More than ever before, consumers are shifting from being purely informed, to being justly empowered. Consumers are no longer waiting passively for marketers to push out carefully curated content. With information at their fingertips, consumers are now actively researching and examining, creating multiple vital touchpoints and micro-moments along a convoluted customer journey. In addition to the experience, consumers have associated their purchases as a form of activism. They are voting with their dollars and supporting the corporations that align with their beliefs. This is especially the case within the Food sector, where large brands are conscientiously recreating the image and mission they portray to their massive audiences.
So, what exactly is the consumer “experience” and why is it so important to understand?
The “customer journey to purchase” can entail the entire cycle from being initially exposed to a brand to the post-purchase customer service.
From brand-driven storytelling to simply being greeted by a friendly face walking into a store, the consumer is willing to pay more for a superior overall experience. We’ve all had bad experiences that trigger us to write a strongly worded review, so-so experiences that were neither infuriating or pleasing, and experiences that brand us as a customer for life. These differences are what creates a journey that inspires brand loyalty or an anti-supporter.
An average online shopping experience might go as follows. Free shipping, plus 10 points. Four-star rating, plus 5 points. Only one review? Thank you, next.
Little do we know, this is but a small fraction in a long and arduous cycle.
Phase I: Awareness and Brand Exposure
It all starts with awareness and brand exposure. The billboard that we pass by during our commute. The sponsored advertisement on Instagram. This is the start of a cycle. The power transfer from retailers to consumers has triggered many swings in the mindsets that rule the food industry. Companies are now shifting their priorities towards standing behind a purpose – in addition to profit. Ideas of corporate social responsibility and sustainability are now becoming a reality. Corporations that are making this vital change to protect our planet and its people, will be the ones that will remain competitive in an aggressively progressive market.
For example, The Coca-Cola Company announced an ambitious sustainable packaging initiative: A World Without Waste. By representing a cause that customers are supporting, potential customers are correlating a brand with a positive and impactful mission.
Phase II: Evaluation
From there, starts the evaluation phase to trigger a purchase. Pouring over Amazon reviews. Studying blogs and articles. Especially in the Food industry, consumers have growing interests for transparency within the food supply chain. Not only is this because information is the most accessible than it has ever been before, but in some way, these initiatives hold companies accountable and responsible for their actions while inviting change from the beginning of the value chain.
The emergence of rapid pathogen testing, coatings for shelf-life extension, and blockchain traceability applications have added multiple robust layers of protection to the supply chain.
Babylon Micro-Farms is paving the way for indoor farming - eliminating the supply chain altogether by decentralizing food production to the point of consumption. Cambridge Crops has developed an odorless, tasteless, and invisible barrier that slows down spoilage in meat, seafood, and fresh produce. We are seeing gradual shifts in how food is made, labeled, and perceived by the consumer. Armed with an abundance of information, the consumer can then carefully formulate their response: yes or no.
Phase III: The Purchase
This trigger shifts the consumer into the purchasing phase, which also isn’t as simple as it was before. Was there a fancy chatbot in the corner that facilitated the shopping experience? Were the wheels on the cart all rolling in the right direction? Was there an autonomous robot that came to my doorstep? Consumers are more important and sensitive than ever, but this new influx of power does not always come with an influx of understanding and responsibility on the part of the customer.
Phase IV: Post-Purchase
But it doesn’t end there. Even after the transaction is complete, there are multiple factors that can tip the delicate scale of a consumer’s sentiment. The product or service faces a rigid battle of expectation vs. reality. And this battle influences not only a review, but the nuances of a consumer’s loyalty and devotion to a brand. There is a burgeoning population of market analytics companies that are automating consumer insights, social listening, and consumer profiling. Qbit is giving consumers a voice to engage with large influential brands. The tides are shifting, as corporations are making the necessary effort to hear and listen to the voices that truly matter.
Innovation in Brands
How are brands innovating to adapt to the power shift in consumers? They’re giving the consumers what they want. Bold exotic flavors, functional foods, and unique packaging are at the forefront of the food and beverage industry. From Wild For’s ancient grain superfoods to Ocean’s Halo’s rich umami seaweed-based snacks, differentiation will be fundamental to gain a customer’s interest. Large companies are made to operate at a cost-effective scale, with little time and patience to foster an idea into fruition. Large corporations are now looking into rising brands and undertaking acquisitions to branch into different market segments outside of their traditional focus areas.
Consumers are driving innovation in every industry, especially the one that sustains us all – food. To thrive, we inevitably need to change with the world around us. Think bigger than faster horses.
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