A case in point is the upcoming ShiftCon conference in New Orleans in early December. The conference bills itself as “an eco-wellness influencer conference focusing on food, wellness, health, sustainability and platform growth.” The heavyweight card of speakers signed up for the conference is an indicator of how seriously the concept of influencing the ‘influencers’ (the term that’s preferred to ‘blogger,’ apparently) is taken within the industry. Among the speakers at the conference are well-known food and supplement industry names as Dr Tierowna Low Dog, Dannon CEO Mariano Lozano, Twinlab CEO Naomi Whittel and Annie’s president John Foraker.
Meeting consumers where they are
Steve Hoffman, CEO of marketing consultancy Compass Natural Brands said companies and brands have to meet their customers where they are and that’s increasingly online in communities of their own choosing. Media consumers no longer have to abide by the choices made for them by newspaper editors and TV producers, and it’s likely that in the fallout from this year’s divisive election and polarized media climate those traditional outlets will be in worse odor than ever. Consumers, especially women who control more and more of the nation’s wealth as far as day-to-day buying decisions are concerned, are choosing to put their trust in new voices, such as bloggers. (Full disclosure: Hoffman has been consulting with the conference on publicity.)
Hoffman said the ShiftCon conference is particularly tailored toward a demographic of women who are trying to forge healthier and more supportive local communities for their families.
“They don’t like to be called mommy bloggers; I call them healthy lifestyle bloggers,” Hoffman told NutraIngredients-USA.
Hoffman said brands have to adapt to learn how to craft their message to the demographic they’re trying to reach. And they have to know how to frame that message in such a way that it will resonate with that target audience. In a sense advertising experts have always known this and have chosen platforms to reach certain audiences, such as choosing certain TV shows at certain times of day, for example. But now, Hoffman said the media landscape is so fractured that brands need to think about spreading their message in little bits and pieces in many venues, and bloggers are a growing piece of that puzzle.
“The media is changing. It’s not just your New York Times any more,” he said.
Knowing which bloggers to engage with is part of the trick Hoffman said.
“When it is the Huffington Post or The Times the credibility scale is of course weighted more heavily,” he said. But he said blogging as a platform is becoming more and more mainstream. Hoffman noted that some blogging platforms, such as Civil Eats, are becoming brands all their own.
“When bloggers are being hosted at major trade shows and their reports and opinions are taken note of in major trade journals, I think the platform has arrived,” he said. "A blog like Civil Eats is getting a high degree of respectability."
ROI for suppliers
The return on investment for engaging with bloggers, if one can use so archaic a term, is pretty clear for finished goods brands. But what’s the benefit for an ingredient supplier like Ganeden, which supplies its BC30 branded strain of Bacillus coagulans for functional foods, yogurts, baked goods and other food matrices? (The supplement end of the BC30 business was sold to Schiff Nutrition a number of years ago). Ganeden is one of the event’s sponsors. Erin Miller, director of marketing, said the goals are both to spread awareness of probiotics in general and to motivate consumers to look for the company’s branded strain on labels specifically.
“Consumers are becoming much more conscientious of labels and more focused on the individual ingredients going into the foods and beverages they consume. Probiotics have become a top trend and since the benefits are strain specific, it’s important to help educate influencers and media on probiotics as an ingredient in these products,” she said.
“While our main business is providing probiotic ingredients to food and beverage manufacturers, we also see the importance in educating consumers as well. There is a lot of incorrect information being spread, and the more educated influencers and consumers are on probiotic topics, the better understanding they’ll have on what to look for in probiotic products,” she added.
Miller said online communication is immediate; a conversation at one of these conferences could be disseminated that same day. But the effect of these efforts can be a very long term affair. After all, making consumers more aware of category, then getting them excited about an ingredient, looking for it on a label, buying more of those products and having that translate back into increased demand at the supplier level is not something that can happen overnight. But with the right set of expectations, the effort is worth it, she said.
“It is more difficult to measure ROI in the influencer space, which is why our focus is not on the numbers. Instead, our focus is on the quality of the conversations and relationships we’re able to build from events like this,” Miller said.
“For us, it’s not about the number of hits or selecting who to speak with, but rather spreading awareness and talking about probiotics with anyone who has an interest in learning. And an event like this is a great place to do that with 300-500 healthy living influencers in one place. We want to continue to be known as a leader and an innovator in the probiotic space, and our focus here is more on spreading accurate information by being a reliable resource for the probiotic topic,” she said.