The benefits of a healthy diet are a no brainer for most, but a gluten-free diet –what’s the appeal? Why has gluten-free suddenly become so popular to consumers, health care providers, and product marketers? Is it a fad or is it here to stay?

As consumer interest in overall health and wellness has increased, the health benefits of a gluten-free diet have broadened in appeal. A gluten-free diet can have a variety of health benefits, such as improving cholesterol levels, promoting digestive health, and increasing energy levels – if you have gluten intolerance.

Research shows that 6-7% of the population has a wheat or gluten intolerance and about 1% of the US population have celiac disease. In fact, the number of cases of celiac disease has doubled every 15 years since 1974. This, coupled with the growing trend of eating gluten-free, have driven up sales of gluten-free products 19% in the year to September 2012 in natural and conventional channels, combined. In other terms, the projected sales of gluten-free foods and beverages are expected to exceed $6.6 billion by 2017!

With the demand for gluten-free products on the rise, grocery shelves are now lined with gluten-free products from common household food brands. Classic brands like General Mills, Bisquick, and Betty Croker have all launched gluten-free products and new brands are popping up everyday – Glutino, Van’s Natural Foods, EnjoyLife, and Udi’s Gluten Free Foods.

Gluten-Free Brands Working Hard to Engage Customers

Brand engagement is important to all brands, and manufacturers of gluten-free products are capitalizing on social media to interact with their customers. EnjoyLife posts coupons and a digital cookbook available to their Facebook followers, Udi’s has a gluten-free Welcome Kit for those new to a gluten-free lifestyle, and Betty Crocker’s gluten-free fans have created a Facebook page devoted to their gluten-free dessert mixes.

People adhering to a gluten-free lifestyle must be on the lookout for gluten hiding in foods. For help in the palm of your hand, there are a wide variety of gluten-free apps available for your iPhone. Find Me Gluten Free finds and reviews local restaurants with gluten-free menus, Healthy Diet & Grocery Food Scanner allows you to enter foods you want to avoid and when you scan a package’s bar code, displays the ingredients, and flags those that are your do not eat list. Apps really come in handy when traveling, too – Gluten-Free Disney and Allergy Free Orlando help kids and parents (and grown-up kids) eat at the Happiest Place on Earth, and Is That Gluten Free? Eating Out lists gluten-free menu items at chain restaurants like Bonefish Grill and fast food restaurants like Wendy’s.

Tasty Gluten-Free Products

On a personal note, I am a gluten-free diet connoisseur, having started my gluten-free diet before the craze. Having suffered for years with constant stomachaches, I was finally diagnosed as gluten-intolerant (and had to eliminate dairy and eggs from my diet, too). I resigned as president of Team Food. I didn’t renew my subscriptions to Bon Appetite, Cooking Light, and Rachael Ray magazines and my cookbooks started to collect dust on my bookshelf. Since adjusting my diet, the number of products catering to gluten-free consumers has steadily increased and I find myself with many options to choose from. While gluten-free products won’t ever taste as good as the original, here is a list of some of my favorite products to try:

When it comes to baking, I need to be gluten-free and vegan, so finding yummy desserts can be challenging. BabyCakes is a vegan bakery in New York City that also has published several cookbooks, including BabyCakes Covers The Classics. For my birthday, my coworkers made the German Chocolate Cake – check it out on our Pinterest page. Not only does it look delicious, it was delicious (much to my coworkers surprise!)

What are your thoughts on the gluten-free craze?  Do you think it’s a fad or is it here to stay?

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At it’s core, social media is all about eyeballs – and knowing what resonates with your audience.

Yes, it’s great to get comments and have witty banter among followers, fans and the like. But that can’t happen if you’re not getting those followers and fans to stop and actually LOOK at your content. Thankfully there is no shortage of analytics and analytics tools, so you can set out on a never-ending quest to out pace your previous weekly highs in reach or whatever category you deem important.

Content Diversification

The past few months have been crazy here at Trajectory. TV shoots, photo shoots, big meetings and presentations abound. As we’ve been out and about, we started capturing our surroundings on Instagram (if you haven’t heard about it, here’s an excellent write up by our very own, Diana Liaw) and have been sharing these pics across all of our social channels. Low and behold, we found that our analytics started showing some real positive results. Reach across the page was at its highest point ever, people were talking about the pics, sharing and all around there was some “buzz” about the entire page.

The Instagram Ripple Effect

A further glance at the numbers revealed some pretty rock solid info that we could base our future content schedule around. As we diversified our content types to include the Instagram photos in addition to our everyday blog posts, articles and links, we saw that people were consuming the photo posts at more than a 2 to 1 clip. These posts gained attention to the entire page, which in turn put more eyeballs on the other posts and content, creating what we’ve billed the Instagram ripple effect. To test our hypothesis we gathered a bunch of behind the scenes photos and clips from a TV shoot and created a behind the scenes video. It was a cute little production, stringing all the images together and set to a snappy soundtrack. Sharing this video set our page on fire – it became the post with the most. The reach of this post was eclipsed our previous high by more than 200%. Had we found the holy grail of social media?

Social Media Revelation?

This is by no means a social media revelation. We’re obviously not the first to come to the conclusion that people like to look at pictures and watch video rather than read. And obviously every audience for every page is different and will, in turn, prefer different types of content. To us the biggest take away was that by diversifying our content, it led to shedding light on what the perfect mix of content is for our audience. A firm knowledge of what resonates with your audience will ultimately keep your followers engaged and possibly lead to more of them. And at the end of the day, each follower has eyeballs, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Forget the traditional trade-off between quality and budget.

As healthcare marketers search for ways to provide valuable, yet cost efficient content for their audiences, accessible technology and channels such as YouTube and Vimeo provide important opportunities beyond static web content and traditional advertising.

Creating brand engagement through content that audiences actually want can be a bit of a challenge.  But if you take a deep breath, channel your inner Spielberg and approach it with an open mind, you can find yourself producing valuable, quality video in no time at all (at a fraction of the budget associated with traditional marketing vehicles).

Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Armed with a powerful idea and important and timely topics, your smartphone’s camera can certainly be a lens to provide informative web-based content as readily as a professional TV production can. But be sure audio quality is clear if you have voiceovers or music.
  • PowerPoint (forget what the name usually implies), iMovie, Keynote and other forms of slide presentations can provide valuable content and work well for more constricted budgets. Well-written (easy-to-take in) and creatively designed presentations can go a long way.
  • Regardless of production value, remember there is no substitute for an important, timely and distinguishing (great) idea. Be creative, but be sure to communicate clearly and directly.
  • Upload your videos to YouTube using matching search keywords, title tag and video title for maximizing SEO effectiveness.
  • Videos over two minutes must really be engaging. It’s not easy to keep someone’s attention for much longer, so keep this in mind. It might make more sense to have multiple shorter videos than one long one.
  • Make sure your content is relevant to your target audience. This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to become enthralled with all the cool video FX and music and forget about your primary communication objective.

Now…relent to your hidden desire to direct (you know you really want to), go be creative, make mistakes, learn from them and keep these words in mind:

“An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before?” – Francis Ford Coppola

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Our beauty marketing article – Six Tips For Igniting Beauty Brand & Business Energy – is featured in beautypackaging.com’s “The Expert’s View.” You can read it here.

To build business in today’s environment – where technology leaves nothing to the imagination and nothing out of reach, where consumers are connected, collaborating and creating, where organizations can no longer hide behind the curtain and where brands are expected to do more – a new playbook is in order.

Here’s a summary of six of those plays:

1. Belief: Competitors can copy many of the functional attributes and benefits of your beauty products. But what they can’t copy is the meaning and purpose of your brand beyond what it does.

2. Behavior: Everything you do, every experience you create – with employees, customers and the public in general – should support and enhance your story.

3. Benevolence: Are you making the world a better place? How can your “belief” link to progress in the “communities” in which your organization and brand operates?

4. Bold: Be exciting. Continue to surprise and delight. Build an expectation that something new is always around the corner.

5. Bonding: Beyond customers interacting with your brand, make your brand the platform through which they share with one another.

6. Better Questions: Obvious “inside-out” questions yield answers that are more affirming and validating. Better “outside-in” questions let you see new things about your category, company, brand and customers.

Once again, you can read the article here. As always, we welcome your comments.

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How you complete this sentence might just foreshadow the future success of Whole Foods as it considers entering the health and wellness resort business. You can see the story here at NY Daily News.

Any and all operational capabilities aside, their ability to deliver a desirable and relatable proposition starts with degree of brand “permission.” How much permission we, as Whole Foods customers, fans or fanatics give them to extend their brand into this arena.

Which circles back to how you filled in the blank. And not to limit your choices, but here’s a general framework for you to consider. Is Whole Foods a product-based, expertise-based or philosophy-based brand idea?

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Is it a grocery brand, an expert purveyor of organic, natural, healthy foods or a brand defined by a deeper philosophy? Likewise, is it functionally-based or is it emotionally-charged? Not up to me to say, but they’ll cover the necessary bases to find out.

If you read the article, you’ll see that there’s a comparison to Canyon Ranch. Though not sure this is the most appropriate or wisest comparison, as Canyon’s roots are in spa/health and wellness, so their’s was a natural progression to integrate “eating habits” into their program.

Relative to other grocery retailers, Whole Foods does stand apart. It’s driven by, and delivers on, a strong set of value and beliefs. It hasn’t strayed from selections which advance a healthy lifestyle. It does business with a strong sense of purpose. Is this enough “permission”, we’ll see.

What’s your point-of-view?

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The open mindedness and disciplined creativity required to visit parallel worlds is critical to your ability to deliver new and greater value to better customers lives beyond the reach of competitors. It allows you to consider that Nike (for example) might now be a competitor to your healthcare system or hospital, given that you’re both in the business of promoting better health outcomes.

Nike, by way of its FuelBand, lets you track your daily running, walking, dancing and dozens of other everyday activities. It tracks each step taken and calories burned. It then helps you set goals, see progress, stay motivated and share with others.

As a healthcare marketing professional, your industry focus means understanding its specific challenges, creating actionable initiatives based on knowing operational realities, living the nuances of your category on a daily basis. But exclusive industry focus also means that you’re not viewing the world through the lens of your customers life. And that means missed opportunities.

Thinking holistically about your healthcare patient (as a customer) and how you can better their lives beyond the reach of competitors, requires you to look beyond your category. Clearly, an understanding of direct competitor practices is important. But then venture out to examine the parallel world of other national healthcare players. And then most important to being able to see new value-creating opportunities is the examination of parallel organizations with similar characteristics and who face similar challenges to yours in completely different markets.

How can you truly better the lives of your customers, beyond just satisfying their most obvious needs? Only by seeing their (parallel) world(s) through their eyes. Asking the right set of brand, customer and company questions can help you determine where to look – to get you to that magical combination of intelligent focus and imaginative stretch.

What’s your opinion about the value of visiting parallel worlds?

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Edward Boches over at creativity_unbound wrote this post the other day titled “Getty Museum being social with ideas that engage.” You can read it here.

In short, the museum asked people to imagine the opening line in the concealed letter in the hands of the woman reading it in “Vermeer’s Lady in Blue.” It’s the only museum in the US to feature the painting right now as it makes its way around the world. Hundreds of art lovers submitted lines – serious, eloquent, amusing, set in the 1600′s, imagining the future.

Granted, we’re talking hundreds and not thousands of participants. But what I love about this, and what brand marketers should take away about this, is that this is what true brand engagement looks like:

• integral to patrons lives (and thereby making the Getty brand a bigger part of their lives)
• inviting them to think more deeply and involve themselves in the story behind the brand (in this case, Getty’s Vermeer’s Lady)
• creating a unique experience
• provoking shared participation among fans
• creating new value for patrons and the museum

As Edward interestingly points out in his post, “it didn’t ask for much in return. No likes. No follows. No pleas to purchase a ticket or visit the exhibit.” Just for the people, by the people.

Very cool idea!

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When 25% of people use their smartphones to browse the Internet, why is it that only 10% of websites are mobile optimized, whether through the use of a responsive design approach or a separate mobile website. This is a significant, and unfortunate, wasted opportunity for healthcare brands (which happen to trend less than this general statistic).

Healthcare marketing (given the value of what organization’s can provide and the value that people are seeking) is one of the biggest opportunities for the utilization of mobile web content. Yet the industry tends to ignore the mobile web channel. As such, an organization’s ability to stay relevant and close to its customers, and connect to new ones, is marginalized.

Missed Opportunities for Brand Engagement

There are a lot of opportunities to promote brand engagement in places where patients might already be browsing on their phones and tablets. For instance, according to Our Mobile Planet, 70% of women will browse on their phone in waiting rooms at a doctors office. What a timely and natural opportunity for them to browse your content or sign up for classes or newsletters related to the purpose of their visit. However, they will be less inclined to engage if your site is not optimized for mobile viewing. For these women, it’s on to their next task.

Getting More Mileage From Content Creation

Many healthcare brands create separate mobile sites that only include a small subset of their full website experience. They include locations, contact info, and find a doc functionality. Yet the more useful and brand-enhancing videos, articles and calendars of events, for instance, are rendered unusable. Again, another wasted opportunity for two-way value creation.

Content creation for the web, especially for large healthcare organizations with multiple hospitals and medical specialties, is a time consuming and exhaustive process. It is important that the content you are creating is getting as much mileage as possible. That means getting that content in front of multiple audiences regardless of where they are and the device through which they’re connecting.

Perception is Reality

Don’t underestimate the power of perception. Healthcare marketing and advertising is a billion dollar industry with much emphasis placed (whether right or wrong) on touting advancements in medicine and technology. But are consumers supposed to believe that an organization is on the bleeding edge of technology when its web presence looks dated and its mobile site is non-existent. You only have one chance to make a first impression, and websites are so often that first impression.

You can continue to simply communicate that your technology is cutting-edge. But if you are wrapping that information up in a way that does not look and feel advanced, and doesn’t meet customers needs in ways they want, then it looks like (in fact is) an empty promise. Customers don’t compartmentalize their experience with brands. So you can’t just claim your position, you need to demonstrate it with a smart interface and a consideration for the modern web technologies and resultant benefits that are integral to, and possibly make a difference in the lives of, your audiences.

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Here’s the world’s first billboard that converts air into drinking water. It was strategically placed in Peru’s rain-starved desert capital, Lima. Importantly, and thankfully, it produces enough water for hundreds of families each month.

It’s a collaboration between Mayo DraftFCB and Peru’s University of Engineering and Technology.

Watch this short video that explains the project.

We talk a lot about putting the customer at the center of our businesses, and delivering marketing that really matters to them. It doesn’t get much better than this!

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A month or so ago, the orange bar began to flash across my screen at an inordinate rate (relatively speaking, read: I might be exaggerating my popularity), indicating new followers on my Instagram.  I also began to notice that the number of retail brands with user accounts had multiplied.  As an avid, albeit infrequent “Instagrammer” (a modest once a week/two weeks post compared with the 40 million photos uploaded daily), I was excited that the social media tool was gaining traction and curious to see how companies were utilizing it to create brand engagement.

But first, some “Instastats” straight from the social network itself (from July 2012 to January 2013).

  • Registered Users. From 80 to 100+ million
  • Monthly Active Users. 90 million
  • Daily Uploads. From 5 million to 40 million
  • Likes Per Second. From 575 to 8,500
  • Comments Per Second. From 81 to 1000 

Within a six-month period, Instagram has seen an explosion in number of users and interaction.  On average, Instagram users spend over an hour more on the site than Twitter users spend on Twitter (257 minutes vs. 170) and in September 2012, surpassed Twitter in average daily mobile users at 7.3 million vs. 6.9 million (out of 100 million and 555 million registered users, respectively).

A rapidly growing pool of deeply engaged potential customers – it’s not difficult to see why companies are eager to jump on the Instagram bandwagon.  According to a data report by Simply Measured, Instagram and Pinterest (that other visually-based social networking site) are the fastest growing social platforms among the Interbrand Top 100 Brands in the world with a 55% and 59% adoption rate – up 9% and 10% from last quarter, respectively.  Clearly, marketers see an opportunity for reaching a wider audience.

Creative ways brands are using Instagram to engage with and expand their fan-base.

  • Behind-the-Scenes/Action Shots: Brands are getting intimate with followers by allowing them to become privy to once exclusive, private-pass-only peeks into the worlds of luxury brands (e.g. Burberry’s commercial shoot with David Beckman’s son).  They also get a glimpse of the daily grind as experienced by employees of famous brands (like Virgin America).
  • Contests: Recently, Sony hosted a photo contest, which required users to first follow them, then submit a photo that represented love, with winners chosen daily at random.
  • Follower Photo Submissions:
    • Sharpie features follower artwork drawn with their product.
    • Free People (FP): Customers are encouraged to take pictures of themselves and append unique FP decreed hashtags.  Select images are even integrated into FP’s website (with permission of course), so customers get to be models for the day and potential buyers get to see how clothes are styled in real life.

Is it working?  If the name of the game is brand engagement, the statistics speak for themselves.  For some perspective on how Instagram stacked against other social networking sites, I examined the number of likes/follows for four active Instagram brands against their other social media accounts:

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For all of the above brands, number of Instagram fans has surpassed Pinterest fans.  Both Free People and Adidas (note: clothing retailers) have amassed almost three times the number of Instagram fans as they have Twitter fans, an impressive feat considering the fact that Twitter is a much more established social platform.  To be expected, Instagram branding companies will need to exercise some social strategy muscles before they come anywhere close to nearing the gap with Facebook.

Room for improvement.  Brand engagement is fantastic and all, but what about direct sales?  Pinterest has earned a reputation for leading potential buyers to direct purchases on retailer websites (21% of Pinterest users have purchased an item after having seen it on Pinterest according to Hubspot).  Instagram doesn’t offer a direct linking capability from photos of products to website pages for purchase – something worth considering, as mobile usage growth, according to a Facebook statement, is poised to “exceed the growth in usage through personal computers for the foreseeable future and that the usage through personal computers may be flat or continue to decline in certain markets.”

As the new darling of social media continues to glow brighter in the spotlight, marketers and consumers alike should poise themselves for some “instagramification“.

Check out Trajectory’s newly minted Instagram account here.

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