Creating a quality marketing strategy is important for any brand. At Slope, we believe brand + design directly set the foundation for the way companies ideate and execute their approach to marketing. Our interview with Shray focused specifically how brands in the food/bev industry can create, execute, and sustain a winning marketing strategy.
Shray currently works as Head of Growth and Retention at Health-Ade Kombucha, where he leads all digital retention and acquisition efforts.
In this interview, he explains how to create a winning marketing strategy, what pitfalls to avoid, and why platforms like TikTok present a huge value prop for marketing teams across industries.
For people that don’t know you, talk briefly about your background. How did you wind up doing what you do? Describe your work as Head of Growth and Retention at Health-Ade Kombucha.
My background is actually in analytical chemistry, and I studied nutrition and biochemistry at UMass Boston. My research specifically focused on learning how processed foods affect your body's microbiome and metabolism. So my background, scientifically-speaking, actually has some food science and biochemistry mixed together.
Eventually, though, I began to make a shift and play around in the digital marketing space.
A good childhood friend, Nik Sharma, who’s currently working in the DTC digital advertising space, introduced me to Facebook marketing while I was in college. One of my first “clients” was a friend who was starting an online supplement store, and he needed someone who could help communicate the benefits of his products to his consumers. The work was tons of fun, and taught me that traditional medicine was not the only outlet through which I could help others live a healthy lifestyle.
I then realized that I wanted to combine these two worlds—my health/wellness, scientific background with this newfound interest in the digital ad space.
After graduating from UMass, I worked at Cha Cha Matcha as their Head of Ecomm/Marketing Manager, and I helped launch the new website in conjunction with their release of a new iced tea line.
After that, I moved over to NUGGS as their Head of Growth, where I helped launch the new NUGGS 2.0 product as well as the parent brand SIMULATE™️.
Currently, I’m the Head of Growth and Retention at Health-Ade Kombucha. What that means is that I’m in charge of all of our digital acquisition and retention efforts. On a daily basis I manage things like our user website experience, advertising creatives and copy, landing pages, email marketing, SMS marketing, influencer marketing, etc. Every time you pick up your phone or laptop and see a Health-Ade ad, and you click through to the website, or get an email/text from Health Ade—that’s the work I deal with.
What are some of the most important things that companies should understand about marketing in the food/bev space?
Don't make it too complicated—it's a food and bev product. Focus on making your product look appetizing/refreshing and then describe what makes you different from the other products in your category. That can be the quality of the ingredients, health benefits, functional ingredients, your founder stories, or even your mission statement.
Content is king, especially in the paid ads world, so brands definitely need to double down on creating and sustaining content strategies that develop community and add real value to their potential customers.
What do you see as some of the biggest mistakes that food/bev companies make in the marketing space?
When it comes to the advertising side, tons of companies spend too much time trying to make the most beautiful TV-quality ads.
That strategy doesn’t always win on digital.
Instead, in the digital/mobile realm, the best performing ads are usually shot on an iPhone—the video is a little shaky and it includes regular, everyday people talking about why they love the product. That’s compelling.
Another thing I consistently see, creatively-speaking, is that many food/bev companies copy one another as opposed to making something new. It's great to get inspiration from others in the space, but it’s just as important to always add a new spin on your product and really make it your own.
Another huge mistake I see in the space is companies that get overly focused on the ad platforms themselves. Facebook really does most of the heavy lifting when you’re finding the right targeting audience for your ads. Historically it was better to focus on hyper-targeting and specific ad messaging, but now companies should refocus on making excellent, engaging content that provides real, tangible value to the user.
Talk about the recent Health-Ade/Lizzo collab on TikTok. How did you decide to get into TikTok marketing? Why do you think TikTok is a valuable marketing tool for many different companies?
So actually it wasn’t an official collab—Lizzo just gave us a random shout-out because she loves our product! That said, I can definitely speak to the incredible opportunity that TikTok presents as an advertising channel for ecomm + DTC companies.
Generally-speaking, all new content is coming out on TikTok.
When you see some really engaging, funny Instagram content, the majority of the time it’s actually just a repost of a TikTok.
That means TikTok is incredibly valuable for advertisers.
So right now we’re seeing a big shift with the rise of TikTok in the social media arena, and companies stand to reap huge rewards from the platform if they make really good, authentic, engaging content.
Personally, I think TikTok is a super exciting challenge for digital marketers and advertisers—it’s fun to approach the platform and think creatively about how to best create content that will inspire users and grow the community around your brand. Also, the younger demographic of TikTok users gives companies the chance to focus more on product messaging and highlight specific features that they know will appeal to that audience.
What are some other food/bev brands that are really crushing it in terms of marketing and driving sales? Are they using specific platforms? Specific messaging strategies? What sets them apart?
Juneshine is doing great work, they’re crushing it with their ad creative. They’ve built that very Californian, San Diego beach-type vibe with their brand. It’s awesome. Cha Cha Matcha is definitely still killing it, too. Their Instagram feed is great, and it’s obvious that they’ve built a long-term community there. Tushy is a company that’s doing a fantastic job with their copy—they’re not necessarily a food/bev, but their website has some of the best copy I’ve seen, and other companies should take some inspiration there. Supply is great too. They’ve done a fantastic job of creating an entire ecosystem around their main hero product, and they’ve got add-ons and other ancillary items that help enhance the customer experience while also driving up AOV.
When it comes to the platform, it’s not so much about what platform you’re using (TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn), because they all present a value prop for the company in some way.
It’s more so about content. Is your content good? Does it add real value? Does it make people want more? At the end of the day, creating novel, unique, authentic content is the common thread uniting all these ecomm and DTC brands currently crushing it in food/bev and across the board.