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For today’s marketers an important message lies within the recent public health concerns over food and beverage: Listen and engage.

With consumer trust in corporations at a historic low and brand loyalty on the wane across the globe, food and beverage brands must get ready to respond to customers.  Now more than ever—and in real time. This response can be achieved only if/when the brand has an “always-on” listening platform and strategic global response plan of action in place.  

Consumers worldwide have raised the standards bar for brand loyalty. No longer are they willing simply to accept the apologetic platitudes doled out by corporations. Some even hold these “apologies” in disdain. Today’s consumers now are demanding that corporations establish and maintain an ongoing dialogue with them, from the bottom up.

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For the future, I foresee a “surround sound” enterprise-wide strategy as “best in” corporate listening practices; one that is capable of anticipating consumer issues so as to mitigate brand loyalty churn, or avert it from the start. This will be “the stuff” of a highly accurate social listening and analytics platform like NetBase—engineered with computational linguistics and qualified to detect consumer emotion, behavior and sentiment shifts.

Among the recent surge of public food health concerns in social media are the Nestle’s horse meat scandal, the food dye controversy targeting Kraft Food’s iconic Mac ‘n Cheese brands, and the caffeine levels in Monster Energy’s high-octane beverage. 

Mommy bloggers including Vani Hari at Food Babe and Lisa Leake at 100 Days of Real Food already have collected over 266,000 signatures on the Change.org petition that is urging Kraft to remove harmful petrochemical food dyes from foods—especially those they market to children. Singling out Kraft’s iconic Mac ‘n Cheese brand to make their point, they decry the lax food labeling and safety dual standards in the U.S.  compared to those of European markets whose stringent regulations—instituted as a result of public outcry—require food dye labeling, or fully prohibit the addition of artificial food dyes.

But, as we see from the NetBase word cloud set up to listen to “food dye” discussions in real time across nine public social media forums, not a single brand is immune from public scrutiny.

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Hari, Leake and other food safety “evangelists” are well aware of the potent impact social media action can have. In the food and beverage cases cited above, it is the power to force the hand of food and beverage companies to change product formularies and discard dangerous chemical additives. Case in point: Gatorade, which was ultimately forced to remove harmful chemicals due to public outcry in the U.S. Both Hari and Leake appear also to have taken inspiration from the Shape.com report on 13 common chemical additives in foods, many of which already are banned in other parts of the world.

Monster Energy also is being criticized and condemned by other bloggers for moving its high-octane product into the mass beverage food aisles; a move made to sidestep the FDA’s beverage marketing regulations that require the submission of reports potentially linking their product to deaths or injuries. In fact, Monster Energy threatened to sue Deborah Kennedy, a nutritionist, after she wrote in her newsletter that child deaths had resulted from “energy” drinks.   

Today the price for brand consumer loyalty has a new paradigm that not only requires constant and immediate engagement with stakeholders and consumers, but the implicit expectation of response and action 24/7 as well.