Educate and inspire to make critical connections with shoppers: An interview with Eric Le Blanc, Director of Marketing, Deli, Tyson Foods

Customers are starved for clear communication, consultation, guidance, and motivation both in store and at home.

Interview by Symphony RetailAI’s Paul Hoffman. Eric Le Blanc presented how Tyson Foods approached the challenge of uncovering the deep, unarticulated needs of shoppers to then be met in way that is relevant, growing satisfaction and loyalty, at Xcelerate Retail Forum 2019

Considering today’s savvy, time-constrained shopper, what do you see as the biggest marketing challenge for CPG manufacturers?

To borrow from the writings of Thomas Aquinas, I think we get lost in the “accidents” of what is happening in our lives vs. the “essential.” Busyness is happening to us, but there are things that are important to us no matter how busy we are. Maybe it’s that we believe in stopping to help someone, no matter how busy we are etc. Trying to find out what’s essential and talking to customers about it is how we make the right connections. The right connections allow us to make the sale or build loyalty, but it also to provide an actual value in people’s lives, and I feel that’s a higher, right calling. We can do what’s right for our business and be doing a great job making a positive contribution to people’s lives.

As an industry, we tend to talk to people about what is happening right now ― being busy ― when what is motivational to them has to do with fundamental, enduring values. We start by speaking on a transactional level: a rotisserie chicken for $5.99. But no one wants a rotisserie chicken, they want a meal. What consumers really want is something that happens at the meal or after the meal ― connection with family or others. We will be most successful in building an emotional connection with our shoppers when we tap into this deeper, more enduring set of values and beliefs.

Tell us a bit about the path to purchase efforts Tyson is taking on?

We did an experiment with families where we sourced seven consecutive dinners from their supermarket prepared foods department. The first three nights were on their own, nights four – six were with a coach, and night seven was on their own again. We found that in the first three nights, all of our families were disappointed or frustrated at the meals they got from their supermarket. By the way, this included retailers who are very respected for their prepared foods. When the families were coached on how to use the entire store to support meal creation, their sense of empowerment and satisfaction went through the roof. This satisfaction and sense of empowerment continued when they were on their own again and was embraced by the whole family in each of the households.

What we learned from the experiment is that the central mission of retailers and suppliers is to educate and inspire (this Educate and Inspire is an ethos for us at Tyson) consumers and shoppers.

Educate them on what is possible in meal creation and present it in such a way that they’re excited to do it. Path to purchase is simply that: using out-of-store messaging and in-store messaging to educate and inspire. That is very different from the way the industry approaches the shopper journey today.

What technologies are you using in your path-to-purchase work and how is it giving you clarity?

Shoppers need is a trusted person to educate and inspire them. A resource, like when you’re in a good wine store, where a knowledgeable person helps you find good answers to all your questions. There are two issues with this: 1) retailers don’t have the labor to make such a person available on the store floor to answer all questions and 2) for everyone person that would love to interact with a live person in the store, there are others that are intimidated.

We found that 67% of deli shoppers exhibited signs of confusion while shopping. Of these, 3% would ask a question. When provided with an answer, 97% accepted the advice given them.

I like to say that shoppers are walking around with a sign around their neck that says, “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” If it is so critical to reach them and if they are so open to suggestion, we’re foolish not to provide welcome advice.

We have created what I reluctantly call a “kiosk” that is designed to meet this need. The kiosk has a persona. Her name is Olive, she’s your next-door neighbor. A little flaky, fun, spontaneous. When you interact with Olive, she starts by asking you questions like, “What kind of cuisine are you thinking about? How many people are you feeding? How involved do you want to be (no touch, light touch, hands on)?” After you enter your information, she offers three possibilities, shows you what ingredients are needed and how to prepare the dish, then she emails or texts the information to you. Throughout the process, Olive’s personality is on display. No promotions. No sales. No brand messages. Just a trusted friend. We love the idea of having a person on the floor, but given that that solution is rarely viable, we think Olive is a wonderful stand-in.

“We are big believers in Olive. We have followed our own path to develop the point of view that led us here. But at the end of the day, we need to see how Olive performs in the real world. Do shoppers interact with Olive? How does she affect traffic flow? What changes will we see in the basket? What is the impact on sales? And every bit as importantly: what are the shoppers’ emotional reaction to Olive? How does it impact their satisfaction and loyalty? Has Olive had a positive effect on their lives?

We will be utilizing both traditional, quantitative insight tools and less common qualitative tools – such as Symphony RetailAI’s Shopper Experience Insights – to drive to deeper, unarticulated responses from our shoppers.”

How does your work enhance collaboration with retail partners?

We have worked with retailers on changing their messaging from product and price to meal solutions. We have also encouraged them to take more advantage of the channels they already possess – Pinterest, Facebook, website, emails, etc. to deliver the message of “educate and inspire.” For example, we conducted a 90-day test with a retailer where the only thing we changed in their prepared foods offering was the communication – no new products or promotional pricing. During that time, their prepared foods sales went from trending down 5% to trending up 7%. A 12-point change. We believe that the number one opportunity in prepared food is communications. The educate and inspire approach has a greater ability to transform prepared foods sales than any other tactic I know of.

Please give a short summary of your speech at Xcelerate Dallas?

At Xcelerate, I plan to spend a little time talking about the foundation for Educate and Inspire, but I plan to concentrate on how we changed our focus to “marketing on a human scale.” What are the deep, unarticulated needs of our shoppers and how we can meet these needs in ways that are relevant and that build satisfaction and loyalty because of the connection with the deeper needs of the shopper/consumer.

On a personal note, what do you enjoy doing outside of work?

In my spare time (what’s that?), I am working on my second novel, playing jazz guitar, and trying to control what musicians call GAS (gear acquisition syndrome).

Learn more about Symphony RetailAI’s Xcelerate Retail Forum.