Category Snapshot: Free-from Q4 2017


Category Snapshot:

Free-from Q4 2017

This quarter confirmed that free-from is no longer limited to an aisle: its presence can be felt around the store. With a perception of being ‘healthier’ and with large brands crossing over by launching their own free-from ranges, it’s no surprise that 78% of British shoppers bought into the category at some point in 2017 (Kantar). So what media choices are brands – and retailers – opting for to capitalise on peaking interest, particularly in the run-up to Christmas?

new innovations

The category continued to see new product launches this quarter, with significant media presence in-aisle to convert shoppers already visiting that area of the store. This followed through online too – namely from existing brands which are not synonymous with the category. For example, Unilever’s launch of the Ben & Jerry’s free-from range opted for branded online search to bring their ice-cream into a free-from shopper’s consideration. The use of such media shows even large brands are keen to attract or re-acquire the growing numbers of shoppers turning to free-from.

widening appeal

A mix of brands continue to opt for non-category specific media in order to drive awareness earlier in the shopper journey. For example, in its launch campaign for Food Should Taste Good, General Mills made use of branded front-of-store ATM media to communicate its flavour credentials and the sharing occasion to appeal to shoppers who may never have considered free-from. Similar can be said of Alpro advertising in retailer magazines. This at-home media educates a shopper on its brand values and – while it does work to differentiate its products from direct competitors – it also widens the brand’s appeal to ethically conscious shoppers.

festive free-from

Across the major supermarkets, the free-from category was signposted to shoppers in December explicitly for the Christmas occasion, capitalising on the trend for an alternative Christmas meal in line with the rise in a free-from lifestyle, with retailers showcasing their wide offering. While this directional media is positive for the category, brands in the category would do well to make sure they aren’t left vulnerable to the threat from the increasingly diverse own-label offering – which represented 19% of the category’s growth this year (The Grocer). This can be achieved through a mix of: in-aisle media to clinch a shopper at the point of decision-making and out-of-aisle branded media to communicate a brand’s key USPs.

the Super Six: retailer comparison

When comparing the free-from aisle in a similar timeframe in the Super Six a few observations can be made:

Across the Super Six, many supermarkets made use of media in the free-from aisle. Often, this would be to demonstrate the variety of products or – and particularly in December – to alert shoppers that other free-from products can be found elsewhere in the store. Retailers are increasingly keen to signpost their free-from sections and particularly to promote own-label products within these communications. While brands are still making use of media such as fins and pings to talk ‘new’ in aisle, it’s important that brands consider the entire path to purchase given the increasing appeal of the category and the numbers of traditionally non-free-from brands entering into the category. Brands with larger free-from ranges can create brand-blocking on shelf, and many make use of shelf-ready packaging. These are good ways to create stand-out but it should be noted that these are also being employed by own-label, putting more pressure on brands to reach shoppers through media before they reach the aisle.

key learnings

While in-aisle media remains important in a growing category, talking brand values or USPs before the shopper enters the aisle will also help to differentiate free-from brands against not only each other but the increasingly strong presence of own-label options being listed and appearing in retailer-led media.

Free-from brands should look to ensure where possible that they are visible through shopper media in ‘mainstream’ categories in order to steal from beyond the free-from category – rather than allowing for the inverse to take place.

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Category Snapshot: BWS Q4 2017


Category Snapshot:

BWS Q4 2017

 ‘Tis the season to be jolly, and with party season in full swing, brands tend to go big at Christmas both with media and promotions. However, with more and more consumers drinking less alcohol [The Grocer, Alcohol report 2017], how did brands combat this and make sure that shoppers are still getting merry over the festive period?

in the Christmas spirit

The BWS category was one of the categories with the strongest growth this Christmas, growing 5.7% vs last year [Nielsen]. This was considerably driven by premium spirits sales, with shoppers trading up to brands or products they might not have tried at any other times of the year. Using recipe inspiration is a great way to do this, particularly when making cocktails at home has increased by 23% this year. Brands should make sure that when suggesting recipe content, all items are easy to pick up in-store, for example by merchandising them all together, ensuring customers don’t switch to a cheaper alternative at the last minute. Online is great for this as you can purchase all items with one click on a banner.

fanatic about flavours

Branding is especially important within this category, as it’s a huge deciding factor for shoppers in this category. To stand out from competitors, some brands used media to showcase the flavour of the drink within for example, showing the spices and seeds that were used to distil the liquid. Others looked to suggest the perfect meal pairing based on the taste profile of the drink. This is a great example of driving awareness as well as educating shoppers on what the beverage is complementary to. Soft drink brands such as Fever Tree have previously done this very well, leveraging flavour to make sure they are the mixer of choice and it’s great to see alcoholic brands using a similar method to encourage purchase through education and complete meal solutions.

the 3 s’, space, shippers & six sheets

With more BWS sales going through the till during this festive quarter, brands should ensure they have sufficient stock in store to cater for the increased demand. Using secondary space such as gondola ends, shippers and pallets are a great way to help with availability, not to mention increased visibility around store. However, brands should be careful not to de-value their brands with a “pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” tactic. Bespoke branded shippers with the ability to carry a brand message and creative are a better way at doing this. We recommend supporting this with other branded media like six sheets to further highlight the brand positioning.


the Super Six: retailer comparison

When comparing the BWS aisle in a similar timeframe in the Super Six a few observations can be made:

Retailers varied quite a lot in terms of what went on in the aisle this quarter. Whilst Morrisons and Co-op chose to focus their media on giving shoppers inspiration either through recipe content or food pairing suggestions, Asda used media such as hotspots to encourage spirits as a gift this Christmas – an eye catching secondary display which creates stand out in a busy aisle. Tesco focused their media on encouraging shoppers to stock up and increase their basket spend with a multi-buy promotion. Some Tesco stores have had their BWS section updated to have more of an independent off-licence look and feel, which despite deep discounts, helps the category still feel premium. This re-fit, is very much in-line with the growth of independent labels in the category, whilst many of the categories in store face range rationalisation, craft beers are in a different league with all supermarkets increasing their range. Waitrose extended their range by 27% this year, to a total of 95 different beers! But with so many different brands to choose from smaller brands should make sure they invest in media to stand out from the crowd.

key learnings

An extremely busy period for the beers, wines and spirits category with a huge amount of media driving a successful quarter of category growth. With so much noise going on in-store, it can be difficult for brands to stand out. BWS brands should make sure they are thinking carefully about how they activate in this period, looking at more unique ways to create cut through in a busy shopper space such as with consumption ideas or dialling up flavour profiles.

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Category Snapshot: Bakery Q4 2017


Category Snapshot:

Bakery Q4 2017

The bread market has been in value decline for the past four years, but it’s finally starting to recover, now down just 0.3% (The Grocer 2017). This growth is largely due to innovation in a category that was suffering as people turned to free-from or on-the-go options. Some big ATL campaigns have gone live too, which might have contributed to this growth.  


Halloween events: Trick or treat?

Many bakery brands bring out special editions of their products for Halloween, but how easy is it to land space and media within the store to promote this to shoppers? Mr Kipling’s Halloween range of cakes was supported with secondary space and front of store media, however in Tesco the retailer template imposed didn’t allow for much in-store impact. ASDA’s execution was far more intriguing, in line with the retailer’s strategy to prioritise in-store events. Although share of voice was reduced, the creative itself was fun and engaging – appearing branded whilst aligning to the retailer’s template.

an appearance from the buyer

We spotted some unusual POS at shelf this Christmas: two barkers promoting Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference private label cakes and biscuits, with endorsement from category buyers, a technique frequently used in the BWS category to promote wine. Whilst the figure of the buyer might not mean as much to the average shopper as to us in the industry, the recommendation is an effective tool to use at shelf, particularly where products aren’t easily differentiated from one another. Consider speaking to your Sainsbury’s buyer about how this worked for them; it might be something brands could be involved with going forwards.

Warburtons: Pride and Breadjudice

Very few of you will have escaped Peter Kay’s bare chest this quarter, since this much-talked about TV ad has translated into store, print and online too. Several versions of creative were spotted, with creative being brilliantly adapted to make sense in a busy environment. An FSDU in Co-op contained all the essentials: huge endorsement by a famous face (often pointing to the loaf itself), packs large enough to communicate the brand name, and a clear CTA: ‘start your loaf affair’. Secondary space such as this is a great way to increase product availability, however brands must ensure that they consider the product size with the unit. In this case, the unit itself was quite small comparative to the product size so would have needed frequent re-stocking, which, was not always the case.

the Super Six: retailer comparison

When comparing the bakery aisle in a similar timeframe in the Super Six a few observations can be made:

For morning goods and plant bread, it was a relatively quiet quarter despite the growth we’ve seen in the wider category. Hovis, Kingsmill and Warburtons all invested in fixture POS across the period, although not all was as STOP generating as possible. Fixture media in a highly saturated and fairly brand loyal category is important not only to win new shoppers and keep giving existing shoppers a reason to keep buying your brand, but also to break auto-pilot behaviour if you want your brand to be considered. Barkers tend to get lost in some retailers, given the visual variety on the shelf and in some the shelving itself doesn’t lend itself to barker opportunities. Aisle fins are more highly recommended here if you can get them away. With little opportunity to brand at shelf however, it is vital to get your branded message across via packaging and at the start of the shopper journey.

key learnings

Category growth indicates that shoppers are visiting this aisle again; brands just need to ensure that share isn’t lost entirely to the new innovations in the category. Brands looking to revive an existing SKU can all learn a lesson from Warburtons’ campaign this quarter: a great example of translating TV messaging below the line. Messaging in-store needs to be clear and concise whilst still relaying your brand’s identity.

Brands also need to remember the power of conversion in category. Where possible use fixture media, but if not available or appropriate, consider doing two things: 1) increase brand visibility out of category and drive to aisle and 2) utilise packaging/secondary space to your advantage to carry the believability message.

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Delivery based DNA

The Oxford English Dictionary definition for marketing is “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” So, are we seriously considering Moz the Monster good form? Emotional storytelling is great for party small talk and opinion column fodder, but does it bring home the bacon? Are brands getting more than a viral video and some great tweets? Does the whole thing end in one single person picking up their product and taking it to the cashier, because if not, what’s the point?


Having worked with retailers for nearly 30 years, from Morrisons to World Duty Free, we’ve learnt a thing or two about physically shifting products off the shelves. We were born out of retail and we’re tired of seeing lame video campaigns and ballsy social media content – at the end of the day, we want to guarantee stability and financial security for our clients. It doesn’t always have to be a short film that wins six LION awards, but it does have to sell and make clients’ money.


There’s nothing wrong with personality, and everyone loves a great story, but we know our clients need purpose. Zany marketing campaigns trying to pull on heartstrings or cause a PR buzz are fine, but do the numbers add up? Are the millions spent on video editing and sound bites worth it? It’s time to dig down through the chaff to the fundamentals.


We know we know, brand awareness matters. OF COURSE it’s important, we’re not denying that, but it’s too easy these days to become sidelined by blowout creative ideas. Regardless of trends and likes, we remain focused on one thing: selling. We live for the KPIs and we thrive on hitting targets. A brand only exists if consumers are spending money on it, otherwise it’ll wilt and shrivel up. We’re never down for letting that happen.


Our purpose is to diminish the gulf between brand communication and sales conversion. How do we do this? Through years of experience in this field and a roster of 75 hugely talented staff. We have shared knowledge that makes us smart, agile and capable to make the most of every opportunity that comes our way. We not only admire but respect our clients – we care about the brands that we work with and this translates through our work. One of our key messages is to imagine every point of interaction as a point of purchase. We give our clients the courage, tools and skills to jump on those opportunities to close the conversion gap. Because you do have to mind that gap and it’s hella important to bridge it, make it smaller, bring it together or whatever you need to do to make sure sales ring true.

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How To Handle Out Of Stock Product Pages on An Ecommerce Shop For SEO Benefits

John Mueller from Google gave us all some tips on what Google expects to see from e-commerce sites they rank in their index. The question is; what to do with “out of stock” pages? We have 3 scenarios with out of stock pages: the product is permanently out of stock and never going to be in […]

Read the full article here How To Handle Out Of Stock Product Pages on An Ecommerce Shop For SEO Benefits

A Hobo Site Review can quickly identify any issues on your site that is holding your site back. See Hobo SEO Review Prices

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Amplifying your content

Content marketing is a dream. I don’t know why more people don’t do it! Did you know that content marketing generates as much as three times the amount of quality, organic leads as traditional outbound marketing?? Crazy right? No wonder everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.

The only problem now is that the marketplace is so crowded. The amount of content out there is staggering. How can brands be expected to stand out and be noticed?

Which is why it’s not enough to have a good idea, you need to get the message out. Amplifying your content and getting it in front of the people that matter is the real test of a good content marketer.

In the effective content marketing guide, I touched upon how you can successfully activate your content – but I thought we could drill down into this a bit more and get more granular, along with some real-world examples. So here we go.

Owned 🌏

Owned channels are the ones that usually get the burden of being expected to drive the best results – but that’s simply not true.

Don’t forget to utilise your owned channels, but don’t rely solely on them. If you’re creating content, no matter how big or small, you should be maximising the coverage it will get across all owned channels.

Just to recap; when we talk about owned channels, we’re talking about your site, your social channels, and email lists.


Is the content easily discoverable? Homepages can often be a no-go area, but product pages should be looking to answer all questions a customer has. Are there relevant posts that could be used to form a carousel? We see a lot of content sidelined away in a blog when it should be streamlined into the user journey.

If you’re planning a big hero campaign, why not consider a homepage takeover? Or if not a takeover, at least a banner? Something to not only direct traffic, but also raise awareness.

HD Breaking Barriers Campaign home page banner-2

For our Breaking Barriers campaign, we created a homepage banner to raise awareness, whilst still leaving the rest of the homepage intact so we didn’t negatively impact conversions.


Social is usually responsible for driving most of the traffic – or at least, that’s the expectation. But if you’re a smaller, unknown brand, you can’t expect that by simply posting your content on social, it will resonate with your tiny audience and somehow go viral.

I’m not saying don’t use social media, but don’t expect the whole world from it. Just make sure you’re consistently pushing your content out through social, but look at other ways to ensure people are interacting with it.


Let’s just assume that you’ve already segmented your email lists (please tell me you have!), you should now be looking at which segments would be interested in the content you’ve created.

In a perfect world, you’ll be planning this ahead of time – especially if it’s a larger hero piece of content. Think about who would get this email blast. What’s the header? What’s the hook? Re-segment your audience based on that. The open rate of segmented email campaigns is almost 15% higher than those that aren’t segmented properly, and the click-through rate is a whopping 101% higher.

Earned ❤

We tend to think of the earned channels as the ones that usually make something go “viral” but, plot twist, nothing really goes viral anymore. Viral content usually goes viral because all the channels are plugging away together, helping amplify the content.

Earned channels are much harder to navigate and master than owned and paid – but they can drive incredible successes for your client when done right.


As we all know, the key to maximising on your earned channels is to create shareable, snackable content. By creating content like this, you’ll encourage people to help share it across social media channels.

However, this is easier said than done and isn’t always possible. In all honesty, the brutal truth is that branded content is highly unlikely to be shared – unless you’re a big brand or you’ve made videos about dogs.

Infographics and nice charts still work well for earning shares, but don’t centre your whole campaign on it. Comedic content also really stands out here, but again, that’s not always possible for clients.

For THAW, we ensured that everyone who wanted to share our pictures had the relevant assets to hand. We also encouraged others to RT and regram our pictures to spread the message. This worked well because we were tapping into a very active and involved group – those interested in climate change, including Leonardo DiCaprio.

leonardo dicaprio instagram thaw

Digital PR

Digital PR is the newest buzzword on the block, and for a good reason. More and more clients are looking to maximise on the potential overlap between PR and SEO.

Digital PR can be one of the best ways to amplify your content to new audiences, alongside earning links back to the site. A win-win for most clients.

If you don’t already have an in-house team, start to develop a good network of freelance PRs. Get specialists for each specific niche. For example, we work with a lot of finance clients, so we have quite a few finance PRs that we work with.

The value of utilising digital PR to try and earn links back from high-quality sites can’t be underestimated – as SEMRush’s Ranking Factors Study showed. But it’s also important to make sure that you widen the net. Don’t just repeatedly go after the same ‘enormous’ names. The Guardian and the Daily Mail seem to be popular ones for clients’ to want to see, but there’s more to explore out there.

Instead, if you can, get coverage from more niche sites. Local and regional presses always need stories. As do minority presses. Think about LGBT, BAME, or niche specific publications, like trade press, when building out your media lists. They’re far more likely to pick up a story, as long as you can find a way to make it relevant.

As Rand Fishkin pointed out, it’s also worth getting links from sites that rank on pages 2-3. There will be less competition for these sites, and a link can be just as valuable. Have your digital PR team reach out to them for a placement.

Influencer marketing

As an agency, we distinguish between influencer marketing and blogger outreach in that influencer marketing tends to be more social sharing, whereas outreach tends to be blog coverage.

When reaching out to influencers for a social share, we tend to stick to social. If this is where they’re most active, there’s more chance they’ll notice you there, rather than over email.

twitter find and utilise influencers with twitter

A lot of journalists are particularly active on Twitter, so if they’re ignoring you on email, try reaching out to them through a Twitter DM instead.

However, you should try and avoid Facebook like the plague. Facebook is too personal, too homely. Messaging influencers on Facebook can feel intrusive and overbearing. Definitely, one to avoid.

Make sure if you’re going with the social model of influencer marketing that you track the traffic in some way. We like utm codes, as they’re (relatively) easy to implement.


Outreach is a double whammy here. You should be drawing attention to the content that you’ve created and leveraging the audiences that bloggers have created for themselves to help spread your message.

outreach email planes

If you’re worried about a penalty, remember that most bloggers won’t be using follow links anyway. It might not seem like the value is there, but there is definitely a “hidden power” to nofollow links.

Let’s not forget that bloggers are also very active on social, so this will often overlap with your influencer marketing strategy.

Paid 💸

Finally, the last channel is Paid. This covers any activity that you pay for, shockingly. We’ll look at Native, any paid social media activity, and Display.


Native seems like the obvious choice to amplify content here, especially for smaller pieces or anything that is timely.

However, some native platforms (i.e. Taboola, Outbrain) can really cheapen a brand so you might want to steer clear of them. We’ve had limited successes with other providers so far, and I do believe there is a way to utilise Native better.

I can absolutely see the benefits of Native for certain campaigns – perhaps Hub content? – and I’d love to try and expand on the capabilities of Native in future campaigns. (And if you’ve got a case study where you used Native, I’d love to read it!)

Paid social

Paid social is where a lot of threads of a content marketing campaign can really pull together to form a cohesive strategy.

We all know Facebook is a great paid distribution tool for your content. You can use both boosted posts and ads for this purpose. Boosted Posts can sometimes work well with lower level pieces of content, for example, Hub content does well when routinely boosted.

facebook ads

But Facebook can be good for more than just sharing content. Remember the media list you pulled together for your digital PR? Well, you should be uploading that and using it as CRM data for Facebook. Typically the match rates are low, but at least you know that you’re hitting people who have already had a touchpoint with your content.

That media list will also come in handy with some very targeted Facebook audiences. You should be looking to target journalists at the publications that you’ve sent press releases to, so they are interacting with your content across multiple touchpoints – and therefore more likely to cover it.

Set the job title to ‘Journalist’ or ‘Editor’ and see what kind of reach you get. Try and narrow down the list by whitelisting certain publications that you want to hit.

A lot of journalists will use Twitter too, so don’t forget about it. Twitter Ads are still quite rudimentary compared to other networks (i.e. Facebook), but we’ve seen some success with them. It’s another touchpoint for journalists and can help you rack up some video views if that’s what your content is about.

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is a grey area. I’ve put it in both earned and paid channels for now because, although you should target higher-level influencers to help spread your content, there is also value in reaching out to micro influencers to help amplify content. Although it’s cheaper to use micro influencers, most influencers at this level will still want to be paid for their time.

However, this doesn’t devalue the reach of these influencers, and paid for advertising on this channel shouldn’t be underestimated.


Similarly to PPC, I’ve never really been able to get Display to work well for a hero content piece, but I know it works well for other brands.

For example, SEMRush routinely targeted me with Display ads for their new Ranking Factors Study (and it worked! I read the study), so I’d be loath to say don’t explore it.

However, think properly about whether it is right for your campaign. Display ads aren’t always an effective content distribution tool, but they have their uses.


Ultimately, you need to maximise the value of your content. It’s not supposed to just lie there dormant, waiting for people to stumble upon it. You should be actively pushing it out to the people that matter.

Making content into a success is crucial to your success and the success of your clients.


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