I love talking to small business owners since they’re close to the action and to marketing’s shifts.
Jeff Blaugrund has been a sales and marketing executive at a software company, a CrossFit coach, and has an MBA. Now running a Berkshires-based food company called Braise Worthy, I knew he could teach me a thing or two about building a business and marketing in today’s environment.
At enterprise software firm TIBCO for nearly a decade, Blaugrund found sales satisfying, but also a grind. “Part of how I dealt with stress was working out at Crossfit NYC,” Blaugrund explained. “I was there so much, I was encouraged and trained to become a coach.” What he found was that a lot of CrossFit regulars start to focus on how they eat. Blaugrund started to make his own meals, which re-sparked a passion he had to cook.
He and his wife were spending weekends in the Berkshires, and Blaugrund entered a chili cook-off in Great Barrington—and won. A food entrepreneur told him that his chili was so good, it could be a sellable product. This planted a seed for what could be another career. For the next six years, he still worked full-time but tinkered with the business plan and recipes. Waking up one day with the name for the business — Braise Worthy—solidified the decision.
The trick of course, was that he had to become an expert in a field he knew nothing about. “One meal does not make a business,” Blaugrund notes. “What’s the value proposition?” Making an extraordinary meal in mass—and freezing it, he decided. Fortunately, he also met his partner Austin Banach, who was already in the food industry and is now the company’s Executive Chef.
A marketing playbook
I have been seeing different models among small businesses in how they grow, especially gaining those first customers. Replacing classic pay-by-user is a modern approach of cultivating audiences. Blaugrund has been influenced by the evolution of the classic four P’s (product, place, price, promotion) to the seven P’s (adding people, process and physical evidence). Here’s what I heard as his playbook in finding and engaging customers in the first few years.
Finding customers – how and where
Promotion: Braise Worthy’s primary and most essential channel has been in-person sampling. Tastings have been held at friendly businesses, at local employers, at farmers markets. This led to a food cart and catered events — tastings at which people were paying for trial. The food cart itself has been an iconic format for advertising. Blaugrund says that 100% of their customers have come either through tasting themselves or through a referral of someone who did.
Public Relations: Less directed to sales and more to reputation and deal-closings, PR has shown that they are not a flash in the pan, important in this crowded space, legitimizing the effort and showing that they are creating value. Articles in regional pubs such as the Berkshire Eagle have helped build this credential.
Social Media: Facebook and Instagram have been powerful levers to reinforce their presence — we’re here, we’re selling — driving prospects to where they are selling. They have used social to present stories of how the food can meet you in your lifestyle (initially photography, with a pivot towards video). “One of the best investments we did was to take [social content] off our plates and hire a partner,” said Blaugrund, hiring Pierce Social. Instagram followers have jumped 114% in two months since beginning working with a social media specialist.
Web site: The role for the web is in-bound channel where they can show the food. “People taste with their eyes,” he reminded me. Braise Worthy’s site has tons of mouthwatering photos and content to share its company story, a zip code locator to find the food and an ingredient tracker I’ll talk more about below. Consistent social media gives them a steady stream of page views they did not have before. The About page is product-led. According to Blaugrund, well-trafficked events result in 4x page views, and being written about translates to a 15x bump.
Email: Still a relationship marketing workhorse, this is a channel that seems underutilized to me. Blaugrund worries though about being spammy. From his past professional experience, he’s been disappointed with bot lists and data quality and wants to avoid horizontal, irrelevant messaging if he can’t personalize the emails enough.
Text: Mobile messaging is an area he’s interested in exploring. Mobile messaging can be highly targeted message but, unlike email, compels action in the short-term.
Engaging customers – how and with what
Brand principles: In this category, Blaugrund has found it important to communicate and constantly reinforce the idea that frozen food is delicious and convenient. “For customers to trust us, we have to put our money where our mouth is. So our products are traceable by batches.” On the website, customers can put the tracker in and see where the ingredients come from. I tried this with the vegan menudo I was trying and found the specific farms from which the mushrooms, garlic and onion hailed. Although fewer than 5% of site visitors so far use the tracker, the ability to enable it feels important to provide.
Packaging: The original container was recyclable at the time they selected it, but the international market for the material dried up. As a result, Braise Worthy offered to take back the difficult-to-recycle tray, sending it to a stateside specialty facility at the company’s expense, and have since found one which is in demand.
Incentives: Braise Worthy is a premium product, and they run price breaks and promotions to get people in the door. The best deals are if you subscribe to at least three months, since that commitment helps with forecasting. Here the model is much like upfront capital to a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) business where you pay the farmers upfront for the season. Fun fact from Blaugrund: Berkshire County is the birthplace of the modern CSA.
Research: Blaugrund and Banach listen and retest assumptions through surveys and subscriber giveaways. For example, they learned that portion control is important. There’s an entire demographic who are sharing meals (typical in older populations) and a smaller portion side was not enough. Americans also like to be filled up and have leftovers so they see value.
Staying in touch: Braise Worthy is not using the newsletter format as much as they think they should and know ongoing communications through email and social will be important to sustain fans and subscribers.
Is this the right playbook? What I think Braise Worthy is getting right are the discrete yet complementary roles for various marketing channels and a mindset for experimentation. Blaugrund still hasn’t cracked email but his experience in sales CRM makes him aware of the opportunities and pitfalls. As Braise Worthy scales in consumer reach and also builds a wholesale business, there will plenty of time for new lessons.