#SFExperience: How Whole Foods Builds Engaged Communities

In our latest eBook, The Social Experience, we gathered insights and expert advice from today’s top brand social marketers and industry visionaries. We are sharing insights from this book these insights here on the Spredfast Blog. Today,  Whole Foods' Natanya Anderson shares how the natural and organic grocer connects with customers at the brand and local level.

A combined brand plus local approach to social media provides an opportunity to explore different approaches to engagement with the same customer base. It also allows us to effectively tell the same story to customers based on the different types of communities we are building at the brand and local level.

Brand and Local Engagements Are Fundamentally Different
We have found that at the brand level our customers are looking for a lifestyle-focused relationship and they appreciate engagements that are focused on information, inspiration, and aspiration. Conversely, at the local level customers are most attracted to engagements that support their in-store experience. Sales, events, special products, and team member stories all help connect the customer’s social experience to their next in-store experience, enriching it with useful information they can use when they walk through our doors. We apply this understanding of how customers engage with our content at the brand and local levels in two ways:

1. Finding the right channel fit
For every engagement we want to create, we first assess if it’s a better fit at the brand level or the local level, or if it’s appropriate to share at both. Trying to force-fit transactional store messages into the brand level rarely succeeds and similarly, telling too many lifestyle stories at the local level tends to reduce engagement. We have to honor the relationships our customers want to have with us through our different communities.

2. Creating cross-channel strategies
When an engagement is appropriate for both brand and local channels, we work to create a complimentary approach instead of a redundant one. At the brand level we look for the information or inspiration in the story and highlight it strongly. At the local level we work to strip the engagement down to the most useful information to encourage the customer to take what they’ve learned into the store to support their purchase.

A Real World Example: Blueberry One-Day Sale

WF-5-2 (1)Throughout the year we offer a handful of compelling one-day sales available at every store in the country. In our business model each store is able to choose their own products and create their own promotions, making these sales a significant retail event. We also typically feature a compelling product aligned with our quality standards and the type of products customers regularly look to us to provide: grass-fed beef, organic cherries, organic whole roasting chickens, and avocados just to name a few.
This summer, at the height of berry season, we offered organic blueberries for $1.99 a pint—a deal so good we had customers lining up outside of the store to buy flats of berries. To promote this content in brand channels we focused on ways to select and cook with berries.

This approach drove engagement around favorite ways to cook with blueberries, options for freezing and preserving them, and even memories involving blueberries. Even though we weren’t overtly promoting the sale in every post, and we didn’t feature sale signage, the inspirational approach to the blueberry story kept them top of mind for the customer.

At the local level, we worked to create a glimpse into the blueberry display in the store, showing customers exactly what to expect when they walked into our produce department.

A stronger product focus and the “from the store floor” visual created a connection for the customer between their Facebook engagement and their store experience. While asking a question to generate discussion, we kept the primary messaging focus on the sale price, which was key to drawing the customer into the store.


Engagement (Still) Starts with the Customer
Our experiences with different engagement successes at the brand and local levels are an important reminder that customers are equal partners in social conversations. The more we can understand what is most interesting and helpful to them in any given social channel, the stronger our engagements will be.


LP-headshot-circle-natanyaNatanya Anderson is the Director of Social Media and Digital Marketing at Whole Foods Market. She has been working with new media for over a decade with a focus on both strategy and execution, helping organizations change the way they engage and communicate with customers. Through her non-profit work with the Austin Food Blogger Alliance, Natanya is helping shape the future of social content creation, as well as brand/blogger relations.

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Courtney Doman

Courtney is the Content Marketing Manager at Spredfast. She focuses on sharing smart social ideas and insights to transform the way companies connect with consumers. Courtney is a passionate football fan (supporting Arsenal and the USMNT), curious traveller, and ambitious home cook.