3 Takeaways From Food52’s Content+Commerce Strategy

The intersection of content and commerce is the sweet spot that many brands are aiming for these days. Content on its own is challenging to monetize. Commerce on its own can be challenging to differentiate. Bring these two ingredients together and you have the means to build long-term relationships. One brand that has cooked up a leading strategy for this is Food52.

Food52 — a brand we are proud to call a customer — sees two-thirds of its revenue from its online shop. And the emails that drive people there have all of the ingredients for greatness, which is why they exceed industry benchmarks by 30%.

Here’s a glimpse at how they do it:

Food52 homepage

1. Food52 Connects with Individuals, Not Broad Audiences

It’s a sales cliché, but it’s true: People buy from people they like. Brands aren’t people, but they can still have personalities. Food52 does, and it’s centered on being direct, friendly and educative. The company’s goal is to be such a trusted resource that people think of the company beyond commerce. In other words, if Food52 is so intrinsically connected to cooking in your mind that they’re your go-to when you need a new spoon, they’ve succeeded.

Part of that brand personality comes from consistency. Videos, emails and social media posts (and even their office in New York City) are all designed to have a certain feel, making them instantly identifiable as Food52.

“The new brands like Everlane, Casper and Cuyana that you’re seeing crop up and succeed? They’re connecting on a human level in a way that consumer brands haven’t really done historically,” says Merrill Stubbs, President and Co-Founder of Food52. “If you can be more human and treat people in a way that feels more memorable and real, that’s the most powerful thing you can do.”

2. Food52 Thinks of Email as a Magazine

Food52 has great emails — they exceed industry benchmarks by 30%, remember? — and they have an unlikely inspiration. They’ve got headlines, a mix of content, and large, beautiful images. They’re modeled after magazines.

Food52 - email

“Email isn’t just a delivery vessel, but its own content. Mirroring the focus or variety in the manner magazines might has served us well,” says CEO and Co-Founder Amanda Hesser.

Like a traditional magazine, Food52 emails even have regular columns. The most popular is Genius Recipes by Creative Director Kristen Miglore, whose column reads like a personal note. Her content is often commerce-free — recommendations for dinner party playlists or products Food52 doesn’t even sell, for example — but is so popular that the thumbnails at the bottom of her emails often generate thousands of dollars in sales anyway. The trick is to provide variety, but not surprises. Regular readers know to expect Genius Recipes every Wednesday.

3. Food52 Has Created a Community

Brand personality and magazine format prop up the real underlying catalyst in Food52’s success: its fans. By treating customers (and subscribers who haven’t become customers yet) as a community, people feel more involved in — and as a result, attached to — Food52.

For example, a German egg coddler wasn’t selling well and the team realized why: People didn’t understand what it was. Food52 created content to explain what an egg coddler is, and provide recipes and ideas for using it. The brand linked to editorial, rather than product, pages. Customers didn’t feel like they were receiving information, rather than a sales pitch. And Food52 sold 20,000 of them in a month.

As Food52 expands into its own product line, they’re asking customers what they want to see. The community called for a cutting board, and even weighed in on its thickness, type of woods, and whether or not there’s a handle.

Merrill sums up Food52’s overall content+commerce strategy succinctly: “We want to replicate this pattern of making people feel valued — and by extension, invested and involved in the community.”

For a more detailed look at Food52’s strategy, check out this profile of co-founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs in First Round.

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