How to Concoct a Food Marketing Strategy

Through social media, content marketing, and more, Snap Kitchen’s Tressie Lieberman keeps her company connected with the modern consumer

According to Nielsen, five hundred million tweets are sent every day. Although some users are complaining about their bosses or significant others or bragging about their promotions or vacations, more than half—53 percent to be exact—are talking about their favorite companies and products. Does this online chatter have an impact? Apparently so. As many as 74 percent of consumers rely on social media to make their purchasing decisions.

“To be a successful marketer these days, you have to be part of the online dialogue,” says Tressie Lieberman, chief marketing officer at Snap Kitchen. “You should follow relevant users and thought leaders in your community to learn from them and build strong relationships.”

After majoring in advertising at the University of Texas, Lieberman spent two years at Ogilvy & Mather in New York, and then another two at Slingshot, a smaller agency in Dallas. In 2006, she landed a much-coveted position in Pizza Hut’s marketing department. “E-commerce, social media, smartphones—they were all just starting to play major roles in our lives,” she says. “It was a really exciting time, and to have the backing of a big company meant we could try lots of new things.”

Six years later, she moved to Taco Bell, another Yum! Brands giant. Lieberman grew from director of digital marketing and social media to vice president, digital innovation. She focused on finding new ways to engage customers and helped Taco Bell become the first major company to build a community on Snapchat and to launch a mobile ordering app. The app was downloaded two million times in its first four months, and three out of four Taco Bells processed a mobile order on the app’s first day.

“Whoever your audience is, you should ask yourself: what do they enjoy talking about and how can you fit into their lives in an authentic way? And then join the conversation.”

Lieberman also created promotional content by surprising and delighting customers. In 2013, Taco Bell announced that it was about to launch a Cool Ranch version of its popular Doritos Locos tacos. The social media team was monitoring online conversations to see if interest was brewing, and they scored big when they discovered that Philip DeFranco, a video blogger and online influencer whose YouTube channel had over 4.8 million subscribers, was tweeting about how anxious he was to taste the new tacos. They sent him cryptic instructions to go to a specific parking lot in Los Angeles, and what he found was a delightful surprise: a blue van with a harp player and a Cool Ranch taco inside. The whole event was filmed, and it turned out to be a great promotion for Taco Bell.

“When we found people talking about the new tacos, we created events and captured their reactions,” Lieberman says. “Each new person that tried the product tweeted their friends. We couldn’t have asked for a better launch. But you can’t accomplish something like that if you aren’t listening to what people are saying about you in real time.”

Although the return on investment for content marketing can be more difficult to track than for traditional approaches, Lieberman claims that whenever the company launched a new product and talked about it first on social media, it would see a measurable lift in sales compared to when it didn’t create advance buzz.

“It’s all part of building momentum,” Lieberman explains. “Movie studios don’t wait until the day a new movie comes out to start talking about it. They build interest, so when it does arrive, the target audience is already pumped. The prelaunch has become very important.”

Another memorable marketing event occurred when a resident of Bethel, Alaska, started an online rumor that Taco Bell was opening there. The company’s social community manager saw the conversation, and the marketing team jumped on it. In a cross-functional team effort, they hooked a taco truck to a helicopter and flew it into Bethel so that residents could try Taco Bell’s new products. The event was filmed, and it garnered lots of headlines. And they did it all in a month. “That’s another thing about the digital world,” Lieberman says. “Conversations are flying so fast. If you don’t respond quickly, the opportunity will be gone.”

Tasty Trends

You better strap on a seatbelt if you ask Tressie Lieberman about food trends. “Vegan is really hot, which is why we offer meatless meatballs and fab cakes—our take on crab cakes, which are made from hearts of palm, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and almond flour,” she says. “A lot of people are going flexitarian, which means they omit certain things periodically, which is why we introduced ‘meatless Mondays.’ We also offer cold-pressed juices, gluten-free brownies, and dairy-free chocolate mousse.”

Snap Kitchen’s menu changes every other month. Popular meals have included bison quinoa hash, Nashville hot chicken, and sweet chili-glazed salmon, as well as more familiar items like pancakes
and lasagna.

Since change is the only constant, in February 2016, Lieberman joined Snap Kitchen, an Austin-based start-up that’s focused on healthy, chef-made, grab-and-go meals. “I had an unquenchable thirst for the start-up world,” she says. “I also wanted to get in on the ground floor of what I believe is the future of food. Everyone is so time-strapped, but they also want food that makes them feel good. I just had a baby in August, and having all these wonderful prepared meals has made my life so much easier. I may never cook again.”

Lieberman also likes the opportunity to do more than marketing. “In addition to handling our marketing strategy, communications, e-mail, social media, and loyalty programs, I oversee three chefs and help them stay ahead of food trends,” she says. She also manages a team of field marketers in the metropolitan areas that Snap Kitchen serves: Austin, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

Lieberman admits things can be more challenging in a start-up environment. There aren’t all the resources or an existing audience that a big corporation might have. At Snap Kitchen, Lieberman is starting from scratch, so she has to be more creative than ever to pique people’s interest in the burgeoning company. However, she says she’s been fortunate to work with incredible in-house and agency teams who do great work and have fun doing it.

“I always want to keep learning, and every day is new and exciting at Snap,” she says. “Whoever your audience is, you should ask yourself: What are they doing? Where are they spending their time? What do they enjoy talking about, and how can you fit into their lives in an authentic way? And then join the conversation.”