Jamie Johnson. Chuck Bandy. Bill and Anne Coy (plus Anne’s sweet and tangy sauce for avocados that is hot stuff!).
These characters are among those cast in a unique story titled “Hand Grown in California” — otherwise known as the California Grower campaign. Launched by California Avocado Commission in 2008, this integrated marketing and public relations campaign stars avocado growers sharing stories and images of their families, groves and the avocados they love.
The commission’s campaign epitomizes what the future of marketing is about: engaging not selling.
The most efficient way to engage your target audience is to know them first, then tell the story of how the common values and ideals you share influence the quality of your product and your business.
Researching to understand your consumer’s mindset and consumer trends is central to telling your story effectively.
Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine-based commission, said the success of the California Grower campaign and the Hand Grown theme is grounded in research.
“In 2007, we were looking at new agencies and one of the pitches was having the grower tell their story and putting their image on the product,” DeLyser said.
“Then later that year, I went to Fresh Summit and Bryan Silbermann was giving his annual State of the Industry address reporting on Hartman Group research that absolutely said the same thing. It was such validation for me and for our team, as marketers, to have him say that in the way that he did. We knew we were on the right path.”
The avocado commission was not only on the right path, but also right on time.
The campaign started telling grower stories and sharing photos at the same time Facebook was rocketing into the mainstream and demonstrating people’s enthusiasm for everyday stories and snapshots.
The commission also was effectively implementing what’s now called “content marketing,” a practice where selling takes a back seat to engaging consumers through valuable, relevant information that builds loyalty through transparency and credibility.
There’s also an important nuance about how the commission chose to drive its story.
They acknowledged the consumer trend of “local,” but leveraged that trend to tap something else carrying as much sway and broader appeal than local alone: the local-oriented mindset.
“We wanted to communicate that California avocados are a domestic option, but local wasn’t going to fly because there’s not a definition of local that (the commission) can use,” DeLyser said.
“We also wanted to be able to be genuine so if we’re talking about California avocados in Texas, Massachusetts, or anywhere else, we’re being authentic in the description we’re giving.
“The Hand Grown in California messaging was tested with consumers and the trade as ‘What does Hand Grown in California mean to you?’ We were told the message meant care and craftsmanship in production and growing — it meant local, it meant organic.”
DeLyser said the message testing groups had played back all the terms the commission would love to be able to use in their brand description, thereby confirming the Hand Grown in California theme conveyed the kind of genuine authenticity the commission was after.
Fast forward to 2011 and Produce Marketing Association’s latest research on consumer perceptions and behaviors by the Hartman Group that once again helped validate the commission’s approach.
The research showed without question local remains important to consumers, with over two-thirds considering local as important when buying fresh produce.
It’s the local-oriented mindset further differentiating these consumers — a mindset with an increased tendency to seek greater engagement and knowledge gathering.
Research finds local-oriented consumers want more information, more connection and more stories from farmers.
Not everyone may be able to authentically rally behind local or whatever the big consumer trends aligned with your target may be.
But the plot and characters of your story can be positioned to connect with the mindset oriented to any consumer trend and work genuinely to engage your target audience.
You may have heard me say this at last year’s Fresh Summit session on telling your story or at one of PMA’s Fresh Connections events, and it’s worth repeating here: Your ability to sell is directly determined by your ability to connect with your target audience, and telling the story of the experiences, ideals and values you share with your target establishes comfort that paves the way for new business opportunities.
Anything less and people will tell their own version of your story for you, like it or not.
Lorna Christie is executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.
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