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Fancy Food Show Education Preview: Q&A With MaryAnne Howland

Specialty Food Association

MaryAnne Howland is the founder and CEO of Ibis Communications, a justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion consultancy specializing in marketing strategies and branding with social impact at the fore. She is also the founder and CEO of the Global Diversity Leadership Exchange, a United Nations Global Impact member network leading conversations in businesses and organizations.

Howland will share some of her insights from her almost 30 years working in the industry as she presents the Summer Fancy Food Show Session titled Breaking Through: Marketing the Strengths of Your Business.

SFA News Daily spoke to Howland in advance of her session which will take place on Tuesday, June 14 at 9:15 am.

Are there specific examples of brands that do a good job with multicultural marketing today that other specialty food makers should look to for inspiration?

Brands that are doing a good job in multicultural marketing show up on bodies, in grocery shopping carts, and in media ratings, i.e., consumption. Neilsen IQ has valuable data, but you can also do your own research. If you want to know who is doing a good job, next time you are on the metro, at a movie theatre, in the grocery store (and not just Whole Foods and Sprouts, but Kroger or Ralph’s), or just walking down the street, take note of the brands people are consuming. Hire an intern as your “people watcher”. They can just go to local stores, popular sites, and events to capture cultural cues and data on what’s hot. The next time you go to a big multicultural event, take note of the sponsors. Brands that are receiving the highest return on investment in multicultural marketing have grown from small brands to big ones, e.g., Nike, Lululemon, and General Mills, by building communities around their brand. A good way to understand their successful strategies is to visit their website and look at their social media influencers; Google their CEO in the news to learn what they are saying about diversity and their stand on justice issues; and how they are investing in the community. Look at who is on their board. Is it diverse? It matters. Multicultural marketing is a 360-degree strategy. Authenticity is key.

What is the most important consideration when connecting with an ethnic and culturally diverse audience?

Be sure you have an ethnically and culturally diverse team on board! Because you don’t know what you don’t know, whether you hire into your company or hire an agency, you can avoid all kinds of pain and suffering of missteps and gain so much more from a fresh perspective, non-traditional and breakthrough strategies, and powerful representation. The messenger matters. And be sure to include the disability market. It is estimated as an $18 trillion global consumer market. We all love food.

What key skills do you hope attendees will walk away with a better understanding of?

No 1. Hire to win. Recognize human value. Talent, skills, and expertise come in all colors, shapes, and bodies. The more inclusive your team is, the more successful you are likely to be. No. 2 Build brand trust. You WILL make mistakes. That is why building equity is vital in a reputation of trust with your customers who will forgive and give you a second chance. No. 3 Supplier diversity. Invest in the multicultural economy. As they grow, you grow.

Do you recommend any marketing channel for specialty food brands looking to launch a successful campaign?

YouTube. But I also highly recommend local cultural newspapers and radio that are often overlooked, and should not be. In the U.S. market, NNPA/Black Press of America and NAHP (National Association of Hispanic Publications) are trusted and a direct link to their communities. Approach them as media partners, not just advertisers. They need support and they and the community they serve will see you in the kind of light that creates brand trust and loyalty.

Do you have any advice for emerging food brands about creating a marketing strategy?

Be courageous. Stand up. Break the rules. Be bold. Move first. Always be testing. Whether in capsules of time, by zip code, or by media mix, keep learning what works and what doesn’t, and adjust as quickly as you can. If you are unfunded, start small and local. Here’s a tested and proven idea for a small budget: for one client, we targeted Black hair salons where women spend nearly a full day, most of it in lively conversation, sharing stories. At some point, there is a “who’s hungry?” moment. We hired cute men on bikes to drop off samples and coupons at every single salon in targeted zip codes. Most successful campaign ever! So, then we did the same for student centers in Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  If you are funded, and I can’t stress it enough, either hire a diverse team or an agency to create your winning marketing strategy in our increasingly diverse global marketplace.

Related: Fancy Food Show Education Preview: Q&A With Nuovo Pasta's Quinn; Maker Q&A: A Seat at the Table