Audience Awareness Fail: Serving Frozen Food to Food Bloggers

[NOTE: This is a guest post by Natanya Anderson, Vice President of Content at Powered, Inc.]

This past weekend I took a personal trip to San Francisco to attend the inaugural BlogHer Food conference. This is BlogHer’s first topic-specific conference and all-in-all I would label it a huge success. I came home smarter, full of inspiration about how to make my blog better, and having made a host of new connections, three things I look for in any conference. However, there was one pretty significant blemish on the event that I truly believe was the result of a brand thinking only about themselves and not at all about the audience who also happen to be their potential customers and more importantly, advocates. Based on this brand debacle, I offer a cautionary tale of what can go very wrong when a brand fails to put its audience first in social media marketing activities.

But First, a Word about Reality
Before I jump into my story and what I think the brand could have done differently, I would like to go on record as saying I understand the following realities of this situation:
  • BlogHer works with sponsors to make their conferences accessible to as many people as possible. The folks at BlogHer are amazing advocates for bloggers, particularly women bloggers, and they put together great conferences. I am one of their biggest fans. They realize that blogging is a hobby for most bloggers and that conferences represent a big out-of-pocket expense, so they work to make the conferences as affordable as possible. The cost for this conference was only $99 (plus travel and lodging) because 67% of the total conference cost was subsidized by sponsors.
  • In the food world, the sad/harsh/unfortunate reality is that most of the big marketing dollars needed to sponsor an event like this one lives with the big brands that make packaged foods. To make this conference possible, BlogHer had to work with brands that might not necessarily be in complete synch with the food blogging audience. This meant BlogHer had to carefully balance the wants and needs of the audience with the reality of finding the funds needed to create the conference for them. However, a really savvy sponsor would have seen this event as opportunity to introduce themselves to this large group of food influencers in a way that would make these influencers advocates. Sadly, savvy sponsors were few and far between, limited largely to Scharffenberger Chocolate who did a great job of understanding the audience and tweaking their approach specifically for us.
  • This was a first time event for BlogHer. While BlogHer has run many successful blogger conferences, this was their first attempt at a niche-focused conference, and to be honest, they didn’t start with the easiest group of bloggers. As a group, food bloggers are opinionated, vocal, and hard to please. If I’m honest with myself, we can move beyond knowledgeable to be snobby about food, sometimes detrimentally. I think this conference was a learning experience for everyone, including BlogHer, and they now understand food bloggers better than they did and I’m fully confident that future events will overcome some of the challenges of this first one. If they announced BlogHer Food 2010 today I would be first in line to buy a ticket.
And now, on with the story.
Frozen Food for Lunch? Really?
Bertolli Italian Foods was one of the major sponsors of the conference. They created a special event for a small group of bloggers at the St. Supery winery in Napa on the night before the conference started. The event featured a contest where the prize for a couple of lucky bloggers was working with Bertolli’s celebrity Chef, Rocco Dispirito, to design the menu. Bertolli also sponsored lunch at the conference itself and once again brought in Rocco to demo a couple of dishes for the attendees.
When I sat down to lunch on Saturday with two of my fellow bloggers and looked at the menu, I did a double take when I realized that the bulk of the menu featured food from Bertolli’s line of frozen food. I said to my companions “Are they really serving us frozen food?” The answer, sadly, was “Yes.” There were two menu items, the appetizer and dessert, which were created for the conference by Rocco, but indeed, the rest of the lunch would be the same food I could buy in the freezer section of my local grocery store. Needless to say, I was shocked and disappointed.
San Francisco is one of the best cities in the world for a foodie. There is no shortage of amazing food that features everything from haute cuisine to the best taco I’ve ever eaten in my life. Walking down the streets of Chinatown on Friday before the conference I passed stall after stall of fresh seasonal produce, fish right out of the bay, and luscious Peking duck hanging in shop windows. At the Ferry Building Marketplace I bought orange and fennel salami from Boccalone, sampled local produce like heirloom tomatoes, tasted amazing cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.
In this context, a frozen lunch was truly unacceptable. I love my cheese and pasta as much as the next girl, but I promised myself long ago that when I indulge in high-fat and high-calorie food, it will be great food. The lunch menu promised to be high calorie but not at all great. So, I left, along with a few of my fellow bloggers, and went on the hunt for a better food experience. The result was an amazing lunch of orecchiette pasta with heirloom tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano from the San Francisco MOMA’s Caffè Museo.
It was fresh and flavorful, featuring local ingredients and organic product. In other words, exactly the kind of pasta lunch I would expect in San Francisco. I was disappointed to miss out on Rocco’s demonstration because he truly is a gifted chef, as well as the opportunity to network with a large group of fellow bloggers, but I had a great conversation at lunch with a smaller group to go with our great food, exactly what I came to BlogHer food for. I was however able to keep up with the conference lunch via Twitter. Here’s a representative sampling of what attendees had to say:
  • @userealbutter: @manggy u certainly don’t have to be jealous of our lunch (travesty and p*nishment at same time) #blogherfood09
  • @cooklocal: So why am I so upset re: lunch? Hotel states that all food they make is local/sustainable. So I thought lunch would be good. #blogherfood09
  • @runwithtweezers: This lunch is beyond words. Frozen food at a conference of “food bloggers”? Hayle no. #blogherfood09
  • @KitchenParade: @marketingmommy Ha. Rubber chicken would have been improvement over actual #blogherfood lunch.
  • @jonesabi: Bertolli Frozen Meal Lunch. This is NOT enough wine. Oh, just kidding! Or am I?#blogherfood
  • @CarrotsNCake: Salad was delish! Not so sure about the frozen pasta. #blogherfood09
If Bertolli was looking to make a good impression on this group of 300 influential food bloggers, they failed pretty miserably. Instead of generating positive buzz among this group, they became the joke of the conference. They were so focused on their business need—getting their food into our mouths—they failed to really understand us as an audience, consider what it would take to make a favorable impression, and turn us into not only consumers of their product but influencers among our networks of readers. They had a genuine opportunity to create a propensity to buy among us and they completely missed the boat.
If Not Frozen Food, Then What?
Putting my content marketing hat on, I started to wonder what Bertolli could have done differently. After all, the whole lunch was a content marketing exercise where the content was the food they served us and the access to Rocco as a subject matter expert that they provided. It’s not like they didn’t have options. There were some things they might have done to create a better experience and advance their market goals:
  • Ideally, Bertolli would have leveraged their relationship with Rocco to create an amazing foodie-worthy menu that highlighted the best ingredients available in San Francisco. We did see a bit of this in the chocolate panna cotta that Rocco made that received rave reviews. From what I can tell about the smaller event on Friday night at the winery, this is the approach they took, so I’m unclear why they were unable to carry it over to lunch on Saturday. If they had served us an amazing lunch, we would have tweeted about it, posted pictures on Facebook, and written blog posts all extolling the virtues of the brand that created such an amazing experience for us. They would have turned us into advocates for their brand as a whole and generated positive buzz among our readership.
  • As an alternative, or preferably in combination with a largely fresh and special menu, they could have served us a dish that offers a unique twist on their frozen food offerings. This approach would have paid homage to us as bloggers interested in cooking techniques that go beyond heat-and-eat and further given us a creative jumping off point for our own variation recipes. Campbell’s took this approach with the food at the cocktail party they sponsored and it was a big improvement over the food at lunch.
  • They could have provided us with the recipes from the lunch, and possibly more, to use at will on our blogs, giving content to use on our blogs after the conference. If even just a few of us had posted the recipes, or our own versions of them, they would have achieved what I assume were their goals of building advocacy among bloggers and building awareness of their products among our readership.
The bottom line is if Bertolli had started their planning with what would be most interesting, useful, and tasty content for their audience, they absolutely would not have served us their frozen food. What they failed to realize is that, for the most part, we like to cook original recipes with whole ingredients, largely from scratch. Our readers visit our blogs specifically for these recipes and techniques, so the chances of our promoting or advocating for heat-and-eat food right out of the bag are pretty minimal. They simply failed to consider the needs of their audience, and for that they paid a pretty heavy price.

Weekly Social Marketing Links: Week of 9/21


Cross-posted on Citizen Marketer 2.1


Oh how quickly the time passes. As some of you know, I try and do a weekly digest of the links that my team (marketing, sales and product) come up with for our recurring staff meeting. A series of all day meetings and the usual travel have conspired against me. Fortunately for you, that doesn’t change the quality of the content/links that the team found.


With that as a backdrop, let’s see what we’ve got…



Beth Lopez (Marketing)


(9/16) My article submission for this week is called The Great Trust Offensive. It appears the top 100 brands (as ranked by Interbrand) have fallen out of the trust tree with consumers. Edelman conducted a phone survey and found that only 44% of Americans stated they trusted business, down from 58% in the fall of 2007. As a result, many of the top brands are now focusing their advertising and messaging on re-building this trust with consumers and joining the “conversation”. The article goes on to provide case examples of McDonald’s, Ford and American Express and has CMO’s of these companies quoted throughout.


You can also view the 100 Best Global Brands 2009 in a slideshow format which provides a snippet of their marketing strategies. I’ll see if I can download the full report and provide to everyone. Here’s the link to the slideshow.




(9/4) Joe Marchese throws down the traditional vs. social marketing gauntlet in the blog post,

The $1 Million Social Media Marketing Challenge, which starts with “I think there is an inherent conflict in the following statement: "We can’t measure social media ROI. But when we buy television in large amounts, we know it works." He goes on to state the problem with marketers comparing social media and TV and issues a challenge: If the ROI from social media is not equal to that from traditional media, his company will deliver free media until the difference is made up.


Interesting read to say the least.



DP Rabalais (Marketing)


(9/16) As I mentioned in our meeting, I thought it would be of value for all of us to become more familiar with Net Promoter Scores, since many companies place such a high value on them.




(9/4) The title is Social Net Branding Fails to Sway Women and the article was published toda
y on A study by ad:tech Chicago and Q Interactive that analyzes how women engage online with brands finds that 75 percent of women reported that social networking sites have little bearing on their purchasing decisions.


Sites have "somewhat" of an influence over 21.9 percent and greatly influence only 3.3 percent of users.


Only 10 percent of women said that participating in brand-related activities, such as finding information (8.7 percent) and writing reviews (1 percent), was their most common social media activity. Sending private messages to peers (34.6 percent), sharing photos (13.4 percent) and chatting (12.8 percent) ranked as women’s top-three social media activities.



Bill Fanning (BizDev)


(9/16) I actually have two articles to share. The first is post on Eyecube blog titled, Congratulations TGI Friday’s, Now the Work Begins and the second post was written by Greg Verdino and posted to his blog titled, Social Media Marketers are a Shallow Bunch. Both posts highlight the latest campaign byTGI Friday’s to drive Facebook fans but are curious about what’s next. Now that they’ve blown out the goal of reaching 500,000 fans (875,170 fans as of this morning) how do they plan to keep them engaged.  They’ve got a real opportunity to drive ongoing lasting relationships with their consumers and, quite frankly, revitalize an otherwise stale brand. Will they capitalize on it? We’ll keep watching and hope for the best. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my free burger… I think.




(9/4) This week’s shared post is from Jason Falls’ blog Social Media Explorer, titled, Brands Are People.  It’s short and simple but powerful. He refers to a message he received from a friend who worked in the Golden Age of the Advertising Industry and a WWII fighter pilot. He says “It seems we got into the idea that ads were a lot easier than relationships.” I’d agree and we’ve been saying this for a while, but it just seems more credible coming from someone who actually lived and worked during that time.


The rise of TV as a mass marketing media was certainly a major contributing factor that widened the relationship gap between consumers and companies. We live and work in an amazing time where the rise of the internet has provided consumers a media that will require companies to break down the walls that divided them and re-learn how to build real relationships with consumers. The companies who choose to embrace the new media and master it will have a leg up on those who don’t.


Who knows…maybe in 30 years our kids will be watching a show like Mad Men where they act out the lives of today’s Social Media movers and shakers. If the characters are based on the folks I’ve seen speaking on Social Media panels over the last couple years, it’s bound to be funny but not nearly as classy!



Jay MacIntosh (BizDev)


(9/16) What Powered does is game-changing for marketing.


At the end of last year as I was becoming more familiar with social media marketing and our company, my intuition was that speaking with customers on their terms (i.e. things that they care about, when they’re interested and with people they trust) was the golden ticket for marketers. The disconnect for me was the lack of available data to support my intuition. What I had from our client programs, or third party sources, wasn’t quite complete or reliable enough so the results story often came up short. I think that’s recently begun to change due to a number of factors including our improved measurement & reporting capabilities as well as other practitioners publicly sharing their results.


Let’s look at one key marketing metric related to engagement – click through rate (CTR). This article from MediaPost Tuesday Super for Facebook Brand Pages talks about a study that found the average CTR on Facebook brand pages to be 6.76%. It goes on to say that certain days of the week perform multiple times better than other days of the week. Tuesday being the best and Friday being the worst. It’s encouraging to see that the Facebook 6.76% CTR kicks b*tt on other forms of marketing such as email (CTR 3.9%) and banner ads (CTR 0.2%). And what about Powered’s CTRs? For content our CTR is 50 friggin% – talk about kicking b*tt? For HP’s HHO site the CTR to their ecommerce is 7%. That’s kicking some serious booty.


And what about other ways marketing is measured like conversion, net promoter score (loyalty & advocacy), customer insight? What we deliver in these areas is also game-changing. So why aren’t more marketers going for the golden ticket? Is it lack of knowledge, understanding, familiarity, budget or something else they fear? I’d love to hear y’alls thoughts on this.



Don Sedota (Product)


(9/16) Although this probably isn’t groundbreaking insight to the team, I thought this article “When Facebook Fans Turn Ugly: Examining The Honda Accord Crosstour Page” was an interesting synopsis of a recent PR snafu that Honda had to deal with regarding their new FB page to promote the Accord Crosstour. After numerous comments from users about the ugliness of the car, a Honda rep (posing as a regular Joe) chimed in to give his support. Once he was outed, Honda had to do some quick damage control (some good, some not so good). The bad – removing the comments from the Honda rep which further enraged fans. Anyways, a good quick read that hits on some of the do’s and don’ts of containing a negative social media storm.


On a similar note, I have to feel kinda sorry for the Intuit reps that are trying to keep up with a hoard of unhappy Mint customers after Intuit acquired the financial site earlier this week. Ouch!




(9/4) Here are a couple of pretty entertaining articles that I found this past week.


The first one from David Berkowitz’s blog called, When Augmented Reality Goes Social talks about a few applications of augmented reality (when digital is layered over real-world experiences to “augment” the experience) and social. My favorite example is a Yelp application for the Android platform which is apparently still pretty buggy but allows you to walk down a street and through your camera lens you can view Yelp overlays in the appropriate spots to show different restaurants and their ratings (really cool). Apparently more applications like this are coming down the pipe.


The second one is social related but entertaining more than anything else. It’s a blog post by Jonathon Fields called PR Gone Bad. How to Anger Bloggers and Hose Your Client. Jonathon details a back and forth exchange he had with a PR firm who was trying to get him to review a new book for their client. The PR tactics are extremely traditional and impersonal and the ensuing exchange of emails between Jonathon and the PR rep is a classic example of how certain people still don’t get the fact that social marketing is changing the way PR firms and the like have to conduct their business. Well worth the read if you have a few minutes.


Social Marketing in Retail: A Direct Impact on Sales

There is more proof of the ROI of a branded community, but this time it’s specifically for retailers. Courtesy of a joint study from the E-tailing Group and Ripple6, we’ve got some new intelligence about how consumers react to these environments and how they drive people to make larger purchases more frequently. The highlights:

  • 83% percent of online shoppers very or somewhat interested in sharing information about their purchases with people they know.
  • This information sharing impacts commerce as pre-purchase opinions from others influence buying decisions for 74% of online shoppers.
  • 67% of users are more likely to purchase more based on recommendations from people in a community in which they participate.
  • 62% are more likely to frequent a retailer they have shopped before if they can be part of a community within that site.

Much of these types of statistics have been explored in other studies, most notably by Bazaarvoice, who has done a lot to outline the impact of ratings and reviews on purchase.

However, the statistic that I find the most interesting from this new study is the final bullet up top, where merely having the ability to commune on a retail site made 62% of people more likely to frequent it.

I suspect that people want to be able to see what others think about specific products, but they also want to hear about how those people integrate those products successfully into their lifestyle. This is a major value that retailers and their best customers can provide to rise above the lowest-price commoditization that sometimes plagues the industry.