There’s no shortage of new digital trends, from Tik Tok, voice search and Instagram stories to chat bots and visual product discovery. But which ones offer the most potential for food and drink businesses? And what are the first steps you should take if you want to try them out? Digital expert Kate Doodson, joint CEO of Cosmic, shares her insights.

Consumer’s buying habits are changing. Although on average people in the UK spend less time on-line than many other countries (5 hours and 23 minutes per day compared to a worldwide average of 6 hours and 43 minutes), British consumers are buying more on-line. Research shows that 81% of UK internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 bought something on-line in the last month.

Kate Doodson encourages food and drink businesses to try out new digital marketing trends. “I would urge you to be playful and try new platforms and digital marketing channels, even if you are naturally reticent. Waiting until it has been adopted successfully by all of your competitors is not the best strategy,” says Kate Doodson.

The voice revolution

From ordering a takeaway through a smart speaker to using voice search to ask for recipe ideas, consumers are increasingly using voice to buy and access information about food and drink. In the UK 28% of internet users (aged 16-64) use voice each month. Worldwide the figure is 43%, and it looks set to grow.

Kate suggests that optimising your website for voice should be on your to do list for 2020: “If your website is not optimised for voice you are missing out on potential customers. I used Alexa to ask where my nearest takeaway pizza restaurant was and the answer was Weston-Super-Mare – a long way from my home in the Blackdown Hills. There are a lot of businesses much closer to me that should have been mentioned but weren’t, simply because their websites are not optimised for voice.”

Kate advises using a smart speaker at home to get used to the kind of questions people ask. “There is nothing better than doing it yourself to learn what works best. The way people speak and ask questions is often different to the words they type into a search engine. Your website needs to work for both. It is also worthwhile using Alexa blueprints and also testing out your services for voice to learn how you can improve. A good tip is to develop blocks of featured content on your website. The average voice search is 29 words long.”

Tik Tok – a tool for business?

Tik Tok is a social media app where users share short video clips, which are often set to music.  However, many businesses are not using it yet. Kate Doodson suggests it is a mistake for businesses to dismiss Tik Tok.

“Tik Tok has taken off and is the most downloaded App on the Apple store, with 33 million downloads in the first quarter last year – exceeding Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat. It certainly started out as the domain of younger people but it has started to creep into the mainstream.”

Again, Kate’s advice is to start using the platform and testing out ways it could work for your business and brand. “Tik Tok could be a great way to share videos of your products in a fun and creative way – and you may find it reaches a demographic that your other marketing activity is struggling to reach. The videos can be created on your phone – they don’t need high production values.”

Visualise the future

Increasingly internet searching will be done using pictures rather than key words. Pinterest Lens, Snapchat “see snap sale”, and Amazon scan are among the most successful examples of visual product discovery to date.

“Consumers are now buying on-line in different ways and visual product discovery is a great example. This allows consumers to use the camera on their mobile phone to take an image of the product they are interested in, which will link through to a website where they can buy it,” explains Kate Doodson.

“The action for food and drink businesses is to make sure that your product design will work well for visual product discovery. Having clear and consistent packaging is a must,” adds Kate.

What’s the story?

Instagram is a great platform for food and drink businesses to showcase their offerings. However, as well as having a well curated grid of images, Kate Doodson says that paying attention to Instagram Stories is important too:

“500 million people worldwide use Instagram stories each day and that number is growing rapidly. Stories give you a chance to show some personality and if you can, it is best if you share a new story every day. You can also add stories as highlights to your page, which is a good tactic that some food and drink businesses are already using to great effect.”

Paying attention to the hashtags you use on Instagram is also time well spent. “It can be time consuming trying out different hashtags and recording the impact, but it is definitely worthwhile. Lateral thinking is useful here – for a client that was dog friendly we used the #BringFido and #puppachino hashtags to great effect.”

Enhance your customer service with chatbots

A chatbot is a computer programme that simulates human conversations. They can offer an additional way to provide customer service and several food and drink businesses are already using them effectively according to Kate Doodson.

“The US brand Whole Foods has created a chatbot which allows users to search quickly and easily for recipes. It directs users to the Whole Foods website, where on average they spend 50 minutes each day. Their chatbot even responds to emojis. If a user sent a pizza emoji, the chatbot comes back with pizza recipes!”

What’s next?

Kate Doodson has an eye to the future and thinks that blockchain could be important for demonstrating provenance for food and drink businesses.

“Recently a high end, luxury whisky was sold with block chain. Provenance.org is also an interesting website, which is based on blockchain. It is being used by brands to share their story and show their provenance,” says Kate.

It is okay to fail

2020 will be an exciting year for digital marketing, with many opportunities for food and drink businesses. However, there is no doubt that embracing change can be daunting.

Kate Doodson has this advice: “It is important to try out these new digital marketing trends. They might not all work for your business, but that is okay. Even if it doesn’t work for your business, you will learn something along the way. If you don’t try you will never find out – and that could mean your business misses out in the long term.”

Cosmic is an award-winning digital skills specialist, based in Devon, providing digital skills training and consultancy to organisations and businesses across the South West. To contact Cosmic please visit www.cosmic.org.uk, call 0330 088 3005 or email info@cosmic.org.uk