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How Blue Apron evangelizes the message it's more than food in a box

Blue Apron is trying to remain distinctive as meal delivery service competition grows.

Meal delivery service Blue Apron, which says it provides “perfectly portioned ingredients and step-by-step recipes”, is not the only game in town. In fact, just this week, seemingly invincible New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady announced he is teaming with plant-based meal delivery service Purple Carrot on TB12 Performance Meals. And ex-con Martha Stewart has lent her name to a similar service with Marley Spoon. This, of course, doesn’t include additional players like Home Chef, Plated and HelloFresh, to name a few. In other words: One might argue something of a meal delivery service bubble is on the horizon.

These services offer various recipes, ingredients and price points, but the underlying concept is similar: Consumers no longer have to think about what to make for dinner – or run to the grocery store to pick up ingredients.

Indeed, at Social Media Week in New York last week, Greg Fitzgerald, director of acquisition marketing at Blue Apron, said while the meal delivery concept was compelling enough initially, consumers are now inundated with this message from myriad sources.

“Facebook is saturated with offers and everything looks like food in a box,” he added.

That means the brand has to find how to break through and position itself as distinctive.

“It has been exciting to try to do that,” Fitzgerald said. “Part of that is creative and testing more ads, like carousel ads…”

That also includes new platforms, like podcasts, which Fitzgerald said have become a huge channel for Blue Apron that will only grow exponentially.

“We’ve been able to scale as the number [of podcasts] grows,” Fitzgerald said. “When they started Blue Apron, Serial hadn’t started yet and they didn’t have these refined networks of Bill Simmons and Ringer [and] Crooked Media and Pod Save America, which have become huge.”

Not surprisingly, the brand plays up different messages on different shows. On NPR podcasts, for instance, it talks more about the food system, but on, say, a weekly WWE podcast, the host talks more about why the meals are delicious.

“It’s allowing [hosts] freedom and flexibility and not being precious about your brand as opposed to jamming a message down their throats,” Fitzgerald said.

Such was the case with Adam Carolla, who hosts a comedy podcast and isn’t necessarily in Blue Apron’s target audience, but who cooked Blue Apron recipes and loved them and knew how to engage his audience when he told them about it.

“If we can get buy-in from the host, who believes in building a better food system and not cooking packaged food, that’s authority,” Fitzgerald added.

The brand also works with a range of influencers from bloggers to 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, who posted on Twitter and Instagram about cooking with this wife – without a call to action. Fitzgerald, however, said the range works for Blue Apron.

What’s more, Fitzgerald said Blue Apron has also been testing UGC-style video ads in which it asks customers to film themselves cooking Blue Apron recipes for potential inclusion in a highlight reel.

“It’s super engaging for the customer and a side benefit is we get an awesome asset – a 30-, 60- second version of people cooking a ramen meal at home with the kids and people are hitting the talking points themselves,” he said. “There’s way more engagement [and higher] completion [rates] than something that looks like a traditional TV ad.”

And while Blue Apron has aired TV creative for three years, Fitzgerald said its 2017 TV campaign is probably the most storytelling the brand has ever done as it focuses more on its vision and mission.

“It doesn’t drive direct acquisition,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t say ‘go to blueapron.com to get your first three meals free,’ but we know it’s the right thing to do for the business.”

Per Fitzgerald, Blue Apron is the largest company in the meal delivery space and its efforts to date have in many ways grown the category in, say, paid search.

“We’re driving tons of intent and volume with Blue Apron and building this category and terms like ‘home meal kit,’ which didn’t exist a few years ago,” he said.

But, as noted, as the category has grown, so, too, has competition – many of which he called copycats.

“There are things lifted from our site quite literally pixel to pixel,” he said.

At the same time, Fitzgerald said Blue Apron can distinguish itself because it has a strategy that includes storytelling about building a better food system by working with family farms and regenerating agriculture.

“I hope with each box, we make the planet healthier as opposed to neutral and we’re cutting out the middleman between farms and consumers and telling that story is something none of our competitors are trying to do – they’re focused on pure acquisition,” he said. “We want to get out with that message and those TV spots will drive awareness even if it’s a vague association of good feelings, farms and Blue Apron. All they need to take away is ‘I get what Blue Apron is about.’”

This, in turn, means the next time that consumer hears a podcast ad or sees a display ad, he or she will have what Fitzgerald called “a base layer foundation we’ve laid with storytelling” and will be more receptive.

“At some point, you have to think like a real consumer. How many ads did I see before I bought my Casper mattress? I couldn’t tell you. But I knew I kept seeing them and it was low risk, so I bought it, I love it and now I’m an evangelist,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s how consumers make decisions.”

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Lisa Lacy

Lisa Lacy is a senior reporter for The Drum, covering digital and search marketing. Based in New York, she writes about how brands use technology to connect with consumers, particularly as innovations like voice search, digital assistants and the Internet of Things change consumers’ lives forever – not to mention the data these platforms increasingly collect and the security and privacy issues therein. She is a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism. Her bucket list includes riding in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

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