Ten things we learned at the Consumer Insight & Marketing Conference

Marketing insights abounded at CGA Peach’s 2016 Consumer Insight and Marketing & Conference in London on Wednesday (20 April). Here are just 10 of the lessons we learned from the experts.

Peter Martin, CGA Peach

Peter Martin, CGA Peach

1. The market is being disrupted

CGA Peach vice president Peter Martin kicked off the Conference with a whistle-stop tour of the market’s big trends—including the rise of innovative and disruptive new operators like street food markets. Collectives like London Union are becoming major forces, and the experiences they give people—a huge choice of food, lively bars and an exhilarating atmosphere, all under one roof—are setting new standards that others will have to follow. “These places are moulding people’s expectations when they come to your restaurants. It’s all about the experience—people want to be wowed these days.”

2. People are their own brands

The days of marketing departments controlling consumer engagement are long gone. People these days—especially the much talked about generation of millennials—want to be in charge, said WE ARE Spectacular founder Mark McCulloch. “Customers are their own brands and broadcasters… It’s not about you at all—it’s about them, and that’s a hard flip to take on board.”

Social media has been a big reason for that transformation, and brands need to work out how best to engage on platforms like SnapChat and WhatsApp, he added. The popularity of smartphones has completely changed the rules of the game too. “We’re asking our clients to nuke everything and start over… to tear up their marketing plans.”

3. We are all tech companies now

“You should look at yourself as a technology company that happens to sell food,” said Food Tech Week co-founder Victoria Albrecht. “The restaurants of the 20th century were all about the physical presence… but that’s shifted to digital presence.” She ran through some platforms for operators to investigate, including ones hitting the mainstream like Instagram, Pinterest and BuzzFeed; others just starting to emerge like Velocity, Eet and CookBooth; and the new wave of delivery providers like Deliveroo and, soon, Uber Eats. “It [delivery] is a space that’s growing massively—make sure you get a good relationship with them early.”

4. Consumers want content on their own terms

Smartphones and social media have raised people’s expectations about content, said Ralph du Plessis, founder of Red Mud Media. “The consumer is everywhere now… you need to give them the content they want wherever they are and whenever they want it.” The flood of content that is now available online means that marketing teams have to work hard to get their messages noticed. Operators should think carefully about SEO, mobile optimisation and the way their content is designed and presented, he advised.

Victoria Albrecht, co-founder of Food Tech Week

Victoria Albrecht, co-founder of Food Tech Week

5. Authenticity matters

Digital technology and social media have completely fragmented marketing, said Dan’l Hewitt, UK managing director of Makers Studios. “The roles of previous media silos are being pulled apart… you have to rip up the rule books and start again.” What consumers want now is a personal and emotional connection with their media. “We still crave genuine emotional expression,” he said. “The new authority is authenticity—you have to be true to yourself as a brand.”

6. Advertising should be fun

A very entertaining Conference session from Gourmet Burger Kitchen chief executive Alasdair Murdoch recounted the brand’s controversial marketing campaign at the start of the year, which riled vegetarians with a series of ads around the idea of converting them to meat-eaters. The four-week campaign triggered immediate criticism that snowballed via social media, and led to GBK apologising for offence and pulling a couple of the ads—though it let the rest of the campaign ran its course. “We wanted to inject a bit of humour—to show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Murdoch. “We were trying to provoke a discussion, but not to cause offence. Brands shouldn’t be afraid of having a bit of fun, he added. “I’d encourage people to keep pushing the envelope and not be put off by the minority.”

Maintaining Marketing Momentum: David Abrahamovitch (Grind & Co.), Sam Jones (Revolution Bars), Adam Martin (Tesco Hospitality), David Murdin (Whitbread Restaurants) & Peter Martin (CGA Peach)

Maintaining Marketing Momentum: David Abrahamovitch (Grind & Co.), Sam Jones (Revolution Bars), Adam Martin (Tesco Hospitality), David Murdin (Whitbread Restaurants) & Peter Martin (CGA Peach)

7. The physical experience is still crucial

For all the talk of digital marketing, it is still the delivery on the frontline that counts most for consumers, the Conference’s panel session heard. David Abrahamovitch, co-founder of coffeeshop and cocktail bar group Grind, which has been one of the sector’s leaders in the use of technology, said: “A good physical presence is still absolutely crucial—people still value that human touchpoint... The most important thing is what happens when they come through the door.” Sam Jones, head of marketing at Revolution Bars, agreed: “It’s all very well having all the digital channels, but it always comes back to the consistency of experience.”

8. It helps to go back to basics

The two other leaders on the panel, Tesco Hospitality’s commercial and marketing director Adam Martin and Whitbread Restaurants chief operating officer, brand developments David Murdin, talked about the need to remember what well-established brands stand for. Whitbread has been busy revamping its Beefeater business and launching a new ‘Bar and Block’ concept, and in doing so has returned to its core strength: great steak. “You often find that a brand’s future success is based in its history… Beefeater lost its fame for steak but we’ve gone back to its heritage,” said Murdin.

Tesco has meanwhile been building up its Giraffe and Harris + Hoole brands, but has realised that its long-established superstore cafes are at least as important, and so has brought the operations of around 500 of them back in-house. “Many Tesco shoppers see eating and drinking as part of the shopping experience now,” Martin said.

9. Brands should watch their adoption curves

CGA Peach’s senior account manager Chris Jeffrey showed delegates a curve that explained the different stages of brand engagement—from the groups of people termed ‘Innovators’ and ‘Early Adopters’ trying it first, through ‘Early Majority’ and ‘Late Majority’ segments to the ‘Laggards’. Marketing teams need to understand what motivates each distinct group, he said, and respond accordingly. “You need to understand your position the curve… and flex your offer to stay relevant.”

10. It’s ultra-competitive out there

With so much competition in the casual dining market, the need for sharp marketing has never been greater. CGA Peach’s Peter Martin presented figures that showed the pace of new restaurant openings starting to slow, and also flagged up stats from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker that reveal flat sales this year, following growth of just 1.5% in 2015. It is prompting fears of saturation and making it a market share game. “It’s crunch time out there… brand to brand combat is where it’s at.”

CGA Peach’s Consumer Insight & Marketing Conference was sponsored by Zonal Retail Data Systems, CPL Online, Maru/edr, Fishbowl, and We Are Spectacular.

For a complete round-up of the Conference plus photos see a special edition of Peach Report, out soon.