Navigating the Impact of Infinite Choice
If ever there were a time when sound, informed strategy mattered to the success and outcomes of food, beverage and lifestyle marketing this would be it. Like it or not we’ve entered the era of nearly infinite consumer choices in a media environment of almost countless channels. This requires a new marketing formula.
Thinking at scale today takes on a completely different meaning when consumers are presented with so many options within a click to buy environment. Thus, how should you design for success when you’re ultimately selling sand in the desert? We will answer that question here.
Left to its natural course, food marketing tends to gravitate towards the vanilla middle – an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience – and in working to address everyone, you end up mattering to no one. When the options are legion this can quickly turn marketing and communication investments into a moonshot without navigation – the hit (or more often miss) driven by luck more than intention.
At various times we’ve written about the importance of putting consumers at the center of strategic planning. Now, we further qualify that statement by saying – in order for a strategic marketing plan to be measurably effective, putting consumers at the center of planning is table stakes. And determining who that consumer is will require even tougher decisions to prune and refocus the definition of the cohort you wish to serve. Why? Because the 80/20 rule is in full force as the vast majority of volume and profit will come from a smaller segment of committed advocates – assuming you’ve planned for relevance to a community of potential believers.
This is the most compelling argument ever for – different
Let’s start with a foundational understanding that the brand must be perceived as special, unique, useful and valuable before there’s any shot at being memorable. No one has the time or mental bandwidth any longer to assess the vast array of options in any given product category. So how do you resolve the reality of inexhaustible choice?
You must start with the intended core user and work backwards. Seth Godin made a cogent observation in his recent book “This is Marketing” when he described the effort behind what may be the most powerful TV commercial ever made – Apple’s “1984” spot for the launch of the Macintosh. The spot aired during the most watched American sports program on earth, the Super Bowl. The majority of viewers would not have understood or probably cared about what Apple was trying to convey in its dark Orwellian mini-movie.
The lesson: it didn’t have to register with everyone to be successful. Godin observed the spot only needed to touch a million savvy creators and early adopters who picked up that Apple was up to something revolutionary. The rest of the viewers didn’t matter, and indeed the rest is history given Apple’s ascent to brand superstardom. Whatever the brand, the audience of committed advocates will always remain relatively small.
It is with the small and devoted cohort where effort and outreach needs to be directed. And those investments should come from a concerted endeavor to push hard at the edges of what’s unique and different in your brand proposition. Here’s the question we often evaluate with clients: how can positioning, audience, product formulation, and the character of the brand, be dialed sufficiently to the right or left so that we’re able to create a new category – one that our client can own?
Who is it for and why?
To dial in your position successfully you then have to know who it’s for and why. It follows if you want to have meaningful relationships with consumers, then imbue your brand with greater meaning. But for whom?
That’s a big question that requires some rigor to answer correctly. Who is going to quickly respond and be drawn like a magnet to your product proposition? Once defined, all eyes and energy must be directed to fully understanding their hopes, dreams, needs and aspirations. Your marketing strategy is then fine-tuned to align with that insight, opening the door for the brand to become an enabler of their wants and needs – in a voice that’s relevant to them – becoming a reflection of their wants and how they’d like the world to perceive their beliefs and priorities.
This is important because purchases now are largely symbolic representations of what people want others to know about what they believe in and think.
The hard truth about marketing
Of note, we’re doing business in an environment overflowing with self-assured claims, assertions and hype. Here’s the difficult pill to swallow: people don’t believe any of it. The counterintuitive basis of effective marketing today is to not look, talk and walk like marketing.
That said, there is a reflexive habit in strategic planning to navel gaze. To focus on the craft of what’s been created, formulated or built. Here at Emergent we totally understand that spirit and where it comes from, after all most brands are justifiably proud of the considerable effort they invest in technology, quality and improvement. But this also sets the table for potential marketing disconnect.
You are not selling a food or beverage
In the same vein as pet food is sold to humans and not to dogs or cats, it isn’t the product that people are buying. What you are actually marketing are feelings, connection, desire, happiness and status. Not stuff, not items, not things in boxes or bags. Not chips or salsa or soup. People are buying a feeling and expression of their status and belief system.
So then, what’s the path to creating a marketing plan with this insight embedded all the way through? It will require all of the hands on the marketing tiller to be empathetic anthropologists of what the biggest brand fans are about.
Here are some areas to focus on strategically:
- What your audience wants, not what you want to tell them
- What they believe
- What they need
- What they aspire to
- What story would emotionally resonate with them
The more you invest in seeking to understand, the more likely you are to land on the big idea (one that immediately influences the behavior of the business) and create a voice for the brand that is engaging and is shared. When you seek to improve the lives of your best customers, you earn permission for a relationship with them and the marketing you create comes across less like a transactional maneuver.
If you think this way, it will flow downstream to impact how the business operates. We already know that what the brand does is more powerful than what it says, so there’s an opportunity built into the recipe for authenticity.
Brand trust continues to decline, so the game plan must be to build it, earn it, cultivate it. The reason transparency has ascended to ever higher importance is precisely because people don’t accept anything on face value. Claims and assertions are exactly that. When you verify, validate and reveal the product creation story by letting consumers all the way in, it fosters belief and trust.
10 components of successful marketing –
- You must push for positioning that’s truly unique, different and helps create a new category
- Refocus and narrow your audience definition to the smaller community of ardent fans
- Devote your insight research to this audience and discover how the brand sits in service of their lifestyle needs
- Become an enabler of their wants and desires
- Recognize you’re not selling a product but an emotional connection
- Activate brand experiences because behaviors speak louder than words
- Know that being relevant is more important than being superior
- Authentic storytelling to this audience is the path to engagement
- Trust is everything…you must earn it
- Transparency is the precursor to creating trust
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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.