Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: How to select and best use food influencers to market products

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While Americans are becoming more adventurous in what they eat, they often still need a lot of convincing to try something new – especially if they haven’t heard of it before and don’t know what it will taste like, how it will impact their health, how to prepare it or even, as we have seen with many rising superfoods in the past few years, how to pronounce it.

This last point is particularly challenging given many consumers believe if they can’t pronounce something, they shouldn’t eat it. This logic has led to the undoing of many preservatives and other “chemical sounding” ingredients in packaged foods that, with a little ingenuity, manufacturers have figured out how to remove or explain to consumers in labeling.

But that doesn’t mean not being able to pronounce something means it shouldn’t be consumed is sound logic. There are lots of ingredients and products that are difficult to pronounce that offer great flavor and nutritional value. Think about consumers’ struggles to pronounce acai and quinoa before they became household words and, for many, pantry staples.

A closer look at the success of these two ingredients, and many other emerging superfoods and cuisines, reveals that a common strategy for helping consumers overcome their fear of the unknown is to have someone they trust introduce them to the new food or beverage. This might be a friend, a family member, a dietitian or even a celebrity with whom the consumer feels connected.

Julie Meyer, the founding partner for the nutrition communication company Eat Well Global, discusses the value of these people, who she calls food influencers, in this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast. She explains that influencers can play a pivotal role in helping new foods, beverages and brand succeed. Or, they can create the opposite effect if they are a bad match for the product or target audience, she warns.

3 factors to consider when working with a spokesperson

To select and maximize the best influencer, Meyer recommends brands consider three factors.

The first is whether to choose an influencer or spokesperson who is credentialed.

“If you have a very strong nutrition story, we really recommend you work with a credentialed food influencer,” Meyer said. “Right now, we are looking at a space where there are a lot of influencers on social media and bloggers and journalists, but they are not credentialed. And we feel there is a lot more gravitas to your story when you work with a credentialed influencer, so whether that is a registered dietitian, nutritionist or a nurse practitioner … [they] add a lot more credibility to your story.”

Another part of this is ensuring the combination makes sense, Meyer said. An example is a chef explaining the nutritional value of chia seeds or a pediatrician talking about how a product can benefit infants and children. A bad example would be a hip pop star trying to represent a brand aimed at older, conservative consumers.

Finding the right person to represent your product or brand is only part of the puzzle. The second element is thinking through how that influencer will best reach and connect with your consumers. For the best results, Meyer says, companies need to do more than pay for tweet or Instagram post, which she warns can be misleading in its results.

Rather, Meyer recommends companies create an advisory role for influencers. By opening up two-way communication, brands develop a better relationship and can incorporate influencers' input to advance the brand further.

“Get their input because they can have a lot to offer. They have an outside perspective that when you are working in a fishbowl of a brand can be really hard to see,” Meyer said.

And finally, Meyer says, just like transparency in the food supply and production is important to consumers, so too is it in marketing. This means ensuring consumers don’t feel duped by a spokesperson and always understand the relationship between the company and the influencer.

“We feel strongly if you are working with an influencer it is important that the influencer is up front about the relationship … when they communicate on your behalf,” Meyer said.

A good resource to review before working with influencers or engaging a social media campaign is the Federal Trade Commissions’ “Dot Com Disclosures” Guidance, which was updated in 2013 to better reflect marketing via social medial and online. 

Common mistakes to avoid when working with an influencer

Failing to properly disclose the company’s relationship with an influencer when necessary is only one of several common mistakes that Meyer says she sees when brands team with a spokesperson.

The first mistake is creating a relationship that is not mutually beneficial, Meyer said. She explained engaging with the spokesperson to understand their thoughts and feelings about the brands will prevent this and improve the message to the consumer in a more authentic way.

“The second thing I see is just being tone deaf and hiring the wrong influencer for your product. And, generally, how I have seen it go down is when it is a stodgy product that hires a hip and cool influencer and it doesn’t feel like a genuine fit and people see right through that,” she said.

Finally, she said there are many missed opportunities to engage with influencers who are not the usual suspects.

“There is the traditional social media influencer, but also there is the opportunity for educating with dieticians and nutritionists on your topic whether through webinars or education opportunities. There are ways to engage, let’s say, with fitness professionals or other people who are talking about health and nutrition” that often are overlooked, Meyer said.

Country of origin matters

Who to select as a health influencer and how to most effectively use that person also depends on where the product is marketed. Meyer explains that Americans acceptance of health influencers is much greater than in Europe and that who people listen to varies in the US, Europe and other parts of the world.

“Here in the US what we described is very common – having an spokesperson who is credible and working in social media on your behalf. … However, in Europe it is quite different,” she said.

To successfully navigate international waters, Meyer recommends companies work with a team on location that fully understands the country’s culture.

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