Whole Foods Market Relies on Storytelling to Feed Its Customers' Trust

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The fresh grocer launches its first national campaign to distinguish itself as the industry's indisputable leader.

Company values are everything. As global marketing director for Whole Foods Market Scott Simons puts it, “Values and value are inseparable.” They comprise the very DNA of an organization and set the bar for what customers can expect from a brand. 

“That's what's unique to our brand and unique to the experience that our customers get when they walk into one of our beautiful stores,” Simons says. 

To convey its commitment to quality, standards, and taste—and ultimately to distinguish itself as the leader in the grocery industry—Whole Foods Market used poignant storytelling in its first national brand campaign, entitled “Values Matter.”

Although Simons says that Whole Foods Market had been “quietly telling our story for decades”—such as through community activations, grass roots partnerships, and public relations—the company decided to debut its first national brand campaign on October 20 based on store development and a strong desire to differentiate itself from competitors.

“There are a lot of companies out there that are comparing themselves to Whole Foods Market and essentially saying ‘We do what they do,'” Simons says. “This brand campaign is here to tell the public that that's not the case.”

In the past, Whole Foods Market primarily relied on its unique store experience and organic products to standout from the competition. Now, the grocery store chain is adding stories from suppliers and employees to edify and entertain consumers who look to make conscious, educated choices when buying food for themselves and their families, Simons explains.

“Our customers, and frankly more and more consumers in our country, are concerned where their food comes from,” Simons says. “Our content, I believe, really serves the consumer and helps the consumer make truly informed decisions when they go to decide what to put in their grocery baskets. That's where our unique content at Whole Foods Market really not only helps us drive our company, brand, and mission, but [also] really serve consumers.”

Visualization plays a major role in helping Whole Foods Market tell its stories. The brand is leveraging digital activations, media buys, online, print, social, and television to bring the brand's own narrative to life. For instance, the company's TV spots feature the farmers and fishermen that Whole Foods Market partners with to deliver high quality products. Marketing channels with little to no visual appeal, like radio, on the other hand, weren't included in the mix. 

Through most of these marketing channels, Whole Foods Market has managed to guide shoppers to its online experience, a central focus of the campaign. When people visit the brand's landing page, readers can find a slew of recipes, as well as infographics and videos that provide information about Whole Foods Market's employees, products, and suppliers. What's great about this landing page is that it allows visitors to sort the content by “food,” “people,” or “planet,” depending on their interests, as well as by whether they want to learn about or actually do something—like make a recipe. 

Consumers can even filter the content by how much time they have to engage with it. People who only want to devote 60 seconds to the site, for instance, may choose to view an infographic that shows how to save money and eat healthy; someone who wants to spend more time on the site, however, may choose to watch a more engrossing piece of content, like a seven-minute video on farmed seafood.

“For us, it's really initiating a deeper conversation around values and the unique value that we offer at Whole Foods through our values,” Simons says.

To keep the conversation flowing, Whole Foods Market is also conducting a survey on its site. The survey asks participants for their demographic information—e.g.,  gender, age, and geographic location—, culls shopping behaviors—i.e., have they visited Whole Foods Market in the last six months—and determines what customers value most, for example social issues including animal welfare, sustainable seafood, or supporting local farms and producers. Participants can also enter their email addresses for the chance to win a $100 Whole Foods Market gift card.

Customer feedback, no doubt, impacts the Whole Foods Market in-store experience, which includes the design and product array, and just as important creates a dialogue between the brand and shoppers, Simons says.

“Yes, it's a survey; and yes we want to hear from folks both in what they [say] matters, and what we could do better,” he continues. “But it's an extension of a conversation that we've been having for years with our customers.”

Simons says this “Values Matter” campaign is the largest marketing activity Whole Foods Market has done to date and is the most national campaign and media buy that the brand has ever done. In terms of measuring the success of the first phase of the campaign, which is set to run until January, Simons plans on tracking changes in brand perception, as well as engagement metrics, like the amount of time spent with specific content.  He says that many aspects of the campaign, however, will run indefinitely.

Although the brand intends to grow its evolving content strategy—the team recently brought on new talent to assist in this area; content marketing has been a key ingredient in Whole Foods Market's recipe for success for quite some time. In fact Direct Marketing News Senior Editor Natasha Smith featured Whole Foods Market on her list of “Blogs (from Brands) that Rock” back in August.  There's no question that Whole Food Market's use of content circles back to building trust with its customers.

 “We are a trusted source as a retailer,” Simons says. “Therefore, we're a trusted source as a content provider. You can't do one or the other.”

So what's Whole Foods Market's secret to producing engaging and tasteful content? Put simply: Its organic nature.

“[The marketing] has to be real,” Simons says. “You have to talk to your purchasers, your operators, and the people who are your business partners and create something that you can truly stand behind. Today's consumer is so intelligent and is confronted with so many messages every day that it has to be real.”

DMNotes is DMN's around-the-clock blog. Yes, a blog in 2016.

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