Posts by Emergent

Your top marketing priority for 2020: Retool and Refine the Message

January 16th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, change, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, Insight, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Your top marketing priority for 2020: Retool and Refine the Message”

If the message doesn’t connect, nothing works

The most important tool impacting the success of food and beverage marketing investments is the right message. If the message lacks relevance and resonance, it won’t connect – and efforts made to engage consumers fall flat no matter which channels of outreach are used.

How so? There’s an interesting example in the difference between music and noise.

  • When I was in high school and college, I was a musician and my side hustle was playing in a band. I was the lead singer and rhythm guitar player. I. Loved. Music. At the time it was my creative outlet, and in every venue we played, there was always a set where I got on stage alone with an acoustic guitar and did some solo numbers. In those moments it was me and the audience and I was singing a story. I had something to say. I wanted them to feel my emotions and relate to the lyrics. Music is an incredible medium for that purpose. It hits the head and the heart at the same moment. It can be inspiring and all encompassing. People are engaged and take the journey with you.

Technically, there’s not a ton of difference between noise and music, both are sound wave patterns. One engages and the other repels. Self-promotional marketing messaging can be static that people choose to avoid. Relevant story telling that connects to what you want in life is captivating.

“If you talked to people the way advertising talks to people, they’d punch you in the face.”   Hugh Macleod

The goal of great marketing is first to engage and then secure belief. That happens when the message is relevant and the storytelling is respectful of what the audience desires. Only then will they really listen.

Where brand messaging goes off the rails

Companies spend countless hours and resources making a terrific product. So, it’s understandable to think the marketing should be a comprehensive showcase of the technical or formulation achievements and product features. The messaging often employs language that walks and talks like fact-based selling because, after all, presumably that’s what is going on: working to convince, persuade and close the sale.

“We believe the consumer will be enamored and enthralled with our better mousetrap and will cling to every word about how we’re 25% better than brand X alongside our painstaking attention to higher quality ingredients. Just examine the enticing list of our superior features and benefits. Afterall everyone will be persuaded by the evidence, given people are logical decision makers who carefully weigh the facts before buying.” Ahem.

Well no. People are emotional creatures who move with their hearts first. How we feel in the presence of a brand is far more important than the specs of protein percentages. But more importantly, the disconnect happens earlier when the story starts with the brand as hero and not the consumer. We’ve already lost relevance at the front door of engagement. We characterize this as a form of brand narcissism.

Best practices in effective messaging

Creating a more consumer-centric brand narrative is harder to do than it looks. Cleverness isn’t the leverage point either. Clarity and connection are paramount. We must be careful not to make people work too hard to understand. Humans resist taxing the brain and tune-out quickly if the message doesn’t make immediate sense because it is too complex or indirect.

The right path follows storytelling principles that show up regularly in great music and movies.

Here are storytelling elements Emergent considers along the path.

  1. Every great story has a hero. Here, it is the consumer and their wants, needs and concerns.
  2. The hero always has a problem to overcome. What is the brand working to solve for them?
  3. A good story always has a bit of mystery – a secret, a key – something which brings context previously unknown. For food and beverage brands, we must gain insight on the most important lifestyle consideration (and its related dietary attribute) the consumer is seeking from the product – the “why” of their repeat purchases.
  4. Every strong story has a Yoda to its Luke Skywalker, helping the consumer achieve their goals, overcome adversity and create a plan. The brand operates as the consumer’s guide and coach.
  5. What can the brand further do to support and enable our hero’s lifestyle aspirations?
  6. We also help people understand what success looks like and how the brand supports their lifestyle goals.
  7. Interwoven throughout the story is the brand’s higher purpose which centers on a mission that consumers can “join” as an aligned value they embrace. The brand’s higher purpose goes beyond the product itself. This is frequently missing from the whole narrative and yet it is a key story point in driving connection.

When we make consumers the center of the story and consider their journey and desire to be part of something that’s greater than themselves, we imbue the brand with relevance and deeper meaning.

An example:

  • Beyond Meat understood that meat lovers love meat taste and its familiar texture. They carefully designed the eating experience and message to reinforce the ‘no taste sacrifice’ of a re-imagined plant-based burger.
  • The brand’s higher purpose was embedded in the environmental advantages of resources NOT consumed in plant-based meat production. They did not attempt to present the product as a vegan ‘health food’ in the traditional syntax. Nutritionals would not have supported it anyway. The words plant-based already come embedded with a healthy halo.
  • The sizzle, the cooking, the culinary adventure of fully dressed burger images all played to a latent backyard barbecue indulgence trope that have made hamburgers the most popular sandwich on earth. Boom.

The connection is interweaving burger savory indulgence with the consumer’s desire to eat healthier and bring more plant-based foods into their diet. The food science part of it is frankly less interesting and does not reside at the heart of why people decide to buy.

Apple Computer, upon Steve Jobs return from exile, embarked on a marketing campaign for the ages that focused entirely on the consumer’s journey and their desire for creativity and achievement – instead of tech specsmanship. They didn’t dwell on the machines or software but rather on the opportunity to change the world around us for the better. To Think Different. That’s higher purpose.

When the message is right, outcomes are assured

The goal is creating marketing that people actually want rather than choose to avoid. At the heart of effectiveness is messaging that resonates because it’s about the consumer’s journey and passions.

When we have a richer understanding of our consumers and their lives, it feeds proper input into the messaging model. Understanding the main lifestyle attribute they seek from the product, allows us to focus and simplify. Anchoring to a clear message is respectful of the very limited amount of time we have to communicate successfully. At the store shelf, this is mere seconds.

Emergent’s proprietary approach to message development is founded on consumer insight and making them the hero with the brand performing as expert guide. This formula is fundamental to creating marketing that works because the audience is listening.

The outcome eliminates misfires, disconnects and promotes the start of a deeper consumer relationship based on serving mutual interests. The brand’s goal is to make a difference in the consumer’s life. When that happens, the rewards are reaped in business growth.

Emergent client engagements begin with an audit of current messaging and assessments against the backdrop of category competition. This is done alongside efforts to mine consumer insight for understanding of key lifestyle aspirations and dietary attributes heavy users want to solve (key to repurchase velocity) with the product.

The plan for success

We use a proprietary mapping tool for this purpose, to bring ideas forward that overcome the key barriers to engagement.

The right messaging then informs communications tools that connect and achieve memorability, relevance, which in turn fuels growth and acquisition of new brand fans.

May we help you create a new path to marketing message success in 2020?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Truth to the Bank

January 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Taking Truth to the Bank”

Transforming business outcomes through transparency

How can we make marketing most effective?

Here’s a story about how an investment in transparency can make a big difference in consumer engagement and business outcomes.

Imagine a pet parent in a pet store looking for the right food to buy for their beloved dog or cat. Unlike human food where you can see if the steak is fresh and well-marbled or squeeze the tomato to determine if it’s ripe, pet food presents a bag of curious brown nuggets where the label becomes the lesson. Yet how do people truly know what’s inside the bag after trying to decipher the label jargon? Facts are you don’t. It’s a leap of faith.

Simply stated, consumers have questions burning inside of them. If we don’t answer them a disconnect occurs.

Why? The world we now live in is a skeptical place. People require trust and belief about the brands they care about but find it hard to secure when confronted almost daily in the media with half-truths, omissions, deceit and integrity challenges.

In this uncertain environment marketers want their messages to be seen, heard and acted upon. However, consumers routinely tune out and ignore many of those investments, in part because the messaging fails to connect in a meaningful and credible way. A dilemma we’re about to solve through applying deeper meaning…

Nowhere can we see this credibility challenge in greater relief than the pet food industry, a super high involvement category for pet parents, where the product form provides no visual cue about what’s inside or proof of ingredient quality. Yes, the label lists ingredient categories, but nothing to truly verify if the meat, for example, was fresh or raw and where it came from rather than the more common powdered (lower grade) version.

You already know that pets are revered, doted over family members. The most direct way to express the love we have for our furry companions is to provide the very best nutrition we can afford, given food is connected to pet health, wellness and happiness. People genuinely care about pet food, so how can we reward this significant level of interest and concern about diet quality? Please note, this concern is just as valid in human food categories.

Ironically, the vast majority of marketing communication in the pet food business suffers with sameness. From brand to brand, claims are made about percentages of high protein and meat use because dogs and cats are carnivores and their ‘ancestral diet’ leans heavily on prodigious amounts of these ingredients. It remains nonetheless an assertion, requiring trust that the brown nugget is made from the claimed fresh chicken. Incidentally sameness is a blur and lacks distinctiveness fueled with memorability, essential for marketing effectiveness.

Being overtly clever these days doesn’t really help because consumers work to avoid anything that walks or talks like shameless self-promotion.

Champion Petfoods and the industry’s first move to authentic transparency

Champion, in fact, makes some of the highest quality pet food in the business in their ORIJEN and ACANA brands. Yet this remains a claim, requiring said leap of faith for acceptance.

Trust is essential these days to business growth. But periodic recalls and product liability litigation du jour in the pet food business can dilute confidence. For the most part, pet owners feed their pets and “hope” all is well because the bowl is emptied, and Fido wags his tail.

Emergent and Champion wanted to leap over the category-wide skepticism and find a better path to consumer connection based on the pet parents’ keen interests. Champion has long-standing partnerships with regional farms, ranches and fisheries to supply their two kitchens in Alberta, Canada and Auburn, Kentucky. This essential truth could be brought to life and so we created the Champion Transparency Council with a team of outside third parties, including Veterinary physicians and real-world pet parents.

It was an industry first and required the company to be transparent in every way about ingredient sourcing and all aspects of product creation. The Council members were given complete access to the kitchen from loading dock to packaging line and also witnessed every aspect of how food is made. Additionally, they visited the farms, ranches and fish suppliers to see where the ingredients like fresh Bison and Catfish were sourced.

They were hands on with the fish later to appear in a bag of pet food.

Emergent helped build a multi-channel communications platform around The Council members’ experiences and independent reports. The Council participated in media interviews, ads were developed, reports were distributed through social media channels, and web pages established as a home base for their content. The Council members’ reports were personal, emotive and filled with examples of their own life experiences with their pets as well as what they saw, learned and experienced in Champion’s kitchens and supplier activities.

This program by the way, was Champion’s first engagement with an outside agency partner and so the entire program was built on a modest budget where every dollar spent needed to work like 10.

The bottom line – The Transparency Council effort made heroes of partner farmers and told stories through the authentic, credible voices of pet parents and Vets. As a pet business first, Champion’s visibility in the industry media went from near zero to a standout share of voice leader.

Most importantly, the Transparency Council verified and validated what Champion claims about their food and provided the evidence to earn trust and belief about pet diet quality among pet parents, distributors and key stakeholders. This coincided with the company’s successful move into Petco and helped the business retain the confidence of its large community of independent pet retailers.

Transparency proved the point. It helps people get to trust because the character of the communication is honest and trustworthy.

The secret sauce of this effort is the nuance and attention to detail required: from how the Council is constructed and managed to how the communication was presented, the messaging that was emphasized and timing of its distribution. Expertise as you can imagine is required.

Transparency can be a strategic lever to enhanced marketing outcomes

These days people want to know more about the foods and beverages they ingest. They care about the quality of ingredients used and want to know the backstory on where ingredients came from and the standards employed to ensure freshness, quality and safety.

The number one concern for consumers is health and wellness. This is served through the quality of the food and beverage they buy. This helps us understand why the food and beverage industry is being turned upside down in the quest for products with cleaner, simpler ingredients and responsible sourcing.

More often than not, opportunities are missed by many brands because the product creation story isn’t fully realized. Marketers want people to believe what’s claimed.

Trust must be earned and transparency is a trust engine. When correctly deployed it works to humanize the brand voice and build a deeper and more valued connection.

What’s your dormant transparency story?

How can you distinguish your brand as the one deserving of trust among your competitive set?

Emergent can help you discover how to leverage these insights for improved communications effectiveness and consumer engagement.

Let’s 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.

Curbing the Pandemic of Brand Narcissism

December 22nd, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Curbing the Pandemic of Brand Narcissism”

Most brand messaging misses the mark because it’s upside down.

Far too many brands and businesses are inadvertently ignoring the fundamentals of successful communication. Engagement is elusive and budgets are wasted because brand stories are either ignored or actively avoided. The misfire happens because the basic principles of how consumers respond to communication relevant to them isn’t embedded in how the brand goes to market.

Every great, powerful and engaging story needs a hero, a problem to solve, a guide, a struggle and a transformative outcome. But most of the time brands make themselves the hero of the story, focused on myopic selling of product features and benefits. Right there the disconnect occurs because consumers aren’t listening any longer to self-serving forms of brand outreach.

Brand narcissism is alive and well…

It’s a pandemic. Far too many businesses believe the marketing strategy needs to be about themselves. Conventional logic states the challenge is clearly, succinctly stating the product attributes in a persuasive (where creative weighs in) way. There was a time pre-Internet when brands controlled the flow of communication and this form of outreach was the norm.

In the digital era consumers have gained absolute control over the brand/user relationship and their ability to avoid “selling” is unassailable. All it takes is a few hours of commercial interruption on TV and you are witness to the pandemic of brand narcissism that reigns over the airwaves on a daily basis. The explosion of streaming platforms that are devoid of commercial side trips is testimony to the relief consumers want from the constant drip of 30-second selling.

The secret to going from upside down to right side up

But there’s hope, and light, and resolution ahead. Together we can end the tyranny of brand narcissism and gain the eyes, ears and devotion of consumers who embrace the brands they care about and actively “join” the brand as members of a growing, engaged community.

Who is the hero of the brand story? It’s not the brand, it’s the consumer. When the brand puts the consumer at the center of strategy creation and works backwards from there, the door is opened to a potential connection. It is the consumer’s needs, pain points, problems, concerns, wants, desires and aspirations that matter most. The story begins with them and in that moment of insight we find the most important opportunity for improved brand communication and outcomes: relevance – to the consumer and their life’s journey that we are working to improve.

What is the brand’s role in the story? Every winning, successful cinematic story follows a similar path – the brand is the guide, the expert, the wizard who helps the hero learn and understand the path to transformation. Luke Skywalker had Yoda. Frodo had Gandalf. The brand is an inspiring coach in a storytelling dynamic that begins with understanding and empathy for the consumer’s interests and struggle for improvement.

Food and beverage the living example

What is it consumers are looking for from what they eat and drink? You may think it’s 25 percent less sodium or plant-based ingredients. People have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. What they care about is their health and wellness; the connection that has to their energy, performances and longevity.

We are all human beings and in that irrefutable condition, who desire the experience of great taste and the warmth of social interaction around the dinner table with friends and families. For some, the love of food runs deep in the kitchen where creativity, experimentation and learning are unleashed, while delivering the product of that skill as an expression of love for others in the family who will enjoy the feast they’ve prepared.

Functionally some foods may also be tools to improve exercise regimens, sports activity, assist sleep, promote brain function or the like. But it isn’t the chemistry they care about. It’s the ambitions they have for personal change and improvement. Are we talking about their journey, conflicts and desires? Is the brand a guide and coach along the way?

This works when the brand realizes the path to greatness and transformative growth is fueled by actually, actively working to improve the lives of customers. This requires a less transactional view of the relationship.

The role of higher purpose

At a recent gathering of new and emerging brands at a conference in Chicago connecting potential investors with founders, a dozen companies made their pitch to an audience of potential check writers and influencers. I was surprised that only one out of the dozen presenters talked about a higher purpose for their brand and business.

It may be popular these days to say that the vast collection of new food brands now coming to a shelf near you all begin with a mission to support sustainable agriculture, lower the carbon foot print, hydrate those around the globe without access to potable water, but we find that many have not optimized or fully discovered the higher purpose they need to embrace.

Why does this matter? Because consumers want to align themselves with brands that share similar values. People are on the hunt for deeper meaning and care, deeply, about the role beyond commerce that brands play in making the world a better place. This cannot be bolted on to the marketing plan; it needs to come from a deeper space and with greater significance that informs every decision the business makes.

The impact on brand storytelling and traction is dramatic. People want to be a part of something greater than themselves. When the brand has a real mission, there’s a reason to join the community of followers that transcends the high-quality recipe made with natural, organic ingredients.

This is harder than it looks

You can’t dial up higher purpose from central casting. You can’t simply alter the tone of your communication without understanding the consumer’s real wants and wishes. At Emergent, we employ a message mapping process designed to capture this insight and intentionally design the brand story around the connection between consumer as hero and brand as guide.

It can be hard to stop the train of brand narcissism because it feels somewhat natural to be inwardly focused. After all most businesses are organized around the herculean efforts to create a terrific product.

However, the benefits of moving to an enlightened model with the consumer at the center are significant and bring assurance that the investments made in outbound communication will indeed engage and be received.

After all, brands want confidence that the investments in marketing are optimal and perform as desired. That confidence will be realized when the outreach plan understands the vital role of reciprocity in the relationship with consumers who graciously grant their most precious asset: scarce time and attention.

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.

Learn the Five Anchors of Authenticity

December 11th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Learn the Five Anchors of Authenticity”

A required course on the path to business growth

Yes, the word authenticity may have reached cliché status given its pervasive use as a shorthand explanation of what drives best practices today in brand building. However, truth is, sea changes in consumer culture and resulting purchase behaviors foretell how vital authenticity is to create meaningful relationships between brands and their users.

  • Yet too many companies fail to make authenticity a core platform in their marketing plans, missing the opportunity for real engagement and connection they require to advance the business.

Like moving away from highly processed cheese food (fake) in favor of real natural cheese (genuine), authenticity has much to do with the yearning for belief, higher quality and a better, more meaningful and relate-able story.

This age of authenticity is fueled by a fundamental rule: consumer-centric thinking and planning is a prerequisite. In practice, this means that an organization’s –

Every decision

Every strategy

Every tactic

Every investment

must build from a continuous study and acutely deep understanding of the consumer’s needs, wants and aspirations. The consumer should sit at the heart of the business. All strategic moves emanate from insight about their concerns and interests.

“Customer first” is a long-standing axiom of the retail industry, but as obvious as it may sound, most companies live in a perpetual state of brand narcissism. Company operational and marketing behaviors reveal it’s actually all about “us” – our product features, our benefits, our new formulas, our processes sitting in service of company business objectives.

  • Today however, success springs from becoming an enabler, partner and guide on the consumer’s journey, seeking alignment with their needs and becoming a helpful resource as they work to create a better and more meaningful life.

In the absence of this sensibility, it’s no wonder that engagement with traditional marketing – that’s more often a one-way selling monologue  – is rejected by consumers as irrelevant to them at best – annoying to them at worst.

Authenticity and curating a trusted consumer relationship

The core essence of what authentic means always springs from a less commercial and transactional view of the relationship between seller and buyer. There is a latent suspicion among most people that old-school marketing is really selling, and selling is a form of self-serving persuasion. Buyer beware.

The irony of all this is how human beings are wired to respond to messages. When the consumer is the hero of your story and the brand serves as guide to an improved life, engagement can be achieved. In the absence of this, messaging is primarily noise and ignored.

Thus, if an organization’s objective is assurance their marketing investments will secure traction and work in service of the brand’s growth, it is vital that authenticity is embraced and embedded into how the brand operates and communicates.

The future success of the business depends on it.

Here are the five anchors of authenticity that help drive consumer engagement and brand growth:

  1. Truth

Consumers are faced daily with evidence of misleading information, headlines heralding lapses in judgement and integrity; and stories of businesses operating in their own self-interest at the expense of consumer trust and confidence. An example: recently The Honest Company was outed on their absence of honesty over chemical ingredients they vowed would never be present in their products. Lawsuits have already begun. Consumers demand the truth and truth is neither conditional nor can it be diluted or violated without serious consequences.

  1. Transparency

Truth’s big sister, transparency is how trust is earned. When the curtain is raised and the door is opened to outside scrutiny of all aspects of the product creation process, the opportunity is there to engender trust. “Come see for yourselves that our words do not ring hollow, and that we indeed deliver on the promises we make. Go on, take a look – we have nothing to hide.” In the absence of trust people look for evidence they can believe in.

  1. Relevance

Who is the hero of the story told in your marketing? It’s not the brand. The customer must be the hero; their aspirations, wants and needs take precedence. When consumers see themselves in the story, they pay attention. Everything else is static. Relevance is the acid test of authenticity. It is the center of a less selfish view of the brand/user relationship. The story is always about them, and the brand’s role is Yoda (the expert guide) to Luke Skywalker.

  1. Directness

Consumers can smell traditional marketing a mile away. When the conversation is one-sided and filled with self-promotion and hyperbole, the opportunity for a frank and direct conversation is lost. Consumers run in the opposite direction because the story is no longer about them. Directness is an attribute of a trusted guide and resource. A real conversation set on how the brand solves the problems people face is direct and honest and open.

  1. Validation

In the end, consumers want to believe – but belief must be earned before trust is achieved. People no longer accept assertions and claims at face value. They look for validation of what a brand conveys from sources they respect and perceive to be honest and unbiased. This is the power of social proof and why the voices of real people talking about their experiences with the brand are so powerful. People believe their peers and outside experts before they believe what the brand itself is saying.

Have you noticed a consistent theme in here?

Trust is required for any relationship to exist and it’s hard to earn and easy to lose. The future of marketing is less about entertainment, persuasion and artifice and more about conversation and openness. The goal of every brand is to be an accepted partner on the journey to an improved, happier and healthier life.

When the brand is authentic and honest, we open the door to reciprocity. It just makes sense to put the consumer at the center of strategic planning. Once there, this insight and understanding fuels effective strategy and helps brands avoid wasting money on marketing that doesn’t connect.

Emergent has a defined process to build messaging based on these principles: an approach that eliminates guesswork and serves to draw the consumer in because they are always at the center of the story.

Can we help you build the right story? Let us know if you’d like to learn more about our unique approach to effective messaging.

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.

Enjoy Life prospers

Can emerging food brands prosper inside the big mother ship?

November 25th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, change, CMO, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Growth, Healthy Living, Insight 0 comments on “Can emerging food brands prosper inside the big mother ship?”

Enjoy Life proves the case for unicorn in the herd

Enjoy Life Foods enjoys the enviable position of being intentionally unique and differentiated by virtue of the market it serves. Have you noticed the skyrocketing increases in the number of people with various forms of food allergy? My oldest daughter is one and many families these days have someone in their circle with a digestive rejection problem.

Of note, some experts believe the rapid ascent of allergen free foods is due to compromised immune systems, in part to blame from the cultural and technological shifts that help assure children will be exposed less and less to bacterial and viral hazards. It is contact with these microscopic threats that puts the immune system activity into higher gear. Use it or lose it?

Enjoy Life offers 86 SKUs of products created and designed to give allergy sufferers a shot at snack and sweets bliss with unconventional (entirely) clean recipe solutions. They are crafted with a staggeringly high intolerance for anything in the product creation process that could introduce an allergen somewhere along the path. Such is their franchise and commitment to becoming a trusted solution for people with food allergies.

Enjoy Life is an acquired brand of Mondelez, the spinoff of the Kraft Foods break-up that resulted in today’s Kraft Heinz packaged foods behemoth alongside the snack and sweets oriented and equally hefty Mondelez International operation. In either case we’re talking about big food.

Joel Warady, who leads the Enjoy Life team and has been on board there since its early days, is a bit of an iconoclast in the belly of the Mondolez whale, but it works and works well. Perhaps Enjoy Life offers a model for success to the innovation-challenged legacy packaged foods industry looking to stem the tide of fractional annual growth or share losses. Of late, many legacy CPGs are seeking the cachet of high quality, mission-oriented food brands by investing in or acquiring the fledgling company’s rapidly scaling share and market presence. The food world has turned upside down ever since the barriers to entry evaporated for independent food start-ups.

“Acquiring companies like Mondolez have learned, and sometimes the hard way, that it’s best to let these emerging businesses continue under their current management teams and without a lot of interference,” said Warady. “The challenge is figuring out how and where to help, usually with R&D and distribution support or providing ingredient sourcing efficiencies and pipeline scale.”

Warady believes Enjoy Life has been a success story because key strategic decisions are largely left in their own hands. “We’ve had some embedded executives from Mondolez along the way, but for the most part we operate as we did before the acquisition only with more resources at our disposal,” he said.

Legacy food companies like Kraft and Mondolez have greater challenges on the product innovation front due to their size, and cultural habits that work to wring out risk. It’s a point of view that has caused them to routinely favor line extensions over disruptive, unproven and yet demonstrably higher quality food ideas that are popping up everywhere.

Now, the magic and heat index in food innovation is coming mainly from entrepreneurs with a vision for solving a neglected corner of the market like Enjoy Life. Other successful ideas offer a preparation or ingredient twist that inspires a new category such as Beyond Meat that imitate the texture, flavor and mouthfeel of genuine animal-based meat. These plant-based proteins are more widely targeted to those whose values supports the overall mission (whether clean eating, regional sourcing, minimized carbon footprint, etc.) – not just aimed narrowly at serving Vegan interests.

Enjoy Life was designed from day one to be a difference maker in the lives of people suffering from allergies. It helps when you solve a real problem that has existed for some time but neglected as a niche business and ignored by companies that at one time believed if the volume isn’t a billion dollars within 15 months of launch, it isn’t worth pursuing.

Ingredients for Success

Warady offers some guidance for founders and acquirers alike:

  1. For founders, it’s important to know that food safety and sourcing standards – a pillar of strength for large CPG companies – is often lacking with start-ups and can be deal killers once a strategic investor starts to poke around. Thus for founders, it’s important to have consultants scour every corner of the supply chain ahead of a strategic conversation to help clarify areas of opportunity and deal points.

 

  1. For acquirers, it’s vital to recognize the secret sauce for emerging brands is often held in their story that combines mission and values often with a more artisanal product solution that completely redefines what quality means. Best to let them operate independently to help support and retain the trust they’ve earned.

 

  1. Because the path to market is completely different, emerging businesses can be extraordinary places to test new ideas and limited-edition products, while learning best practices. The old recipe of big TV advertising budgets mixed with quarterly price promotions isn’t resonating like it used to, and is antithetical to the more conversational, user experience-oriented world of emerging food and beverage.

Importantly, emerging food brands like Enjoy Life come to market embedded with deeper meaning and a higher purpose that transcends the more transactional genre of volume, velocity and profit.

Not that growth and profit aren’t equally important to the success of new food businesses, but these soul-driven companies recognize the path to riches is paved in reciprocity and relevance to the consumer’s interest in shared values.

Bottom line: the recipe for success inside big food is to allow the acquired businesses to retain the very lifeblood that makes them successful. Their sheer disruptiveness and uniqueness must be honored and fueled while maintaining the often higher quality sourcing commitments on which their recipes are based.

It is the user experience that sits at the foundation of early success for emerging brands – before there’s much of anything to talk about in brand equity. That said, smaller resource- constrained businesses will benefit greatly from a benevolent investor or owner that fills strategic gaps and helps nurture the business, providing expertise or capital where it can make a difference between a base hit and a grand slam home run.

Joel Warady and the Enjoy Life team sit as a worthy example of how remarkable innovation can prosper inside a much larger organization, continuing to dance to the beat of its own drum while offering a roadmap to the future of the food business.

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.

Think Beyond: Lessons in Disruption from Beyond Meat

November 18th, 2019 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Integrated Communications 0 comments on “Think Beyond: Lessons in Disruption from Beyond Meat”

Guidance on how to hit the food brand home run

Poised to create and capture the next wave in center-of-plate meal preferences, Beyond Meat is scaling at break-neck speed in both grocery and foodservice channels, throwing off sparks of insight to all emerging food brands who will listen about the new path to relevance and glory.

At Chicago’s recent Good Food Financing conference produced by the venerable Jim Slama of Family Farmed and Good Food Accelerator, keynote speaker Seth Goldman held the audience of embryonic food brand founders and equity investment executives in rapt attention while delivering a data driven highlights reel of business home run after home run. The score sheet demonstrated in dramatic fashion how Beyond Meat’s team is leading the nascent meatless meat invasion, while disrupting conventions and traditions of the legacy animal-based proteins industry.

Within Goldman’s engaging recap of refrigerated beef patty without the beef, was a significant revelation to all of the strategic leaps Beyond Meat achieved. “Animals are really four-legged bio-processors of plant materials, converting the ingredients to meat,” he said. Thus, meat in truth actually comes from plants, and Beyond has amazingly reverse engineered the components of meat structure to imitate and recreate the same bite and flavor characteristics of the animal variety.

Said Goldman: “Our goal is to enable consumers to eat what they love.” Right there was respect for what consumers want, and a vault from making vegetarian meat for vegetarians to making plant-based meat for meat lovers. The foundations of this strategic narrative are critical and inform how the entire Beyond story unfolded. Within his story is a living example of what separates ‘just another one’ from a meaningful innovation that influences consumer behavior and informs the future of food.

It worked because this plant-based juggernaut fully delivered on its promise to replicate the animal meat taste and texture eating experience. “Traditional veggie burgers look to us like a plot by the meat industry to make sure plant-based versions aren’t a threat because, let’s face it, they don’t taste very good – and I’m a vegetarian,” Goldman reports.

Meanwhile the plant-based category table is set for dinner:

Trend lines seem clear that plant-based anything is on the way up, as consumers “flex” their preferences and look for what they believe are healthier alternatives that are friendlier to the environment but which also deliver fully on taste experiences consumers crave.

According to IPSOS, 54 percent of consumers say they’re trying to consume fewer animal-based foods and eat more plant-based options. What’s going on here? Shifting values mixed with health and wellness is what’s going on. SPIN Scan data reveals that refrigerated plant-based meat is up 37 percent year on year to $212 million in sales.

No surprise, it is outpacing animal meat sales. Within the $270 billion US meat category, plant-based share is under 1 percent. The upside is significant and bodes well for Beyond as first mover and brand perception leader in the space.

Mintel’s 2018 “Better for you Eating Trends” study provides evidence of why it’s best to strike when the macro trends are working in your favor. In their national survey, Mintel found across all four primary age segments, consumers said they agree with the following statements:

  • Plant-based protein is healthy – yes for 74 to 80%
  • Plant-based foods are better for the environment – yes for 47 to 63%
  • Plant-based functional claims are trustworthy – yes for 35 to 56%
  • Plant based foods are better for you than animal options – yes for 42 to 50%

Dollar sales for plant-based meat in the aggregate, frozen or fresh, is $801 million and rising rapidly.

By the way, this form of market-opportunity-assessment matters for the business plan!

Emergent Guidance on the Path to Victory

Surveying the adjacent exhibit hall of new, emerging food and beverage brands, Beyond stood as the “A” lister in a field of hopefuls who bare their heart and soul daily in product concepts that authentically align with higher quality, more artisanal and healthier food solutions now fueling the renaissance in Good Food. The acid test, however, is can they redefine the categories they’re playing in or will they plateau among a collection of similar offerings with similar stories and similar preparations.

The secrets to outsized success continue to follow six repeating themes:

  1. Think Differently Going In

It would have been logical and expected for Beyond – founded by Ethan Brown, a vegetarian – to exist in service of that ethos and segment, working to create a better product for this devoted marketplace. But the mental leap to create a product for meat lovers caused the entire R&D development process to rally around a specific standard of performance and outcome with a moonshot at a VERY big market. Vegetarians are roughly 5% of the population and have remained anchored at that level for some time.

The goal to build an analog to meat inspired the revolution unfolding before us.

  1. Disrupt the Space You’re Entering

Beyond Meat defied the conventions and expectations of its veg foundation, opting to swing for the meat department case fence. Beyond could have easily been a frozen product in the vegetarian section freezer case. Instead they pushed and cajoled retailers to merchandize their products alongside animal meat, and in doing so, not only accentuate the perception that this was a legit option to a beef product, but also meet the meat shoppers where they shop.

Entrepreneurs would be well advised to look for extreme disruption, major departures, unconventional solutions, big moves on the perception chess board that constitute uniqueness.

Legacy food brands often suffer from a recurring illness we refer to as line extension-itis. Read as, adjustments, incremental improvements to an existing idea that don’t ultimately reframe the category.

Relatively minor improvements to ingredient strategies, recipes, preparation techniques or story may not be enough to inspire the kind of attention and magic that leads to new category creation, the zenith of best-in-class marketing opportunity.

  1. Focus on Taste Satisfaction

Formulation can be a fickle friend. While hitting benchmarks on nutritional label improvements and better-for-you metrics, taste sometimes gets marginalized. I will never forget my first bite of a Beyond Burger at the Chicago Restaurant Show, in a backwater booth buried in the better for you zone, where curiosity got me up to the table. And then – Holy Cow – I swore it was a ‘burger burger,’ not a veggie burger. Relentless search of optimal marriage between culinary and taste considerations with healthier is paramount. Taste wins every time.

  1. Place the Right Bets

Most people believe that plant-based anything is healthier, but Beyond wisely did not elect to make nutritionals a predominant part of their go-to-market game plan. For the simple reason, that pound for pound a Beyond Burger isn’t necessarily a traditional nutrition label winner. Yes there’s no cholesterol, but…

Instead Beyond wisely pursued a values-based messaging platform weighed against the environmental tax exacted by raising animals who compete for natural resources. Beyond Meat tells us their product creation process (compared to animals) consumes or produces:

79% less water

93% less land

90% fewer greenhouse gases

46% less energy

  1. Tell Your Story, everywhere your customer or stakeholder can be found

If Seth isn’t a walking, talking personification of this point, I don’t know what is. Goldman the Ambassador of Beyond is everywhere, bringing the remarkable news of the company’s outsized performance to any and all who will listen.

These business and media audiences are chocked full of content creators and reporting types like me who turn around and do what I’m doing here.

We extol emerging brand companies — be careful not to  short sheet the brand building process early on. Yes, cash is at a premium and yes, resources are limited, but the “if we build it they will come” mentality is a recipe for small ball. All marketing is strategic storytelling. You have to invest here and sooner rather than later.

It takes experienced hands to shape and inform the consumer-ready brand story efficiently and with great impact – thus, why Emergent exists. We’re good at this, but then again, we’ve been doing it to great effect across multiple categories and honed our communications techniques and strategies.

  1. Relentlessly Innovate

Goldman will tell you the Beyond Burger today is different, and better, than the Beyond product was when they first got traction. He claims the company has 70 scientists at their Manhattan Project campus in California, working around the clock to improve their taste, recipe and nutritionals – and to innovate new products like the recent Dunkin ‘Beyond Sausage Sandwich’ for the hand-held breakfast crowd. Don’t rest on your laurels, don’t stop working to make it better and to search for the next meaningful adjacency where the product concept can go to solve yet another problem or capture another market opportunity.

Be careful, however, to avoid extending your brand in areas too far afield of your core equity where the proposition dilutes rather than builds on what consumers believe is your expertise.

While the barriers to entry have fallen away for emerging food and beverage ideas, and yes everyone knows it won’t be easy, there are key ingredients in here that spell the difference from modest growth to something that looks like Beyond Meat.

Our Offer…

So we make this offer: let us come in and conduct an audit, no cost, of your current platform, product concept, supply chain, and business opportunities. We’ll provide an assessment and make some recommendations and if you agree, perhaps we can partner on a future path to business transformation.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Let me know.

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.

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