterest is a platform visited mostly by an older age group so the content should be geared towards adults, while on a platform like snapchat it is more beneficial to be kid-friendly. McDonald’s is a great example of how a brand can shift advertising based on age seen as they run kid-friendly content during Saturday morning cartoons and save the adult content for the evening news. One last approach that is great for back to school marketing is letting the consumers own the experience. Kids love to be creative right? So why not let them create their own campaigns. In 2016, Target used this approach, letting kids write, direct, produce, and star in the companies back to school commercials. Not only did this method help Target produce creative and unique content, but it received a ton of buzz on social media and in the news as well.

               Back to school shopping only happens once a year, but when it does brands should take advantage of the market. Whether it is reaching out to consumers of all ages, letting the customer get creative, or simply creating a brand hashtag, marketers need to use social media to get an edge on their competitors during this back to school season.

Loyalty is Key

Loyalty is Key

               Not all brands have the same products or demands, but one thing that holds true across diverse industries is the importance of brand loyalty. Just one misstep or poor costumer experience can ruin a brand’s reputation; for example, when Pepsi launched their most recent campaign involving Kendall Jenner they lost a ton of money and received extreme backlash for being a “tone deaf” company from many of their customers. So, if you are a marketer or business owner this idea of upholding a good brand reputation should be at the forefront of your mind. Below are three strategies that can help drive brand loyalty.

1.       Technology to create the best customer experience.

These days there is so much value in technology. It is not only a valuable tool in our everyday life, but technology can also be very valuable to help improve a brand’s relationship with its customers. First of all, when customers trust that you are delivering unique service to meet their needs they will return the favor and be more willing to give you their business. This symbiotic relationship will help build trust and maintain brand loyalty. Also, according to an Infosys study, data driven personalization can increase revenue for brands and 86% of customers agreed that personalization plays a role in their purchasing decisions. Additionally 73% of consumers said they prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to make their experience more relevant. Once brands have gained trust with their customers it is much easier to gain user insight and figure out your main demographic.

2.       Social media to show brand value and customer appreciation.

Social media is another great way to build brand loyalty. In fact, 81% of respondents in a study done by BRANDfog said they have more confidence in a company when its executive is using social media. Social media is not only a great way for brands to market their products but it is also a great way for them to show appreciation for their customers. Replying to people with a personal messages or commenting on a consumers post is a perfect way to humanize a brand and deepen the brand consumer relationship. This acknowledgment on social media proves that a brand really cares about its customers, it can help bring in new revenue, and it can pose as good PR for your company as a whole. Showing that your brand cares about customer experience outside of the actual business transaction can be the separating factor between your company and others.

3.       It doesn’t have to be all about product.

Using executives or employees personal brand as a selling point may seem a bit strange but it is a great way to put a personal face to your brand. If you look at Elon Musk at Tesla, or Tim Cook at Apple these CEO’s are always putting their faces forward for their brands. It is important that employees and executives make time to engage with their customers and develop trust with them. Once this trust is formed consumers will feel more obligated and willing to listen to the company’s message.

               Having strong brand loyalty no doubt benefits a company. Making one sale is great, but having the power to make customers come back to you year after year is even better. For a company to truly be successful it is key that they establish solid brand loyalty from the beginning and make sure consumers remain a top priority during all company decisions.

'Tis (Always) the Season

'Tis (Always) the Season

I love the holidays, and not just the popular ones like Christmas and Halloween, I celebrate them all. You know who else loves holidays? Brands and marketers. It wasn’t until I started working in the industry that I realized brands love to take advantage of every single holiday, even ones as minor as April Fool’s Day. Before I start talking about why I think it is so smart for brands to utilize even the smallest of holidays, here are a few examples of recent marketing campaigns focused around minor holidays.

Ben & Jerry’s and Earth Day:

               In 2015 Ben & Jerry’s decided to celebrate Earth Day by creating a new flavor called, “Save Our Sworld.” They created this flavor to bring attention to the pressing issue of our environment and climate change. Not only did Ben & Jerry’s create this exciting new flavor, but they also backed up their message by partnering with Tesla, the electric car company, to launch their new flavor and show the world they are using less fuel. Ben & Jerry’s also created the 100% Clean Power Petition and put it on their website so customers could get involved. Producing an Earth Day campaign did wonders for the Ben & Jerry’s brand. Not only did they profit from the new flavor they created, it was also a great PR move. How could you dislike a brand that is trying to help make the “sworld” a better place?

SodaStream and April Fool’s Day:

               First, I know what many of you are thinking, is April Fool’s Day even a real holiday? Yes, yes it is (at least in my opinion, which for the sake of this blog is all that matters.) Anyway, this year SodaStream paired up with Paris Hilton to create an April Fool’s day campaign that according to Adweek, “deserved a special shoutout.” To fool the world, Paris Hilton starred in a fake video promoting SodaStream’s new product, “NanoDrop,” a fictitious sparking-water product that claims to be 5,000 times more hydrating than regular water. Although the NanoDrop was a joke, this campaign was far from laughable. The Paris Hilton/NanoDrop ad helped spread the word about the SodaStream brand. This prank even spread awareness about the SodaStream across the world, ending up in publications like The Times of Israel.

Krispy Kreme and St. Patrick’s Day:

             A doughnut is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about St. Patrick’s Day, but Krispy Kreme found a creative way to get involved in the festivities. This year, for one day only, Krispy Kreme turned all of their original glazed doughnuts into “O'riginal Glazed Green Doughnuts”! Dying foods green for St. Patrick’s Day is not a new discovery by any means, but because Krispy Kreme is such a traditional and well-known brand, the news of them changing one of their most popular products earned the company a lot of press. Also, by making this a “one day only” promotion, it created a sense of urgency for the customers to go and buy a unique green doughnut. By giving in to the holiday spirit and turning their traditional glazed doughnut green, Krispy Kreme sure hit the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

No matter what marketing angle you chose, holidays, even the smallest of them, provide brands and marketers the opportunity to think outside the box and be creative. Also, tying in the holidays to campaigns helps humanize your brand. It helps connect with you audience on a more personal, fun level, and it allows your message to resonate with the customers current state of mind. Whether it is Earth Day, April Fool’s, St. Patty’s, or something as mainstream as Christmas, brands can’t go wrong with holiday themed marketing campaigns.

What can Food do for You?

What can Food do for You?

Over the past 7 years, I’ve been fortunate to be on the forefront of some unbelievably exciting campaigns throughout the marketing world.  I’ve orchestrated celebrity ambassador campaigns, led charitable initiatives and run corporate events, and while each have their own measure of success, my tenure in the culinary marketing vertical has given me a fresh perspective on an age old question:  What can be done to make the ordinary, extraordinary?  A loaded question, and yet, the answer has been right in front of us; make food centerpiece. 

Having spent a few days down in Miami for South Beach Wine & Food Festival (my first as an “insider” in the food-space) the palpable buzz throughout the city has left me thinking about just how incredible our industry really is.  To walk around South Beach throughout the week is to see a flock of food-connected travelers excitedly running from event to event, taking in all that SOBEWFF is all about; great food and beautiful scenes in a world-class festival setting.  While the food was incredible and the crowd’s positivity infectious, what really drew me in was the story of SOBEWFF and the corporate partners who were jumping in head first to tell it.  Being there in person was incredible, to say the least, but my mind was immediately drawn to thinking of ways we can bring the experience to the masses, namely those who can’t be there physically. 

No question, eating great food from the best chefs in the country makes for a dream experience and it goes without saying; the application for food in the “event” setting is natural, somewhat obvious and yet, is continuously evolving.  My coworkers and I have gone into great detail in recent blogs about what that means exactly (give them a read!)  While that, in and of itself, is an exciting proposition for anyone in the culinary world, it is time to start seeing food for more than just an in-person experience. 

Food is the great unifier.  Food is a way to tell a story that reaches everyone.  Recently, I’ve been speaking with a number of blue-chip brands and products that most of us use in our everyday lives, but not just about how they can host a dinner for VIPs; we’re discussing how they can tell their story through the eyes of the food-connected. 

When a chef sits down to curate a menu for their new restaurant or tests a new menu item they hope to implement, what are the tools around them that they reach for to help them?  Everything from the music they listen to and the books they read to their own stress-relieving outlets offer a story ready to be told.  Marc Forgione recently did a wonderful piece in partnership with Remy Martin about what music means to him as his go-to relaxation outlet.  While in person dining experiences are obviously a critical element to the partnership, it is the packaged story that makes it relatable for the at-home consumer.  Watching the video and seeing Marc strum his guitar and talk about the parallels between food and music is the different perspective the average consumer wants (or needs) to engage with a brand.  That’s what gets me excited here every day – our goal every day is to help companies tell their own “food stories”. 

Food, and the overall dining experience, holds an inherent meaning that is unique to each and every one of us.  My dream meal may be drastically different than yours, and the holiday dinner table at the Pinkow household almost definitely looks different than it does for your family (just ask my Italian wife about her first Passover sedar with my family).  That said, it is the role food plays that is the constant.  It’s the stories being told and the experiences shared that prove to be the reasons we come back for more.  For all the “marketers” out there, I implore you to think about food as a “storyteller”, a medium on which you can share your message and reach an entirely new audience.  For all our differences, one thing will always remain true; we all eat!

The Perfect Moment

The Perfect Moment

           Sponsoring large events, like the Super Bowl, is a great way for brands to get their name out there, but is it really the best way for brands to make a cultural mark? Being a part of these large events has its pros, but it also has the ability to overshadow the sponsoring brands. Rather than latching on to someone else’s moment, we at The Connect Group think brands should start focusing on creating an experience they can define and own themselves. This can create room for a richer brand experience, and also help consumers start to see brands as a larger lifestyle, not just a product. Many larger brands have already tapped into this idea and have had major success because of it, here are a few examples of these brands and what they have done to create their own moments:

Chipotle

           In 2010, Chipotle launched Cultivate. Cultivate is a one-day, free festival that brings people together to celebrate food and music. This festival offers live music and on-site chef demonstrations, as well as interactive experiences focused on sustainable food. Beyond offering a fun space for consumers to have a good time, Chipotle also uses the festival as a platform to encourage attendees to think and talk about food in an engaging setting.  Now in its six year, Cultivate has partnered with countless other brands including Naked Juice, and California Avocados, and has proved to be a successful marketing tool for the brand. Rather than piggybacking off other brands events, Chipotle has created its own, and the success of Cultivate is a true testament to the power of brands creating their own moment. 

Budweiser

           Budweiser’s Made in America music festival is an event I have been to myself, so I can testify its popularity. This music festival features some of the top artists in the country and attracts nearly 80,000 people each year. Budweiser partners with Live Nation to create this wildly popular show that now takes place in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Budweiser took a risk by creating their own festival, but this moment still has consumers excited and thinking about Budweiser as a brand, making the risk worth the reward.

Bacardi

           Partnering with Swizz Beatz and the Dean Collection, Bacardi produced an event called No Commission: Art Performs. This four-day, immersive brand experience showcased art, music, and of course delicious cocktails. This event had consumers going nuts for the product. Not only did more than 7,000 people attended this event but it also received over 500 million social impressions, including coverage from The New York Times, W Magazine, the Huffington Post, and more. Like Chipotle and Budweiser, Bacardi created their own branding event, and it payed off.

           Since part of our job here at The Connect Group is helping brands get creative and come up with these unique moments, we understand how beneficial it can be to think outside of the marketing box; and although these “moments” can take time to develop, if they are done right the investment can yield a higher ROI than a traditional sponsorship. By creating these types of moments, brands like Chipotle, Budweiser, and Bacardi can display their own unique values and identity while simultaneously selling their products, which is a winning situation in our book.

Food, the Universal Valentine

Food, the Universal Valentine

          Whatever your opinion of Valentine’s Day is, it is undoubtedly one of the most prominent food connected holidays of the year.  Whether you are single going out with your friends for a family style dinner, enjoying an intimate dinner with your partner, or getting broccoli thrown at you during a family hibachi night (yes, that one is me), food is at the center of this holiday.

          For proof, look no further than the National Retail Federation, which estimated that Americans spent just shy of $19 billion on Valentine’s Day-related items this year.

          In response to this, brands (and restaurants) are getting smart and using the Valentine’s Day craze to brand and market their products. Below are a few examples of how brands and restaurants are hopping on this marketing “love train.”

Tesco

Tesco is getting consumers in the valentine’s spirit through a promotion that matches people up according to what items they buy at the Grocery Store. http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/valentines-day-spending-projected-reach-189-billion-year-162568/

Burger King

Burger King took a hint from Christian Grey by offering an Adult only Meal Box with an adult toy inside. http://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/food/burger-king-sex-toy-meal?xid=soc_socialflow_facebook_fw

          We at TCG are romantics at heart so to share some love ourselves, we came up with a few Valentine’s Day ideas we would love to see come to life:

LOVE & FOOD POP UP

For one night only, we would love to see a brand create a full custom Valentine’s Day Pop Up restaurant that offers 100 lucky couples the opportunity to experience love and food in a way they never have before. Partnering with a high profile celebrity chef to design and execute a mind blowing menu in an environment that evokes love and connection would be the perfect setting for a romantic evening.  Reservations for the Love & Food Pop Up would only be available the day before or the morning of Valentine’s Day and via a social media competition, making it a more exclusive and appealing ticket.

The Relationship Saver

Built for a brand with a “saving you money” message (insurance, wireless, etc), this program would be built to “Save” the relationship of those boyfriends/husbands/wives/girlfriends who waited too long to make a reservation and ended up with nothing. The brand (via an agency like Connect) would secure a number of high profile, prime time reservations at the best restaurants across the country on Valentine’s Day with the intent of giving them out to those who need them the most. To participate in the program, consumers would upload video pitches on why their relationships deserved to be “saved”, which would then be posted on a subsite and voted on by the general public. This promotion would be pushed out via the celebrity chefs who own the restaurants, select influencers, and via an aggressive PR/Social campaign.  

The At Home Night Out

For those who don’t want to brave the restaurant scene on V-Day, but still want to do something special for the one they love (and don’t have cooking skills), a brand could create a consumer promotion that involves celebrity chefs in multiple markets cooking Valentine’s Day dinners in the privacy of the select consumers’ homes.

          Food, like Love, is one of the few things that crosses language barriers, unites the soul and truly taps into the emotional spirit of humans across the world (something we all need right now).  It is from that place of love that strong brand affinity is created and brand loyalty is established.  So brands, put on your thinking caps, spread the love and let’s use Valentine’s day 2018 to create programs to reach the ever important food connected audience.   

Much love and eating

- Lonny Sweet