2015 PROJECT SUMMARY
Project Title: QUALITATIVE RESEARCH TO UNDERSTAND AND INFLUENCE OPINION LEADERS’
RECOMMENDATIONS AND USAGE OF U.S. LAMB
Project Contacts: Elizabeth Dressler, Vice President, Marketing & Business Development firstname.lastname@example.org
Jill Adams McDonough, President/Founder, Prevail Strategic Marketing
Applicant: Mountain States Rosen, LLC.
For those who can comfortably afford meat from U.S.-raised sheep, purchasing imported lamb ought to feel like a compromise, or cheating, yet more than half of the lamb consumed here is imported. U.S. lamb--because of its raising standards, eating characteristics, commitment to sustainability and contributor to the U.S. economy and culture--ought to be the definitive gold standard in the U.S. To strengthen the long-term sustainability and hasten growth of the U.S. lamb industry, we need to embark upon a sound influencer strategy that ignites interest and breeds loyalty among those target audiences with the greatest sales potential, benefitting U.S, sheep ranchers large and small.
In order to capture the minds, hearts and dollars of discriminating lamb lovers, we need to execute a methodical, trickle-down strategy. We will identify and query those with access and influence in socialite/celebrity circles, by conducting in-depth qualitative research, either in the format of a focus group or one-to-one interviews. Our goals for Phase I include understanding how food opinion leaders (top tier caterers and perhaps personal trainers, nutritionists and personal chefs) might become loyal fans of U.S. lamb and to educate these opinion leaders about the quality attributes and benefits of American lamb. This program will benefit the industry by reaching out to those with the ability to cater and endorse our products to socialites and alpha-consumers. We will gain access and relationships to influencers and help build preference for American lamb among opinion shapers. It will help us position U.S. lamb for both the affluent elite whom, in turn, influence the masses. Upon conclusion, this research will deliver to the sheep industry practical, business-oriented insights while also educating and breeding loyalty among societal “trend-tippers,” motivating them to spread the good news about our heritage, high-integrity and transparency.
To begin to capture the minds, hearts and dollars of discriminating lamb lovers, we set forth to execute a methodical, trickle-down strategy, tapping Hollywood influencers. The grant proposal set forth to identify and query a small group of individuals with access and influence in socialite/celebrity circles. By convening a “Pro-Panel,” we would establish a forum by which to educate them on the attributes, benefits and extraordinary taste of US lamb and engage in a discussion about what it would take for them to serve and/or endorse American lamb to their clientele, colleagues, friends and/or fans.
Actions/Accomplishments toward Goal:
After much investigation and preliminary outreach efforts, recruited celebrity fitness trainer, national Fitness Hall of Famer and former Today Show fitness correspondent, Kathy Kaehler, to serve as our Pro-Panel host.
To educate Ms. Kaehler on sheep industry practices and the benefits of U.S. lamb, we provided her with industry background information, gave her an extensive orientation briefing, a plant tour, and parameters for recruiting an intimate, diverse group of Hollywood influencers to participate in the Pro-Panel. Part of her introduction to American Lamb was also attendance at the Lamb Jam Finale where she tasted the best-of-the-best lamb dishes at the James Beard Foundation.
Developed “Save the Date” notification, event invitation, moderator’s guide, backgrounders, Q&A, remarks and extensive event show-flow. Also developed and promoted a hashtag [#USlambabetterchoice] to create an online community and eventual “buzz” platform.
Researched and secured event venue reflective of the quality and evoking the “feel” of our unique industry and offerings. Hosted Pro-Panel event at the Cornell Winery Tasting Room adjacent to legendary Old Place Restaurant in a serene setting outside of Los Angeles, CA.
Worked harmoniously with wonderful industry partners such as the American Lamb Board and Pendleton Wool to efficiently help investment dollars go farther and to enrich our U.S. sheep industry story. ALB provided industry educational materials and gift items and Pendleton provided discounted U.S. wool throws as part of our thank you gift to participants.
Selected exquisite cuts of Mountain States Rosen American lamb and worked with chef and proprietor to prepare lamb appetizer and entrée dishes for guests.Collaborated with Ms. Kaehler to invite 16 participants. Confirmed attendance of a diverse group of 14 high-profile guests, including authors/bloggers, celebrity chefs/caterers, television news media, Hollywood movie producer, talent agents and our celebrity fitness trainer. Conducted extensive research on each invitee and engaged in dialogues and relationship-building efforts before, during and after the Pro-Panel event.
Celebrity Influencer Pro-Panel Guests included:
Developed producer video and recorded notes/audio recaps of Pro-Panel discussion. We featured the story of U.S. sheep ranchers, John and Diane Peavey, which was extremely well-received:
How the Industry Benefitted and Might Continue to Benefit from this Grant Initiative:
While the input and recommendations from our Pro-Panel we share here are purely qualitative, they are keenly insightful and arguably quite attuned to many of the priority target audiences the U.S. lamb industry seeks to attract. Each of these Pro-Panel participants is highly successful at predicting, spotting and/or starting trends. They are in the same physical or virtual social media circles as elite, high-profile personalities and, as such, have exposure to newsmakers.
These comments may provide validation or dimension to things we’ve already heard. Or they may serve as hypotheses in need of further quantification and/or segmentation. Regardless, as a result of NSIIC’s support of this grant, we emerged with key positioning and sales/marketing insights at a lesser cost than consumer focus groups and far more potent given that this illustrious group was also able to “experience” U.S. lamb—including a fabulous tasting and emotional, memorable experience—yielding more than just research insights; creating zealous new fans; fresh, credible content; and hundreds of thousands of media impressions for U.S. lamb.
Gleaned Key Marketing and Business Insights
A turn of events prevented our lamb rancher from attending the Pro-Panel so, instead, we edited a video to help convey the lifestyle and values of the American sheep raising industry to this audience. This real account of the life of a U.S. sheep rancher extended well beyond a story about food production. The audience was moved by the rancher’s values and work ethic, which translated into trust and preference for our products.
“[They] remind me of my grandfather, who was a hardworking rancher and farmer in Oklahoma for his whole life. Hearing the stories of the ranchers of this sustainable co-op…reminds me that if you are a meat-eater, you should choose farm-fresh, environmentally sustainable, preservative/hormone/additive-free meat from local ranchers.” - Dawn McCoy, Hollywood blogger
“I have two small children so I have become very interested in food. So I felt like it was lovely to see something about food that had a positive spin on it, and I had a really good association with the rancher. It’s lovely to see people taking great care of the animals. It was nice for me to feel good about eating something that I felt [naturally] came to the table” – Gina Wade, celeb events
The case was made that the U.S. lamb industry is largely unknown and that a unified message ala “Pork: The other white meat,” or “Got Milk?” or “The incredible, edible egg,” would help drive awareness and usage. Not surprisingly, the Hollywood media and entertainment industry as a whole recognizes the potent impact of a buzz-worthy campaign. A number of participants expressed how today buzz can be achieved more affordably due to social media channels and influential bloggers.
This is a fairly significant takeaway. Los Angeles and surrounding areas of the rich and famous are hotbeds for the latest food, fitness and fashion trends, with a higher concentration of vegetarians, trend-dieters and anti-GMO advocates. Yet, independent of these “lightening rod” topics, the general sentiment among Pro-Panel participants was that US lamb products are a “clean protein,” fitting the lifestyle needs of these trend-setters. Our product story appears to transcend these often incendiary food issues. The key is to not go head-to-head against plant proteins but plant the seed that, when you choose to eat meat, homegrown lamb is something you can feel great about eating.
Industry research suggests that lamb eaters skew much older than eaters of other proteins and yet insights from this panel demonstrate promising cross-generational appeal of lamb. Celebrity fitness trainer Kathy Kaehler was not familiar with cooking lamb until we shipped her product samples to try for herself. Not only did she and her husband rave about lamb, but so did her high school and college-aged sons.
…it’s such a better choice all around and that’s something that’s been an “aha” moment for me and it’s something that has become a part of my family’s dinner wish list. – Kathy Kaehler
We also heard from Pro-Panel participants that there is an appealing nostalgic element to lamb. It reminds them of special meals and times…celebrations from childhood or their mother’s or grandmother’s cooking. These strong emotional memories are tremendous building blocks when it comes to increasing lamb occasions, especially among ethnic audiences where lamb may be integral to cultural dishes.
Vicarious Ranchers recognize livestock production as vital to our quality of life and harken back to a more agrarian lifestyle. They want to know where their food comes from and they maintain romantic notions about raising animals and food the right way. Emblematic of these folks are the wildly loyal fans of Pioneer Woman, famous for her vogue country-life persona, who photographs her husband pulling apart raw beef tenderloin with a side note: “These hands have cradled my babies, delivered calves, wrestled steers to the ground, built fence, thrown footballs, repaired equipment, and held me.” Vicarious Ranchers are who we might say voted “5 Chicks and a Farmer” blog #1, and endearingly follow “Farmer Jason.” This target will lap up information about best sheep raising practices, butchering of cuts and pure and simple serving suggestions.
Responsible Gourmands, on the other hand, want to know that the source of their meat is pure and humanely raised but are attracted by the culinary and nutrition aspects of the protein; whereas focus on the lamb as animals and the butchering of parts are just too much information. They are culinary adventurers who want assurance that they are making responsible, healthy choices, but that’s the extent of their livestock fascination. They are disinterested, or even turned off by, pictures of cuddly wooly sheep and butchery.
Two of our Pro-Panel participants were on opposite ends of this spectrum and each made her strong case.
In proactively following up with Pro-Panel participants, one of the major challenges in the southern California region is competition from importers directly related to product price. It is difficult to drive consumers to buy at restaurants and retail when imported product is offered more frequently than U.S. lamb. Thus, U.S. lamb would benefit from a B-to-B strategy that would steal share from imports.
In a nutshell, to meet the obvious demand for our products, we need to provide American grown lamb where these trend-tippers want it, when they want it and how they want it. This would also include suppliers of upscale caterers serving the elite and influential.
Testimonials/Viral Word of Mouth
Tremendous FREE media, content and inroads
We hope this small effort is a big first-step toward hastening growth of the U.S. lamb industry, igniting interest in the industry and fostering education, consumption and loyalty among these highly influential trend-setters.