Posts by Emergent

Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement

October 10th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Digital marketing, Emergent Column, Healthy Living, storytelling 0 comments on “Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement”

Our ‘elevator speech’ requires unconventional response

At the recent GroceryShop convention “Friends of the Future” networking event we helped produce in Las Vegas, I was asked repeatedly, “what is Emergent?” – The event was an exciting veritable meet-and-greet mosh pit of first-time introductions. At one point a colleague of ours from the Food Marketing Institute turned to me during an overture to a Pepsico executive and said, “Bob, give him the elevator speech about Emergent.”

In these moments when time and everyone’s headspace is at a premium, we tend to default to the simple explanation, frequently bound up in the tactics of what we do. So reflexively I reached for the convenient list of tools in the toolbox: brand strategy and positioning guidance, earned and social media, etc.

I left these conversations thinking, “that really doesn’t convey the essence of our secret sauce.”

A reflection on who we are and why that should matter to you

When we look back over time at the special moments when clients have allowed us to rise to our very best, we find a legacy of bigger ideas and strategic concepts that represent game changes of various kinds in various categories.

Understanding that transformational change is at the core of what we do, this immediately shifts the focus from tactics and tools to strategic platforms that inform the solution. Candidly, communications tactics without a strategic, differentiating concept forming the foundation underneath are just messaging vessels.

So here it is: Emergent is in the CPG brand and food retail transformation business, delivering strategic platforms that can immediately impact the behavior of the organization and its business to bring incremental, sustainable growth. Yes, we can actualize strategic ideas all the way to the ground and execute at the tactical level, but it’s the diagnostic upfront and our ability to not only see the big picture but distill the barriers to added growth that represents our defining moments with clients.

The real secret sauce is Lori Miller, my partner, and me in our strategic diagnostic analysis that helps build a roadmap for change. More often than not, we find organizations mired in the conventions and routines in their category and how they go to market. Thinking differently means looking for the marketing “zig” when everyone else is “zagging.” This is baked into how we tend to see things. Uniqueness and differentiation are never overrated.

Clients desperately want their marketing investments to hit engagement squarely on the head, no pun intended. Engagement these days, however, demands a customer-first approach to literally everything a company does.

Rule number one – we know the consumer is in charge and control of the brand relationship, requiring businesses to be less self-absorbed and more creative and agile in how they look at the opportunity to earn permission for a relationship.

Yes, relationship.

Consumers are on the hunt for deeper meaning in the products that matter to them and want brands they choose to engage with and buy, to be a mirror of their values and passions.

So, as a strategic brand communications platform, the standard, “let’s focus on the product features and benefits” messaging as the marketing chin you lead with is a non-starter. Self-reverential communication is exactly that.

Thus at Emergent, we are indeed Architects of Engagement. We work to ameliorate the tendency to dance the dance of self-serving promotion when the real opportunity starts with enabling, coaching, and guiding your consumers on their journey to greater fulfillment. This is where the messaging focus and relationships move beyond transactional interruptions and pleas. The goal is authentic alignment and conversation with consumers and the opportunity then for legitimate interaction and belief.

A specific point of view that recurs in our work

One of Emergent’s key insights is reflected in our agency’s ‘Validation Marketing’ planning model. We believe that consumers increasingly are challenged to trust the assertions and claims made by brands. In our digital always-on world, we all are confronted daily with a variety of public revelations in the media of misdeeds, scandals, errors of omission, half-truths and hyperbole.

Brand trust has taken a hit, and year on year, we see evidence of declines. Earning trust is fundamental to successful marketing outcomes and so we develop transformational strategic platforms, tools and tactics that help burnish trust, including:

  • A first-in-its-industry Transparency Council for a premium pet food brand in a category where consumer demand to know more about what’s in the food and how it’s made is valued and differentiating; and
  • Creating the first “True Cheese” trust mark in the cheese industry in a segment marred by product fraud and mislabeling to elevate our client’s brand and integrity above the bad acters.

We strategically deploy social media as a pipeline to social proof in the observations of delighted user stories.

We engage outside experts and credible voices to help validate what a brand states are the essential truths about their product.

We employ earned media to bring the imprimatur of editorial, reportorial assessments in consumer and trade news channels.

We create videos, that in unscripted moments, capture the essence of consumer experience and ‘see for yourselves’ tours behind the product creation curtain.

In the end, it’s our empathy for consumers as people and insight into their desires and concerns that is embedded in Emergent’s thinking. This is foundational as a primary skill in our client engagements; best seen in our devotion to putting the consumer at the center of planning each and every time. Out of that study comes relevant messaging we can successfully deploy.

Health and wellness – redefined – no longer a tertiary consideration

One visit to our web site and there in headline form is this recurring statement about Healthy Living. For a long time, “healthy” was defined as a food science proposition in varying attempts to create addition (healthier) by subtraction – less calories, fat, sugar or sodium.

Now, health and wellness are fundamental to what consumers want and is redefined as emphasis on high quality, real food experiences – less processed and with a provenance story to tell – that delivers greater transparency to the supply chain and entire product creation process.

  • We know how to bring this to life and secure relevance to these principles at a time when consumers absolutely demand it.

We’re on a mission, too

As keepers of this essential truth and the flame of consumer relevance as the non-negotiable precursor to engagement and purchase, we see our mission to bring this understanding to organizations seeking to write a new chapter – whether that’s an emerging brand or an established legacy business.

This is what gets us up in the morning and characterizes our ambitions and goals for what Emergent brings to the marketing challenge for our clients.

Should this strike a chord with you, we should talk.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national 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.

 

 

The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food

September 24th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Healthy lifestyle, shopper behavior 0 comments on “The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food”

Once you’ve tasted an heirloom tomato you can’t go back…

For most of my adult life I have experienced a love/not love relationship with fresh tomato. The routine, ubiquitous beefsteak variety a frequent guest star that decorates the roof of a hamburger with some color. The pink flesh offers a hard, mealy somewhat bland flavor. In a salad the standard tomato as hero can be even more pronounced in its meh-ness. We hear it travels well through distribution channels and offers some shelf life. Yay.

Along comes the heirloom tomato with its erratic colors, crags, lumps and fissures to completely upend everything you think you understand about a tomato, punching your taste buds with luxurious flavor, acidity and tenderness that elevates anything it swims with. More expensive to be sure and worth every penny. Once you know this you can’t retreat to the beefsteak.

  • So it is with the continued culinary-ization of America: as higher quality food experiences forever elevate the palate and expectation of nearly everyone who eats, the baseline standard of what people want is changing with it.

Thus why strategic planning needs to address this development because as the old but very real saying goes, “times are changing and if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.”

What happens when the consumer is at the center of strategic planning?

If it is vital for the collective futures of food retail and food CPG companies to put the consumer at the epicenter of planning and work backwards from there, then we’re going to pay attention to cultural and behavioral shifts. The goal to sync strategies and capitalize on those insights. It is definitely not business as usual these days because the pace of change has accelerated so significantly in the last five years.

Seven observations on the changes now upon us.

The quality bar keeps rising. The impact of chefs-as-media-heroes, cooking shows, elevated corner bar food, transformation of legacy food categories with reimagined higher quality versions, and the advancement of culinary experiences at restaurants – all blend together in a perfect recipe for moving taste and quality expectations upward.

  1. Once you’ve experienced the added value of a pan reduction sauce to transform a flavor- challenged piece of chicken, you want the sauce every time.
  2. Home delivered meal kits operate as boxed culinary academies, teaching consumers about roasting techniques for vegetables, layering flavors and saucing.
  3. Higher quality ingredients and preparations now reflect the new intersection of indulgent taste and healthier. Healthy now redefined not as calorie math but the use of better quality fresh, real food ingredients, less processed and with a clean label as evidence of same.
  4. Weekends are now calendared opportunities for scratch home-cooking exploration, experiments and food adventure. Which grocery stores observe this phenomenon and move to inspire ideas, ingredient solutions, menus and culinary guidance? …More meatloaf?
  5. Maybe we’re still selling boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity and so there’s no time to match merchandising to the elevation of food experiences in America? Can you afford not to when disintermediating options are emerging all over the food business landscape?
  6. Restaurants are trial generators for new global flavors, cuisine exploration and realization of unique cooking techniques. Outsourced meals aren’t just about convenience on a busy night, it’s also part of the food culture milieu that’s stoking the fire of culinary excitement.
  7. Where’s the Chef de Cuisine now? He or she is a home chef operating in the kitchen looking to create, innovate and experiment with standard menus and dishes now getting an elevated makeover with layered flavors, sauces and artisanal quality ingredients.

The headline: could it be that the American home kitchen is not that far behind the restaurant kitchen, save a few thousand BTUs from the stove burner, as a place to produce distinctive flavor experiences? The answer to this query is yes. How are retailers and CPG innovators working to recognize and service this consumer? Small niche you say!? Not so fast…

In a recent report from the Hartman Group we find evidence in Compass data:

  • 39% of restaurant sourced eating occasions are efforts to lean in on the culinary skill and experience going on in the professional kitchen. Remember the quality of restaurant food keeps going up, and while doing so challenges some chain foodservice operators who are trapped in cost structures and business models that make it difficult to profitably move up.
  • 29% of at home eating occasions use cooking sauces, flavor aids, Deli prepared items, alongside higher quality produce, meat and seafood intended to replicate the restaurant experience at home.

Food culture changes are an undeniable juggernaut impacting where the ball is moving and challenging everyone to determine if they’re keeping pace with it or languishing behind.

Emergent’s guidance:

  1. Consumers want the unique, higher quality flavor experiences they find at restaurants, repurposed for them in food retail available products. Hence the emerging brand phenomena now roiling legacy CPG market shares. Consumers yearn for the surprise and delight of more innovative packaged and prepared foods.
  2. On the other side, food retail is ideally situated to sponsor artisanal exploration in cheese, baked goods, alternate proteins and cooking ingredients. Yet many find it difficult to get beyond the traditional infrastructure to position themselves in the culinary chair alongside shoppers who want more relevance and food experience in their shopping trip…and their shopping cart.

While so much preoccupation now exists with installing e-commerce platforms and digitizing the management and flow of inventory, we should not lose sight of what the consumer longs for and how we can enhance food relevance and adventure for them.

Your products and store could be a culinary Field of Dreams!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national 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.

Friends of the Future Delivers On Its Premise

September 23rd, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, Digital marketing, digital tools, e-commerce, food retail strategy, grocery e-commerce, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Friends of the Future Delivers On Its Premise”

The hot ticket networking experience at Groceryshop

In a food industry now preoccupied with algorithms and digital platforms, it’s remarkable when reminded that personal, human connections still inform the beginning of most successful business relationships.

Nowhere was that shown in greater relief than on Monday night at the recent Groceryshop convention. An “A” list of food retail executives gathered at the sold-out Friends of the Future reception to network with key industry players – many of whom are working feverishly to help solve the transformational changes now unfolding in the food and beverage world.

  • Groceryshop has firmly established itself as the leading food industry conference centered on the digital race to answer upheaval in how families select and shop for food. No surprise much of the conference agenda in 2019 showcased emerging technologies in e-commerce, food delivery, digital marketing, supply chain management and robotics.

Yet the Friends event served as a potent reminder that business, whether between advisers and suppliers in the food business, or with consumers themselves, is driven by the high-touch resonance of conversations between people.

“Friends is exactly that, an opportunity to truly connect on a personal level and get better acquainted. It’s in the moment when we talk and look each other in the eye that we find common ground, mutual interest, and most of all trust,” said Bill Kies, President of Kies Consulting and executive producer of the Friends of the Future event.

In its second season, Friends of the Future promised an informal atmosphere of exceptional food and beverage as grist to facilitate relationship building between food retail business leaders and decision makers. No other agenda except sharing experiences and ideas.

The event’s top sponsors including Accenture, Nielsen, Inmar and Shipt, helped press the call to action, with 250 executives gathering at The Venetian’s Yardbird restaurant, closed down to accommodate the crowd. Nearly 40 food retail companies were represented, evidence of an industry in transition while facing the rise of e-commerce challenges and new competition from the ascending restaurant food delivery business. Other event sponsors included Planalytics, ShopperKit, Label Insight, FlyBuy and the Food Marketing Institute.

“It was an amazing evening,” Kies reported, “friendships were initiated, and solutions explored among retailers looking to navigate an increasingly complex business environment.” Kies promised a return for Goceryshop in 2020 with an added dimension: the event will expand to include CPG food executives alongside the legacy list of food retail leaders.

For more information contact Bill Kies – bill@kiesconsulting.com

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national 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.

Shared Values Signal Purchase Intent

September 14th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Shared Values Signal Purchase Intent”

Are you speaking clearly or in Morse Code?

During World War II and prior to the U.S. entering the war, the British government working feverishly to counteract the devastating German Blitzkrieg, authorized the launch of a spy network intended to sabotage the Nazi war infrastructure. It was called the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and began training ordinary people with a passion for country and duty to become spies and saboteurs. Their principle form of communication would be Morse Code. The objective to avoid detection while operating behind enemy lines.

The cinematic stories of heroism and sacrifice are legion as SOE undertook its desperate calling to disrupt – by blowing up trains and power stations, often while hiding in plain sight. These days some brand communication starts to feel a bit like spy-savvy Morse Code. Businesses can find it hard to step away from internally-focused, self-reverential monologues and ‘us-speak’ to, instead, talk plainly and directly with people about what THEY care about. Conversation not code.

It was strong beliefs and shared values that underscored the passions and bravery of SOE operatives that drove their communication. Those same characteristics, passion of shared interests, values and connection, now mark the attitudinal changes governing how people interact with brands and make purchase decisions.

Consumer behavior research over the last five years has monitored the change to what we call ‘symbolic purchase’. As beliefs and values increasingly shape popular culture and thinking, we observe that people use their purchases to flag to others who they are and what they care about. Purchases have become posters of personal expression and are largely emblematic demonstrations people believe will telegraph to everyone what they think is important. Not in Morse Code but in real, observable terms.

What Are Your Values and Are They Aligned with your desired consumers?

You may have detected the increased importance of shared values in how consumers decide what brands and businesses matter enough to them to be granted a small portion of brain time, consideration and wallet. For many years, marketers were preoccupied with efforts to convey their, hopefully, superior product features and benefits in the firm belief that logic and rational arguments would hold sway. After all, it’s 25 percent faster than the other leading brand, right?

People have evolved, and our insight optics have improved. We know that humans are driven by heart-over-head – and that all purchases are influenced through emotional connectivity. Indeed, it is the absence of genuine connection that sits at the foundation of why some brands struggle to truly engage their customers.

This isn’t, by the way, a discussion of new media channels or digital platforms, mostly social, as a means to secure the engagement sweet spot. Failure to nail relevance can be traced back to overlooking a prerequisite to correctly mine the consumers’ continual search for deeper meaning.

What your brand says, does, how it behaves and the many signals it broadcasts (some intentional and some simply reflected by actions – which always speak louder than words) either reveals shared values or it doesn’t. And as such, it will resonate and motivate people to want to interact with and purchase your brand or it won’t. This is in some ways a character issue more so than about deploying clever words and phrases.

Here’s the LitmusTest:

What do your best customers care about? And that question is not a request for evaluation of your features and benefits!

  • How do they live?
  • What do they struggle with?
  • What are their aspirations and dreams?
  • What are their concerns, wants and wishes?
  • How is your brand and business an enabler and partner in making their lives better and answering their desire for deeper meaning?

In our increasingly cynical society people have become less trusting and more skeptical. The Internet amplifies this by illuminating every misstep, mistake, scandal and recall to a replay-able loop-tape of evidence that businesses tend to look after their own self-interest. In response to this, consumers yearn to connect with brands that are built around a higher purpose, a shared value system and, frankly, a “soul” that transcends commerce.

Mining the Treasure Trove of Engagement

What an amazing opportunity for the more enlightened brand-minders who can blaze a trail to long-term connection with their users. How can we create marketing that people actually want and seek out rather than work to avoid? Having the courage to disconnect the hard-sell and instead, start talking with consumers about their interests and needs is the starting line for deeper connection.

  • For example: When the pet food company recognizes it’s not in the kibble business but in the pet care relationship and guidance business, you begin to see how the brand voice should evolve and how a bond can be nurtured. How exciting to be forging connections and conversations around the lifestyle people seek out with their four-legged family members. The specific quality of nutrition and ingredients doesn’t become unimportant. Rather, it’s what chin do you lead with – protein percentages or health and wellbeing? It’s the latter.

The great news here is the treasure trove of content engagement opportunities that can be created with an audience on the hunt for a steady diet of this material.

What is the Main Goal of Marketing?

If you simmer everything down to its core essence, the mission of marketing is trust creation. We have ample evidence that trust is an elusive commodity. It’s hard to secure it and even harder to keep it.

Trust development cannot just be a “strategy” in the marketing plan. It is an outcome of the very belief system and values we’ve been talking about here. There’s no ‘fake it till you make it’ in the trust curation department.

  • The heroic performances of SOE recruits was delivered through an out-sized commitment to their mission and higher purpose. Their calling serves as a stunning example of what’s possible when more is going on than just seeking transactions.

The irony here, is the less selfish aspects of caring about the health and wellbeing of customers and contributing to achieving their life goals, in fact, feeds the relationship that leads to transactions. Fearlessly leaning into the understanding that shared values precedes the creation of any type of affinity or loyalty.  The honest development of a real bond and relationship is where all of this begins.

One of the most exciting aspects of our work at Emergent is when a client looks for guidance in this very arena and we have the extraordinary privilege of helping define what that higher purpose looks like and how it can become an anchor for business and marketing strategy.

What’s the definition of a really big idea? It’s an idea that you can immediately, obviously see how it will impact the behavior of the organization from top to bottom. The beauty of landing on this understanding is the refreshing clarity it delivers to every decision around product, innovation, organization, people and very importantly, marketing that works.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national 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.

 

 

 

 

GroceryShop Returns

August 29th, 2019 Posted by brand strategy, branded content, e-commerce, Emerging brands, food retail strategy, Food Trend, grocery e-commerce, Retail brand building, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “GroceryShop Returns”

Perhaps the most important convention in the food industry

From September 15 to 18 the food industry convenes in Las Vegas at the Venetian Hotel for the second edition of GroceryShop, Anil Aggarwal’s novel answer to a lingering gap in the meetings realm for food business and related technology companies.

Unlike most industry meetings focused on presenting a vast ocean of booths where company sales and marketing staff feature their latest products and services, GroceryShop is more focused on the sea changes, business model disruption and consumer shifts impacting one of the nation’s most important and robust industries.

E-commerce and digitization of the food business has buffeted the value propositions of traditional supermarkets, supported the emergence of new, higher quality food brands with mission-oriented story to tell, and witnessed the rapid rise of e-commerce channel shopping as consumers increasingly acquire food from the comfort of their dining room table.

Packaged food marketers and retailers alike have sought to better understand how to manage the transformational changes occurring around them. Mr. Aggarwal stepped in with a conference concept long on content and insight presentations more so than a straight buyer-meets-seller proposition.

GrocceryShop’s rapid rise can be attributed to creatively answering the thirst for guidance and direction in a rapidly changing business environment. Unlike the food business conventions of yesteryear where global food corporations such as Nestle and Mondelez held court with retail buyers, GroceryShop connects the likes of Google and Facebook to the conversation on how consumers will operate in a digitally-enabled world and what trends in fresh and prepared food will get traction at retail outlets.

GroceryShop presentations examine new technologies in supply chain management, while brand marketing discussions look towards the shift from traditional ad media and promotions to engagement based on relevance to healthy living and lifestyle aspirations, fed by digital forms of outreach and social media.

 The Future of the Food Business

The content forward approach Mr. Aggarwal has landed on serves as inspiration and best practice showcase to retail and CPG executives alike on how to remain relevant and inject deeper meaning into their brand and banner propositions.

The food business is in a state of rapid transition as consumers increasingly shop for menus rather than stock ups and the rise of super-convenient restaurant delivery makes out-sourcing dinner a viable last-minute option on a busy weeknight. Food has never been more competitive as quality choices are within arms-length from virtually anywhere.

  • According to Accenture, the 80 million or so Millennials, now in their prime spending years, wield roughly $600 billion in annual spending power. For the grocery industry that ladders up to about $2,300 per year on average spending at food retail. According to a recent national survey by Sweet Earth Foods, this cohort will try at least 46 new foods each year, helping drive the emergence of new food and beverage brands now gaining additional in-store real estate at supermarkets.

Meantime the grocery industry is reacting to the significant moves by Amazon into their territory through Whole Foods and its own Prime delivery, by bolting on outside e-commerce ordering and delivery solutions from Shipt and Instacart.

So much change and so quickly for a retail business that for many years was fueled by selling boxes, cans and bags off shelves at high velocity and razor-thin margins. Now the perimeter fresh departments hold the magic and in-store groceraunts are popping up to satisfy the inevitable last-minute rush to answer the pounding question, what’s for dinner?

All of this helps explain why GrcoeryShop has traveled so far so fast as business model disruption impacts Big Food and small grocery chains alike. If you haven’t thought about where you need to be this September, might be good to check it out: http://www.groceryshop.com

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital commerce redirects the future of retail

June 27th, 2019 Posted by CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, e-commerce, food retail strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance 0 comments on “Digital commerce redirects the future of retail”

Profile of refined strategy for brick and mortar

In today’s consumer-driven marketplace, staying ahead of food and lifestyle cultural swings, shopping behaviors and the significant sea changes they create, are the most important considerations to marketing strategy effectiveness. Failure to recognize and address these ongoing shifts can negatively impact brand relevance with core consumers.

Case in point:  increased traction of e-commerce occurring in most product categories consumers’ value is causing a domino effect that will drive the future of successful retail strategy. Consumers are pushing harder on their preference for retail uniqueness, differentiation and memorable experiences. In the first of our two-part series we will look at implications of digital commerce to retail, and in part 2 we’ll peel the onion on what’s coming for CPG brands.

Home is where the heart, wallet and shopping reside

As consumer friction declines in e-commerce purchases and fulfillment, the inevitable move to online-ordering convenience will continue to grab share momentum. This trend is starting to amass a variety of ancillary impacts, such as consumer preference for the exceptional retail experience over the mundane. When the very definition of convenience to satiate needs transfersfromregional zones toarmchairs and screens in the family room, retail businesses are now being challenged  to adjust their optics and embrace new cultural (read consumer) priorities sooner rather than later.

  • This is an inevitable transition. In a recent report from Federal Express, the granddaddy of quick delivery is projecting e-commerce growth will double the number of packages shipped to 100 million per dayby 2026.

The point-and-click ease of fulfilling product ‘wants’ creates a companion outcome: less and less venturing out from the four walls of the residence. More in-home purchase and consumption of everything. More online comparison shopping. More emphasis on consulting consumer reviews. Along with this at-home shopping revolution is a declining tolerance for the routine hassles of destination shopping and the time requirements to drive, park and walk. How far will people be willing to go for a shopping experience that has nothing special to offer — what’s really going to pull them from that point-and-click simplicity?

Experience with the endless shelf of digital commerce will adjust expectations of ‘want it now’ and cause people to be less forgiving of retail out-of-stocks and more limited assortments. With it, the added value premium on exceptional in-store experiences goes up as anything that feels commodity-like will yield to the ease of electronic ordering.

Trends ahead and the emergence of micro-trading areas –

Consider the long-term impacts of the decline in car ownership (once a defining metaphor for personal financial success and independence), alongside the emergence of driverless delivery vehicles and drones. Distance-confining legs, scooters and bikes are increasingly common modes of urban transportation. Witness the explosion of online restaurant and ghost- kitchen prepared food delivery that jumps squarely on the never-have-to-leave-home bandwagon.

As retail shopping becomes increasingly commoditized, there is a growing consumer thirst for scarce and transcendent experiences, more personalization and meaningful relationships with retail banners that matter. This may play against the vanilla, conventional character of some chain store concepts that can feel derivative, common and maybe even a bit boring.

By definition, the chain model depends on consistency and mechanization to achieve operating efficiencies and the ability to replicate at scale. Is it possible to rethink the business paradigm to allow for different designs, footprints and merchandise collections more attuned to the community they serve?

As convenience gets a makeover, with it comes a premium on re-casting what a trading area looks like to smaller circles of proximity. Alongside this condition we observe the continued idealization of the “small town” as a colloquial, romantic reference point for aspirational lifestyles. In urban areas this puts an increasing premium on reflecting neighborhood character and shopping within walking distance.

In Chicago, a fair example of this is Andersonville, a northside city neighborhood known for its Clark Street shopping district packed with unique collectible stores, fashion boutiques, local restaurants – all walk-able within a three-block core. Stands to reason this ‘go smaller’ development favors shopping experiences that mirror the lifestyle characteristics and populace of the neighborhood.

For retail we see five implications for planning strategy:

  1. Increased pressure on the viability of destination shopping centers, as convenience is recast within shorter distances from home.
  2. The rise of smaller footprint store designs that align with neighborhood shopping areas.
  3. Emergence of retail concepts based on lifestyle experience more so than the traditional array of shelves and merchandise. Instead the attractions are ideas, emotion and guidance rather than pushing merch off fixtures (a twist on omni-channel commerce strategies).
  4. Recognition that the future is with those who work to build bonds and relationships beyond just stocking inventory at a price.
  • Expect to see a host of novel ideas develop in service of more relevant lifestyle associations such as on-line dating brand Bumble and their wine bar café concept and Taco Bell’s new hotel.
  1. The bifurcation of omni-channel strategies to embrace exceptional experience that reside inside the retail store front while volume objectives are delivered online. How will this symbiotic hand-off work between high touch retail and digital convenience? Only the seamless survive.

Speaking of smaller footprint concepts, if people are increasingly food shopping for meals and menus more so than stock-ups, does it make sense to force them to search for 7 to 12 items in an 80,000 square foot maze? Can food shopping be made more fun and less of a navigational chore by specializing in what’s for dinner?

ALDI, a darling of grocery hard discount, recently announced an expanded test of their new “Local” store concept in the United Kingdom. The 6,000 square foot stores operate with 300 fewer SKUs than the normal ALDI. Proof that hard discount does not mean absence of insight, relevance and creativity.

Larger trend: ‘Extremeification’ of retail in America

Robinhood, the investment platform for non-one-percenters, recently reported examples of the growing bookends of success between the higher and lower ends of the retail spectrum — while the middle falls away. Restoration Hardware (RH) continues its relentless march towards further upscaling its retail roots. After recently posting a 7% gain in sales, RH stock shot up 25% on the related news of its new chic catalog concepts RH Beach House and RH Ski House. As well LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) and Dollar General are celebrating record highs at the same time in their share prices.

Yoga pant purveyor Lululemon reports Spring quarter revenue of $782 million vs. its period forecast of $755 million, despite increased competition in its category. Last quarter profits hit a record $97 million. Hard discount and heavenly experience collectively show how disparate propositions that lean in heavily on their mission and ethos are advancing.

You have to stand for something — and go all in (go low or go high). In fact that’s really the message here. The future of retail belongs to the innovators who go deep on uniqueness and memorable experiences — which by definition requires focusing the concept and target audience appeal to a specific need and cohort. All things to all people is often a recipe for ambivalence.

Find your core, narrow your appeal, optimize your mission and go for it.

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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 national 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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