Ben & Jerrys - has "developed authenticity"

Ben & Jerry's - has "developed authenticity"

Our columnist Victor Martino stresses the importance of creating an experience of fun, pleasure and happiness in and around a food brand and provides some guidance on how to achieve this.

Do your food brands and products deliver on fun, pleasure and happiness?

This is a question I think all packaged food and beverage marketers and brand managers should be asking themselves in today's fast-changing market where consumers are not only looking for brands that deliver on the basics of taste and value but also offer that often elusive "something more".

Creating an experience of fun, pleasure and happiness in and around a food or beverage brand, whether in traditional categories, which have become staid and boring, or in the more exciting, fast-growing segments like better-for-you and functional foods, is more important today than it's ever been before. 

A case in point is Unilever's recent announcement that it's considering unloading its Lipton and PG Tips tea brands despite the fact they generate US$3.3bn in annual sales. Over the last two decades the tea category, once very traditional and staid, has undergone disruption by small, upstart brands offering unique varieties, new taste profiles and better-for-you offerings. What many of these entrepreneurial brands have brought to the category, and more importantly to consumers, is the experience of fun, pleasure and happiness. Lipton and PG Tips in contrast have largely remained boring and staid brands. The Lipton brand experience isn't something you hear millennials talk about much, for example.

In addition, beverages that never existed before, such as kombucha and numerous other 'new age' drinks, are stealing share from the tea category, particularly in the ready-to drink-segment. Not only are brands not safe in today's dynamic food and beverage industry, entire categories too can be disrupted.

Fun and pleasure combined with good taste are what animates eating and drinking and brings consumers back to a food product time and time again. It's more important than specific dietary attributes. For example, keto and Whole30 will in all likelihood eventually go the way of low-fat, which was hot in the 1980s and 1990s in the US but has little consumer currency today. Joy though is a more permanent attribute.

Consumers use enjoyable foods and beverages to experience physical delight, for mental and emotional relaxation, and to signal success and achievement to themselves and others. We're almost hard-wired to do so. Consumers also are increasingly adopting food and drink brands and products into their identities. 

Creating a sense of fun and pleasure for food brands and products is no easy task and it's easier to do in some categories, such as snacks, than it is to do in other categories, such as condiments. But the potential to do so exists in most categories. 

As I see it, there are a number of key ingredients food marketers need to include in any recipe designed to add fun and pleasure to their food brands and products.

Start with authenticity. Modern consumers are craving authenticity in food brands in the same way they're craving authenticity in their political leaders and the formal institutions they deal with daily. Authenticity then is the building block for creating pleasure, fun and happiness in food brands and products. For example, Ben & Jerry's ice cream has managed to develop authenticity in the minds of many consumers with its commitment to sustainability and its support for a myriad of liberal public policies. This authentic base has allowed it to create a brand that brings pleasure, fun and happiness to millions of consumers, which has resulted in strong brand equity. Eating Ben & Jerry's ice cream makes its buyers happy, which is why they keep coming back for more.

Create a sense of discovery. A sense of discovery goes hand-in-hand with instilling a sense of fun in a food brand. Discovery also is part and parcel of experience, which is what today's consumers are looking for in the food and drink brands they choose to buy and support. Trader Joe's is a perfect example of how to use discovery to create a sense of fun and pleasure. It's own-brand food and beverage products are imbued with a sense of discovery through origin stories and emotional imagery. The company then communicates this fun and whimsy in its marketing communications and in its stores. The result is that consumers find pleasure, fun and happiness in Trader Joe's various brands and products.

Include an element of surprise. Surprise like discovery keeps consumers interested and even intrigued. It's like a good television show with unexpected twists and turns in every episode. Did the butler do it? An element of surprise keeps them coming back for more. Surprise is a key ingredient in the pleasure, fun and happiness creation equation.

Include a sense of theatre. Discovery, surprise and theatre are all related in creating a sense of pleasure, fun and happiness in food brands and products. Food exploration - new ingredients, new ways of food preparation and even the exotic - is popular among consumers today. Brand experience trumps mere consumption, which is why we're seeing so many innovative small brands disrupting traditional brands in numerous categories. A sense of theatre engages consumers as part of experience.

Make "fun" a value proposition. Playfulness is a key element in creating pleasure, fun and happiness in a food brand and product. Marketers should emphasise the playful aspects of their brands and products and how they relate to people's lives as a way to engage consumers on the brand journey and experience. 

Embed pleasure in the brand experience. Using the elements noted above marketers should embed the attributes of pleasure, fun and happiness throughout their messaging and storytelling. It's not enough, for example, to describe how a particular brand or product is 'better-for-you.' Consumers also want to know how the experience of using it will bring them more pleasure than buying a competing brand will. The brand is the experience and the end result of using it needs to be pleasure, fun and happiness. Stories are the new brand currency and are an essential tool in bringing the elements of pleasure, fun and happiness to consumers through brands and products.

Foods and beverages - and not just those containing sugar and alcohol - are becoming increasingly important in American food culture. Whether it's the sensory and emotional experience of indulging in a premium food product, the joy of snacking, or the physical and psychological pleasure we derive from eating foods that enhance our health and wellness, people are turning more and more to food and drink as a source of fun and happiness in their lives. The joy of eating is alive and well in the USA.

This reality offers food marketers and brand managers an opportunity to put added and renewed focus on the pleasurable attributes of their brands and products, which can be an important point of differentiation in today's packaged foods landscape which is increasingly being defined by the health and dietary aspects of brands and products. 

Consumers today want to be delighted by food brands and products. Mere functionality is no longer sufficient. Consumer delight leads to sales and stronger brand equity. A renewed focus on pleasure, fun and happiness in food marketing might be one way for brands to gain competitive advantage today. After all, food fads and even trends come and go but pleasure, fun and happiness are human constants.

just-food columnist Victor Martino is a California-based strategic marketing and business development consultant, analyst, entrepreneur and writer, specialising in the food and grocery industry. He is available for consultation at: victormartino415@gmail.com and https://twitter.com/VictorMartino01.