5 Creative Ways for Food Brands to Make More Sales (Without Punishing Loyal Customers)

Have your sales slowed down? Are you thinking of running a promotion or discount? Think again!

Getting customers to notice you, especially if you’re in a crowded category, can be tricky. Getting customers to take action and buy your products is even more challenging. Some marketing tactics will achieve short term gains but what about the long-term consequences?

Some Offers Hurt More Than Help

No one likes to feel hard done by, especially your long-standing, loyal customers.

You may well be thinking I’ve lost it right now. How would offering a discount, to make more sales, punish any customers?

Well, look at it like this. You have a product, it’s selling well. And why wouldn’t it, it’s a good product! But then sales start to slow down – as the seasons change for example. What do you do? Run a promotion! 10% off on a bank holiday weekend or special occasion. Sales pick up. Hurrah!

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Success, right? Not necessarily.

Think about the customers who bought before the promotion. They paid full price.

Days later, you ran a promotion where they could have bought the same thing, for less. At best, they may feel irritated or stupid. At worst, they may feel so angry that they decide to never buy from you again. This is particularly damaging if they’re one of your regular customers.

Discounts are a popular sales boosting approach, especially in Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). But if you offer too many discounts, or run too many promotions, you could end up losing loyal customers. You could even end up conditioning customers to wait for your next deal, rather than buying regularly. My favourite pizza place runs so many 2-for-1 offers that I’d never pay full price ever again!

You could also run the risk of cheapening your brand. Discount and low-cost stores have their place, but if that’s not the brand image you’re after, then don’t become one by knocking prices down too low.

So, let’s take a look at some creative ways to make more sales, without punishing loyal customers.

#1 Give Away Freebies

Freebies are a great promotional tool. People love free stuff.

If you give away freebies or samples that are always free, no one can complain that they paid full price yesterday, for something you’re giving away for free today.

You could make smaller, promo sized versions of your best sellers. These could be enough to entice consumers to buy the real thing, making you more sales in the long run. Giving away samples at a trade show, consumer food fair, or outside a restaurant or market stall can all help draw in potential fans.

And freebies don’t always have to be samples of your own products. The Innocent Smoothie Big Knit campaign is a great example. Each smoothie bottle has a unique, hand-knitted hat. They’re not only cute, it’s a reason to buy a bottle.

Consumers may buy them because they have some clever use for the tiny hats. Or they may support the charity – Age UK – that each sale raises money for. Or they may just love them. No matter the reason, they are buying them and that’s what counts.
So, that’s the feel-good charity part covered, but what about using freebies to get your brand more visibility?

Here a freebie with a purpose works. Back in the day, a branded pen or packet of sticky notes might’ve been a popular choice. But today, there’s a wealth of options.

Branded eco-friendly pencils, travel cutlery, portable chargers, mugs, hoodies. All sorts. Depending on your budget, you can brand pretty much anything. The key is to think of something that’s always going to be on the consumers radar, or physically, in their line of vision. Make it useful, or at least beautiful.

Digital channels like social media or email marketing can be powerful too. A free sample in the post in exchange for signing up to a mailing list? Try it!

Unless you can afford to be really generous, don’t have a bottomless supply of free gifts. Plan how much to give away in advance and make sure it stays financially viable.

#2 Incentivise First Time Purchasers

Giving away freebies is a great way to get your product in front of potential consumers. But you don’t need us to tell you it’s very hard (impossible?) to build a profitable business if you give away everything for free.

And that’s where incentives for new customers come in. After an introductory discount, your new customer may be more likely to come back for more.

These kinds of offers rarely punish existing customers, unless the offer wasn’t around when they first bought from you. Incentives help reduce friction for first time buyers and sometimes that’s all you need to convince someone to become a customer.

If your product offering is amazing, unique and is accompanied with a slick buying experience (online or in-store) there’s a good chance your first timers will come back and buy again.

Need some ideas? Cru Kafe, purveyors of ethical and organic coffee, offer a 10% discount to new customers when they subscribe to their email list. Graze, curators of healthy snack boxes, incentivise first time buyers with half price on the first box when buying a subscription. Order your first recipe box from The Mindful Chef, and you’ll get £10 off.

‘Refer a friend and share the love’ type offers are great too. Organic veg box providers Abel & Cole incentivise by offering £20 to both the existing customer, and a recommended friend. Meal in a box service, Gousto have a similar deal.

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#3 Reward Your Loyal Customers

Incentivising first time buyers is one thing. But how do you get them to keep coming back for more? You could consider rewarding their loyalty.

First, decide what a loyal customer means to you. A fourth purchase? A tenth? 100th? Over what time frame? In a certain number of days, weeks or months?

The answers to these questions will depend on the value and typical buying cycle of your products.

If you sell milk, it’s likely that your customers will buy weekly. If you sell artisan cakes, then maybe a loyal customer buys once every few months. High end spirits, might only be bought once a year for birthdays or Christmas.

As an example, Abel & Cole vary their loyalty offers. I signed up to a ‘buy three veg boxes, get a fourth free’ deal and did a similar thing with recipe box innovators, Hello Fresh.

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Another option would be to create a loyalty card or points-based scheme – like those seen in high street coffee shops. But these can be used for any food or drink business. Hand out loyalty cards and allow customers to collect points or freebies. These can be delivered electronically or by a good old-fashioned ink and stamp at the till.

And finally, here’s a nice touch for long term customers. If you track sale dates alongside customer information, you could send out a personalised offer one year after a customer first bought from you.

I still get a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine to the value of £12 on the anniversary of signing up to Ocado. I’ve had eight ‘Ocadoversaries’ now. I love it and feel really valued as a customer.

#4 Offer Exclusive Premium Promotions

When most brands run sales or promotions most make their products cheaper. Instead, consider running a premium promotion that provides a large amount of value for a select few people.

This is the opposite of stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap. It’s perhaps the last thing most people think of when running promotions to make more sales. But having an increased, premium offer could appeal to a handful of elite customers.

Modern consumers don’t just want to buy “stuff”. They’re looking for an experience.

Lots of alcohol brands are using this to their advantage. Pop up bars and immersive experiences are becoming commonplace.

Tequila brand Patrón has its Secret Dining Society events held all over the world. These exclusive super club soirees are brimming with exclusivity and class. And at the same time, they’re promoting the brand.

A recent London Secret Dining Society event was put together with Douglas McMaster, a chef from Brighton’s zero waste restaurant, Silo. The event not only showcased the brand, but the focus on sustainability added an extra ‘on-trend’ dimension.

#5 Get Personal, Build Relationships and Make More Sales

And finally, let’s get personal. Instead of offering sales or discounts, offer your customers something special. A chance to truly experience your product and meet the people behind your brand. You and your team are probably the most passionate believers in what you do; why not show and tell everyone?

Hello Fresh and Farmdrop both invite their customers to see what goes on behind the scenes and try out new products. But even if you’re a small producer, there’s no reason you couldn’t do the same. It’s a fantastic way to get to know your customers. You have the chance to engage with them on a level like no other and get first-hand, valuable feedback face to face. This is much more fun than tedious market research or running faceless surveys.

Getting up close and personal with your customers is a great way to promote your ethics and relate to your customers’ interests and passions.

If you’re developing new products or experimenting with new flavours, get the people that matter in to review them. Even if you’ve been offering the same products or menu items for years, it’s still good to get feedback.

Modern consumers appreciate openness and transparency. Seeing the inner workings of your business and meeting your team could be invaluable. Doing so can lead to more sales by promoting feelings of value and commitment from a brand that really cares.

Creativity Leads to Success

Standing out from a deluge of Facebook ads, TV promotions, brand mascots and other marketing noise is tricky. But trying a few creative marketing tactics could make all the difference.

To recap, here’s the highlights of all the creative strategies we’ve just discussed in detail:

  • Don’t condition customers to wait for your sales and discounts
  • Give away freebies, but don’t hurt your bottom line by offering too many
  • Choose freebies with a purpose
  • Offer enticing incentives for first time customers
  • Decide what counts as a loyal customer and incentivise them to keep coming back
  • Consider running a premium promotion that provides a large amount of value for a select few people
  • Build relationships with your customers – have a personal side to your brand

Which of these have you tried? Which would you try next?

We’d love to hear from you and swap stories. Drop us an email to [email protected] or tweet us @saplingdigital.