I had the opportunity to network with a group of business and communications students after work today. As someone who hasn’t been apart of the workforce for very long, I’m always apprehensive about attending these types of events because in all honesty, how much sage wisdom can I really offer these eager, overdressed youth?
To be completely candid, I rarely look forward to these events for the usual reasons – my precious free time could be better spent, I don’t have time, I’m tired, yada yada yada. But every time I go, I always leave feeling extremely rewarded. These bright, appreciative students learn valuable lessons from me and my professional peers and oftentimes, I learn or realize something new myself. Tonight was one of those nights.
My first salaried “real world” job was a unique one – I was a traveling PR advocate and spokesperson for a major brand of consumer foods. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life and I am certain that I wouldn’t be the person or professional I am today without that phase of my life.
Whenever people learn about that job, the number one question I always receive is “Did you get sick of eating that brand of food?” In short, the question is no. I love that brand of food, I’m still loyal to it and encourage my friends and family to purchase it too. For the past 3 years, that has been the end of my train of thought. No one would ever question that response any further and I never felt the need to expand on it – until tonight when I thought about it a little differently.
In any field of marketing – sales, advertising, promotions, PR – one of the first cardinal rules they drill into your brain is know your audience. Who are you selling to? Who are you communicating with? How do I effectively reach them? What do they do on a daily basis? You can’t launch a successful idea and certainly not a high-budget integrated campaign without profiling who you want to target.
So with that in mind, I realized a critical flaw to that age old question that has plagued me for so long – “Did you ever get sick of eating that brand of food?” The question is still no – and here’s my reasoning: Everyone eats. People eat every day; ideally three times a day. People eat for different reasons – energy, fun, necessity – you name it. But does the average person eat only one thing? Does John Doe have the same meal three times a day every day of his monotonous life? Absolutely not.
Think of a family’s dinners over the course of a week – perhaps a casserole one night, spaghetti the next, ordering a pizza once in a while – why would food and beverage be a multimillion dollar industry if we didn’t have varieties and options to choose from? When put in that perspective, it’s ridiculous to think any individual would only eat one item for the rest of their life, so why would anyone assume that I would just because I represented a certain brand?
My role as a spokesperson, marketer and in an abstract way, salesperson for that brand was to give you reasons to buy it instead of other options. When you needed or wanted to buy a snack, my job was to communicate why you should buy our snacks. I wanted you to buy our snacks because they were sweeter or yummier or healthier. I wanted you to buy our snacks because the brand made a positive impression on you or your kids or your grandkids and for that reason, you are likely to be loyal and buy it again. That’s the strategy behind selling something as common and every day as food – something so temporary and ephemeral, but terribly necessary at the same time.
This marketing formula isn’t static though. For the reasons I just detailed, the way we feel and behave towards food and drink is fickle by design. The average consumer consumes a variety of food and drink in their diets – different food groups (vegetables, proteins), different reasons (coffee for energy, soda for refreshment), different needs (fast food for convenience, a fancy restaurant for a date or family celebration) – the only common thread is the fact that everyone eats it every day.
But what about your smartphone? Or your car? Do you want consistency and reliability from those devices and machines? Absolutely. You can walk down a grocery aisle and try out a new brand of toothpaste or cookies – but would you waltz into Best Buy and drop a few bills on just any laptop or flatscreen? No, that would be ludicrous. What about your running shoe? If you train for a marathon and dedicate hours of your day every day for a substantial amount of time – that better be a damn good shoe. Say you want to do another marathon – how likely are you to stick with the footwear brand that got you through those 26.2 miles and helped you accomplish such a lofty, time-intensive goal? Would you be more inclined to buy their branded socks and sports bras or download their mobile app to track your progress? I’d argue that you would.
This way of thinking isn’t new or complicated – it’s common sense, really. Though we all know it, we rarely articulate it. On the surface level, I think we treat all marketing, advertising and PR two-dimensionally. After reflecting on my epiphany for a few hours, my biggest piece of advice for the promising youth I met today – is to think creatively, yes. Think big, yes. But first and foremost, think practically.