Trends watchers say the global market for organic, natural and functional foods and beverages is the next trillion dollar industry. This is being driven by hundreds of emerging brands, competing for two primary things: shelf-space (including virtual shelf-space) and mindshare.
After talking to dozens of companies at the recent Natural Products Expo in Baltimore, their day to-day reality is a common story of high-speed juggling acts. The shelf-space race is a grind. Sales and marketing leaders have to prioritize getting boots on the ground, building retailer relationships and handling sales support. Critical mindshare work often simmers on the back burner.
In many cases, having a marketing agency is a must for companies to kickstart brands in a way that allows them to stay focused on fighting fires. But how do you find a partner who can deal with the complexities of the food business?
Here are 5 speed-dating tips for emerging brands on the hunt for an agency:
1. Pick a partner to grow with. Flexibility and scalability are required when your priorities shift frequently. Bigger firms, with their layers of management and processes, are slow to adapt, like turning a cruise ship around. Find an established, yet nimble agency that is accustomed to entrepreneurial clients fighting for growth in competitive categories. And don’t get locked into cumbersome retainers. Start out with project work and grow together.
2. Make sure they do business. If you are only looking at B2C advertising agencies and design firms with a slick aesthetic, take a step back. A lot of what you need may be better found in agencies with B2B chops in addition to consumer. Find a partner who understands the selling process, corporate communications, industry public relations and business strategy. You’ll build a stronger foundation that will make your consumer marketing much more effective.
3. Find some food snobs. If your agency isn’t made up of people who know how to spell quinoa, you’ve got the wrong folks. Food is culture and your brand’s marketing needs to emanate culture. Throughout your search, ask questions about new chefs, hottest food trends, favorite food literature, etc. If they are faking, you’ll know.
4. They better know how to dance. It’s important for your agency to be able to represent your brand with customers. Whether it’s a big food show or critical face-to-face meeting with a retailer, having a partner you can take to the dance is huge. When you’re short on staff, an agency can be an extension of the team…if they know your business inside and out (and clean up well).
5. Relationships matter. A lot. If public relations is an avenue you want to pursue (and we’d recommend it), then you need an agency that has established relationships with food bloggers, magazine editors and content developers. Anyone can write a news release, but getting your brand in front of the editor of a major culinary magazine is something else. Ask agencies who they know and what hits they’ve landed for other clients.
Good luck and let us know how we can help!