It's easy to fall behind your competitors— especially in the food service market— if you aren't staying in touch with your consumers' preferences. And that's especially true if you're trying to attract the 75 million members of the Millennial generation to your table.
Millennials— young adults between 20 to 35 years of age— now make up the largest age demographic in America. With their best income-earning years ahead of them, their potential purchasing power is broad, and their preferences have been quickly reshaping the market for new food products.
But Millennials are notoriously fickle in their choices. That can make them difficult to market toward. "No one truly understands millennials," one group of market analysts recently lamented, "not even millennials.”
As a generation raised on the Internet and used to its seemingly boundless capacity for providing variety and instant gratification, Millennials have been programmed from childhood to quickly filter out noise and to move on to the next, more exciting choice. If your brand has become stale, you are in grave danger of losing their attention. And if that's the case, it may be time to conduct a brand audit.
What Exactly is a "Brand Audit?"
A brand audit is an in-depth analysis of how your brand's messaging, presentation and strategic goals line up against the prevailing expectations of your target consumer group or groups.
"Allowing your brand to deteriorate, or failing to update your brand in response to new environmental factors like changing demographics or new products, is a major mistake that can cost you your loyal customers and prevent you from finding new ones," wrote AudienceBloom's CEO Jayson DeMers. "By determining which qualities of your brand are currently effective and which ones are not, you can restructure your identity and your messaging goals to produce better results."
To do that, you need to gather as much data as you can about the people you want to sell to. You need to know why they do what they do, what motivates them to act and what information channels they pay attention to.
Focus groups, social media polls and traffic analysis, website analytics and sales trend data can all be aggregated to provide you a picture of where your brand stacks up in real time. And only once you have that knowledge can you begin to formulate a cogent plan of action.
"Your branding is a lynchpin for your overall company strategy. It defines your identity, both to your internal employees and your external customers, and dictates the messaging and actions you take to move the company forward," DeMers said. "The plain way to say it is this: you're giving your brand a makeover, but first you need to find out what's in style."
How Can Food Marketers and Innovators Undertake a Brand Audit?
There are plenty of analytic firms that can help you figure out how your brand is positioned and how it is performing relative to the competition. They can be quite expensive, but often the information gleaned can be valuable enough to justify the spend.
For the first time auditor, there are some simple steps you can take to get started on your own:
- Map out the market. Write out your brand's purpose and goals. Figure out who you want to sell to, what you want to sell them and how you want to sell it. What trends in the marketplace will affect your business in the near-term and long-term?
- Develop a picture of a typical consumer in each segment you want to sell to. Does a consumer in Group A ascribe to a particular set of values that are in line with your brand's own? Is an individual in Group B motivated by a particular sales channel or source of information? What does a consumer in a given segment expect of companies with which he or she does business? If you can develop a consumer profile, you can sell to it.
- Figure out how you match up with the competition. List your main competitors and their known strengths and weaknesses, then list out your own brand's strengths and weaknesses. Look for areas in which your relative strengths can be used to advantage, and take steps to steal the competition's thunder in areas where your brand lacks.
- Ask your current customers for feedback. If you can figure out why your current customers are buying from you now, you can attract more of them, or counter-market to those who remain unconvinced. Social media channels can be of particular value for this if you are seeking to engage Millennial consumers, but they are not the only source of information. It may be worth focus grouping.
- Test your products and services. Are there aspects of the dining experience or purchase experience that are frustrating or off-putting? Does your product stand out well on the grocery shelf? Is your packaging attractive and non-distracting? Does your product offer a new or significantly different taste experience than other new food products, or is it getting lost among many similar flavors?
If you can't see your brand through your customers' eyes, you don't truly understand your customers.
A brand audit could help your food product to break through the static and develop a following. If you find your sales lagging, it may be time to update your image. Just make sure that when you do, you keep America's largest consumer age group in the forefront of your mind.