Posts in Agency Services

The return of brand investment

After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back

September 18th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Consumer insight, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back”

Consumers are human beings, not data points

As part of our ongoing series devoted to strategic planning guidance, we bring a mission critical recommendation on where to place your planning emphasis for 2022:

Brand building has returned to the fulcrum of marketing and business strategy leadership. After a decade of holding all the cards as a budget and plan priority, digital performance marketing has lost a bit of its luster. Customer acquisition costs are on the rise. There’s also a companion decline in the supply of digital ad inventory.

The creative deployment of your brand as ultimate differentiator and emotional connector should return to the strategic planning front burner.

Rethinking the path to business growth

  • Brand building: securing your position, uniqueness, values, mission and emotional equity.
  • Performance spending: driving the conversion funnel and revenue metrics.

These two approaches are not necessarily fighting one another. Both can enhance the outcomes of the other. Consumers, however, are the deciders. Their behaviors inevitably tipped the scale in favor of enhanced brand building. Now over-saturated and swimming in an ocean of digital content, people have evolved looking for deeper meaning and values in the brand relationships they care about. Digital native brands like Allbirds and Warby Parker saw this coming and pivoted to focus on brick-and-mortar retail so they can create richer in-person experiences with their brands.

Brands have always been valuable – but in recent years lost their priority in the marketing plan to the ease and electronic allure of digital data ROI claims. The untold part of this story: tech platforms usurped the essential role of brand building investment, ushering in another consequence: the splintering of agency partner resources. A thousand platform specializations emerged as companies looked for the next shiny new tech Saas solution that promised glorious, algorithm and data-driven performance.

Thus, marketers also found themselves managing a disparate cadre of specialists du jour – a digital ad firm, digital media vendor, a social media agency, a PR agency, an influencer agency, a brand collaboration firm, et al. What’s the net result of all these different tactical players and layers? A soup of varying voices and fragmented messaging that increasingly sounds like a confederation of a thing, and a thing, and a thing – opposed to a unified, consistent and differentiated brand.

Time to think differently!

The transition to brand investment is being helped along by Apple’s no tracking opt-out privacy move and Google’s coming shutdown of cookies that suspends individual tracking in favor of a cohort-based system (shared tastes).

These modifications to digital stalking of user behavior are ultimately a good thing for the health and growth of your business, and here’s why: it’s time to reinvest in your brand, the single most important ownable and differentiating asset you have in an otherwise vast sea of equivalency and similarity.

  • Marketers are learning the absence of real strategic investment in developing brand distinction and deeper experience is now holding them back from optimal growth results and competitive advantage.

Why?

Brands are uniqueness generators, deeper meaning vessels and trust-creating reservoirs of mission and values. You are operating in a consumer world increasingly drawn to aligned, kindred and symbol-inspired relationships – more so than transactional, follow-me-around-the-web ‘buy me now’ offers.

What dampened the primacy of brand building in the first place?

A digitally-enabled explosion of performance marketing tools pushed communications and content to a tactical model founded on conversions and revenue metrics. See you later, brand building. Hello targeting, tracking and clicks.

The great promise of infinite ROI on digital ad spending with Facebook and Google spawned a proliferation of specialist ad tech firms all looking for their piece of the eyeball pie – retargeting, digital media buying, affiliate programs –all while brand support took a raincheck.

Furthermore, the marketplace bar for entry of new brands became so incredibly low, it fomented a tsunami of digital ad content that is piling up in consumer feeds – all clamoring for a sliver of limited time and attention. Very noisy. Transactional. Less engaging and lacking lifestyle relevance.

Guidance for your brand strategy planning effort

As a general rule radical differentiation, higher purpose and emotional connection are the three legs on which to center your strategic plan.

  • Differentiation is essential to separation and standing out – consumers will notice you
  • Higher purpose imbues your brand with deeper meaning and values – how they trust you
  • Emotion is at the center of what drives consumers to act, make decisions – humans are feeling creatures who think

The goal of your planning is to optimize strategy for greatest impact. To enhance equity and the values your brand exudes. To create attraction, allure and stickiness. To win hearts because it’s always heart-over-head.

Here are four areas of focus that will help you win with a stronger brand:

  1. Aligned values

Insight research continues to reinforce that consumers’ care deeply about shared values and mission. They want to know what you believe in, what you stand for, that you have a soul which transcends commerce. They “wear” your brand as a symbol and flag to the world around them about what they value. What meaning are you giving them, and is it aligned with their beliefs

2. Experience satisfaction

Are they happy with the product-use experience, with the purchase journey, are you easy to do business with, do you put them first in ways that are both unselfish and also obvious to them? Do they learn from you? Is your brand a guide, coach and enabler of activities, experiences that matter to them? You are providing more than a product.

3. Memorable messaging

How do you stand out and engage people? The consumer is the hero of your brand story – it should be about their needs, wants and aspirations. Your brand’s role in the relationship is as guide and advisor to help them achieve their goals and ambitions. Neuroscience tells us that 98% of actions taken by consumers comes from an emotional response, not an analytical one. Is your communication informed by emotional messaging.

4. Your brand’s share of culture

What is the social conversation about your brand? What people are seeing and hearing about your brand in the micro-communities of influence that they belong to? It is critical to the ecosytem “buzz” they encounter. People respect the voices of their peers and credible experts. For the very reason that nearly 100% of the time the primary motivation in deciding what to buy is their fear of making a bad decision. You need to build a sphere of trust.

If these ideas and concepts resonate with you, now is a good time to bring some fresh thinking and perspective to investing in your brand. Use this link to tell us what concerns you have, what keeps you up at night. We can help you map the right path to brand growth, which is linked directly to your business outcomes.

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.

News media guidelines

Five Steps to Successful Earned Media Outcomes

July 6th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Earned media, editorial relevance, media placement, media relations, media strategy, Public Relations, publicity, storytelling 0 comments on “Five Steps to Successful Earned Media Outcomes”

There’s method, expertise and relevance involved…

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard a client express skepticism about the earned media channel of communication. Not because they don’t think it’s extremely powerful and effective – they do. Their tenuous belief has to do with a perception that seemingly random conditions lead to outcomes. That a great story secured is more of a happy accident and not, in reality, the outcome of a surgical, planned methodology.

Here we will debunk the media myth and explain the path to editorial glory. However, even though there are five steps and each one relevant to the successful outcome, the expertise involved to properly execute each one of these to maximum effect is also a byproduct of experience. Knowledge honed over years of working in the trenches to appreciate the nuance of what flies and dies in the reporting world. Let’s take a tour together on the path to editorial victory based on the fundamental understanding that great stories don’t fall like manna from heaven but are a result of a strategic process.

Granted you can’t buy legitimate editorial coverage, so the entire proposition isn’t transactional (for the most part) – at least it isn’t for the blue-chip media properties where journalism and reporting rules hold sway. But that’s the beauty of it. Editorial media is a reporting environment, based on storytelling that emanates from inspection, examination, evaluation and consideration; thus, why it is far more valuable, effective and powerful than an ad.

The essential truths

It’s helpful to understand what separates the editorial wheat from the chaff.

  • A ’story’ that’s not really a story won’t get told – truth to anyone looking at the reporting medium with clarity. The fundamental story idea you start with is the lynchpin to outcomes. How the story concept is constructed has a lot to do with editorial interest, relevance and value. Great reporters can see a great story unfold.
  • Story concepts built on self-promotion looks like advertising and thus why editors and reporters suggest contacting the ad department. When the story isn’t really there to benefit the media viewers/readers, reporters sense that immediately.
  • When you speak in editorial terms, with material that respects the editorial paradigm of inspection, examination and reporting, you can earn a conversation with editorial gatekeepers. This is where seasoned experience pays off most often.

Press releases are invitations to stories, not stories in themselves. The facts are most releases are devoid of a story, contain too much self-promotional, non-essential attribution and aren’t interesting. Media material is needed and valued when it’s done right. If it walks and talks like a story worth telling then you have something.

Five key ingredients to better non-paid media outcome

  1. Frame the larger story

Where you start is connected to where you will inevitably finish. The story concept is key. If you are planning a new product launch for example, the story isn’t the product launch. Rather it is placed within a larger context about trends, reports, studies and cultural shifts where a larger problem is being solved by the product – residing within a broader context.

  • Is there new technology involved that falls out of a growing trend in consumer behavior and need?
  • Is there a societal benefit or consequence that brings value to how people live, prosper, grow or succeed in some way?
  • Is a higher purpose connected to the company that is being served by this launch, are you bringing a new idea or solution to sustainability and climate impacts for example?
  • Is there a relationship between your product and a health and wellness outcome that benefits peoples’ lives or helps them overcome a barrier to personal growth?

Bottom line – find the larger story and outline how these parts fit together to create a better whole. Supporting studies and quantitative research can be powerful tools here if you can prove the condition is important and meaningful to consumers’ lives.

2. Do your homework

What do we know about the reporting world? For one, editors and reporters need trusted quote-able sources to do their jobs. The executive in charge of marketing or brand cannot be the only source cited in a story worth telling. What subject matter experts can be enlisted to help placed credible context around the problem you are solving?

Are there real people, not paid endorsers, who’ve had experiences with the product and found value in the outcomes of using it that reinforce the larger context of problem-to-solution?

Can you identify studies and reports from independent sources that lay the factual foundation for a cultural or societal shift you are addressing? Please note if it’s a study you paid for then its value cred is diminished right out of the gate (not entirely but take note).

When you are able to supply the reporter with respected third-party sources and experts that corroborate and verify what you are saying, you’ve accomplished two important things: one, you are able to help shape the story outcomes; and two, you are helping the reporter who is always under time constraints to do their job more successfully. Win and win.

3. Pick your targets wisely

The days of press release spray-and-pray are over. This technique is an old-school hedge-your-bet move by some publicists who attempt to win on a quantity game, assuming that some percentage of media receiving material will somehow run the story. Those days are gone.

The path to wider coverage begins with bellwether, respected media properties that tend to be influential to other channels (national print to TV). Moving the story along a planned continuum is a smarter play. Hope is never a strategy.

Where you take the story has a lot to do with where the reporter has been before. What media are likely to be interested in this story within its larger context? You can determine that in part by understanding the audience they serve and what will be inherently valuable to them in serving their readers/viewers.

Which reporters are likely to resonate to your concept/idea? If you do the heavy lifting to understand what they’ve published previously you may find a pattern of interest where you can draw lines of relevance from previous work.

4. Magic of vertical build

The industry trades that cover your category are a great place to start to frame the story elements and while doing so create evidence the angle has merit, reporting legs and is worthy of being told. Trade placements are not considered competitive to larger media properties, rather it serves as helpful background and elevates confidence in the story bona fides.

A stepped strategy that begins in trade channels is a strong game plan as you move up the editorial food chain to media with a larger, broader audience.

5. Editorial syntax in everything you do

If it looks like a story and walks like a story then it’s a story. When you create supporting material to take your idea out into the reporting world, it needs to respect editorial sensibility. If you truly understand how reporters would treat the subject and prepare your backgrounding materials in a way that screams you understand the rules and how they do their job, you earn respect right at the front door if inquiry.

So much of what editors and reporters see each day is self-promotional and never served in the context of a bigger story concept. They are required to wade through, identify and separate what is useful from what is not. Most won’t do it and thus why the pitch never materializes as a published piece.

If you want a reporter to respect you, listen to you, then serve the story up in a frame that bristles with editorial savvy and states, obviously, that you know them, their world, their audience and how they will likely treat the story themselves.

Too often story material is created to please the internal approvers because it sounds like an ad and tells the key messages directly, and without any editorial context around it. Looks good on paper, but in reality the release may fall flat on its face once in the hands of those who report rather than promote.

It’s tougher than it looks

All of this work is a bit like a symphony of well-crafted components that serve to anchor a story in the greater good and embed success in the effort rather than impede it. The paint-by-numbers approach of release generation to spray-and-pray distribution is truly a walk down the pathway of a loose dice roll to any tangible media outcome.

Better in the end to be strategic about how this great work is conducted and be patient with a process that has more moving parts. Inevitably it will position you for greater earned media success in the long run.

The relationship-building nuances of becoming a trusted source for real news with reporters are inexorably linked to achieving media objectives. Seasoned experience is required because you must have been at bat a more than few times, learned the differences between good and bad, before you understand what to do and what to avoid.

Simply said, reporters know if you know the drill.

If you think you need a fresh approach to non-paid, earned media outcomes use this link to initiate an informal conversation. We promise an interesting, useful dialogue.

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.

Credibility and Partnerships Lead Marketing Success

June 3rd, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, Brand trust, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital disruption, Earned media, Influencers, Partnerships, Programmatic, Retargeting, Social media, Social proof, Transparency 0 comments on “Credibility and Partnerships Lead Marketing Success”

Decline of digital advertising reflects consumer trust implosion

If there’s one true north to guide marketing best practices in the era of consumer control, it is this: never lose sight of the human being you wish to court and retain as a user. According to global market research firm Ipsos, 69 percent of consumers no longer trust advertising, especially digital forms. Why has digital advertising fallen so hard and fast? A combination of algorithm driven pummeling that makes the entire experience annoying, followed by the rise of ad blindness (your ad is scenery and nothing more) and blockers, amplified by general decline of brand trust as consumers instead seek out verifiable and credible independent sources for guidance on which products to buy.

What lies at the base of conventional ad solutions is the absence of any real relationship- creating mechanism. So we ask the defining question – does acquiring awareness constitute the driver of a reliable, meaningful consumer-to-brand relationship? The answer is a resounding NO. Buying perceived digital engagement is a false promise. There are better and more effective ways to build business. Hold on while we take you to a new way of thinking, planning and operating.

We have entered a new era in marketing powered by earning authentic relationships with consumers built on trust. This new paradigm is fueled through creating authentic, personal, helpful, useful, valuable content. In this article we will reveal the formula for real connection, real relationships that deliver growth and retention of highly engaged brand fans and ambassadors.

First, we will explain how a digital ad frenzy led to rapid expansion of online ad spending, now tracking a downward spiral as consumers run as fast as they can away from it.

Digital ad magic and stars in marketers’ eyes

Perhaps the most impressive point about the emergence of digital advertising was the newfound ability to measure clicks to assess engagement outcomes. Followed closely by the deployment of cookies to track online behaviors and thus work to tie impressions to conversions.

For the gardening products brand, instead of buying 100 million impressions from Home and Garden that may include consumers who don’t have any affinity for gardening, you could intentionally focus on buying 100 million impressions aimed at avid horticulture fans. Sounds enticing and so we’re off to the digital races.

New types of intrusion emerge

The arrival of programmatic tech to unleash algorithm-sourced buying brought automation to precision audience and behavioral targeting. Retargeting permitted advertisers to follow consumers around the Internet like a persistent stalker. In the midst of this evolution cost declines led to a rapid fire, constant drumbeat of repetitive ad interruptions. Now you see me and now you see me again, and over here, and there and everywhere. Don’t you love me? Nope, sorry.

People live their lives online to acquire three things: information, entertainment and social connection. E-commerce serves alongside to digitize transactions and satisfy the ultra-convenience opportunity of armchair consumption. That said no one wants to be bombarded constantly with disruptive ads and popups.

Apple nails the consumer sentiment towards tracking and disruption!

Consumer-led backlash follows rapid rise of social proof

According to eMarketer, consumer trust in digital ads has dropped to 38 percent. A Hubspot analysis reveals that only 7 percent of consumers say they intentionally click on a digital ad while 34 percent say any click on a banner ad was a mistake.

The antidote to digital disruption and interruption is the emergence of user-generated testimonial content – said another way, users who help users with first-hand reports of experiences and assessments of products and services. Alongside this development is the expansion of category experts, subject matter professionals and influential tastemakers who are speaking on behalf of brands in a more authentic and humanized voice.

Independent social proof is respected by consumers for the very reason they trust the voices of peers before they will believe the assertions and claims of digital ads and brand self-promotion. Social channels can be an amazing, powerful, effective resource for advocacy and ambassadorship when managed with an eye towards encouraging user sharing.

Too often these days social is deployed as another broadcast channel for product promotion rather than cultivating a community of like-minded people who share their own experiences and outcomes. Social can be a far more credible and believable mechanism to validate what you want consumers to trust and understand about your products. You just have to be intentional in how that channel resource is developed.

The new marketing eco-system built on trust

There are four key pillars to successful marketing outcomes at a time when attempting to buy awareness through conventional ad platforms is falling away. They include:

  1. Marketing partnerships: B-to-B colabs, media-driven content alliances and influencers
  2. Social channel refinement: engaging passionate advocates as UGC ambassadors
  3. Earned media: PR-driven outreach through editorial media channels
  4. Branded content creation: built on an education-centric model, not a promotional one.

Partnerships fuel brand growth

  • Partnerships with aligned brands work because they add value to the consumer experience and make intuitive sense. When Quantas Airlines and Airbnb team up to “Fly there. Live there.” they combine assets that create a seamless traveler experience. Similarly Spotify aligns with Ticketmaster to amplify the fan experience from digital music to live performances with click-thru simplicity. These combinations work because they are complementary, sensible and add user value.
  • Right now the triopoly of Facebook, Google and Amazon together control 90 percent of digital advertising inside their walled gardens. As a result premium media channels are cultivating and expanding their content partnership opportunities with brands to build podcasts, newsletters, videos and other tools. These colabs allow brands to gain access to their audiences and tell stories with the imprimatur of the media brand alongside yours.
  • Influencers are a valuable resource of endorsement from citizen category experts who bring their audiences to the table for colabs and reviews. Fabletics activewear brand partners with lifestyle influencer Marla Catherine. The brand accesses her 1.6 million subscriber YoutTube channel to connect fitness fashion endorsements to their online shop platform. A win and a win.

There are rules here with respect to vetting influencers that make strategic sense and align with your brand – all based on building trust and relevant connections with consumers.

Social channel strategy

Brands should encourage user sharing of content and experiences. Developing an ambassador program that links back to periodic content creation helps ensure a flow of useful, credible posts that tell the brand story through the eyes of enthusiastic believers. Amplify this with category expert voices and content that offers guidance, coaching and instruction. Yes, there’s room for your BOGO promo but that should not be the leading voice in your social channel calendar.

Earned media

Editorial coverage of your brand takes advantage of the consumer’s belief that editorial media is an unbiased third-party channel that reports more than advocates. HBO satirist John Oliver recently took TV chat show and news programs to task for fake editorial segments that were paid for and passed along scurrilous information to viewers about unreliable products. Frankly, this pollution of church and state type separation between ad and editorial isn’t good for anyone.

Branded content creation

The voice of your brand should be founded on a relationship-building platform that emphasizes coaching, guidance and enablement that’s relevant to the consumer’s lifestyle journey. YETI coolers does this beautifully with outdoor adventure videos that mirror the lifestyle interests of their core users via compelling, authentic even cinematic storytelling. If you are a food brand and can help users with exploration and creativity in the kitchen, you have a useful voice in their lives. This is how relationships are built – through help over hype.

Trust is the anchor

In a world devoid of trust, consumers want to connect with sources of information and guidance that puts their best interests first, is centered around credible voices (their own) and provides value that enhances their experiences. If you devote energy and attention to cultivating this trust forward marketing eco-system, you will be on the path to authentic, sustainable relationship creation. The outcome is reliable engagement, connection and importantly, sustainable business growth.

So stop chasing eyeballs and start winning hearts!

If this post inspires you to consider fresh thinking on creating more effective marketing outreach, use this link to start an informal conversation with us.

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.

Agency services and resources

The Services You Really Need From Your Agency

May 19th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “The Services You Really Need From Your Agency”

The highest and best use of a strategic resource

If you were to boil down comments we get from clients on what they like about our work, why they entrust us with their marketing needs, a recurring theme pops up. They lean in on strategic guidance and informed perspective about how best to grow their brand and business.

Tactics like social, earned, owned and paid media all matter, and we have a proprietary approach to deploying them. However, the nuts and bolts from agency to agency tend to be common. So the real acid test of value falls into an area we describe as expert guidance. Clients are looking for transformational growth and strength from their brand value propositions. Given that objective, it’s understandable why research shows clients’ top priority for services they expect to gain advantage by outsourcing starts with strategic brand guidance.

Increasingly, clients believe if strategy isn’t dialed in correctly, everything that follows in outreach and sales support is a dice roll. So true. The fundamentals of category design, brand differentiation and positioning, brand narrative, persona analysis, key messaging, brand narrative and customer journey mapping all feed the right and most compelling story to tell.

  • Without user relevance there can be no user resonance. More marketing budgets are wasted because the foundational strategies and consumer insights are not properly dialed-in and the effort fails to engage. Just because you’re able to drive media awareness with a generous budget doesn’t guarantee a winning outcome in the market you serve.

Our value almost always starts with insights we’ve honed over years of working in various categories – insights on consumer behavior, preferences and quirks on the path to purchase. It stands to reason if you have deep understanding of what core users care about, then you also have an opportunity to create content that’s meaningful and useful to them.

Brands are no longer sellers. The privilege of a consumer relationship must be earned through enabling consumer lifestyle interests and aspirations, operating as a valued partner on their life journey. When the relationship is restricted to transactional occasions, it casts the value entirely on product outcomes instead of cultivating a deeper bond and meaning. Suddenly, it’s harder to compete on anything except price. That’s due in part to the leveling up in production technologies and supply chain quality making it nearly impossible to maintain over time any kind of meaningful technical superiority.

Your brand is your secret sauce, and its emotional connectivity means everything to the success of your customer relationships and value. When you are hyper focused only in brand technology and processes, you can end up working at cross purposes with who is really running the business – your consumer.

Guidance on higher purpose, deeper meaning

How is it that some brands enjoy a solid foundation of passionate consumer advocacy and ambassadorship that enables the holy grail of marketing – word of mouth and social proof? Those brand minders know the business must invoke a higher purpose that transcends the product itself. People want something important to believe in.

Having a fantastic product experience is now table stakes. Competitive advantage lies in how brands align themselves with the beliefs, values and lifestyle interests their core users hold dear. Thus, higher purpose isn’t a nice to do, it is indeed mission critical.

Emergent started exploring higher purpose strategy years ago and we’ve become experts in how this strategic platform is best developed for client brands through our unique Brand Sustainability Analysis process. A stronger brand and inspired community of users results from having more to offer than simply a product inside a package. Want to be more meaningful to consumers? Then imbue your brand with deeper meaning.

This work comprises the core value proposition we bring to client marketing planning, ahead of the creative work to build compelling, powerful and emotionally resonant brand stories. This is all informed by a brand voice having more going for it than ad-centric cleverness in talking up features and benefits.

Given formulations, recipes, ingredient strategies are ultimately not all that wildly different brand to brand, if the brand voice is focused solely on product attributes, it inadvertently feeds sameness and commoditization in the category. The Beyond and Impossible burger formulations bare similarity as plant-based meat so the story instead is about taste indulgence and sustainability bona fides.

A touch for emotional storytelling

Words matter. Emotion sits at the front door of engagement for the very reason people are feeling creatures who think, not thinking creatures who feel. Emotion is a key driver of actions taken by consumers on the path to purchase because the non-linear, sub-conscious side of the brain is operating the levers of behavior.

  • Knowing this, we build message maps with emotive words and stories that play to feelings more than facts. It is the feeling consumers have in the presence of your brand that tips them to purchase rather than analytical, logic-based arguments.

Imagine the pet food company that shares the emotional stories of pet transformation – pet lives that have been impacted and improved through the higher quality food they are ingesting. Compare that pound for pound with fact-based messaging on protein percentages or nutritional specsmanship and the impact on real engagement becomes crystal clear. Emotion wins every time.

Working to amplify symbolism and signaling

Purchases these days are largely symbolic flags of what consumers want the outside world to believe about them and what they care about. The symbols you are using on packaging, in your advertising and content become the visual shorthand consumers are looking for based on what they believe is important. For example:

  • Sustainability
  • Dietary outcomes like weight management and energy
  • Health and wellness

People are visual creatures so use of visual symbolism on package, at the store shelf, in the web site are triggers that offer a form of signaling the consumer holds onto that aligns with their desires and preferences. Mapping a symbolism platform should be part of your marketing partner’s scope of work.

Brand experiences

Actions speak louder than words and for that reason, brand experiences become a significantly important tool in bringing the brand closer to users.

  • Culinary events, for example, allow people to get hands on with their passion for creativity, taste experiences and indulgences.
  • Health, wellness and fitness events amplify the interest in taking better care of one’s self and investing in self-improvement.
  • Music is incredibly powerful for a brand association in moments of deep emotional connection.
  • Educational events that provide useful lifestyle guidance or remove perceived risk through sampling lead to brand bonding moments.

To the extent brands have an opportunity to act as consumer coach and guide, it puts the brand in the right role of advisor rather than brand storytelling hero – the position rightfully owned by the consumer. The brand is Yoda to your user Luke Skywalker.

Trust creation and risk removal

Consumer purchase behaviors are 99.99999 percent of the time informed by their overwhelming need to avoid making a bad decision. No matter what you say, consumers will stay away if they perceive risk is at stake in a purchase.

Risk avoidance is a strong barrier to trial. Removing risk involves the following:

  • Using the voices of outside credible experts to validate what you want people to believe.
  • Bringing the powerful verification of real people testimonials in social channel posting.
  • Familiarity bolsters trust, so awareness building is part of this process.
  • Consistency in your behaviors and policies that place the customer first – they need to believe you are always acting in their best interests.
  • Honesty is partially a voice and language effort but must be informed by a willingness to own mistakes – this is hard to do but it humanizes the brand.

Trust strategy should be an integral and fundamental component of strategic planning.

This eco-system of services, resources and programs comprises the highest and best use of your agency partnership. It might seem odd not to include excellence in communications tactics such as earned and social media. But for the most part agencies with a strong track record should excel in varying degrees with these fundamental practice areas. The work profiled above, however, is what separates the average from the exceptional and deploys the most powerful tools available to build brand value and consumer engagement.

If you are currently looking for fresh ideas and perspective for your business, use this link to open an informal conversation about your needs.

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.

Heart over head everytime

How to Harness the Power of Emotionally-Relevant Marketing

May 11th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, Brand Design, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “How to Harness the Power of Emotionally-Relevant Marketing”

Understanding the human being you’re talking to

People are not analytical, fact-based decision-making machines. We are feeling creatures who think, not thinking creatures who feel. It’s heart-over-head every time. Yet the vast majority of brand marketing outreach is based on a rational presentation of features and benefits.

The incredible formula.

The amazing ingredients.

How it’s faster, more efficient, less costly.

The shiny new food tech underneath.

But what if I told you that conscious thought does NOT inform the decisions consumers make. “For 50 years we’ve been using the wrong model. Emotional tugs trump rational pushes.” Dr. Robert Heath, Journal of Marketing Research

Uh oh.

Doesn’t matter what the product is either. Marketers are trained to serve up what they believe is the best, most logical, defensible and factually-compelling argument that can be made about why Brand X is better than Brand Y or Z. But this is upside down.

Here’s the essential truth as we know it: “Non-conscious intention produces both a conscious thought and action,” says Timothy Wilson, a Clinical Psychologist with the University of Virginia.

Ooh Kayy? So what does that mean?

The latest Neuroscience tell us why we’ve been unintentionally mis-managing marketing for a very long time. Turns out there are two brain systems at work in every person. System 1 is an effortless, always on, intuitive autopilot side of the brain. System 2 is the effortful, learning, rational, analytical side of the brain that unfortunately is inherently lazy. System 1 makes 98 percent of our decisions, leaving 2 percent for System 2 to ponder. Yes they work in tandem but System 1 is in charge.

Here is another way to understand the difference: System 1 can process 11 million bits of information per second. System 2 processes 40 bits of information per second. Gulp. Turns out the intuitive side of our brain is a lot smarter than we ever knew. That hunch or gut feel you had is probably right!

The impact on marketing best practices

System 1 responds to emotion because it uses emotion. Here’s how to think about it.

  • Acts without deliberate analysis
  • Generates our impressions, feelings and inclinations
  • Exerts powerful influence on choices and judgments
  • Drives the options we choose and originates the actions we take

Here are six essential ingredients for optimizing marketing outreach that track with what we now know about how people really operate and handle decisions.

  1. Exposure: we automatically assign superiority to what is familiar. Communicating sticky, memorable phrases and ideas is a good thing.
  2. Proof: we are drawn to prefer products and brands other people like and endorse.
  3. Positive feelings: if we feel good about a brand, we assume it possesses an abundance of beneficial qualities.
  4. Actions: people respond more readily to what you do more so than what you say. Brand experiences can show your heart.
  5. Reciprocity: we are hard wired to reciprocate in kind when faced with clear generosity. Surprise and delight is more than a catch phrase.
  6. Art: we respond well to artistic expression. How you use words, visuals, sounds and style matter.

The case for deeper brand meaning

Here at Emergent we’ve been talking about the importance of Higher Purpose to brand growth for years. On one level, Higher Purpose marketing is respectful of the fact that purchases are largely symbolic these days, a form of signaling our values and beliefs to others around us. Thus, Purpose creates added value to the consumers’ perceptions. However, Higher Purpose is also part of this emotion-driven eco-system that informs how people behave and take action.

“Science now proves what brand

strategists have always sensed. We

human beings have a need to believe in

and act upon something that’s greater than

ourselves… Let’s realize the significance

of this discovery and impress upon

everyone that a brand is a belief system.

Want greater rewards? Then impart your

brand with deeper meaning…” – Emergent

Give consumers something they can believe in – advocate for – that reflects their values and beliefs. This is how you create a community of ambassadors who will spread the good word about your brand and business. Transactional relationships between brands and users are a thing of the past. Your brand value proposition should extend beyond the product itself. It also fits snugly with our understanding of how to communicate successfully to System 1.

If you have more questions about how this revelation might impact your go-to-market plans, use this link to start an informal conversation.

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.

Emerging brand launch best practices

The remarkable path to emerging CPG brand fame and fortune

May 5th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Activism, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, Differentiation, Emerging brands, Strategic Planning, Sustainability 0 comments on “The remarkable path to emerging CPG brand fame and fortune”

Your early priority: what will consumers rave about?

An inconvenient truth: the vast majority (80%) of emerging CPG food and beverage brands will never surpass $1 million in annual sales. Here we examine some of the critical components that drive velocity growth and reveal the fundamental rules that must be respected to scale a new brand over time.

In case you’re wondering, this has no bearing on the scope of investment funding in development and launch phases. The business opportunities, ultimate size of the prize and inherent growth-limiting factors all begin with the product concept itself.

It’s true, the product IS the marketing. The product shouldn’t require promotional lipstick to make itself appear attractive. Instead, it should draw a following because it exudes its own obvious and valued magnetism.

No matter what the Series A, B or C funding rounds looks like:

  • You can’t buy food culture relevance
  • You can’t buy consumer enthusiasm for the product
  • You can’t mandate or enforce memorability on the consumer

The product concept must be strong, unique and valuable enough to drive interest across a larger addressable market.

It’s hard to get noticed when the product isn’t a knockout standout relative to adjacent choices.

Mediocre (not rave-able) innovations, especially in saturated categories, almost never scale because the product concept isn’t big or exceptional enough to leap ahead of current category players. If the product doesn’t incite high memorability levels and consumer passion it won’t be able to drive a sufficient baseline of routine repeat purchasers.

Throwing money at a relevance and value proposition problem won’t help.

For example, hardcore nutritional innovations are difficult to scale because they can’t attract an audience past the ‘holistic’ alternate nutrition audience segment. If sales are dependent on a narrow cult of users, it creates an automatic embedded drag on velocity.

Instead, product design must connect symbolically to highly valued, desirable dietary outcomes for the consumer who will enthusiastically seek it out – such as weight management, energy, immunity, overall health/wellness or indulgence.

Key information the exec team needs to seek through active listening with early-in users:

  • What attribute-outcome association is the early adopter holding in their mind?
  • Which associations do the heavy users embrace?
  • Which of these attribute-outcome associations is truly scalable?

This data should be used to refine and improve the product in its earlier stages of distribution so that once the gas pedal on added distribution is pushed, the product itself is accurately, optimally reflecting what consumers say is their ‘why’ for buying repeatedly.

This is also a vote for patience in expanding the retail door footprint. While some brokers may believe any increase in volume as good volume to have, if there are flaws in the product experience, added distribution will only further expose those weaknesses – risking future delisting if repeat purchase performance falls off. To succeed in steadily increasing overall case volume movement, a core base of repeat buyers (satisfied enthusiasts) must be established, with product trial users added on top of the base.

Category selection and design is vital to long-term success

Please take note, consumers shop categories first and brands second. Likewise, retailers see themselves as category managers. A category is a culturally relevant cognitive title that works to secure a specific use/space/value location in the consumer’s brain.

If you’ve followed our recent articles on radical differentiation, you know how important uniqueness is to generate sufficient category separation from other nearby brand combatants. Ideally, the new brand should occupy its own category space.

The goal of topflight category design is to mine strategic differences that are competitively scalable.

  • Here’s Emergent’s top scale principle: the innovation must be attractive to a larger audience and clearly, effectively answer a consumer dietary need or goal – such as ‘natural, better for you, plus an important bonus attribute’. What that attribute will be comprises the creative challenge of our work in category design.

Why did Beyond and Impossible scale so quickly?

The product innovation here for both brands was a significant vault ahead for plant-based meat over previous category versions that were more narrowly positioned for vegan and vegetarian users. They could have elected to position their products as an improved plant-based meat for vegans, a narrow, small cohort when compared to other segments of the meat business.

Instead, they pursued the largest addressable market opportunity, cast as ‘meat lovers’ (which is nearly everyone). This audacious, bold move was built on confidence the product eating experience and taste would live up to the litmus flavor test from beef hamburger fans. Further they created a new category in the fresh meat department – plant-based meat for meat lovers.

Because the product delivered fully on this promise, it fueled word of mouth and consumer enthusiasm/ambassadorship – further closing the loop on trust and credibility. The promise was effectively fulfilled in the candid testimonials of happy users.

Most important however: these brands also conquered the one barrier that often stands in the way of acceptance – perceived risk. How did they manage consumer skepticism about anything novel and new that includes trailing sensory baggage about taste compromises associated with plant-based burgers? The smartly played decadent, indulgent, crave-able, mouthwatering photos of luscious cheeseburgers to build desire and taste appeal said it all. Zero effort here to sell this as a health food (read: tastes bad).

They also benefited from a consumer perception that anything plant-based is better for you and thus why people are looking to add plant-based foods to their diet. The climate message was tertiary social issue icing on the value proposition cake that added ‘feels good’ to consumption. It also operated effectively as a relevant publicity angle to enhance awareness.

The role of symbolism

Consumers are loathe to tax their brains or burn mental calories trying to determine if a product addresses what they believe the purchase should signal about their values to the world around them. Package symbolism becomes a vital link in respecting this signaling behavior that a purchase confers on the user.

This isn’t an invitation to the over-use of certification logos (Whole 30, Certified Organic, etc.) that often clutter up the front panel of many new premium food brand packages. Photography and graphics that billboard the trademark and primary attribute offering from the shelf should intentionally bring visual cues that evoke the brand’s deeper meaning.

Consumer social communities are always based on shared values. Those values operate sub-consciously and are on auto pilot. The decision to pick brand A over B is really a social decision. For this reason consumers have learned to quickly scan for symbolism on product packages.

  • “Consumers do not eat kale because they watched a heartbreaking documentary about the meat industry. They eat it because, by doing so, they send social signals of being enlightened, wellness-obsessed, and socially conscious. They do not watch “Succession” because they like it; they watch it because their friends watch it and they want to participate in the shared experience.” Sociology of Business

Halo Top went to market as a high protein ice cream. An odd attribute for ice cream. After carefully listening and then iterating changes to their package, they pivoted to low calorie indulgence and off it went to fame and fortune. Why? Weight management is a highly leverage-able dietary outcome.

Repeat purchase rates are fed by an enthusiastic fan base that shows up in social channel participation. The best influencers are current repeat users who nourish the social channel proof loop about their ‘why’.

In reality, the consumer is your true business partner

In Dr. James Richardson’s wonderfully insightful and well-written book, Ramping Your Brand, he lands on the ultimate list of questions founders should be asking of their users to inform strategy.

  1. Why do they like your product line? Is the motivating outcome scalable?
  2. Who are the “wrong” consumers”? (i.e., those motivated by non-scalable outcomes or who make insincere trade-offs on taste)
  3. How do they use it in everyday life?
  4. Does it fold well into their daily routines?
  5. How often do they use it? (e.g., daily, weekly, special occasions)
  6. What, if anything, they would change? (e.g., weird after taste, pack size, etc.)

As Richardson reports, consumer packaged foods and beverages are all about “easy-to-shop, easy-to-buy, easy-to-use shortcuts to achieve desired outcomes. Find the right way to sell to consumers, not the right way to turn them into your image of what you want them to be.”

If this article sparks interest about optimizing your business on the path to marketplace fame and fortune, use this link to launch an informal get acquainted conversation with us to share your questions.

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.

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