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Scripps Networks Interactive has engineered a huge success based on the single behavior shared by all consumers: everyone eats. In fact, it's so obvious that marketers could easily overlook it when trying to identify consumer behaviors and influences. But Scripps has built an empire of food-related networks and shows, including its flagship Food Network.
Although everyone eats, the challenge to marketers is figuring out what people eat, when they eat, how they eat, and with whom. "Food behavior is very situational," observes Sergei Kuharsky, senior vice president and general manager of licensing and merchandising at Scripps. This means that sometimes people actually behave differently from what they say they do, or change their behavior based on certain conditions. Food choices might depend on how they feel, who they're with, what options are available, and so forth. Of course, food choices depend on other influences as well-cultural (vegetarianism or buying local), social (aspiring to fine foods or restaurants), and family (the husband or wife makes menu decisions). To make sense of all of this, Scripps relies on consumer interactions with social media. "It's easy for us to know what our viewers value because we talk to them all the time," says Kuharsky. "Word-of-mouth is the best advertising in the world, and it's also the best recommendation in the world. Social is really people reaching out to people they trust, to find things that they like."
Since food is universal among consumers, the trick is to narrow the experience enough to actually target a demographic and decision makers. "The beauty of Food Network is that it plays in multiple demographics," says Laura Galietta, senior vice president of ad sales and marketing. The company's main demographic is the 25 to 54 age group, but Galietta points out that Food Network is also very popular among other demographic groups. The network's core viewers are those women who are decision makers in their households. So the marketers' strategy is to reach upscale women with credit cards and the authority to decide what to buy. Since these consumers are also avid users of social media, Scripps and Food Network play to that strength.
Social media helps Scripps and Food Network marketers tap into viewers' perceptions and attitudes. "You can get a read so much more quickly through social media," says Susie Fogelson, senior vice president for marketing, creative services, and public relations. "You need a reliable sample to be able to glean true results, but it gives you a sense of what people are thinking about." Fogelson acknowledges that consumers who actually take the time and effort to engage in conversations online are often the "small, fiery group." But they do provide valuable information. "I think social media is the greatest gift to a marketer and also a tremendous responsibility."
In addition to marketing to consumers, Scripps and its branded networks market to other businesses. These organizations generally fall into one (or more) of three categories: advertising partners, affiliate partners, and new business partners. Advertisers understand the value of Scripps brands and their broad reach; they advertise because it makes sense for these viewers to see their products. "We have an expertise and authority that our advertisers want to latch on to," says Galietta. The partner relationship goes further, according to Galietta. A partner understands the deeper meaning that Scripps' brands have in people's everyday lives, and that working with Scripps will help them tap into that. These B2B partnerships generally function for mutual benefit. For example, retailer Kohl's sells Food Network-branded stainless steel cookware and other products that consumers may buy after being inspired by their favorite cooking shows. Entwine Wine is a partnership between Food Network and the California-based Wente Vineyards to offer a collection of fine wines that are also affordable to consumers looking for the perfect food and wine pairings.
Scripps' business partners also understand the value of being part of a hit show like Food Network Star, on which they promote their products and messages. These firms then promote their relationship with Food Network at their own websites, Facebook pages, and the like. Food Network and Buitoni ran a sweepstakes on Twitter, during which viewers could Tweet to win free pasta after watching the show. "People want to know more," explains Galietta. "They want to know what happens after the show ends, and they want to be part of it." Scripps and Food Network accomplish this through social media.
Scripps and its branded networks have successfully leveraged the universal appeal of food. "We position the Scripps portfolio as brands for life," remarks Galietta. "We have great brands, we inspire people to act, and the TV commercials are informational. Viewers take that information and go online to find out more-and then they act." Action is the endgame for marketers, whether it's on the part of consumers or business partners.
Questions for Critica
l Thin king 1. Scripps identifies its core audience as upscale women who are decision makers. Give at least one example each of cultural, social, and family influences that might sway their viewing and purchasing choices as related to Food Network.
2. What marketing efforts might Scripps and Food Network make to change the attitude of men who are not viewers, so that they become viewers of Food Network?
3. How would you segment Food Network's business partners? Give an example of each segment you cite.
4. In addition to the free-pasta sweepstakes, describe how Buitoni might leverage its relationship with Food Network via social media.