You’ve developed a food or beverage product that people love. It’s being stocked and looks great on the shelf in the grocery or convenience store. Now the priority is driving sales velocity. If your food or beverage brand doesn’t fly off the shelves, your retail partners will lose patience. And there’s no shortage of brands who are actively pushing for your products to be discontinued.

You’re probably active on social media and seeing mixed results. You have some brand advocates who sing your praises and can see decent engagement with your updates. However, there’s no way to tell if this is having a positive impact on sales. And with the time it takes to manage social media, there’s increasing pressure to show the effectiveness of these efforts. 

You need a digital marketing and advertising strategy that takes full advantage of the opportunities now available to your food or beverage brand. This comprehensive guide outlines the elements you’ll want to consider for effective food and beverage digital marketing initiatives that have proven to increase brand preference and sales velocity.


Food and beverage advertising strategy

Food and beverage marketers are increasingly using digital channels to build awareness and drive product trials. Each and every year, we’re seeing consumers spend more time on their smartphone. At the same time, these potential customers are spending less time listening to the radio, watching television, and reading newspapers. This shift in behavior is resulting in a shift in advertising budget allocation. According to eMarketer, B2C marketers are now spending more money advertising on smartphones than all traditional channels combined. 

Food and beverage marketers should create a strategy that accomplishes two objectives:

  1. Driving sales from new and existing customers
  2. Build brand awareness and preference in the minds of consumers

In order to accomplish both of these objectives, food and beverage marketers must determine a strategic channel mix. Some channels work better for building awareness. YouTube and social video are good examples of this. Other channels, such as search engines or email marketing, are better for driving sales or specific actions.

The traditional marketing funnel starts with awareness at the top works down toward consideration, intent, and purchase. With the proper mix, marketers can build awareness and consideration that actually drives search engine activity. It’s important that your brand is there on the first page of Google when a potential customer is searching for your beverage.


How to develop the target audience persona

Before you can determine where to place your promotion, you need to create an audience persona. The audience persona is a fictional but realistic representation of your best customers.

The audience persona should detail the who, what, when, where, and why of the target audience. It’s not just about the behaviors but also the motives that drive them. In addition to telling the story of this ideal customer, it should include basic demographic information such as gender, age, geographical location, household income, and marital status.

Audience personas are usually built with a combination of data sources and assumptions. If your brand has a website and social media presence, both of these can be used to learn about your current customers. Facebook offers page insights that shows the demographic make-up of your audience. Google Analytics has a similar tool that includes age and gender as well as search behaviors like affinity category and in-market segment. 


Creative strategy

Once the audience has been defined, you can develop a creative strategy that aligns your product’s characteristics with the audience’s values and desires. Strong creative is crucial for marketing success in the food and beverage category. A recent study by Nielsen found that 47 percent of a brand’s sales lift from advertising was a result of the creative. Creative needs to make an impact and be memorable.

In recent years, the emphasis on creative has decreased as marketers focus on sophisticated  adtech systems to target audiences and optimize performance. It’s true, we’re able to target potential prospects with digital advertising more precisely than we ever did before. At the same time, people are being bombarded with more marketing messages on a daily basis. Forbes reports that most Americans are exposed to 4,000 – 10,000 ads each day. Compare that to 500 back in the 70s.

For creative to stand out, it needs to be compelling. You’ll need to get someone’s attention very quickly. Try being provocative, emotional, or funny. What you can’t do is build creative executions by committee. If there are key stakeholders who don’t like the creative, chances are you’re doing something right.

The other important part of the creative strategy will be developing assets that work in various channels and viewed on various devices. It’s not enough to just repurpose your traditional :15 second and :30 second TV spots. For example, ads on YouTube are skippable but advertisers only pay when someone watches the video all the way through. Take advantage of the exposure you’re getting by leading with the most important message. Don’t use videos that rely on a big reveal at the end. 

If you’re developing video that will run on social platforms, you’re going to get more views on smartphones than any other device. Vertical video (9:16 ratio) will work much better than horizontal videos.


Develop a media strategy that includes earned, owned, shared, and paid

The audience persona will provide the information you need to determine which channels you’ll want to use to reach and engage potential customers. Within interactive digital channels, where consumers are spending more time, you’ll want an approach to capture earned, owned, shared and paid media. 

Common food and beverage marketing strategy is to target the household decision maker. At the risk of over-simplification, we find that this audience skews females aged 25-49 years of age. Social media and video platforms represent an excellent opportunity for targeting this audience. They spend an increasing amount of time on these networks – consuming, sharing, and interacting. 

Within these channels, content is king. Food and beverage marketers who have great content will increase their ability to increase their earned and shared media. Earned and shared media has two benefits – it’s getting propagated without any cost and the people who are sharing and posting the content about your brand are serving as brand ambassadors. 

Taking this to the next level, many food and beverage marketers use influencer marketing on channels like Instagram and YouTube. Influencers reach large audiences and carry a lot of authority. This is a very effective way to build brand preference and convince new customers to try your food or beverage for the first time.

But don’t just rely on your content to be found and shared on social channels. The algorithms used to determine what users see in their feed is actively suppressing brands. It’s become very much a pay to play environment. There are great advantages to paid advertising, specifically the targeting capabilities. Different channels offer different targeting parameters. You’ll want to run tests to help you learn which channels and audience attributes work best for your brand. 


Measure the metrics that matter

Digital marketing and social media efforts produce a large amount of data. Frankly, too much data. Today’s food and beverage marketers are inundated with metrics and data points. Here’s the good news for those of you looking through pages of reports, trying to figure out what it all means – most of it doesn’t matter. In the early days we tracked impressions and clicks and used an under-whelming formula to calculate click-through rate. Nowadays, we’re tracking everything. Facebook’s key metric report has 128 different metrics. Seems like overkill.

So what should you measure? Measure what matters. Look at the metrics that most closely correlate with business success. For example, if your food or beverage has limited distribution, put a store locator application on your website and drive visitors to this page. You can track how many people visit the page and perform a search, a clear sign of purchase intent.

Zooming out to brand awareness and brand preference goals, there are other metrics you should be following closely. For awareness, it’s all about reach and frequency against the target audience. Impressions and reach aren’t enough, effective advertising needs to be viewed multiple times before it makes an impact with consumers. Preference can be measured through actions like sharing, liking, and commenting. However, not all actions are created equal. Consider using sentiment analysis tools to separate the positive and negative. 

Brand studies offer an opportunity to measure the effectiveness of your advertising for increasing awareness, brand preference, and purchase intent. It’s also a powerful technique for measuring the performance of various creative executions. Survey results from both users who were served ads and who did not clearly illustrate the impact of the advertising down to demographics, creative version, frequency, etc.


Optimizing digital advertising results

We measure food and beverage advertising performance in order to maximize results over time. Optimizations come in many different forms. At the macro level, budgets can be shifted between channels and networks. At the micro level, optimizations can be made within channels by analyzing different placements, creative, audiences, keywords, etc. 

When optimizing digital advertising campaigns, focus on the metrics that matter. Those that most closely align with your business and marketing objectives. It should be less about click through rate and more about purchase intent. Smart digital marketers and data analysts know how to pull the right levers that lead to more people purchasing their products during their next visit to the store. 

Dashboards are extremely helpful in visualizing the data, slicing it in various ways, and plotting trends over time. You will need to collect, transform, and store the data correctly in order to build visualizations that make it easy to see and understand the results. It can be tempting to react to data that isn’t statistically significant, so make sure you’re practicing sound scientific data analysis. Campaigns should be set up with tests and controls (with a single variable) to learn what works over time. 


Conclusion

As consumers spend more time using their smartphones and engaging with social media and digital video, food and beverage companies are recognizing new ways to engage consumers and drive sales. Determining the right channels and developing impactful creative is key to any successful marketing initiative. After that, it’s all about properly measuring the results and testing different marketing assumptions. The good news for challenger brands – the digital era has leveled the playing field and allowed strategic marketers the ability to maximize their efforts in order to get a leg up on the competition.