Mind Mapping For Plant-Based Food Marketing
One of the things that makes communicating a pro-veg*n food message so challenging is knowing that different people are driven by different motives. What’s more, different ways of framing a product could provoke different mental associations, which is important, because research has shown that the more associations a concept provokes, the faster information flows and is absorbed. More specifically, “being able to understand which type of communication activates which type of information in consumers’ memory [is] a competitive advantage for marketing communication efforts.”
This study sought to explore this subject further by studying how consumers react to three different framings of plant-based foods: sustainability framing, health framing, and information about substituted ingredients. 90 participants were recruited and roughly divided into three groups who would dive deeper into each framing. The participants were guided through the process of making concept maps and then interviewed further about their word choices and associations.
For their part, the researchers were looking at the responses – and the importance of the different concepts in question – through a series of analytical lenses: Is your concept a lone wolf? Does the concept make you think of many other concepts quickly? How close are the concepts? How far in terms of number of links you have to go to get from your concept to another? Does a concept fall between two unrelated concepts? Does it make other concepts that were unrelated to each other suddenly “talk”, the way the word “bank” links the world of money and the world of rivers? If your concept is taken away, does it leave an empty hole behind it?
Analyzing the results of these mind maps and interviews, the researchers found some similarities across groups. Firstly, regardless of group, people linked a plant-based diet with health, and most of those associations were positive. They also found that the processing of food was an issue, as well as the negative perception of the ingredients needed for it – people tended to be concerned about unnaturalness and “chemicals” associated with plant-based food subtitutes.
They also found some differences. People in the ingredient substitution group thought of fewer associations for that concept. Although substitution is a part of the trend of products that are transparent about the precise substitute ingredient, health and sustainability are the most common reasons people go veg*n. This analysis showed that talking about substituted ingredients may be a non-starter. Finally, the ingredient group directly linked to the concept of food being “expensive,” which was not present in the other groups.
Ultimately, the study was conducted to better understand how marketers could reach consumers. However, since many animal advocates find themselves in the position of “marketing” a veg*n lifestyle, the results can be picked up and used by advocates as well. Overall, the researchers found that framing a product in terms of health and sustainability leads to richer and more complex mental associations than simply communicating about substituted ingredients; furthermore, while health framing leads to product-centered associations related to things like nutritional quality and chemicals, framing a product in terms of sustainability leads to broader associations about the environment and authenticity. While it’s unlikely that many advocates would be able to conduct their own research in this vein, even these results taken on their own could be useful in future campaigns.