The company has identified a group of ‘Super Leaders,’ which it says is the most influential subset of the wider online community of consumers.
When engaged, these influencers can become brand advocates to spread messages, shape opinions and help build trust in products.
Representing just 7% of the online population, according to the report, Super Leaders are the most active and social people online. More than half (57%) of them write brand and/or product reviews every week, and nearly two-thirds (65%) say they are more likely to do so after a positive experience.
In addition, more than three-quarters (78%) expect brands to reply to their reviews and ratings, saying that interacting with brands on social media improves their opinion of that brand (79%).
Alexandre Carvalho, director marketing services at Tetra Pak, said brands need to adjust their communications and use more channel-specific, smart, authentic and engaging content if they are to seize the opportunities in this new world.
Carvalho told DairyReporter the dairy industry and beverage industry needs to connect to different types of consumers, which is why the index focuses on online methods of connecting to consumers.
Listening to consumers
He said online engagement is a hot topic globally.
“it's very timely as well, and I suspect that for many companies it's an area that they are not particularly comfortable with or don't know a lot about,” Carvalho said.
Big companies, including some dairy companies, are creating more digital savvy marketing teams, he said.
“So this is really resonating with a lot of companies. Not all companies have these capabilities embedded in most of their marketing teams yet.”
Companies are approaching the online challenge in different ways, he added, some of which depends on the size of the company.
“We see a lot of companies building in-house, creating ‘labs’ or whole teams that do social listening, or they track the results of their marketing campaigns.
“We see different models, depending on the bandwidth of the company. When we go to smaller companies we see them relying on external partners.”
Carvalho said the internet and social media are changing rapidly.
“When we created those segments that we talk about in the report and the idea of the Super Leaders, a lot of companies already understand that. So they already have a good connection with let's say influencers or consumers to give feedback. They have very active social listening groups.
“But what we see is that there is no perfect solution yet. One of the best practices is companies that create a true conversation with consumers, even people that talk bad about the brand.”
Carvalho said listening to consumers and responding to them in a timely manner is as important as trying to shape the conversation.
“What we see in the study is that brands that really created that conversation actively, and this connection in a very transparent way, are developing very strong brand engagement.
“It's a challenge for most companies today to identify those consumers that talk positively about the brand in that spontaneous way.”
Four types of online consumer
Carvalho said the report covers four types of interaction.
As well as the Super Leaders, there are observers, people Carvalho explained are not actively engaging with brands but they use social media.
The functionals use the internet when they need something specific.
The fourth group is the connectors, they are online (i.e. connected) but don't want to engage with brands.
“So what you see is more profiling from a more behavioral way. I think this is the big opportunity, identifying them via social listening.”
A change in marketing spend
Traditional marketing methods include radio, television and print advertising, but Carvalho said that is changing.
He said in the US online versus traditional advertising has reached 50/50 in some areas, adding Europe is around 70/30, the majority still relying on traditional advertising and marketing.
“What we are seeing is that these numbers are increasing over the years more and more ad spend is online.”
And, he said, more companies are taking risks online.
“So for example they allocate smaller budgets for digital to run a lot of digital experiments.
“We saw some big beverage companies saying ‘I'm going to put 5% of my total budget into very small, very experimental techniques of digital marketing to learn from that’,” he said.
Carvalho said measuring with likes and click through rates are important, as is conversion rate.
“How many of these people that received the brand message are willing to purchase?” he said, adding it is important to find the right time of the “customer journey.”
“This is the big thing today - when is the right time in the consumer or the customer journey? Where can I connect to them?”
The trends are leading to job creation, Carvalho said.
“We see a lot of companies creating digital labs, creating new positions with different names, and it's creating new jobs and creating a lot of specific expertise because a lot of things are still in a big curve of learning.”
Carvalho said the big strategy today is not only thinking online or offline, it is thinking omni channel.
“It's where the consumer wants to buy their product. So the idea of whatever it is, whenever it is, I'm there.”
No global catch-all
Carvalho said companies looking into online sales also need to be aware of communicating locally, partly to communicate quickly, but also to take account of regional tastes.
“I think there is the need to adapt to each culture, because as competition increases among all those channels and even with globalization, you have the culture nuances, so you need to have local teams to adapt to those timings and continue to have this engagement.
“I see for example in a big supplier for software that they have different teams doing social listening in different locations. They don't have one central team only based in their headquarters.”
Opportunities for dairy
Carvalho said that while online sales are currently not a big portion of the market for many food companies, it is the future.
“In the report it's astonishing when we see the amount of hours people are connected globally - an average of four hours (a day) to smartphones.
“So companies need to take advantage of that for purchasing and the food industry is very small, 2 to 3% of the total sales. It is expected to grow by 10% in the next five six years but this is the channel where dairy companies could really develop new opportunities.”
Creating online products
However, Carvalho said few companies are tackling online sales.
“The big beverage companies like Coca-Cola for example are creating their own channels for selling products direct to consumer, creating new engagement like customizing products. But it’s very, very small.”
However, that’s not necessarily the case in China, Carvalho said.
“China is one of the most advanced in terms of dairy companies, a lot of the big dairies there are creating specific products just to sell online.
“So they are creating special community milk or dairy beverages to connect to the community, in Alibaba or in Tmall just for the online channel. They don't even sell those products offline.”
New way of creating products
Carvalho said in five years’ time he expects there will be a lot of sales from food startups or companies that create new concepts to reach consumers.
“I think the other one is that we will probably be seeing a lot of products as we've seen in the report that are being created by consumer demand, so kind of co-created with consumers, using those Super Leaders to create products together to really attend to the demand of consumers directly.”