CMO’s marketing strategy bears fruit

After working with fast-food companies earlier in his career, Steve Thomas is now trying a healthier approach. Or at least one with more fruit.

As CMO of Edible Arrangements, Thomas launched the company’s first national TV advertising campaign in 2008, focused on showing shoppers the pluses of gifting fruit arrangements for special occasions. The company expanded its efforts throughout the recession and has seen its brand awareness quadruple since the end of 2007.

Edible Arrangements is barely entering its teenage years — the maker of fresh fruit gifts was founded in 1999 — but its concept is now reaching maturity and moving past the getting-to-know-you stage with consumers.

Thomas says the company’s latest ad initiatives signify a change from the early stages of mass marketing to building more of a continuing relationship with consumers across a variety of channels, including a growing role for online media, especially social networks.

Edible Arrangements’ recent Mother’s Day campaign, which broke in late April and featured spots on television, in print and online, is the first work from the company’s new agency of record, Stern Advertising. Hot Dish Advertising retains the company’s regional advertising and franchise development marketing efforts, and MediaCom remains Edible’s as media agency.

“We wanted to push the envelope, to get consumers to connect emotionally and build what we call a brand personality,” Thomas says.

Thomas has spent the last few years shaping Edible Arrangements’ image in various capacities. He joined in 2007 and had a brief tenure as VP of strategic alliances, working on partnerships with companies such as The Walt Disney Company and Nickelodeon. After three months, he became the company’s VP of marketing, and was appointed CMO in June of 2011.

Now, Thomas oversees all facets of branding, including consumer research and field marketing. But just as important to a franchise-based company, he is also in charge of storefront image and e-commerce strategy. Driving consumers to the company’s franchisee locations is a constant to-action in its various efforts, and a key reason why franchisees were featured in the new campaign, he notes.

“We want consumers to know that there is someone in your local community that makes these arrangements fresh that day and hand delivers them to you,” Thomas says. “It’s not a faceless delivery that comes to your door.”

Thomas describes his philosophy as “informed innovation,” using his creative instincts, but grounded in data.

“Steve is very research-focused. He believes in not just going through with an idea but putting a lot of thought into it,” says Edible Arrangements’ VP of e-commerce, Kaitlin Power. She says she recently gave him access to the company’s online dashboard, and he’s been following the ups and downs of traffic and sales. “He’s very data-driven. “He’s always in my office looking at those numbers.”

Thomas explains that a lot of his planning is built on research, covering both “what makes our customers tick and what makes our non-customers tick.”

He’s a big believer in using social media to gauge consumer feedback. “He likes to watch reaction to what he’s created, whether it’s online, what focus groups are saying or market research,” Power says.

Though his career has kept him close to the food industry, Thomas says he sees himself as a food marketer, who understands he’s in a retail business. The company just added its 1,000th location in April and reported that same-store sales for stores open at least one year were up 11% in the first quarter compared with the same time last year.

Thomas couldn’t disclose the privately held company’s marketing budget, but says it is “significant” and has grown since last year as it has increased both TV and online spending. Edible Arrangements’ marketing is now expanding from traditional holidays, such as Christmas and Mother’s Day, to promoting the products for more day-to-day occasions, such as birthdays, get-well presents and secondary holidays such as Administrative Professionals Day.

“The everyday purchase is a frequency builder for us,” Thomas says. “It’s getting the consumer to think of us for those other occasions that are not top-of-mind.”

While TV, search and online display advertising make up the top of the marketing funnel, Edible Arrangements uses social media extensively to hold on to customers, Thomas says. While the company had more than 21,000 followers as of May on Twitter and recently joined Pinterest, Facebook remains its main social medium. Edible Arrangements’ Facebook page launched in 2009 and now has in excess of 460,000 fans, who get sneak peeks at new products, special offers and promotions.

Thomas says direct marketing helps refine the message, especially for those day-to-day gifting occasions and secondary holidays. The company has a “pretty robust” email schedule bolstered by extensive segmenting of its database, he says. “It would not be unusual to receive an email from us about Doctors’ Day.”

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