Adopting any restrictive diet presents challenges, and a gluten-free diet is no exception. Consumers with celiac disease or gluten intolerance often turn to the Internet when seeking advice about adapting to their new lifestyle. Going beyond the usual offerings of a consumer-oriented website, Udi’s Gluten Free Foods, Denver, CO, helps people make the transition. Relaunched this past August, not only does highlight the company’s products in the gluten-free arena, it also provides recipes, coupons and community resources for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

During the past decade, Denise Sirovatka, vice-president, marketing, Udi’s Gluten Free Foods, has helped launch more than 30 new products and become a marketing pioneer in the natural foods category. She has built category leaders and restructured product lines for some of the largest natural and organic brands in the country. She offered advice on marketing platforms including websites and social media.

Baking & Snack: What basic web design rules should bakeries and snack food manufacturers follow?

Denise Sirovatka: The key is to create a design that communicates your unique brand attributes and personality while being easy to navigate. With the vast number of competitors, this is not always easy to establish, but it is essential to give visitors a meaningful reason to spend time on the website discovering new content, adding their own and, most importantly, giving them a reason to come back.

Udi’s Gluten Free Foods makes transitioning to a gluten-free lifestyle effortless by creating gluten-free foods that are as close as possible to their gluten-containing counterparts. We communicate this in different ways throughout the site.

Why offer a blog on a consumer-oriented website?

We are the gluten-free market leader, not only because of our superior product, but also because of our fans. From the beginning, we have treated them like family, and our blog is just one of the tools we use to stay in touch. It lets us serve up useful content and gives consumers a place to tell their story. In a world that is all about restrictions and dietary constraints, our consumers have found their freedom and their voice.

Does the gluten-free audience tend to be more involved than others? How so, and why? To what extent do you integrate with other websites related to gluten-free living?

Gluten-free consumers, especially those diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, are very involved in their purchase because it’s critical to their health and well-being. Udi’s gives gluten-free consumers the freedom of choice by creating products that taste as great as “regular” products. We want the gluten-free community to know how simple being gluten-free can be, and one way we can to that is by integrating with as many gluten-free living sites as makes sense.

Is it better to have a homepage with a simplified design and limited information or to allow visitors to see absolutely everything a company has to offer without having to click through to deeper levels?

Simple is always better. We put the user in control so they can interact with content they have an interest in rather than pushing out too much information that will essentially get ignored.

How can promotions such as scavenger hunts drive website traffic and help brand recognition? What about online coupons?

Scavenger hunts are a great way to increase traffic and time spent on site. We recently redesigned our website and used a scavenger hunt concept to inspire our fans to check out new features and content, as well as to help familiarize them with the new site architecture. Scavenger hunts are great for this type of interaction.

Coupons are a great way to gain trial and to reward fans for participating, but I would not classify coupons as an engagement tool. Engagement is about entering a two-way conversation with your consumers; it’s about listening and responding. It’s about giving consumers a meaningful reason to interact with your brand.

What measures can a bakery take to qualify the traffic on its site?

It is important to drive qualified visitors to your site. This can be done in a variety of ways from putting website information on consumer packaging to offering online contests. Are non-qualified visitors going to visit your site? Yes, because people are curious and motivated to explore. The key is to construct your messaging and contest to your unique brand attributes so that you get the highest number of qualified people.

Several naysayers still don’t see the point in participating in social media such as Twitter or Facebook. What would you say to them?

Not all marketing tools are relevant for every brand. If your customers are using social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, then your brand should be, too. Social platforms are a great medium to connect with your customers and give your customers a place to share their experiences. We have over 400,000 Facebook fans — significantly less than, say, Coke with 35 million — but our engagement as a percentage of total fans is over three times that of theirs. We foster a relationship with our fans, and we value their input. This sort of consumer relationship would not be possible without social media.

How can a company tell if its website and/or social media campaigns are working?

Like any measurement, you first create your expectations to measure against. The success is determined by meeting or exceeding the expectations established in the benchmarking process.

Can a company go overboard with its social media strategies?

It depends on the brand’s strategy and target market. Facebook and Twitter are just two tools in the marketing portfolio of tactics. The question is, does this tactic advance the overall strategy and provide access to the target market?

What particular considerations do baking companies need to keep in mind when creating an online presence?

Quality and vigilance are critical to a successful online presence. I think of social media as the fence. The conversations our fathers used to have occurred over the neighbor’s fence. Now they occur on Facebook or another social platform. The problem is instead of one neighbor listening, there are thousands and even millions listening. If your product and customer service are not impeccable and you have not fostered a strong relationship with your customers, the world will know in an instant. On the flip side, the customers will know in an instant how great your brand is as well. The Internet creates just-in-time public relations successes and nightmares. You must be on your toes at all times.