From Food to Lifestyle Brand—3 Brands Using Digital Audiences to Change the Story

A shift is occurring in retail marketing that parallels the shift from bricks-and-mortar to online—it’s no longer about buying a product; it’s about brand storytelling and how it connects to a consumer’s lifestyle. When it comes to food and nutrition brands, consumers are in search of a relationship tailored to their lifestyle, whether it’s buying gluten-free, non-GMO, or organic products or buying from socially conscious companies. And that’s just their personal needs and philosophy. Enter the evolution to lifestyle brand: From fast-casual restaurants to food home delivery to online groceries, new business models and ways for customers to engage are springing up that make complicated Starbucks orders look like child’s play.

Merging lifestyle and products is nothing new in the food and beverage space. Fast-casual mega-chains like Starbucks, Chipotle, and Panera tapped into the evolved and conscientious consumer market years ago. However, brands are forging new frontiers by tapping into the rise of food home delivery, more people with special dietary needs, and a love of cooking to build influencer communities with a depth of knowledge of both lifestyle and nutrition.

Such a marketing transformation raises many questions: How can traditional retailers keep up? And how is an evolving approach to content marketing helping shape this transformation?

Make Sure Your Content Defines a Lifestyle

I hate grocery shopping. I hate the parking lot, the monotony of buying the same items each week, the price and ingredient checking, and the endless rolling of the cart down the aisles. I’m not alone—with the growth of e-commerce options for anything from meal planning to actual grocery shopping, brands like Thrive Market and Brandless (recently profiled by Taylor Holland for the Content Standard) are trying to engage customers who seek a unique experience and high-quality items at an affordable price.

Online organic grocer Thrive Market has taken the direct-to-consumer members-only approach: Think Costco but without the parking-lot hassle. Where traditional groceries might focus solely on getting you in with low prices, online markets like Thrive understand and cultivate an audience who wants an experience that is a combination of thrifty, healthy, and thoughtful. With 400,000 members, they have established a community voice that can roar.

Leverage Your Influencers

With food, we all want to be healthy, feel healthy, and look healthy. When it comes to recipes and getting people hooked, the picture tells the story. You’re not just looking at a beautiful plate of food and feeling envy; you’re encouraged to take the next step to make it yourself. In other words, you’re pulled in.

Whole30 is the book that launched a nutrition movement akin to the Paleo diet—for 30 days, you eat only whole foods, cutting sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy from your diet. But, rather than focusing on elimination, Whole30 took a different approach by focusing on education—encouraging participants and the Whole30 community to share recipes and encourage one another. Eschewing traditional marketing and advertising strategies, Whole30 went the social media route with Instagram, leveraging influencers and user-generated content. It’s clearly working, with over 1 million combined followers on its accounts, @whole30, @whole30recipes, and @whole30approved, and over 2 million photos tagged with the hashtag #whole30.

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Evolve with the Times

One of the first food and beverage companies to wed product to lifestyle was, of course, Starbucks. It’s hard to remember a day when a cup of coffee was just that. Snarky eye rolls and pop culture references to Starbucks aside, creating a coffee culture to fit the US consumer mindset was no easy feat. Until we were introduced to a Frappucino, most Americans were happy to pick up a can of Folgers at the market instead of a specialty Italian brand. Yet even before social media, Starbucks built a fierce and loyal following around the globe with innovative brand strategy and customer engagement.

Branding and creative guru (and former vice president of global creative at Starbucks) Stanley Hainsworth shared his thoughts with Debbie Millman in a Fast Company interview: “For Starbucks, it was creating a community, a ‘third place.’ It was a very conscious attribute of the brand all along and impacted every decision about the experience: who the furniture was chosen for, what artwork would be on the walls, what music was going to be played, and how it would be played.”

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