Communicating GMOs in a TL;DR World

Jenny GregorcykBlog, Food SystemsLeave a Comment

TL;DR: “Too Long; Didn’t Read.”

You’ve probably noticed TL;DR versions of stories popping up on news sites, where three or four bullet points recap a (now considered lengthy) 500-word article. CNN calls this feature “Story highlights.” The New York Times has started summarizing its top stories in bullets on its homepage. Email newsletters such as The Skimm have flourished in recent years, providing readers with a three-minute daily digest of all the news they need for the day in a pithy, easy-to-read format.



The way consumers take in their news is changing for a few reasons. Because of the internet, there is simply a much larger volume of news available today than 10 years ago. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 81 percent of Americans get at least some of their news through websites, apps or social networking sites. There is even more competition when you consider other digital communication forms like text messaging and email. With 8 trillion text messages sent each year, it hardly seems to leave room for much else.

For food brands needing to communicate complex issues, this consumer mindset creates challenges. It can feel nearly impossible to communicate a complex issue such as FSMA, GMO use or traceability in a few bullet points, but there are ways brands can relay their message successfully.

Know your audience.

Brands falter when they make assumptions about their audiences. Instead, it’s important to ask critical questions such as:

  • Who is my target audience?
  • What do they know on this subject?
  • What is their attitude toward this subject? Toward my brand?
  • What misperceptions will they have on this topic?

If you’re unsure about the answers to these questions, consider investing in a baseline research effort. Online surveys can be fielded quickly and for a fairly low cost these days – it doesn’t have to be a big undertaking. Not only will it better inform your messaging, it will also give you something to measure against later.

Carefully craft your message.

Once you clearly answer these questions, you can better put yourself in your audience’s shoes and craft messages that will resonate. Carefully consider your headline – what is the one thing I want my audience to take away from this message? Lead with that message, and let the rest of your messaging support that headline. The food industry is notorious for using technical speak and jargon; be sure to use consumer-friendly, easily digestible language.

Choose your channels.

The number of communication channels available presents both a blessing and a curse. Should you use Twitter, your blog or a newspaper op-ed? With a clear understanding of your audience, you can choose the channels to most effectively reach them. For example, a seafood company may want to communicate the concept of traceability to its customer base in the Southeast United States. Knowing from research that its customers are mainly female grocery shoppers with children who have limited knowledge of the traceability concept, they would be wise to choose a channel this audience uses most frequently, Facebook. Additionally, they might consider video because it performs so strongly on the platform and, if done correctly, is a great medium for synthesizing complex information.

For an example of a job well done, check out this recent #DrinkGoodDoGood campaign from Naked Juice to bring awareness to the issue of food deserts. Looking at their messaging, they clearly understood their audience’s lack of information on the issue and used a simple headline to capture their attention: “Nearly 30 million Americans have limited access to fruits and veggies.” They also used celebrity influencers relevant to their audience to deliver the message. Most importantly, the campaign worked: #DrinkGoodDoGood was used nearly 50,000 times and campaign videos saw nearly one million views.

 

With all the clutter and misinformation in today’s news, food brands must carefully plan their communication efforts to make sure their target audiences both see and receive their messages.

About Jenny

Jenny brings more than 10 years of experience with Hahn Public to lead the firm’s food systems practice area. She consults with clients such as Whataburger and the Texas Beef Council on communication strategy and planning, media relations, community relations, social media, internal communication and issues management activities. She also holds certifications from the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI) and North Carolina State University’s HACCP food safety program.

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