December 27, 2016

Marketing Insights, Tips, & Tricks For 2017 (PODCAST)

Condiment Marketing CompanyYou can have the best food brand in the world, but without solid marketing no one will no about it.  Finding the time – and the budget – for that marketing though can be a struggle as a small business owner.  In today’s podcast, we talk with Sara Lancaster of the food-focused marketing firm Condiment Marketing Company about what we as food entrepreneurs can do to maximize our marketing efforts in 2017.

TRANSCRIPT:

Jennifer: Today we have Sara Lancaster joining us. Sara is the founder and creative director of the Condiment Marketing Company, a Denver-based marketing agency that focuses solely on food businesses. The company believes that marketing should be simple but impactful and to that end, they offer services such as brand development, sales and marketing material, social media engagement, public relations and more.

 

I honestly think there are few people who can talk so specifically to food entrepreneurs and with such marketing expertise that I was really excited when Sara offered to share her thoughts and insights with you about how food entrepreneurs can effectively use marketing in 2017 to grow their businesses. Sara, thank you so much for volunteering to come on. Really appreciate it.

 

Sara: You bet. Thanks for having me.

 

Jennifer: Absolutely. Before we dive too far into the marketing piece of today, which is where we’ll spend the bulk of the podcast interview, to start out though I’d love to hear how you ended up working, focusing on the food industry. Your company is so unique in that it specializes in working with small and medium-sized food businesses whether it’s a product company, a food truck, a restaurant, and you don’t find too many marketing experts who are so focused on our industry, so what drew you to food?

 

Sara: Yeah. Well, my background is journalism and marketing. In 2008, I went out on my own as a freelance copywriter. At that time, I was a journalist. I really wasn’t focusing specifically on any one industry, so I was doing a lot of web content creation and blog-writing for tech companies and real estate companies and felt really in that, after a few years of doing that, that my creative juices weren’t flowing so I started a personal blog on the side called the Saucy Dipper which focuses entirely on sauces and dips.

 

It really was for fun. It was just a chance for me to kind of flex my creative writing muscle but during that process I learned a lot about how food brands interact with food bloggers and also how they execute social media. It really occurred to me that there was a way to marry my two interests, like my newfound interest in the food world with my marketing and writing expertise. In 2013, I created the Condiment Marketing Company to really become almost content managers for food businesses. We do a lot of other marketing work too but really our specialty and our passion is in that content piece.

 

Jennifer: Okay. Well, focusing on the content and the marketing, one of the things that I see time and time again, and I’m imagining your conversations with smaller and medium-sized food businesses, is that food entrepreneurs often have every intention of working really hard on the marketing of their company but that in the midst of everything else that they’re trying to do, getting a company up and running and getting it going day to day and putting out the fires and whether that’s a literal fire or not, that happen in their businesses every day, that marketing consumers fall by the wayside.

 

I was wondering, do you have any recommendations, and these are obviously kind of broad recommendations and we’ll get into some more granular stuff, and besides working with your company, on how entrepreneurs can make marketing a priority on their to-do list and not let it be something that falls off?

 

Sara: Yeah. It’s a huge problem. Even I feel that. I love to do marketing work.

 

 

 

Sara: I put it at the bottom of my pile too because the tyranny of the urgent, what do we need to get done right now? It really does get pushed. I think there’s no magic answer. I think for me what has worked, there’s two things that have worked. First is to systematize. Whatever I can do to really plan ahead and to create a system that I know is going to work for me, so it takes a lot of work to create a marketing plan and to sit down and really think critically about your goals and then create your content calendar and on and on and on.

 

Once that was done, it automated a lot of what I needed to do and I was able to translate into my … work for my clients too, but once those systems were in place, then in theory I could get all of my marketing done for the month or at least have it planned out and ready to go in just a couple of hours, so I think that’s really my biggest takeaway. Then of course there’s a lot of tools and a lot of little things that you could do to help.

 

One other quick thought I just had too is just focus on only a couple of things. It’s really, marketing is so distracting because there’s all these new interesting things that are coming out all the time and there’s just an endless list of things you could try, but if you can just focus on two social media platforms, one direct sales outreach, just do just a little bit that you know you could do well and master those. Then when you have time, or maybe a little bit of extra money, then you can experiment with the rest.

 

Jennifer: Can I ask you, stepping back to when you were talking about the systems, is that something that you schedule in, let’s say, at the beginning of the month or at the end of the prior month? Do you literally put that in your calendar to make sure that you block that time out? Maybe I’m being selfish here but I know that that’s where I have every intention of setting that time aside and then don’t.

 

Sara: Right. No, my deadline for myself, for my business, is the last day of the previous month. I’ll do my best to have all of my blog posts and all of my social media content mapped out. Now, there’s always going to be things that come up that are going to be time sensitive that will replace what we planned, but we’ll use scheduling tools to schedule things in advance. Then once a week or so, I’m all on social media every day so that’s not fair to say, but I make a concerted effort every week to post in real time or to be thinking in real time about what I could be sharing in that moment, but really the systems are done and then every month by the last day of the month, I set 2 or 3 hours aside to focus on it.

 

Jennifer: Okay. Okay, that’s good to hear. I also like your recommendation of focusing your efforts because I think you’re right. There’s so much, it’s kind of that shiny object syndrome issue of, “Oh, wow. This is so new and cool.” Some of that new and cool stuff is also what’s getting all the buzz and you hear everybody talking about “XYZ new social media channel” and so your inclination is like, “Well, I’ve gotta be over there. I’ve gotta be doing it.” It’s easy to get distracted.

 

Sara: So easy, so easy and I think I say this a lot but do 2 or 3 things really well. Don’t do 10 things just [meh]. Be a master of your domain.

 

Jennifer: You published a great article on your website. I’m going to link to this, talking about content. I’ll link to this in the transcript for this podcast, but that article was titled The Top 7 Food Marketing Trends for 2017. Obviously, I want to spend a little bit talking about some of the points that you highlighted in that article. Just so everybody knows, we’re not going to be talking about each one of those, just from a time standpoint, so definitely recommend that you go and you check that out so that you can read the entire article and get some more information.

 

First, is there any one marketing tool, whether it’s a specific social media channel, a certain aspect of marketing or advertising, or a certain tool that you found that might kind of assist in those that you feel works for all food businesses, or is it really specific to each company and to their goals?

 

Sara: It always comes down to goals and budget, but I would say the 2 things that come to my mind that everyone can and should be using are an analytics program and an image editing program. There are free or affordable versions of both. The reason I say analytics, and when I say analytics I mean like a Google analytics that ties into your website or some sort of program that maybe ties into your social media so that you can see how people are interacting with it and engaging with your content.

 

I can spend 20 minutes with my analytics and I can walk away with 12 blog post ideas or a handful of social media ideas that I know work because I can see that people are clicking on those links on topics that we’ve already posted, or I can see that people are searching for terms and so I know that there’s already this interest. It’s definitely not a shortcut necessarily but I feel like it’s a way to do smart marketing. It’s a way to really kind of bypass maybe some diversions or some things that aren’t going to have much impact and really get right down to the heart of it.

 

With the image software, I really firmly believe and I think a lot of others would agree with me on this, that every social media post, every blog post needs an image so whatever, if you’re doing that once a day or once a week, that’s a lot of time so you need to have I think a tool or two in your toolbox that are easy for you to use and that make it really simple for you to create those images. Those are my top two, hands down, those are the best two suggestions I can give.

 

Jennifer: If I can just, I just want to add a quick lesson learned that I learned the hard way that especially if you are doing blog posts and including the images, and on the small food biz site we do a lot of blog posts every week, those images can slow down your load time if they aren’t compressed correctly. I learned that the hard way and actually had to hire somebody to go through and reduce all those file sizes for me, so just kind of be aware of that, that especially on websites it can slow down how quickly your website loads.

 

Sara: Yes. No, that’s a really good point and that’s a lot of tricks. There’s a lot of little things like I would recommend in addition to having a small file size, also making sure that you title your images instead of it being IMG- twelve numbers long .jpeg. Titling that image by the name of your blog post or maybe something relevant to the image in the article so that it is found in search engines.

 

Then also, I think most importantly just making sure that you have permission to use the image. I think we’ve all heard stories of people who’ve gotten in trouble for taking an image off the web and then they didn’t give proper attribution or they didn’t pay to use it, so just being extra careful that it’s either your image or that you have expressed permission to use it.

 

Jennifer: Absolutely. I want to move a little bit over to social media because that’s a really popular tool amongst food businesses. Here in Seattle I teach some starting food business courses, and whenever we talk about marketing, almost everybody at least initially, social media is the tool they’re planning on using or is at least one of the tools that they’re planning on using. In the article I mentioned, The Top 7 Food Marketing Trends for 2017, you talk about targeted social advertising and how this is going to be really big in 2017. I’d love if you can tell us a little bit about what that is and then also how listeners can be thinking about potentially utilizing it in their marketing next year.

 

Sara: Yeah. Every social media platform, or just about every social media platform, has an integrated advertising tool. Facebook, you’ve certainly seen sponsored posts in Facebook, but you can do the same in Pinterest and Twitter and a lot of the others. There’s advantages and disadvantages to each and pricing varies. I’ll try not to get too far into those details but what I will say is that in a lot of the industry news that I’m reading and a lot of the marketing industry news that I’m reading is that real big brands and agencies that support very big brands are dedicating a lot of their budget to social media advertising.

 

Now, this is a shift. It’s been shifting a little bit the last year or so but it is a shift away from what they’ve done previously which was focusing a lot on search engine advertising. Search engine advertising is when you see a little blurb on the right hand side of a search engine query or maybe up at the top of that page promoting a website page. They’re taking money away from that and focusing on the social media bit. It makes sense to me because instead of trying to entice people who may or may not be interested in what you’re serving, they’re enticing people who have already shown an interest in what they’re providing.

 

This translates really well for a small food business too, I think. You’ve got a Facebook page with hundreds or thousands of followers. Those people want to hear from you. Those people care about what it is you have to say, so if you have 5 … $5 could double your exposure to those folks. It’s money well-spent. It seems to me that all of us need to be focusing more of our marketing dollars into social media advertising for sure.

 

Jennifer: Okay. That’s good to know, especially as I think about my budget for next year.

 

Sara: Yeah. There you go. There you go.

 

Jennifer: In that article, you were also talking about the importance of being authentic and true. This is something I’ve been hearing a lot about from the food side of the world with transparency and such with regards to production of the product, but why do you think this is such a big issue for brands and especially in regards to marketing, and how can food entrepreneurs help implement this over, be it social media or other marketing channels, implement this being authentic and true?

 

Sara: Yeah. I think you’re right, what you’re saying about transparency is important from a production aspect. I think it’s becoming more and more important in all aspects. I think it’s really infiltrated how we view most things that we need to make a decision about, so there’s just so much. There’s so many brands that want us to buy from them, food and otherwise, and we have access to so much information thanks to the web. I think it really comes down to differentiating yourself. If you can be authentic in a way that resonates with people, I think you’re more likely to have some loyalty from your customers.

 

One example that I was thinking of, and maybe this is a bad example, but if you’re standing in the grocery store and you’re looking at 2 jars of peanut butter that are essentially the same in flavor and in price, how does one get your attention over the other? I think the answer is in values and the way that the company operates and the ingredients that they use and all of those little things that add up to be really big things can make a difference in how someone chooses to purchase a product.

 

Jennifer: Do you think that it’s important for entrepreneurs to think about some of those aspects that do make them authentic and real? I guess the benefit for smaller and medium-sized companies is that they’re kind of closer to the founder so to speak, as opposed to a giant consumer packaged goods company, but then think about how they make them- … what makes them authentic and real but then also how to convey it because you can’t convey all of that, let’s say, in one Instagram picture. How do you recommend to folks that they then take those values and morals that’s true to the company and share those forward?

 

Sara: That’s a great question and there’s not an easy answer. I think looking at what other companies are doing is a great first start. For instance, I was in Einstein, and I know this is a big company but I was in Einstein’s Bagel a couple weeks ago and above their beverage counter, there was a big huge placard that had all their values listed out. I took a picture of it because I was just so impressed by it, like, “Wow. They’re being so bold with this. They’re trying so hard to make people understand what makes this company run.”

 

You may not be able to do that with your business. It just might not be doable but I think it could be as small as your Facebook cover image. It could be a line on your label that says, “Made with nothing but organic ingredients,” or however you phrase it that matches your brand that indicates what you care about. I think the first step in that is to really sit down and think, “What do you care about? What is it that makes you tick and what makes your food business different?” I think if you can distill that in 2 or 3 bullets and memorize that and really internalize that, it will come into play as you do your other marketing, naturally.

 

Jennifer: I was thinking, that’s interesting, the piece that you brought up about the Einstein Bagels because not only does it put the values out there but it also invites consumers to test you against those values. I don’t use “test” in like a negative way, but you’re saying, “I’m making this so public,” and again, like you said, however you choose to do it on your packaging or your website, “But I’m making these values so public that I’m confident the company will stand behind them and if we don’t, the customer’s welcome to call us on it.”

 

Sara: Yeah. No, that’s a great point.

 

Jennifer: You also talk about the idea, food is community. Can you explain, what do you mean by this? Why is this important? Then also, do you have any examples for listeners of how they could put something like this into action potentially in their own marketing efforts?

 

Sara: Yeah. I think the best way to explain what I mean by it is with an example. I know here in Denver there are so many micro-breweries popping up and distilleries and they’re fun and they’re great, but there’s so many. How do they differentiate themselves? One thing that I’ve noticed is in the way they engineer the space. You have a huge long community table that fills up 3/4 of the room and so you’re going to sit there with your friends and you’re going to enjoy your beer and everything’s jolly.

 

Then you’re going to be sitting with other people that you don’t necessarily know, and whether or not you engage with them fully is one thing but there’s this sense of, “We’re all in this together. This isn’t all in our own little spaces. We can actually participate in this together,” and I think food has always served that purpose. When you think about the holiday’s or celebrations, they almost always revolve around food which is a wonderful thing, but I think businesses are starting to take that on.

 

For a small food business, you may not have a space to engineer in that way but there are certainly other ways that you could create that community in small or big ways, but some of the things that come to my mind would be maybe aligning with a local charity and making sure that all of your customers and fans know that you’re participating in an event with this charity and doing whatever you can to get that message out because you’re … It’s not, it’s marketing, yes, but it’s really about showing who your brand is and who you connect with, and who you are partnering with.

 

Another idea I had was a friend of mine ran a popcorn company and at one time, she had a special flavor. It was a short time offer and she partnered with a local company to bring in a whiskey flavor so whatever she could do to kind of co-market that product with the whiskey company is another great way to generate that community and show that you’re kind of in it together with somebody else.

 

Jennifer: As you were talking, for whatever reason the image of the table reminded me that this summer, my little local CSA which is a female-run farm just north of Seattle that is definitely a small farm, they did something really interesting, I think, in that it wasn’t just that they could come and deliver your food to the drop off location, or your box, your weekly box, but they partnered with other local farms in the area who provided items that they didn’t carry, so you would also get cheese from the goat cheese farmers who were down the street from them.

 

You could also get cherries from the cherry farmers who were over in [inaudible 00:20:57] County. They would put it all together in one big box for you and drop it off. From a consumer standpoint, as I was looking at it from the consumer, I felt like, “Okay, I’m spending my money in this greater community of artisan food producers, farmers, something I really care about,” and I just thought that was so interesting that they all pulled together to do that. It wasn’t something I had seen before.

 

Sara: Yeah. Well, it benefits you but it benefits them too.

 

Jennifer: Yeah.

 

Sara: Now, they’ve got these relationships and they’re helping each other. There really, there’s no downside that I know of, and maybe there is but I just can’t see one.

 

Jennifer: My next question, my last question, it’s not specifically marketing related but I know it’s something that, as people are listening, this is on their minds right now. Since you’re someone who follows the food industry really closely in addition to what’s going on in the marketing world, do you have any thoughts on flavor, taste trends, where the food industry is going next year?

 

Sara: I do. I’m so fortunate. One of the companies that we work with here in Denver is a test kitchen-

 

Jennifer: Oh, fun.

 

Sara: They do … I know, so fun, and they do a lot of menu development for restaurants, so in the content work we do with them, we’re talking a ton about trends all the time and so it’s really like double bonus because we’re learning so much from them. There’s a few on their official list that I think really popped out at me. The one, which I know has been around for a little bit but is really starting to, I think, get more attention is Cricket Protein Powder.

 

I have not had it and I would try it but I think the reason that it interests me is because it’s an alternative protein and I think if you can create something that is sustainable or that would allow us all to consume less meat, I think you’re likely to get some attention. There’s so many of us that are interested in that, so I’m very curious to see what happens with Cricket Protein Powder.

 

The other one that I’m really excited about, maybe a little more realistic, would be exotic produce. Exotic fruit is one, Dragon Fruit is another, even seaweed we’re seeing more of. I think, I just love having these new flavors and new colors on the plate. It’s just a lot of fun.

 

Jennifer: Oh, absolutely.

 

Sara: Yeah.

 

Jennifer: Excellent. Thank you. That’s kind of an interesting combination, crickets and exotic fruit.

 

Sara: There are so many others. What are yours? I’m curious.

 

Jennifer: Mine, it’s funny, as you were talking I was thinking about it and I’ll say this as … Hopefully you can understand being in Colorado. I’m in Washington State. I will say this as somebody who does now choose to partake, I hold no issues with anybody who does, but I think that the recent passing of cannabis laws, recreational cannabis, in now a multitude of states is probably leading to a federal legalization, maybe not next year but coming, it’s a very interesting time. If you are an edibles creator, that now you could potentially sell into the state of California, which could be a huge market.

 

Like I said, it’s not one that I am invested in or that I choose to partake in, but I think there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity there, so it’ll be really interesting to see what happens with that in my mind.

 

Sara: Yeah. That’s an excellent point. There’s definitely a lot of opportunity. It’s brand new, really, for some.

 

Jennifer: Yep. Absolutely. Well, Sara, thank you so much. I appreciate you sharing some tidbits and some ideas for us to be thinking about as we create our marketing plans for 2017.

 

Sara: You are welcome. I had a great time. Thanks for having me.

 

Jennifer: Oh, always. Thank you.

 

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