Category Archives: Marketing

There’s no such thing as bad publicity

At the Food For Thought workshop on 22nd March Richard Evans shared the insights into social media marketing that he gained while developing social media strategies for national brands such as Greene King, Wagamama and Kwik Fit. This was easily the section that generated the most discussion of the day as Richard challenged the audience to get out of their comfort zones and really engage with their customers.

The most debated point related to negative feedback on TripAdviser and other review platforms. Every customer facing business is aware of this problem, and whether or not the complaint is justified, the question remains: how do you respond, given that your response will be visible to the world at large?

First Richard used an audience survey to illustrate the importance of responding to negative feedback: everyone in the room had used TripAdviser to research unknown venues, and everyone agreed that they would look in detail at the negative comments rather than the compliments.

This illustrates the power of reviewing sites, and the value in building a good reputation on them, but the more interesting conclusion has to be that your response to a negative comment will be read by a large percentage of your prospective customers; probably far more than notice the carefully crafted marketing blurb on your website or promotional material!

Using a real life example of a complaint from his time working in a restaurant business in 2018 Richard illustrated how to use a polite response to diffuse the complaint. Within a carefully crafted reply he:
– responded directly to the complaint
– included references other customers positive feedback
– included highlights of special offers, and
– most importantly, he offered the customer the opportunity to discuss the issue further in an email exchange, in order to avoid having a “he said, she said” war of words in public.

All the businesses in the room ran highly regarded operations delivering excellent customer service, but it is a fact of life that you can please everyone – this line of defense is not designed to ignore the customer’s complaint.

Often the first reaction to a complaint is to be defensive and offer money off a future visit, but it is clear that with the reach of the internet it is essential to do more than just address the actual issue in the complaint. If you look on your response as your opportunity to offer potential new customers more information about your business you can make much better use of your efforts.

The reality of retail

The Food For Thought workshops are truly amazing events owing to the contributions of both the speakers and the food business people who come along. In the aftermath of each workshop I share what I see as the key points of the discussions:

The Dartington Hall workshop focused on growing successfully through selling to retailers.

A listing in a high profile retailer is usually pretty high on the wish list of every food manufacturer. In fact even when you have a high profile listing you will always be on the look out for other good opportunities! But as we have discussed in previous workshops, keeping the customer happy is not, on its own, a recipe for business success – getting the best results for your business means targeting the right customers and selling via the right retailers.

Tickets for the Dartington event sold out and we had a selection of businesses from not-quite-started-up-yet to those who have been trading for over 30 years. The main driver for the business who came along definitely seemed to be that they were looking for better ways to grow both sales and profit so that their businesses thrived.

Our speakers were wonderfully placed to explore this topic. Barbara King has worked in a number of high profile roles with retailers all around the world before taking over the reins at The Shops at Dartington. Her passion for locally sourced food and drink has seen her develop the retail business at Dartington and also become Chair of Food Drink Devon.

Barbara has a clear picture of who her shoppers are; generally they are not looking to buy their whole household shop nor feed a family on a budget, but they are willing to spend on good food and special occasions. As a result the selling points that interest Dartington’s customers are the provenance, local sourcing and quality.

Barbara offered insights into the features of products that sell well in her food shop: eye-catching packaging and labelling which communicates the main point of difference were the top priority. In addition to this she underlined the importance of carefully identifying the best price point.

The margins that retailers add on to product prices may sometimes seem eye-watering to a producer but they are easily swallowed up in the day to day costs of running a shop: the reality is that retailers cannot operate without paying staff, the other costs of running their shop and marketing it to the public.

So with that in mind, when considering a new product the retailer wants to know not just how much the product will cost but also how much margin they will make and how the pricing compares to other products that they already stock.

When it comes to pitching new products to retailers Barbara recommended being prepared. While the retailer will likely understand their own customers’ priorities they will want to be briefed on your view:
– how you perceive your competition
– your plans for sales growth in their store and what that may mean to pricing
– the supply chain that you have in place and the minimum orders that you are looking for.
Samples and examples of the product are the best way to illustrate how the customer will see the product.

When new products list in the Dartington food shop they are usually accompanied by some additional marketing – tastings or “featured product” slots where more information can be presented. It takes time to develop a customer base for a new product so the team at Dartington are happy to watch sales grow over the first few months of trading in the shop. Over this time the biggest factor in successfully growing sales is the passion that the producers can communicate to the consumers, whether that be personally meeting them at tastings or food festivals or supplying information via social media or promotional material.

Overall, Barbara’s view is that despite the current difficulties that high street retailers face the one thing that sets successful retailers apart is the excellent personal service that they can offer to make the shoppers experience a valuable one. High quality products which offer good value to the customer will always sell well in these stores.

2019 will see additional Food For Thought workshops around Devon. Find out more at