This OpEd was originally published by Michael Wachs in Food & Drink Magazine
Authenticity: a word that is thrown around among marketers so often and in so many different ways that it should have gone out of style by now. So why hasn’t it? In a world where consumers put little to no trust in traditional advertising messages, authenticity is still the most valuable asset a brand can have. Simply put, there’s no substitute for a brand story that feels true and trustworthy to people. No amount of spin can replace it.
This is especially true in the natural food market where a thoughtful consumer base isn’t searching for deals or even convenience, but instead is looking for purity, simplicity and an alternative to mass-produced products with unknowable backstories and obscure ingredient lists. In recent years, however, some smaller players in the natural or organic food market have been snatched up by larger CPG companies, many of which don’t share their values or at least are not thought of by consumers as trustworthy sources for natural products. At the same time, larger corporations have attempted to retrofit mass-market, highly processed products with the “all-natural,” health-centric messaging used for decades by natural food brands.
The result is a jumble of packaging terms and promises, which serve mostly to confuse consumers who aren’t sure if they want organic or all-natural, cage-free, hormone-free or free-range. The trust many small natural food producers worked hard to earn has been lost because of the giants of the food business.
So how can these smaller, more authentic brands take back their message and show the public they’re the real deal?
Be aggressively transparent. Brands in the marketplace that are faking their “natural” claims can’t offer transparency because their ingredients and processes are not actually what consumers are looking for. This is where authentic brands can set themselves apart.
Make every part of your supply chain, production process and relationship with farmers clear on your website and in your overall message. Be honest about where you’re falling short and let them know what you’re doing to improve. Are your ingredients only 98 percent organic? Saying so doesn’t make you seem less authentic, but rather calls into question the brands that don’t tell you the breakdown of their ingredients at all. Nothing brings about feelings of trust like seeing exactly where something comes from.
Educate. If larger companies are creating confusion, it’s up to smaller brands to clear it up. By creating educational content that shows consumers the real story behind the terms being thrown around – such as the difference between organic and all-natural, or whole wheat and whole grain – they can begin to redefine the space on their own terms.
Act small (even if you aren’t). There’s a reason bigger companies are buying up smaller brands – consumers love to root for the little guy (and they don’t feel great about the big guys at this point.) Big corporations are looking to up their credibility by borrowing some of the hard-earned authenticity these smaller brands have. Embrace what you already have and make an emotional connection with consumers by telling a story that focuses on the real people that drive your company, the simplicity of your business model and most importantly, your values.
An example of a brand that does this well is Chobani. Valued in the billions and the number one yogurt in America, the company is by no means “small” any longer, but it owes at least part of its success to how it manages to seem small and relatable to the public. Chobani accomplishes this by being transparent about its sourcing and production, going into much more detail about its processes on its website than its large competitors.
The company also has done a great job of telling a human story with a very visible founder appearing frequently in the media to talk about starting his company from nothing. Last year, the company further made its case when it gave 2,000 employees a stake in the (now very valuable) company.
Simplify. With so many options in the grocery aisle offering some version of what seems like the same thing, consumers become exhausted and start to look to other variables, such as price to make their decision. Don’t be a part of the problem. Stand out in a sea of sameness by sticking to the promises you can make that are direct, easy to understand and most of all, true.
Consumers are extremely conscious of what they are putting into their bodies now more than ever and it’s not going over well for the companies that are trying to fake their way into the natural food space. But with smart, human-centric messaging and powerful truth telling, the brands that deserve to take back the space can and will.
Michael Wachs is the Chief Creative Officer at GYK Antler.
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