There aren’t many people that have created an entire business on the back of a blog, but Ella Mills (aka Deliciously Ella) has done just that.

With four books, three London-based delis, and a range of food products – Deliciously Ella is now a fully-fledged brand in its own right.

So, how has Deliciously Ella gone from being yet another food blog to an example of great success? Here’s just four lessons we can learn.

But before we start, it's worth pointing out that Ella Mills is one of our speakers at the Festival of Marketing in London on October 4/5 (the best marketing event you'll go to).

Creating a point of difference

In 2011, the diagnosis of a chronic illness spurred Ella Mills to transform her diet - a decision which also lead to the creation of a blog as a place to share her recipes online. While the motivations behind the project were very much centred around health (and Ella’s own journey) – it soon started to generate wider interest.

Deliciously Ella was able to separate itself from other food blogs early on by creating a point of difference – the creation of a philosophy around food, and one that centres around eating in order to feel good both physically and mentally. Ella has since come under criticism for perpetuating the ‘clean eating’ myth (more on that later) – but it’s important to remember that it was a time before the trend was popular. It was also before influencer marketing was actually 'a thing'.

By promoting food as a lifestyle – and not just the recipes themselves – Ella was able to build a strong brand image from the get-go. This differentiated her from other food bloggers, and helped establish more of a meaningful connection with the public in comparison to chefs like Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson.

Building a personal connection

Since 2012, the Deliciously Ella blog has generated over 100m hits and its related recipe app, which launched in 2014, went straight to number one in the charts. 

Deliciously Ella’s social media following has undoubtedly contributed to this level of success, with Ella focusing on building a community online based on a personal connection with her audience.

Instead of simply posting images or recipes, Ella often personally replies to comments, which encourages a continual cycle of communication and engagement from followers. This personal connection is also elevated by the kind of content Ella posts – offering snapshots and insights into her own life as well as the food she eats.

This promotes a sense of authenticity, with the audience latching on to Ella’s personality and entrepreneurial journey at the same time. Of course, the rise of health and fitness content in general has also contributed to her success, but while similar bloggers or content creators might have dipped in popularity, Ella’s social following has since increased.

Targeting different consumer groups

Deliciously Ella has slowly turned from a blog into a business in the past few years, with the app, cookbook, delis – and finally – a range of snacks cementing it as a brand. 

However, the target market for each product is not necessarily the same – neither is the consumer always dedicated to the vegan or whole foods lifestyle.

While Ella has undoubtedly tapped into this niche consumer group, the brand also targets a wider and more mass-market audience. For example, while the Deliciously Ella snack range is sold in places like Holland and Barrett and traditionally healthier food outlets – they are also available in Starbucks. 

This decision was met with some criticism from Ella’s audience, a lot of which stems from controversy over Starbucks’ affiliation with Monsanto – a supplier that uses GMO ingredients. However, Ella has defended the decision, maintaining that it’s based on the fact that the change is needed in mainstream outlets, and that “the majority of people want easy options and won't (otherwise) seek things out.”

The fact that Deliciously Ella’s product is able to be sold in both health-food shops and by mainstream brands is also due to how the product is marketed – not as a serious or worthy health food, but an option which just so happens to be sort-of-good for you. The packaging and design of the product is bright and appealing to the eye, with personal touches such as Ella’s signature and language such as ‘my recipe’ evoking an artisinal nature.

Interestingly, Ella’s delis have recently undergone a rebrand, changing from the previous name of ‘The Mae Deli’ to join the Deliciously Ella umbrella - with the aim of making the brand name even more recognisable.

Responding to criticism

In 2016, food writer and former GBBO winner Ruby Tandoh mentioned Ella in a widely-shared article about the dangers of ‘clean eating’. Calling out the irresponsible nature of the term – in that it signifies any other kind of eating as dirty – it spurred on a wave of backlash against the ‘wellness’ trend.

Instead of shying away from the controversy, Ella chose to accept an invitation to appear in the documentary Clean Eating, The Dirty Truth – which subsequently aired on the BBC. As well as distancing herself from the term ‘clean’, it is clear from this that Ella has learnt and subsequently adapted to the shift in feeling from both her audience and the public. Her latest book urges readers ‘not to preach’ – and points out the dangers of categorising food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

You could say that Deliciously Ella is somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place – never going to satisfy hard-core health advocates, nor going to be mainstream. However, she is a good example of how to recognise and respond to critisicm as well as the changing needs of the audience – helping to improve positive brand perception in the process. 

In conclusion…

So, what can we learn from Deliciously Ella’s success? Here are a few key takeaways.

Build a brand philosophy – not just a product. It’s possible to generate a decent amount of interest solely through the product alone (healthy recipes, in this case), however, it is often the values that surround the core product that truly drives success. 

Use social to build meaningful connections. Real success on platforms like Instagram often stems from being able to create a community online – which means liking, commenting, responding, and engaging with followers on a consistent basis. 

Be consistent in your branding. Brand values are important, but a visual representation of these can also be highly effective for increasing awareness. Ella’s positive and non-worthy outlook is represented in the brand’s cheerful design and packaging.  

Respond to criticism. Recognising and adapting to criticism is one of the most effective ways to counteract negativity – and even turn around the audience’s perceptions.

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 16 August, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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