The faux meat makers are on to something. Sales of plant-based proteins were up 23% from 2017 to 2018, hitting $684 million last year, according to data from Nielsen and The Good Food Institute. While that’s only about 1% of the U.S. retail meat market, experts suggest that meat alternatives’ dramatic growth could be set to mimic the plant-based milk category, which now represents 13% of the retail milk market.
What’s behind this surge? It’s not a mad rush of vegan converts: A staggering 92% of plant-based meals were eaten by non-vegans last year. Clearly, the purveyors of protein alternatives have found a way to tap into a much broader swath of the market.
To aim at that bigger target, it’s taken a subtle shift in messaging. Instead of hammering home the point that their products are meat-free, savvy marketers of plant-based proteins have emphasized mass appeal: Who cares that it’s not meat if it tastes good? This message was spearheaded by companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, and now industry behemoths like Tyson Foods and Nestlé are parroting it.
This strategy isn’t just good for makers of faux meats; marketers from any industry can capitalize on it. Your product may appeal to a broader audience than you think — if you get your message right.
New Audience, New Voice
When was the last time you assessed your audience? You probably did a lot of market research when you launched your brand, product, or service line, but have you re-evaluated it since? Social media and other digital tools put loads of new data at your fingertips. You may discover surprising opportunities when you run the numbers.
It’s certainly possible to aim too broadly. You don’t want to dilute your brand by targeting such a generic audience that your product has no perceivable value or definition. But many brands are simply missing out on new markets. They haven’t stopped to question who their audience could now be or how they could speak to new communities.
When you reconsider your audience, you may find you only need a few strategic tweaks to your brand message to reach further. Even an established brand like Calvin Klein was able to shift its appeal toward a younger audience by uppercasing its logo and creating digital-first ad campaigns for video platform TikTok.
Analyze the data. Look at your competition, and determine who’s listening to them. From there, determine which new audience is ready to hear from your brand.
Sparking New Interest
Finding a new audience is only half the battle; the real work lies in learning how to connect. Try a three-pronged approach to engage your new market.
1. Speak the language.
Before you can forge connections with a new audience, you have to understand the landscape. What are this community’s interests? What kinds of brands are getting traction there? Does this group prefer the informality of social media or the structure of traditional advertising?
You may need to literally learn the language, too. Whether it’s a foreign language or an entirely foreign culture, you have to show audience members that you understand their cultural context. The Washington Post, for example, is bringing in diverse voices from Latin America, Spain, and the U.S. in its twice-weekly Spanish-language podcast. Seeing a need to better embrace its Spanish-speaking demographic, The Post is investing resources into comprehending and covering the issues facing Hispanic communities.
The message here is clear: Don’t start shouting about your product in new places if you’re not prepared to prove your cultural competency.
2. Redefine the product.
The story you’re telling about your product may not speak to your newly defined audience. Your unique selling point may need to be different from the value proposition you’d previously emphasized. To ensure a strong connection, some aspect of the story or brand voice will almost certainly need an adjustment.
Facing tough competition in the financial services industry, Credit Union of Colorado wanted to subtly rebrand its offerings to reach a broader audience after more than 80 years in business. An ad campaign created by marketing agency COHN Marketing challenged preconceived notions by asking, “What if your bank wasn’t a bank at all?” By redefining a credit union as being even better than a bank, the campaign allowed CU of CO to stand out as personable, local, and customer-first — and delivered nearly 8% membership growth in 2018.
Redefining your product or its core differentiators doesn’t usually require a major transformation of your company’s identity. With a minor shift in your messaging, you can speak to a broader array of target personas.
3. Involve the audience.
There’s no better way to form a fast bond with new audience members than to get them intimately involved with the brand and product story. This strategy worked wonders for Warby Parker when the direct-to-consumer eyewear company started inviting potential customers to share YouTube videos of their home try-ons. By 2017, there were 56,500 of those user-generated videos on YouTube. Even better, these content sharers were 50% more likely to purchase one of the company’s frames.
Content-sharing campaigns like Warby Parker’s let consumers do the heavy marketing lifting. After all, they know one another better than you do. Let them take your message and run with it. Peer-to-peer messages provide more impact than a paid ad campaign coming directly from your company could.
What’s a feature of your product or service that new customers would be eager to share with their peer audiences? Invite them to spread the word.
Faux meat makers were able to take a niche product mainstream — they simply had to convince meat lovers that plant-based proteins could be delicious. Your task probably isn’t such a tall order. Someone new is waiting to buy your product; you just have to start talking to her.