As media consumption habits have changed, so have the ways in which marketeers hope to reach fresh-produce consumers, as the century’s digital age increasingly takes precedence. With this in mind, Produce Business UK takes a look at emoji opportunities
One of quirkiest forms of this new era of marketing has been the rise of the emoji, cartoon-like symbols that crop up frequently in the text messages of anyone aged under 40.
Increasingly, the fresh produce sector is looking to claim a foothold in the emoji landscape by sponsoring its own fruit characters; distinctive thumbnail-sized designs that companies hope will drive consumer awareness of both products and categories.
Lorraine Kirby from Zespri UK says the company’s recent introduction of a kiwifruit emoji, which it obtained as part of a sponsorship package with Unicode, the not-for-profit organisation behind emojis and many other standardised symbols, could help to focus greater public attention on the New Zealand exporter’s key product. “There are various fruits represented as emojis and kiwifruit was not on the list,” she explains. “We saw it as an opportunity, therefore.”
Kirby says Zespri hopes the character will raise awareness of kiwifruit and put it “top of mind” for shoppers. “In marketing terms, we aim to be ‘mentally available’ to shoppers,” she says.
“If anything is driving the trend for emojis it is probably that the vast majority of communication is happening on-line, in short-hand. A good emoji that catches on and is widely distributed will be a valuable marketing tool.”
Could this just be the beginning for similar initiatives? Kirby certainly thinks so, explaining that Zespri, which already maintains a significant digital presence, views future marketing actions as being based on facilitating a conversation between shoppers, customers and suppliers.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Pear Bureau Northwest, the organisation behind the USA Pears brand, is also sponsoring its own pear emoji; a move which the group’s marketing communications director, Kathy Stephenson, says is all about being at the forefront of communication trends.
“When we read about the opportunity to sponsor the emoji, we didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to participate,” she explains. “The investment in the life time sponsorship is certainly small if we spread the expense across an expected 10 year lifespan of the programme.
“With an icon that is as widely used as the pear emoji, which commonly communicates a pair or pairings, we felt being identified with the icon would be in the best interest of our growers. We were honestly thrilled to secure the sponsorship before another world pear organisation.”
Stephenson says the USA Pears consumer website will be permanently linked to the Unicode sponsor page, with its link to remain at the top of the page due to the group’s early adoption of an icon. Since news of the organisation’s adoption of the symbol became public, she says the USA Pears site has experienced a measurable increase in unique visitors from the Unicode pages, while she expects also to see a rise in non-agriculture sector visitors.
Stephenson says adding new links from other sites to the Unicode sponsor pages also improves the likelihood of USA Pears appearing when consumers search for key words in search engines.
The organisation plans to use the symbol in its consumer-focused communications this year, specifically through two social media campaigns that will focus on the emoji, which – much like a social media icon – links straight through to the USA Pears web presence.
Given the increasing prevalence of emojis in everyday communications, Stephenson believes the fresh produce sector is wise to establish links with fruit and vegetable icons, arguing that it is hugely significant for organisations that secure sponsorship positions for relevant symbols.
Emojis, she says, will augment the bureau’s social and digital communications, adding a rich set of content and images that engages its network of consumers.
Already very active when it comes to digital communications, Stephenson says the organisation is working on “cutting-edge video presentations” to share with the industry, as well as improving its in-store radio. “ We are elevating our online communication to engage the consumer in a busy, busy communication space,” she explains. “We watch what others do outside and inside of produce to learn and improve our engagement.”
However, Stephenson believes partnerships with other fresh produce organisations are likely to be just as an important a trend as social media over the coming years. “My belief is that partnerships with other organisations will be a driving force for produce,” she says. “As one chef said recently, ‘this is the golden age of produce’. USA Pears is striving to ‘pear-up’ with other manufacturers, influencers and industry partners to share our network reach.”
The third company to be listed prominently on the Unicode sponsors page is soft fruit marketer S&A Group, a company which maintains a presence in the UK and China, and which recently made headlines with its deal to become the permanent sponsor of the strawberry emoji.
Oliver Davies, who heads S&A’s Chinese operations, believes that although the fresh produce sector has been slow to embrace many aspects of social media to date, it is likely to play a much bigger role in marketing budgets in the years to come, leading to many companies investing for the future by sponsoring emojis.
Whether emojis become a key part of fresh produce marketing strategies over this period depends on how the symbols are used, says Davies, although he stresses that other more much effective promotional tools are also likely to emerge, which could well vary by region.
“Different methods are required with different cultures, however one key promotional tool that is consistent around the world is the health benefits of berries,” argues Davies. “This is something I believe we can still emphasise to increase consumption.”
However, others within the sector have sounded a note of caution. Dominic Weaver from fresh-produce-focused PR agency Red Communications argues that although it is important to keep up to date with new promotional options, companies need to make sure they are not using a new tool just for the sake of it. “We always need to ensure it will achieve what we want it to in the best way possible,” he says. “With most fresh produce it comes down to taste and when it comes to introducing new people to a product and stimulating sales you often can’t beat sampling – although it’s great to augment this kind of activity with novel ways of presenting it to consumers and extras such as social media.
“We are always looking at new ways to promote – I can see potential for virtual reality, which is lower cost and more accessible now, to transport consumers from the supermarket or home to the orchard or field where their produce has been grown, and even ‘meet’ the growers, for example.”