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Brand & package design intelligence for CPG food brand performance.


Social listening for CPG food brand building: where to look and what to look for

By Vanessa Doll

With the onslaught of social media came “social listening” – monitoring online conversations to understand brand performance and consumer engagement. Marketers, ad agencies, and brand builders rely on social listening to generate trending content, but it also carries the power to improve shelf presence for CPG food brands. It provides unfiltered, honest(ish) consumer insights … social listening is a scrappier version of consumer focus groups with the benefits of anonymity.

When embarking on a brand refresh or creation, you must go through a series of exercises that build the foundation of the strategy: competitive analyses, a brand audit, a category audit, and an adjacent category audit to start. There is no replacement for a store walk, but adding social listening enriches these strategy exercises with content discovered online. 

Where to look and what to look for:

On any branding project (creation or refresh), I look to Amazon reviews, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook to supplement my intelligence gathering. More importantly, I avoid curated brand website reviews. 

Unlike what many brand managers or marketers may look for, when I conduct social listening, I seek more practical applications that speak to flavor, functionality, structure, and benefits that help me prioritize a communication hierarchy. 

Social Listening on Amazon: Whatever your politics about Amazon, we have them to thank for carrying most big and small CPG food brands on their site and for a system that encourages reviews from people. Focus groups are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we can get deep insights and much more conversational learnings to apply to a brand narrative; on the flip side, they are not anonymous. Anonymity breeds the kind of no-holds-barred honesty we brand builders need to hear, for better or worse. 

Pinterest is great for seeing how consumers interact with your product, especially if it’s an ingredient. Through homemade recipes, we can see the product’s diversity and understand how purchasers most often use it. These recipes can inform imagery on-pack for less obvious or approachable ingredients but also to understand what people value most (texture, protein, flavor), etc. 

It’s not social listening if you aren’t on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. Emotions typically run higher on these platforms, so these outlets are a great place to get deeper consumer insights on an emotional level. What can a powdered peanut butter mean to a single Gen X Mom vs. a Gen Z health zealot?

Social Listening Watchout 1: Rely on something other than social listening to identify your demographic. Specific consumers are more likely to express their opinions via social media, but you sell your brand at shelf. Social listening is only one small piece of the puzzle, and the learnings gained here should help support the other tactics you take during a strategy session.

Social Listening Watchout 2:  Be cautious when evaluating influencers’ reviews or comments. I avoid them and try to find the more “everyday” consumer in this stratosphere because they engage with the product entirely of their own volition. There is a purity there that can inform untapped consumer desires for a deeper connection. 

I will dig into personal blogs and their comments when I have the time. Still, I use these differently. Understand it’s a deep dive into an isolated opinion, and many inherent biases, including affiliate links, could form it. Instead of getting a quantitative sense of the brand or product perception from thousands of reviews, I use this to pull inspiration for narrative tone or naming (if that is on the table).

Ultimately, the insights are out there. Tune in to take your CPG food brand to the next level.

Social listening is one form of research you can conduct early on, but there are others. Read more on basic research methodologies that might be a good fit for your project here.

Read more.