Posts in Agency Services

Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience

May 11th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand messaging, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Higher Purpose, Social community, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience”

A remarkable pandemic-authored condition

Don’t miss this chance to truly connect with your users.

The stay-at-home orders continue to shake-up every aspect of life including behaviors around social channel screen time. Your brand users and shoppers no longer go on-line. Instead they now live on-line. Kitchens, for their part, have become erstwhile home offices and educational centers to accommodate work and digitally-enabled classrooms for the kids.

  • How are you responding to this development?
  • How does his impact your social strategy?
  • What moves are you making to fill the need and address the opportunity for engagement?

We will answer these questions shortly, but first a little texture on what’s happening.

The blurring between work, education and leisure has spawned a behavior shift – social channels have moved from an occasional choice to a routine necessity as people seek  information – and guidance – and community – and social contact – and entertainment.

Has there ever been a time when your brand was presented with a near captive audience looking for useful content? The answer is unique to the pandemic, a historic first that is transforming life, health, commerce, time, attention and all the behaviors associated with it. This is precedent setting and now offers an unusual opportunity for brands and businesses to be of greater service and value, knowing that consumption of content is likely to be much higher and therefore more valuable than ever before.

  • A recent survey from Tin Man showed social channel use had risen 50% by the close of April 2020. Sixty percent of the population is on Facebook at least once (or more) a day and 27% are in Instagram. Daily screen time averages are up 50 to 75%.

Frequency and media choice = positive outcome

According to a social media report from Co-Schedule, brands that publish 16 or more social posts a month got almost 3.5 times more traffic and 4.5 times more leads than businesses that publish less often. Further, we observe video takes on added importance as a business generating medium with 64% of viewers more likely to buy a product online after viewing.

Your optimal social strategy

First and foremost, this is not the time to withdraw, go silent, retreat or otherwise disappear from the social-verse. Yes, messaging strategy has changed but the fundamental desire of people to connect and a need for interaction has never been greater.

The litmus test of sound strategy in social media revolves around this axiom: the brand should live in service of improving the health, wellbeing and happiness of its users. Social channels are not just transactional environments – and especially at this time, shouldn’t be managed as such.

This isn’t the time and place for a consumer hard-sell and we’ve now entered an era where overt brand self-promotion doesn’t produce results anyway. Consumers hold all the engagement cards and have shown themselves quick to tune out when the narrative isn’t relevant to them and their lifestyle aspirations.

We are now doing business in The Relationship Economy, founded on reciprocity and usefulness.

In the same Co-Schedule report, 21 ‘best in class’ examples of great content were profiled revealing one common element that shown brightly through all of them. In every case, the best content provided valuable information, guidance, utility and direction to the readers.

The examples noted were devoid of a strict self-serving narrative, nor grounded in product feature/benefit selling. To ensure the brand stays on the right social content path, follow this guardrail to keep the messaging on course: recognize that the consumer and their needs are always the hero of your storytelling and the role of the brand is to serve as expert guide and coach. Context is everything!

Yes, it is ok to talk about the product or deliver information about a retail promotion, but this should be no more than 30% of your content calendar. Know that the best material you will create is going to be a reflection of the lifestyle needs and aspirations of the people who comprise your fan base.

  • Glossier, a beauty product business built entirely on social channel engagement, is deservedly famous for creating content about their customers’ interests and needs first. They have become wildly successful as a result.

Social proof and community

Social channels are not one-way conversations. The most powerful asset you have is social proof – content created by your community that serves to verify and validate what you want people to believe about product benefits, shopping experiences or the lifestyle you advocate.

Testimonials are like gold. People will believe other people before they will ascribe credibility and truth to statements made by brands and businesses. It is important to encourage conversation, interaction, feedback and discourse from social community participants. You can do this by inviting it and asking questions.

  • An example: people adore their pets and will jump at opportunities to talk about their personal and anecdotal stories around lifestyle experiences, recovery from illnesses, behavior training tips and ideas, and opportunities to share photos and videos of their four-legged family members.

Pandemic specific social content guidance

Consumer culture has changed as a result of this unprecedented event. It has altered preferences and mindset. Here are some points to consider in social content creation.

  1. An empathetic and more human voice is essential in the content you publish.
  2. As a general subject platform, health and wellness is the top concern for people now and thus relevant to the material you develop.
  3. People feel out of control of the world around them. Provide guidance and ideas that help them regain a sense of control. Taking charge of personal health and wellness is how to do it.
  4. Loss of confidence is a thing. Anything you can do to reassure people about the future and give them confidence about improvements in the road ahead will be welcomed.
  5. Your brand should be guided by a higher purpose (a mission that transcends commerce and selling things), deeper meaning and shared values with your consumer. Know this matters and they are paying closer attention to your words and actions.

It’s extraordinary that an event like this could alternatively create an environment where people spend so much extra time online and in social communities. People yearn for contact and guidance, information that provides hope and helps them navigate the incredible changes they have experienced. You are no longer just selling products and stocking merchandise, instead you are in the deeper meaning business and have a much more important role to play in your customers’ lives.

It’s an important calling and comes with responsibilities. That said, it brings forward a unique opportunity to form relationships with your fans and followers that will last well beyond the current crisis. Now is the time to upgrade, enhance and invest in social channel outreach.

Use this link to let us know if you need help building the right social channel strategy, and content that will inform and endear your users.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail

March 13th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, consumer behavior, e-commerce, Emotional relevance, food retail strategy, Human behavior, Insight, Retail brand building, Social media, Supermarket strategy, Validation 1 comment on “Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail”

Your next moves to retain trust and reputation

Right now, your consumers are worried, bewildered, concerned and uncertain about what shoes might drop next. They are being sent home from the office, schools are shutting, sports and entertainment events are gone, Spring break vacations are upended, and the future impacts of the pandemic are hard to predict.

We know you equally have concerns and are working hard to address any uncertainties. We’re with you and know your heart is in the right place.

This is a significant moment on the continuum where brand trust and reputation can be secured or injured. What you do next will matter, and it’s important to note that communication may be one of the most important assets at your disposal.

  • Honest, transparent messaging breeds trust and feeds patience, while silence will fuel uncertainty and dilute confidence.

Number one: communicate early and often

This is not the time to be quiet. If you make or sell a consumable product, especially food, beverages or pet food, people are worried about what comes next. Here’s what they want to know, right now.

For CPG

  1. Is there anything going on in your supply chain that will negatively impact the availability of your products? You may not have all the answers but it’s better to communicate current status than to stay silent. What you don’t know you state as such.
  2. What’s happening in your manufacturing, whether that be your own facilities or co-packers, with respect to employee activity, plant hygiene, and mitigation plans should people be sent home?
  3. What are your standards, methods, procedures on maintaining vigilance over ingredient integrity and safety, and testing for same through the product creation process?
  4. How can they get your products and services online? We know that feels like a ‘water is wet’ type question but it’s important and should be addressed in these conditions.

For retailers

  1. Are you able you keep customers apprised of out-of-stocks and shelf replenishment schedules?
  2. Can your pharmacy experts set aside scheduled time for by-phone consultations or online Q&A’s?
  3. Are you signaling home delivery wait times when capacity is stretched?
  4. What are your food handling an on-premise hygiene policies and procedures to help avoid any contamination?

The message matters

Your voice in this moment will impact the outcome. It’s important to avoid corporate speak, industry jargon and complex, “inside baseball” forms of messaging that only an employee can unravel.

A human, approachable voice including information that is presented with clarity and transparency will resonate with those you wish to reach. People routinely ignore dense, complex, analytical-style messages. Simple is better.

This is not the time for grand standing, self-promotional and brand-anthem style outreach that attempts to pass over the reality of what’s happening. Instead, empathy and care for the health and wellbeing of your users should ring through everything you release or post.

Next steps

  • Publish updates and trust-enhancing content at your web site and in your social channels on a weekly basis. More often if you have new news to share.
  • Keep it simple and straightforward.
  • Encourage dialogue and conversation at your social sites to invite questions from fans and followers.
  • As the situation changes, keep your stakeholders informed.
  • Be generous of spirit and look for “surprise and delight” opportunities and stories for users and channel customers. Celebrate helpfulness, acts of kindness, and ‘we’re all in this together’ kinds of inspirational unity.

Navigation leads to reputation

Your efforts to be accessible, approachable and honest here will lead to respect and confidence among the stakeholders that matter to the future of your business. Both internal and external audiences will benefit greatly from your efforts to keep them apprised of what’s going on.

As always should you need help navigating these uncharted waters, we’re here to support you with guidance, messaging, copy, media and anything else you might need.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

The New 5 P’s of CPG Marketing

October 30th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Growth, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “The New 5 P’s of CPG Marketing”

Planning shifts to a set of consumer-savvy principles

During the old command, control and persuasion era of brand building, the common ground for planning coalesced around the legacy 5 P’s of marketing: product, price, promotion, place and people. Brands took charge of their destiny and managed their future progress mostly with increased advertising spending.

Now, things have dramatically changed.  Technology has:

  • Shifted control of brand engagement to consumers
  • Massively disrupted and reshaped food culture and preferences
  • Knocked down the barriers to entry for new food and beverage ideas
  • Enabled these ideas to rapidly find a market and scale
  • Allowed the small and artisanal to gain traction, and redefine what quality expectation is
  • Empowered people to share experiences and influence the trajectory of business
  • Changed the face of brand communication, now about relevance and deeper meaning
  • Exposed the inauthentic and triggered the move to greater transparency
  • Informed the growth of online communities and the role of credible influence to build trust

Perhaps the most salient example of transformation yet is the landmark 2017 Deloitte and FMI study revealing the disruption of the old taste, price and convenience purchase behavior yardsticks for food and beverage products. These legacy drivers are now eclipsed by a new set of criteria including health and wellness, transparency, visibility to the supply chain and food safety.

The primary conclusion from all of this – is the rise of consumer-centric planning based on recognition that future growth is shaped by a brand’s ability to create and hold alignment with the needs, interests, desires and concerns of their core users. For the most part, the original 5 P’s were inwardly focused on the company’s products and self-directed decisions. Now the move to consumer control requires a more enlightened view of strategic plans founded on up-close customer insight.

Here are the new 5 P’s of marketing planning:

Engagement has moved beyond the product to include other important areas of value and meaning to people.

  1. Purpose

Purchases are now symbolic of what consumers want the world to believe they think is important. Thus shared values have surfaced as a core tenet in brand preference and the consumer’s willingness to engage rather than avoid marketing outreach. Purpose isn’t philanthropy. Consumers want to attach themselves to brands that carry deeper meaning and intentionally build their business around a higher purpose that rises above transactions – focused on authentically improving the consumer’s life and the world around us.

  1. Pride

People want to be inspired by use of the brand. Purchases are not secured through analytical arguments and fact-based selling of yore. Today’ consumers arrive at their decisions from the heart not the head, based on a feeling they have in the presence of the brand. Inspiration, aspiration, desire, impact and purpose form the recipe for baking the emotional attachment people have with the brands that matter to them.

  1. Partnership

If brands now exist to improve the lives of their users and become an enabler of their aspirations, then this less self-centered approach automatically requires a measure of authentic partnership between the players. How do genuine partners operate? Reciprocity today is an important component in how brands and consumers interact with each other. As a true lifestyle partner, brands can operate as coaches and guides on the path to a healthier, happier life that people aspire to lead.

  1. Protection

Brand relationships must be built on a foundation of belief and trust. These qualities now are earned through experience and verified by sources and voices people trust. Consumers want to feel secure in the knowledge that favored brands will always have their best interests and safety at heart, and will not put them at risk either through degradations of standards or processes that put the company’s self-interest above their own.

  1. Personalization

We are awash in data about the preferences and interests of users. Brands know more about consumer preference than ever before, ushering in a new era of customization. Product offers can be tailored to the consumer’s specific needs and interests. How this condition manifests will be a key component in strategic planning in the years ahead. People will come to expect that brands understand who they are, what they care about and will deliver products that meet those needs.

Bernadette Jiwa, one of our most literate and erudite marketing minds, has an uncanny ability to distill transformative change into its most fundamental elements. Here’s how she recently expressed the relationship between brands and consumers:

“Most marketing makes the company the hero.

Most companies go to great lengths to prove that their product is better.

Most marketers’ main aim is to close the sale.

The most effective marketing makes the customer the hero.

Beloved brands show people who they can become in the presence of their product. 

The best marketers give people something to believe in, not just something to buy.”

Increasingly brand relationships are taking on the characteristics of human friendships where honesty, openness and trust are paramount. The great news in all of this is the potential reward of curating tribes of believers who “join” the brand not as buyers but as fans and followers.

Most exciting is the depth and breadth of “voice” brands can earn by moving from source of product to resource and partner. We’re no longer dependent on the artifice of paid cinematic style advertainment to encounter, inform and converse with our best customers. Instead, we now have the freedom to engage with them genuinely…authentically…you know, like people.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.

 

 

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.

2019 and The Future of Food and Beverage Marketing

January 17th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Retail brand building, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy, Transparency 0 comments on “2019 and The Future of Food and Beverage Marketing”

Our strategic roadmap for the year ahead…

Today we map the framework for business growth in 2019 anchored strategically to achieve trusted consumer relationships in the year ahead. As we begin this journey, it is important to note the incredibly important work by the Food Marketing Institute compiled in the “Power of Health and Wellbeing in Food Retail” report. In our estimation one of the best analyses FMI has produced in recent times.

This is a forward-thinking review created under the experienced leadership of Susan Borra of the FMI Foundation, and executed with persuasive evidence by David Orgel of David Orgel Consulting, and key data supplied by The Hartman Group. It is also a remarkable summation of what Emergent has been forecasting and publishing in various venues for the last five years about evolutionary changes in the food and beverage industry.

  • What’s ahead is a deeper dive on the strategic priorities, areas of focus for planning, and a healthy helping of relevant consumer insight data.

Thus it is job number one at Emergent: to earnestly pursue insight into the hearts and minds of consumers – their wants, wishes, dreams, aspirations, fears and concerns. It is in this effort to get ‘underneath’ that we more fully grasp how consumer relevance and engagement can be achieved. Make no mistake, it’s more difficult to be seen and heard than at any other time in modern marketing history because the consumer controls the levers of commerce – and talking ‘at them’ is a recipe for disconnect. Thus why relevance matters greatly.

Dear reader, here we will summarize the most important and salient points and data that should be reflected in go-to-market planning for the year ahead. Simply said, this is a great way to kick off the year – offering firm, insight driven strategic guidance on what matters to people and its influential link to their purchase and shopping behaviors.

Armed with this understanding, the path to trust and relationship becomes clearer. As we’ve said many times before, genuine relationship is everything. Consumers are not walking wallets; they are real, living constituents – and to the extent businesses can make a meaningful difference in their lives, the opportunity to earn affection and spending multiplies.

  • Without consumer relevance and resonance, food and beverage brands cannot gain the ear and interest of consumers who have more quality choices, more channel options, more control and power than ever before – power that will quickly mark the winners and losers in the next 12 months and beyond.

The number one opportunity for brand and food retail resonance and business traction: leveraging Health, Wellness and Wellbeing.

Consumers across all age cohorts have fully connected the dots between the quality and types of food and beverage they consume and their overall quality of life. For this reason, the very definition of health and wellbeing has expanded to include a broader array of key lifestyle attributes consumers care about such as emotional health and happiness.

Whereas “healthy” was once more narrowly defined as weight management and calories in and out, today it is about food quality and the origin story behind the food. This interest is fueled by consumer demand for transparency as a new prerequisite for creating lasting, meaningful relationships with the consumers we wish to serve.

Yes that’s serve, and not sell! Transactional thinking can infect the marketing playbook with ill-advised strategies and foster brand behaviors the consumer immediately repels as advancing the company’s commercial interests over their own; selling at them rather than cultivating their trust which precedes any willingness to spend money.

2019 Strategic Building Blocks

Five key areas demand attention in strategic planning. This list provides the basis for a holistic strategy that reflects what consumers truly care about. It goes without saying these five areas allow for a wealth of engagement from content creation to communication activities. Here they are:

  1. Health – Number one is the growing influence of healthier eating on brand choice. Healthy, by the way, is increasingly a quality story not a sacrifice game. Healthy and indulgent are cohabitating.
  2. Nutrition – Consumers are now looking at nutrition density in the foods and beverages they prefer. This tracks closely with the table stakes demand for greater transparency around product ingredients, sourcing and manufacturing. What was once described as a clean label is transforming into clear This is marked by disclosure, clarity, openness, honesty and more guidance not less.
  3. Enjoyment – Taste is fundamental to the human experience. Higher quality food experiences can be found everywhere and the use of fresher, real food ingredients is elevating the taste experiences people crave. Food is to be savored and enjoyed. It is an adventure. There’s a hedonist lurking in everyone in varying degrees.
  4. Discovery – Meal kits might offer an excellent example of how the food industry feeds low-risk culinary experimentation. The growth of new cuisines, tastes, global flavors and use of more exotic ingredients serve to expand the horizons of what consumers want and expect. We all want more choices than meatloaf and fried chicken at the Deli counter.
  5. Connection – Food is a social lubricant. It is a facilitator and player in how we relate to and engage our friends, family and business associates. No surprise here that according to the FMI report, 84% of consumers say it is very or extremely important to have a family meal together at home. People hunger for the connectivity and social discourse around the table. Food is an essential player in our social lives. Great food and great conversation are partners in life’s most memorable moments.

Two Key Strategic Trends in 2019

We stand today at the threshold of a new developing category in food and food retail. Early movers in this space stand to benefit from ‘first with the most’ opportunities that fall from being able to define what this new category is about and what constitutes best practices.

  1. Food As Medicine

This is an evolution and elevation of food and beverage solutions – products that aim to provide direct, measurable benefits to health and wellbeing. We’re not speaking just about weight management, although that is a component. We’re talking about food solutions that are an alternative to drug therapies or as preventatives to needing drug therapies.

In case after case we find that diet plays a role in the onset of disease. So, too, we’re discovering that foods high in fiber, plant sterols, Omega-3s, antioxidants, prebiotic and probiotic ingredients can be ‘dosed’ to achieve specific health benefits – without the often debilitating, unhappy side effects that can accompany medications.

Step One Foods in Minneapolis (disclosure: Step One is an Emergent client) is an excellent example of this emerging trend. Step One’s line of packaged foods including bars, smoothie and pancake mixes, oatmeal cereal and toppers are clinically proven to reduce LDL cholesterol at levels that match or exceed the outcomes from statin drugs.

It’s important to note from FMI’s report that 66% of shoppers already view foods as “medicine for their body.” When asked about food as a contributor to their health, the top five interests in solutions include:

  • Cardio-vascular health – not surprising as heart disease is the number one killer in America, and effective options like Step One speak directly to this need.
  • Weight management – a perennial concern, weight management remains connected to healthy lifestyle and a sense of wellness and wellbeing.
  • Energy – the link between energy and lifestyle satisfaction is palpable. Busy lifestyles and career demands make energy an important priority for people.
  • Brain function – memory and cognition are two areas we can expect more innovations to surface in as people increasingly look for a mental edge.
  • Digestive health – we are only beginning to see the growth in attention paid to inflammation and its role in aging and disease. This will continue to get greater innovation priority.
  1. Mining competitive advantage: Fusion of Transparency and Trust

Earning trust may be the single most important objective in the development of sound, successful marketing plans. This is due in no small part to its pivotal role in securing consumer interest and engagement and the avalanche of evidence that brand trust continues to decline.

Trust precedes any kind of brand/consumer relationship. Demand for transparency is the ante in curating trust. Consumers define transparency as “open, honest, clear and visible.” In short being transparent, providing access and more information about how food and beverages are made and what’s in them.

FMI’s report cited five key areas where consumers are looking for greater disclosure:

  • Ingredients used
  • Origin of ingredients
  • Product creation process
  • Animal welfare
  • Absence of anything artificial like preservatives or chemicals

Emergent guidance: build a suite of communications and content around how you make your products, the stories of suppliers and their work, what happens at your plant, what your standards are on quality, safety and sustainability.

It’s interesting to note, when consumers were asked who their allies are in the quest for healthy living and helpful advice, the top five sources were:

  1. Family
  2. Doctor
  3. Farmers – take note!
  4. Friends
  5. Fitness and health clubs

According to FMI’s report, when it comes to the most respected and trusted voices for guidance on healthy living, those sources include:

  • Registered dietitians
  • Personal healthcare providers
  • Wellness counselors
  • Scientific studies
  • Fitness professionals

Emergent guidance: this insight suggests the efficacy of consumer-generated content, investment in social communities and relevant content, and use of respected third parties to validate what food brands want consumers to know and believe.

Food Retail Opportunities

There will be more competitive shifts and changes for food retail in the year ahead. So how does this play out as retailers seek to re-invent themselves?

In Hartman Group’s “Food Shopping in America” Report, a consumer survey of retail channel preferences showed supermarkets scored well on assortment, products consumers want and preferred brands. But indexed lower than other channels of retail on a good place to browse and shopping enjoyment.

As center store continues to be dis-intermediated by e-commerce, competitive advantage is shifting to favor specialization and in-store experience. FMI’s report lands on two key areas of opportunity that point the way for food retails to enhance relevance and increase traction with shoppers.

The Healthy Living Coach…

Food retail has an important opportunity to answer the consumer’s desire for healthy lifestyle by assuming a stronger role in an area shoppers already think retailers can fill.

Consumers believe food retailers are a potential ally and guide on their journey to a healthier, higher quality life. The retailer can operate as coach through access to expert voices, better and healthier food solutions and providing in-store experiences or classes on healthier cooking and shopping techniques.

Nearly 50% of consumers, according to FMI’s report, say providing healthier food choices is a way to support ‘Eating Well’ which contributes to ‘Living Well.’ When asked what the components of Eating Well include, consumers saw this as an integration of healthy eating and enjoyment.

Specifically, retailers can offer:

  • Nutritious food and beverages
  • Higher quality foods
  • Portion control – eating in moderation
  • Foods with specific benefits (food as medicine)

But perhaps the most important business growth opportunity for 2019 lies in the resurgence of home cooking. According to Hartman Group survey data, 88% of consumers say they eat healthier at home than at restaurants. Home-prepared food carries with it a healthy halo. Knowing how important eating with family at home is to consumers, retailers can answer this call with greater investment in prepared food options from complete menus to meal kits and other prepped ingredients.

What’s important to note here is the enhanced demand for better quality food, unique meal experiences and culinary exploration. Thus retailers need to up there hot bar game from ribs and rotisserie chicken to more interesting, chef forward dishes.

In sum, it’s about activating wellness solutions from produce, to center store to foodservice. Putting adventure and discovery back into food shopping will go a long way to creating advantage and loyalty even as consumers move increasingly to online shopping for everything else.

We have another post coming on omni-channel strategies. Stay tuned…

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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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