For decades, we have collectively praised the notion of global integration but few have achieved nirvana where all activities are seamlessly threaded without borders or boundaries. There are many reasons why this doesn‘t happen. I would offer that in the food and beverage industry it shouldn‘t happen. Rather, we should take a different strategic approach. I‘m going to state the obvious here. The food and beverage sector is still very much focused on local brands that speak to varying cultures and lifestyles – and rightly so. Building relevant market strategies to promote brands requires exceptional insights about local mindsets, behaviors and trends. The marketing tools and tactics that resonate in one area may well fail in another. What is less obvious – and may even seem counter-intuitive to local brand-building best practices – is the necessity of taking a global approach to issues and crisis management. Situations affecting brands and business rarely start in or stay contained to a geography. The majority of issues impacting the industry today are a set of common negative forces affecting nearly every brand and corporation in every market in the world. They may play out to varying degrees in each market but they are typically the same core issues.
These issues are fuelled by a shift in power to the people enabled by democratized social and digital platforms, which have removed the ability to control, isolate and starve out simmering issues and activists. In an instant, like-minded consumers can aggregate and agitate for change online. Who are these people? And can they be reached? Our Ketchum Food 2020 global research identified a new consumer influencer segment we have dubbed the Food eVangelist. They are self-appointed agents of change who are neither activists nor affiliated with groups or each other. They view themselves as serving a higher purpose to warn and protect others from food-related risk by way of sharing and questioning the status quo. They are not the extreme, small percentage of the population that can never be reached or satisfied. To the contrary, our research shows Food eVangelists are and can be the moveable middle on many issues. What’s more, data shows that they exist in every country, and we have learned that the drumbeat heard around the world from Food eVangelists is remarkably similar and consistent. Conversely, we know that if dismissed or dissatisfied they will congregate and collectively agitate for change on a massive and public scale. The borderless and fluid ability of these groups to ignite and fuel escalation is expanding exponentially. Command and control strategies no longer work. In fact, we‘ve seen evidence that they actually backfire, accelerating the issue. The drain on local resources to fight each brush fire is overwhelming and, frankly, this approach is ineffective. In any business, there is a time to sell and a time to tell. There are also very different strategies for promoting versus protecting your brands and business and confusing or integrating the two can have serious negative consequences. Waiting until you see fires burning can be even worse. Concerned Food eVangelists are continually urging everyday consumers to pay attention and take action. Bonfires become a raging forest firestorm all too quickly.
At Ketchum, we advocate building a two-way approach to global communications in the food industry. Promoting from the inside out locally in parallel with PROTECTING from the outside in regionally and globally is the new paradigm. By adopting relationship-building, reputation-enhancing communication initiatives between Food eVangelists who share common concerns and expectations, it is possible to build a base of support, and acceptance that will surround, strengthen and shield local marketing strategies. A skilled firm that is steeped in food and agricultural work should have separate teams working on these two paths at all times – one regionally focused on protecting while the other is locally focused on promoting. It is crucial they be aligned but each requires deliberately different messages, channels and strategies. We’ve all seen that bad things happen to good people – and to good brands. When a crisis hits that disrupts business or threatens the brand materially, you need a plan, a protocol and a firm that can instantly mobilize and align across multiple borders. Our global crisis team runs simulations on a regular basis to ensure our clients are prepared from the inside out. Broad-reaching technologies like our mobile crisis app called Mobile RepProtect allow our clients to have their crisis plans available to them instantly via their smartphones as well as to instantly contact the main crisis manager on breaking situations via email or a phone call within the app. This technology allows all our necessary parties within Ketchum and the client organization to quickly activate across the world. Global integration is and will remain an important aspect of business. But, at Ketchum, we believe the food industry requires global and regional reputation-building and crisis management infrastructures that align and work in parallel with local marketing programs. Protecting and promoting is, we believe, a two-way street.