This is a transformational time for food manufacturers, food retailers and food service operators. Consider the unprecedented number of announcements we’ve seen regarding major changes in the sourcing requirements and standards food companies are setting for their suppliers. Non-genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are more prominent, clean ingredient labels are more prevalent and animal farming practices are taking center stage. Food industry decision-makers are embracing this trend as they seek new ways to add value to their brands. How food is sourced is of growing interest among consumers and throughout the supply chain, and it’s dramatically shaping the business landscape.
As a result, the food supply chain must transform as well to meet these evolving demands.
Just consider the old line of thinking. Customer-supplier relationships used to be based on a different set of principles. Buyers and procurement personnel were responsible for working with suppliers to source and secure products. Quality, supply, on-time deliveries and pricing were key to these transactions. There was little, if any, involvement from C-suite personnel. Claims regarding farming practices, health and nutrition were reserved for product labels. Over time, customer-supplier relationships have changed. Changing consumer preferences, growing interest in how food is produced and responsibility-minded companies have added layers of internal involvement and accountability to the customer-supplier relationship. More involvement from various departments and executive levels in the sourcing of products and the positioning of these products to consumers has laid the groundwork for what are now more strategic and multilevel relationships that need to be established.
Today, decision-makers at every point along the supply chain need to be proactive. Building strong connections with customers at many different levels and entry points is imperative. Being transparent is a prerequisite to doing business. Demonstrating value to the customer beyond financial gains is of particular interest to marketing-driven companies. Being proactive starts with having a new conversation.
- Articulate your brand’s story
- Empower employees to consistently deliver the story
- Target your story to demonstrate value for your customer
Build a story around what your brand stands for.
In today’s social media-driven world, telling a story has become a key way, and often the preferred way, to communicate. From individuals to companies, everyone has a unique story to tell. What’s yours? For insights, explore your competitive advantages, aspirational goals and company values, as these will lay foundation for the chapters in your story. Keep your key customer audiences in mind. How do they value the products and service you provide? What is expected of your company at different points along the customer’s buyer’s journey? Keep your story positive and focus on what your company stands for and not what it’s against. Get employees involved by contributing and providing input. Vet the story internally and gain acceptance so everyone in the company believes in the story.
Delivering the story: It’s everyone’s responsibility.
From the front-line sales contact to the CEO and among the many individuals who sit in the cubicles and customer service desks throughout the office, everyone should be trained to effectively deliver your unique story. Key messages are not useful if people are not trained properly in how to deliver them. Your brand story won’t mean much if it just turns into a game of telephone. The time and effort that went into crafting the story must now transition to getting employees to share it and bring it to life.
Training is key. This can be as simple as developing a messaging document that focuses on key messages about your brand and answers to frequently asked questions. Taking this a step further, equip staff to address more sensitive issues that the company faces. The new environment of transparency encourages companies to acknowledge past mistakes or shortcomings and outline changes and improvements that are being implemented. Acknowledge that everyone brings a unique perspective by challenging them to personalize your story. This will help make it real and relatable. Everyone who has an opportunity to talk about your brand should be armed with the knowledge and confidence to speak as ambassadors for your company.
Make meaningful connections.
Delivering on your company’s story requires you to make meaningful customer connections. Understand how your business objectives align with customers, and demonstrate the value you can bring that goes beyond financial gain. Your marketing efforts need to be targeted at the C-suite as well as the buyer/procurement level. Establish relationships with decision-makers from a range of departments. Your chief marketing officer (CMO) should be in contact with the customer’s CMO. A salesperson should make a concerted effort to identify key company decision-makers and share that with headquarters. Develop a customer engagement plan that is unique to each customer based how sourcing decisions and issues are handled. Expanding the network of customer contacts will strengthen your company’s position as a corporate partner. True partners also challenge each other. Be proactive and strive to offer solutions to issues that a customer may not have yet. By better understanding their business dynamics, you can offer insight and expertise that is seen as truly supporting their business objectives.
Yes, it is a new (and more complicated) world. But this new complexity creates a tremendous opportunity for marketers to roll up their sleeves and contribute impactful solutions that provide significant business value. The question is: Are you ready to transform?
For more information about the unintended consequences that can result from food company announcements, download our free e-book today.
This post was originally authored by Mark Williams, BR’s former senior vice president.