By Anna Seacat
Since Earth Fare’s opening of a new store in Carmel, IN, much has been written, both by the media and consumers, about how its socially minded offering compares to that of Whole Foods Market. This presentation will not add to that discourse, rather it will aim to compare the grocers’ social media efforts in their local marketplace, as well as contrast what objectives the brands may be aiming to achieve with social media marketing. It will be suggested that, because hallmarks of branding are not being used by Whole Foods Market or Earth Fare within the social media realm, neither brand has achieved differentiation.
Although Earth Fare entered the socially minded grocery market six years after Whole Foods Market opened in Carmel, its local social media presence is not too far behind. In fact, the new kid on the block has more than twice the number of Twitter followers as Whole Foods Market (557 vs. 221). However, the local Whole Foods Market’s Facebook page is noticeably more mature with over 12,000 likes and 444 ratings (4.5 stars). Earth Fare has earned 1,500 likes and zero ratings on Facebook.
Beyond Facebook and Twitter, both Carmel-based grocers are noticeably absent on major social media networks. For instance, even though Whole Foods Market and Earth Fare have portrait-worthy brick-and-mortar showrooms that display high-end groceries, neither location takes advantage of social networks such as Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, or SlideShare. Moreover, despite convincing data, which clearly indicates the critical importance of maintaining an active and complete Google+ page, especially for those businesses targeting local audiences (Elliott, 2014), neither Carmel-based grocer participates on any level in this social medium. A presence by Earth Fare and Whole Foods Market on a number of other social platforms, such as Vine, LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc. is also non-existent.
Since neither grocer in Carmel, IN has diversified their social media presence across multiple platforms, their online marketing efforts are not creating a competitive advantage. It is easy to assume that each grocer has a different objective that they are trying to achieve through their social media marketing efforts. Earth Fare, as a new entrant, is most likely attempting to generate revenue by attracting new customers. Although Whole Foods could also be attempting to attract new customers, it should be focusing an objective to generate revenue by growing relationships with existing customers. Despite the brands likely having differing objectives, both Whole Foods Market and Earth Fare are only utilizing Twitter and Facebook in an almost identical manner. Consequently, neither grocer is differentiating itself from its competition. As shown in the image below, the socially minded grocers’ Facebook pages are strikingly similar. Not only do both of the brands’ background images feature fresh veggies, but their updates on Facebook could be interchangeable. Both grocery stores’ Facebook activity, as well as their Twitter feeds, feature pictures from their stores, promotions concerning products and upcoming events, and cause-related marketing activity. The content, look, and feel of the posts are nearly identical. The Earth Fare and Whole Foods Market logos could literally be swapped out and the marketing messages would not feel out of place.
I began my career at a marketing agency when the concept of ‘branding’ was all the rage. One of my favorite activities that we would conduct with potential clients was to replace their brand’s name with their competitor’s logo on all of their marketing messages. We would display everything around the room, stand back, and ask them, “Does this work? Do your messages, promises, and service/ product descriptions effectively describe your competition? Could your competitor use your advertisements and vice versa?” The intended takeaway from this exercise was if you cannot identify differentiation, neither can your customer.
Beyond differentiation, other main themes in branding are still relevant, albeit harder to apply, in the digital marketplace. For instance, designing consistent touch-points was a hallmark of branding that everyone preached over ten years ago. But, as social guru, B. Bonin Bough, explained, maintaining brand integrity is more of a challenge today, because it must be done over “far more channels, spokespeople, and mind spaces than in the past” (Bough & Agresta, 2011, p. 12). In other words, designing a unique brand proposition and delivering it in a consistent manner, when the channels were limited to TV, radio, print, billboards, events, point-of-purchase, etc., seems relatively easy when compared to accomplishing that same objective every day and hundreds of times each day on a dozen online platforms.
Even though branding within new media is more challenging, the area is also ripe with opportunity. In this analysis it was revealed that the socially minded grocers in Carmel, IN only participate on Facebook and Twitter and do so in almost an identical manner. One of these businesses could extend a unique position and appeal to a new audience on Pinterest, YouTube, Vine, Tumblr, etc. Although this would not be considered a strategic or even radical move, it would certainly be an opportunity to do something different than a major competitor.
Agresta, S. & Bough B. B. (2011). Perspectives on Social Media Marketing. Boston, MA:
Elliott, N. (2014). Why Every Marketer Should Use Google Plus. Forrester. Retrieved