Brand power in hands of food fashion police

Research made available to Marketing Week has identified a small but influential group of ’taste setters’ that food and drink brands need to get on board before a product launch.

Ever wondered how a food or drink product becomes cool? Or what makes a new chocolate bar or soft drink fly off the shelves? According to a new study, it is down to the 7% of UK consumers who are “taste setters”.

The Oxford Research Agency (TORA), which advises retailers and manufacturers on how to successfully develop new products, polled 1,500 people from six countries to find out what makes people buy new food and drink products and the factors that persuade them to try something new.

The research suggests that food and drink marketers should concentrate their efforts on this small group of influential consumers because they affect the attitudes of the rest of the population.

Taste setters are often the first to buy new brands or products and tell their friends and family about them. They will often talk about food-related

TV programmes or magazine articles and are frequently asked for their opinion. So, although they are a small group, they can be highly influential.

A product launch that gets 60% distribution in the first few weeks of launch will see “taste setters” buying the brand, says TORA chief executive Chris Sinclair.

“As well as talking to their friends, taste setters also like to tell the world when they’ve discovered something new and social media is a fantastic avenue through which they can do that.”

Unilever-owned Marmite is a product that has used social media platforms to target taste setters, with its recent campaign for Marmite XO, says Sinclair. The variant is a limited edition, extra strong, extra mature version of the yeast spread.

It used just 30 people to launch the product via social media, and did no other advertising. “They really found the people that would evangelise about the product,” Sinclair says. (See The Frontline, right.)

“Taste adopters” are the second group to purchase new food and drink brands, buying these products a month or so after seeing them on the shelf, with 21% of UK consumers belonging to this category. “Members of this group will need three or four exposures to the product in store before they really start considering it,” Sinclair says.

Bernard Broderick, Sales director, Broderick’s

Broderick’s is an Irish [cakes and sweets] brand that we launched in the UK this year. We started our social media activity in May because we wanted a three-month build-up before we started to get some national distribution. We didn’t want it to feel like a big brand trying to weigh in heavily, but aimed to build in an organic way.

We aimed to recruit some really good brand advocates, who would then become trendsetters for us and push the brand out to a wider audience. Some brands would pay for advocates, but for us it’s been a slower build.

We’ve put out information about our brand to key opinion formers in the industry, we then moved that out to people we know are interested in and comment on food and drink, and now we are starting to naturally build up our customer numbers. Whenever we do trade shows, or anypromotional launches, we direct people to our digital and social platforms, which allows them to interact with the brand.

We’ve always tried to have a daily dialogue with our fans via Twitter and Facebook. When we launched our digital presence, we used a viral film that introduced the characters Bernard and Barry Broderick. The digital presence enabled people to understand who they were and the relationship between them as brothers, which has helped to set the tone. We pushed that out on the website and through YouTube.

We’re not looking to buy our way into favourability. We want the growth to be made on real recommendations from family and friends, not some spam-style seeding, so I agree with the sentiment of the research findings.