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4 new rules of food marketing


The world of food marketing is constantly evolving, and just like the food and restaurant industry itself, shifts in trends and taste mean that a different approach needs to be taken to market them. Whether you are responsible for marketing a food product or a restaurant, you have no doubt seen some of the trends that are driving a shift in marketing strategies and tactics.

We are going to discuss five rules of food marketing you should pay attention to this year.

Make technology part of the experience

There are many ways that technology is connecting consumers to restaurants and the eating experience as a whole. Many forward-thinking restaurants are finding new and innovative ways to integrate technology in a natural and unobtrusive way.

Want quicker service at your favorite spot? In-store tablets are used at some restaurants such as Chili's, which lets customers order more food whether their server is present or not. It turns out that consumers spend more money when this is possible.

Is talking on the phone a little too much? Domino's Pizza's introduction of text and Twitter ordering takes convenience to a whole new level. In addition, there are many other apps that make the delivery experience a lot easier and more streamlined, for everything from restaurants to groceries.

The traditional point-of-sale system has been greatly simplified by companies like Square that are taking the hassle out of working with legacy systems. This streamlines things for the customer as well, in some cases allowing them to sign and leave a tip right from the device in the store, and receipts can be emailed instead of printed. As a marketer, that helps you grow your email list, and as a consumer, it's one less piece of paper for that $4 cappuccino.

All food has a story

It's not enough for a food product to taste good or be healthy. For a restaurant, it's not enough to have a great menu and attractive setup. For any food brand, origin stories are becoming increasingly important. Consumers are interested in where their food comes from, whether it's the origins of the recipes or the origins of the actual ingredients used in the dish they are eating.

On a large scale, Chipotle has done a great job telling its story through video, animations, and even its in-store branding. The stories are often told in a simple, sparing way that reflects the overall brand and messaging style used for the menu. In a way, Chipotle has set the standard for many other food marketers by talking about the origins of its food as part of the company values.

Telling stories also makes it easier to reach out to the food community. Rather than simply talking about how great one of your new products is, a better way to engage in a conversation is to talk about the story of how your food comes to be, or some positive aspect like sustainability or organic ingredients. The farm-to-table trend, while it has some questioning its importance, has shown that consumers are interested in talking about where things originate.

Don't think that you can simply put some descriptive packaging and accomplish the same thing. With 72 percent of consumers believing some food labels are meaningless, it's important that your product has something more substantive to "say" than a label that may be ignored or distrusted.

In addition to telling stories about food itself, some companies are becoming full-blown content marketers. Red Bull does a phenomenal job here, taking an almost journalistic approach to the content it creates for the Red Bulletin website. It's part lifestyle magazine, part content marketing for the Red Bull brand. While smaller brands may not have the capability to do something like this, it shows how the brand is inserting itself into a larger conversation.

Preparation is part of the marketing

The last rule we talked about dealt with where ingredients come from. What about the methods used to make the food you eat?

With so many new restaurant and food options out there, how does a brand set itself apart? We've all seen countless photos of gorgeous plates of prepared food, but even that method has become the de facto standard. To differentiate themselves, many restaurants are taking a much more do it yourself (DIY) approach to their food. According to Restaurant News, one of the top eight restaurant trends for 2016 is "DIY Everything," with everything from house-made cheese, butter, and many other items being the norm at many new places. With this trend in making food comes the need to tell stories in new and different ways.

Photos and videos become a very important tool to illustrate this process, and we're seeing a proliferation of everything from short-form Vine videos to Instagram photos and more that detail the preparation of food.

For larger restaurant chains, "secret menus" have surfaced, showing new ways to prepare items that use common ingredients from well-known dishes at primarily fast-food establishments. Secret menu items at McDonald's and other restaurants made headlines a couple years ago when they were first discovered. This is an equivalent of the same desire to be involved in the preparation of food at some level.

Embrace the seasonality of flavors

Unless you've been living in a cave for the last five years, you've no doubt been inundated with pumpkin-flavored foods and drinks for the last several fall seasons. Perhaps started by the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, it is now difficult to walk down a street between September and December without seeing pumpkin-flavored things of all kinds, from pasta sauce to candles. There is so much demand for the #PSL, as the Pumpkin Spice Latte is referred to on Twitter, that a secret way to get it early involving social media was unveiled in September of 2015.

Despite the traditional notion that it's an investment to introduce a new product, your brand can use this to your advantage. Think of flavors and products as "limited time offers," and all of a sudden you've introduced an incentive for customers to buy now. In other words, this thinking doesn't have to only extend to Halloween candy, but rather to different items that consumers can expect to find at certain times of the year.

Restaurants have done this for a long time, and in many cases it has been driven by a very practical issue: the seasonal availability of certain ingredients. Food brands can take advantage of consumers' desire for exclusivity and uniqueness by offering seasonal flavors or variations on their products. This is a great way to make your brand relevant at different times of the year and increase the anticipation factor for your products.


Many of the food marketing trends we are seeing are driven by trends in the foods consumers are craving, and by restaurants that are driving innovation in their menus and methods of preparing food.

We're seeing a lot of trends that relate to authenticity and individuality, and consumers' desire for brands to talk more about their values and how they source their ingredients. 2016 should be an interesting year as we see these ideas evolve and most likely some new trends emerge.

Keep these rules in mind as you plan your food and restaurant marketing initiatives for the year, and we look forward to seeing your successes!

Greg Kihlström is founder and CEO of Carousel30.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Sweet biscuite" image via iStock.

Greg is SVP of Digital at Yes&, a performance-driven marketing agency in the Washington, DC region. He was founder and CEO of Carousel30, a digital agency he started in 2003 which was acquired in late 2017 by PCI Communications which, together...

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