HE WHO PAYS THE PIPER Once upon a time…

…functional food and nutraceuticals manufacturers
could really go to town on their product marketing. Then
regulations tightened, EFSA started to dictate on-pack
wording and everyone started to play safe with woolly
intangibles. Ask yourself, what are your key messages?
Innovative? Solutions? It’s likely you’re not alone. Take
a look round a tradeshow or browse a few competitor
websites – many of your peers are adopting alarmingly
similar themes. All of which raises the distinct possibility
that every company’s points of differentiation will start to
converge into one instantly forgettable approach.
The real issues facing the functional food industry no
longer revolve around how to address those pesky EFSA
regulations or annihilate the competition in this lamentable
economic climate. As the worlds of food and pharma continue
to collide and product messaging becomes unassailable, the
heart of the debate must beat to a new tune: it is the brand
that is becoming all important. To be successful, a brand
must establish its credibility by building trust, and create a
personality through becoming associated with consistent
values. How? Through compelling narrative that engages soft
skills such as empathy, insight and intuition. Simply put, by
telling its story.
“We cling nervously to the melody, but we don’t handle
it freely, we don’t really make anything new out of it, we
merely overload it.” Brahms
Building a brand presents the perfect opportunity to really
get creative, especially in the often traditional business-tobusiness
environment. But beware the Trojan horse – a model
in which a product’s appearance and values don’t stack up.
Gaining long term trust requires telling your story with integrity,
or you’re setting your brand up for a fall. It starts with customer
research. Asking customers what they want – rather than
delivering what you think they want – will keep you informed of
shifting preferences and shape future product and marketing
strategy. A relevant story connects your target audience to
your brand, builds recognition, gains acceptance – and will be
Public relations is the discipline that builds brand credibility
and, critically, protects long term brand reputation. It can shape
opinions and change perceptions. In the functional food sector,
consumers tend to lean towards scepticismi, responding
to media hype surrounding so-called ‘Frankenstein foodsi i,’
for example, rather than seeking to understand the benefits
that true added-value foods can offer. If food is to become
an accepted vehicle to deliver the functionality of certain
pharmaceuticals, manufacturers need to connect with their
consumers, to engage on a platform of education and trust –
to set the agenda for the future. Pharma-nutritionists offering
solutions to help prevent or manage chronic disease such as
diabetes and Alzheimer’s will need effective communications
to achieve the seismic cultural shift (in the Western world at
least) from cure towards prevention. And, while bathroom
cabinets crammed with tablets worthy of a Hirst installation
are disappearing, we continue to pop pills in the absence of
understanding any viable alternative.
Calls the tune
In a era where broadcasting your (researched) key messages
through a (carefully constructed) story to the (segmented)
audience has, in theory, never been easier, it’s important to
identify your core values and stick to them. With nearly half of
all US adults learning about food via social networksi i i, digital
channels present the ideal opportunity to fashion a compelling
brand personality – with a voice that resonates above the white
noise. So go on – pay the piper, set the agenda, call the tune.
One thing is certain: clinging nervously to the same old melody
is the quickest route to obscurity.
i Mintel, January 2013
i i The Guardian, 7 January 2013
i i i therealtimereport.com, 2012
Alison Owen is head of public
relations at leading international
food and nutritional trade
marketing communications
agency BDB. With more than
15 years’ experience in the
strategic planning and direction
of award-winning business-tobusiness
campaigns, Alison
has helped shape the corporate
reputation of major companies
within the sector and has a broad
understanding of the global issues, trends and legislation
that impact the industry.