In today’s digital age, a bakery or snack food manufacturer without a Web presence might as well not exist. Consumers and customers alike often rely on company websites to decide which brands to buy or stock. With global headquarters in Kansas City, MO, and six other offices around the world, VML, Inc. provides digital marketing and advertising strategies for several food and beverage companies to help them make that connection.

David Altis joined VML in 2004. Currently, he serves as the executive creative director working with a client roster that includes The Kellogg Company and Hostess Brands. Mr. Altis’ experience in the digital and interactive space spans more than 14 years.

Krisha Newham started at VML in 2008 and currently acts as group account director over brands including Hostess Brands, Kashi and Bear Naked Granola. She has 10 years of experience in a variety of digital areas, including social, mobile, enterprise-level redesigns, Web applications and campaign development. The pair offered their perspectives for developing an impactful online presence for bakeries and snack food producers.

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

David Altis: The only rule is that there are no rules. We always begin with the target for the sites, asking who is most likely to visit the site? What is he or she looking for? After that, we also work closely with the brand, as we did recently for Hostess Brands, on what the goals of the site are from a brand perspective.

For Hostess, it was time for a refresh. The site hadn’t been updated in years, and Hostess Brands wanted it to reflect the more contemporary feeling that the collective brands had moved to in the last 10 years. Additionally, because it was a corporate site, we knew that there would be a mix of consumers looking for a particular brand in the Hostess family, investors seeking information about the company and students doing research. From there, we designed the architecture and look and feel of the site to meet those needs.

How much should the website be for consumers vs. customers?

Krisha Newham: It all depends on what you want your site to do. Just like any marketing effort, there should be clear objectives and key performance indicators of the site. Do you want the site to be the hub of your campaigns? Is it simply a repository of nutritional information? Once you determine what those are, you build accordingly. It’s going to be unique for every brand, every business because the site’s role in your marketing objectives will differ.

How can promotions such as scavenger hunts help engage readers and drive traffic?

Ms. Newham: We definitely like to offer up engaging ways to interact with users. It’s less about driving traffic to a site and more about how can we get consumers to engage with a brand? You may hear a theme in my responses, but it’s really about the overall marketing objectives and the role the site plays in them.

The more you offer compelling content — whether that’s a coupon or an interesting question on Facebook or a delicious recipe, for example — the more you’ll engage the consumer. Engagement is key. You want to build affinity with users and nonusers alike so they remember that engagement when they’re in the aisle at the grocery store or purchasing online.

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

Ms. Newham: For Hostess Brands, we wanted to give people the answers to basic questions such as, “Where can I find product X?” so that they were able to find it quickly and easily without calling Hostess directly. Calling, of course, is always an option, but we wanted to make it easier to get to the information they needed.

Getting quality traffic means giving them quality content. How are they being driven to the site? If your media is supporting the contest and driving viewers to the site, most likely that’s who is going to click through. Which is OK if that’s your goal.

If your goal is conversion or brand awareness, you have to look at all of your marketing activities and how the site fits in.

What would you say to those who don’t see the point in participating in social media such as a Twitter or Facebook account?

Ms. Newham: I’d say it’s wise to evaluate every marketing channel carefully, but don’t miss an opportunity to engage directly with your customers. We worked with Hostess Brands’ Nature’s Pride Bread to get its Facebook page up as an opportunity to interact directly with customers. It’s a good opportunity to hear their thoughts, get insights into their behavior and to direct them to new products. The page itself has a lot of good conversation on it between the brand and its consumers. That engagement or conversation could lead to increased brand loyalty, and loyalty could equal increased sales.

Can a company go overboard with social media strategies?

Ms. Newham: Just like any marketing channel, social media requires a commitment on the part of brands to truly engage with their consumers. If you start the conversation with your consumers, you can’t just bail. You have to keep talking to them. With social media, if you’re not prepared for the commitment, it can have a negative impact on your brand.

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

Ms. Newham: The benchmarks of success should be set within the individual company. Traffic and likes without context don’t tell you much. You really have to decide what your measure of success is. Is it downloads of your coupon? Comments on your Facebook page to show engagement? Registrations so you can get folks into an ongoing customer relationship management program? Just like traditional marketing channels, it’s important to define success for your company.

What should baking companies keep in mind when creating an online presence?

Ms. Newham: It’s important for a company to be authentic online and reflect its true brand. Your users sniff out phoniness very quickly.