Smart Marketing Practices: Filling your 21st Century Toolbox

By Caroline J. Beck
August 01, 2011

This is the first in a series on smart marketing practices that every olive oil producer should include in their arsenal of sales tactics. As the domestic olive oil industry matures and importers put added pressure on pricing, it’s critical that producers and marketers use every tool in the box to set themselves apart from growing competition and, most importantly, establish long-term relationships with customers.

In today’s 21st century approach to marketing, when every day a new product gets passed around social networks faster than any PR or ad agency can say “media plan”, creating brand evangelists out of first-time buyers is the Holy Grail. So, in a 24/7 world where customers control the message, a critical part of building brand loyalty is by knowing who your customers are, really listening to them and responding in the right way.

It sounds simple enough, but often new product marketers get caught up in the “romance” of their own first specialty food product and forget about the most important ingredient: the buyer. In this segment, Caroline J. Beck explores the first step in the process: understanding who your customers are and what they really care about when it comes to selecting an olive oil brand.

WHO IS YOUR CUSTOMER?

When you first meet someone before they become a friend, you learn about them and they learn about you. Building your own base of brand evangelists is no different. Understanding who your customers are goes a long way to thinking about how to appeal to their interests.

An old, but very effective marketing exercise is to paint a detailed picture of the one profile that exemplifies your best prospect (referred to as a “buyer persona” in marketing terms) and then build your marketing plan directly to that demographic. While there are many types of people from all walks of life who enjoy olive oil, your marketing efforts will go much further if you “fish in a pond already well stocked” and know what the fish are biting on.

Studies from packaged goods research giant Datamonitor and North Carolina University to the International Olive Oil Council and UC Davis, confirm that the typical olive oil buyer is female. So, let’s call her Amy and start with some basic demographics.

Amy is between the ages of 18-45, college-educated and lives in an urban community. She is as often single, as married with small children. She’s interested in making healthy choices when she shops for food, as well as when she dines out – which is pretty often. Between work and play, she leads a busy lifestyle, but tries to carve out space for “quality downtime” and some of that is spent in the kitchen.

WHY SHE BUYS OLIVE OIL

Amy sees herself as part of the “foodie” and cooking culture. She has learned lots of ways to integrate EVOO into her everyday diet from TV shows. She buys olive oil mostly to cook with because she thinks it is a healthier choice than other fats. But she is not a fussy cook and embraces “California-style cuisine”. Using natural, organic and simple foods that have lots of nutritive value is important to her.

Besides the two primary reasons - cooking and health benefits - Amy buys olive oil because she’s been to a tasting bar, likes the mild and buttery flavor, or sees EVOO as a condiment pantry staple.

WHERE SHE BUYS OLIVE OIL

Amy likes to frequent farmers’ markets and specialty food stores, but most often buys olive oil at the supermarket - where she is confronted with a confusing array of choices. And she is willing to admit while she might know some things about why olive oil is good for her; she’s not all that comfortable with choosing one brand over another.

Amy is pretty confused about all the different label claims and what they really mean. But, because she has lots on her plate, Amy only spends 12 seconds in any one area of the grocery store and only looks at an average of 1.2 products before she makes a choice from among as many as 50 brands on the shelf.

Price is pretty important to her too. A few years of tightening her budget belt has given her a chance to try more mainstream, less expensive products and she has found that she actually likes them. Unless there is a good reason to switch up to a higher-priced specialty brand, she probably won’t go back to “gourmet” just for the pretty bottle or fancy label. It will have to be priced right too.

WHAT SHE BUYS

Whether the domestic extra virgin olive oil industry likes it or not, Amy is not a fan of some of the best qualities of extra virgin olive oil - bitterness and pungency. She even mistakenly thinks that rancidity is a hallmark of good oil because she’s been exposed to it so many times in restaurants or from inferior or outdated imports. Ask her to explain the difference between extra virgin, virgin, pure or light olive oil and she is likely to draw a blank. Ask her whether she like mild, medium or robust flavored oil and she’ll enthusiastically say “fruity and buttery”.

SUMMARY

What should be important to any business trying to sell their specialty food brand into a crowded marketplace is to understand the motivations of their very best prospects. Amy may not be exactly the customer profile you sell to, but she is a good example of the mainstream “extra virgin olive oil” customer.

In a paper published by UC Davis in 2005 about artisan olive oil producers, Lodestar Farm’s Jamie Johannson said it best when he reminded new brand entrants not to produce “for the industry”, but to produce “for your customers”. He learned early on that his rural customer base was just not going to be interested in sharply, bitter and pungent oil, so he modified his flavor profile to appeal to his audience. It’s a great example of this most important lesson: “know your customer”.