Five steps to engagement and mattering
Food brand communication is going through a period of disruption and change, as consumers step away from conventional media to devote more and more time to mobile screens and social channels. Digital-based outreach in both narrative and video forms is where the action is, assuming you’re intent on fishing where the fish are.
However, the vast majority of communication in food and beverage categories is essentially re-purposed advertising trying to win a nano-second of attention — in an environment where consumers run from content that appears to be a sales pitch.
Just because you’re spending and ‘getting out there’ doesn’t mean your effort is gaining traction or that your communications is delivering the desired effect and business outcomes. It is harder than ever to simply buy fame and attraction. Why?
Dawn of Digital Resistance
A new challenge is rising up to once again confirm and restate the consumer’s master control over brand engagement: digital resistance. Simply stated, the consumer manages what they’re willing to consume — and anything that starts to look like conventional selling, marketing, feature/benefit communication is getting tuned out.
The alchemy of this change is fueled by the sheer volume of marketing activity trying to secure an audience — operating in an environment where consumers direct when, how and where engagement happens. Additionally, consumers have made it abundantly clear they’re interested in content offering help more than hype. Self- reverential brand messaging and product feature/benefit selling are just not cutting it.
Yet the temptation to focus on overt selling runs deep in our business culture. We believe that if we’re not showcasing and pushing product features, we’re being derelict in our responsibilities as marketers.
Ironically this is the very behavior that shuts down the opportunity for a relationship with those consumers we wish to attract.
When communication looks less like marketing and more like coaching and guiding, traction increases.
So how do you connect without overt selling? To provide some context, here’s how marketing conditions have evolved…
We’re Now Doing Business in the Relationship Economy
In the 1970’s we reached the apex of the Industrial Economy where the focus was squarely on specialization in the marketplace, and functionality of products aimed at modernizing your life. Marketing was about tonnage of media spend and persuasion.
In the 1980’s there was a natural evolution of this condition to the Experience Economy where services rose in prominence along with brand experience in pursuit of lifestyle associations. Marketing increasingly took on the guise of cinematic entertainment.
In the mid ’90’s when the Internet truly arrived, with it came the Knowledge Economy and the empowerment of consumers to start managing the relationship with the brands they cared about. This was fueled by the arrival of access to information previously controlled solely by brands and business. Marketing morphed to be more holistic and integrate ad campaigns with promotion and PR tactics.
Today, we’re doing business in the Relationship Economy where consumers are on a mission to secure greater meaning and purpose in their lives. Consumers now fully manage the interaction with any brand they deem worthy of mattering — by “liking,” “following,” “subscribing” and “sharing” — and ultimately buying. It is a transformative business environment dominated by the influence of cultural shifts. Brands that demonstrate an empathy towards the authentic experiences and content consumers now find most compelling (like ethical behavior, honesty and transparency) will fair better in creating true engagement with the audiences they seek to court.
Five steps to meaningful brand engagement:
- Deep investment in consumer insight research aimed at fully understanding your core customer’s lifestyle passions, interests, concerns and desires
- Marketing strategy which taps into empathy around how the brand and business can truly improve the customer’s life
- Messaging and outreach tools founded on building relevant connections to consumers’ lifestyle interests
- Embedding your brand with a ‘higher purpose’ that informs your actions and behaviors helping to secure consumer trust – essential for any real relationship
- Communication built around content that operates in service of the customers’ interests; designed to mine emotional cues essential to gaining their attention and associating memorable storytelling moments that help endear them to your brand
It’s important to note here the advice of eminent psychologist Antonio Damasio: “We are not thinking machines that feel. We are feeling machines that think.”
Brand relationships operate in similar ways to the rules of personal friendships. As long as mutual respect is honored and the character of communication is focused on help over hype, the door to engagement will be open.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to emerging and established food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.