Posts in Agency Services

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…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Living Insight and the Future of Food and Beverage

October 1st, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, Brand preference, branded content, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emergent Column, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living 0 comments on “Healthy Living Insight and the Future of Food and Beverage”

Are you aligned on the pathway to true relevance?

What is the most powerful and pervasive condition impacting consumer product category growth across the lifestyle continuum? Effectively answering the consumer’s desire for a healthier lifestyle. This is the driving force that sits underneath Emergent’s agency value proposition and the work we do for our clients.

At the foundation of this transformational shift is an over-arching interest in a higher-quality life. Consumers believe their decisions and actions in this arena will impact personal happiness, safety and wellness.

Healthy living knocks at the front door of relevance to consumer wants and desires. It is a mindful choice made by increasingly mindful consumers across all age cohorts. Nowhere can this be seen in greater relief than food and beverage choices which have morphed in recent years from taste, price and convenience purchase drivers to a more enlightened set of criteria that pays homage to the healthy lifestyle priority.

Transparency, supply chain visibility, clean labels, ingredient quality, fresh and real food preferences are all evidence of momentum behind the consumer’s growing self-awareness. They are in charge of their lives, in control of brand relationships and thus able to exercise choice to reward those brands that are aligned with their personal interests, beliefs and needs.

  • Simply stated, consumers believe that the quality of what they consume impacts the quality of their lives. What people choose to eat manifests in their daily lives as a contribution to health, wellness, career performance, happiness, satisfaction and the ability to achieve life goals.

This is no longer a tertiary issue or a sub-segment of the larger consumer population. It is a swollen river of preference that is washing away the less relevant while rewarding the brands that mirror consumer lifestyle requirements.

How did we get here?

We can trace the origins of this shift back to the early 1990’s when the organic foods market was still emerging, and consumers started to pay attention to a new voice on how food is produced and what the differences are between factory made and farm fresh options. This became transformational when the rBST debate took hold and the organic milk business started to skyrocket as serving organic milk to children became a marker of good parenting skills.

Concurrently, the explosion of digital communication created a shift in the balance of power where anything that can be known will be known, and with it a cultural change. Now consumers want to be informed on where food comes from, how products are produced, thus enhancing the value proposition for higher quality real and fresh foods vs. packaged and highly processed legacy brand mainstays.

You are what you eat

The relationship between what people put in their bodies and how it affects health and wellness goals changed from addition by subtraction – the scientific removal of fat, sugar, sodium and the like, to a different picture of addition by addition.

People now perceive the quality of the food they eat or drink is related to the quality of their lives. This cultural swing resulted in a sea change at food retail, with center store packaged food businesses facing headwinds in share losses and volume declines. Meanwhile, the perimeter departments selling fresh and reimagined, more transparent and relevant versions of packaged stalwarts have skyrocketed.

  • Equity investment in the food space has plunged into the abyss in efforts to help scale the myriad of new, nascent food brands coming to market with quality elevations in virtually every category with a growth pulse.

Meanwhile, home cooking is experiencing a renaissance as consumers shop fresh ingredients and menus that require preparation; looking to feed their appetite for new flavor adventures. Convenience in this new world order translates to enhanced Deli menus and fresh solutions at supermarkets, and the emergence of meal kits to help curate the dinner need with prepped high-quality ingredients and tantalizing recipes.

Relevance and the future of food and beverage marketing

What does it all mean? This is what keeps the C-suite leadership teams in CPG food and beverage companies and food retailers up at night. What was once a brand controlled state in the marketplace, where heavy media spending could spell the difference in achieving quarterly results, has fallen away as consumers own and operate the levers of commerce.

Consumer control requires deft and agile moves by brands to align themselves with their desires, interests and lifestyle goals. The more powerful path in marketing is no longer lined with assertions of product features and benefits. Now the momentum belongs to brands that truly try to help and enable what their users dream to accomplish.

Marketing today is a reciprocity construct where brands earn permission for a relationship by thinking past their own product and trying to make a clear difference in their customers’ lives – be that by activating their creative aspirations in the kitchen, the social experiences around the table, or serving as a functional contributor on their path to healthy living.

Emergent as arbiter of insight and translation to strategy, better communication

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we do at Emergent. We’ve been ahead of the trend even before healthy lifestyle became a ‘thing’ and remain a voice in the industry on this evolving landscape upheaval.

Our value proposition is bound to the insights we own on consumer interests, needs and the new marketing toolkit required to successfully leverage that understanding for business growth.

By virtue of that, Emergent is purposefully a hybrid of strategic guidance tied to creative communications, smothered in a secret sauce of consumer insight that helps inform our thinking, messaging and go-to-market ideas.

Whether you are a food retailer trying to evolve as conditions around you in e-commerce and consumer preference change, or a food and beverage brand, large or small, trying to optimize and scale the business you’re creating; we can help optimize your core proposition and add value to your efforts to gain the ear of elusive and hard-to-reach consumers.

How can we be helpful to you?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tipping the Scale on Emerging Brand Growth

July 12th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emerging brands, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Navigation, Transformation 0 comments on “Tipping the Scale on Emerging Brand Growth”

Writing the new rules of successful marketing

Recently Emergent became an active Mentor partner with the Food Marketing Institute’s Emerge platform. FMI, under the leadership of Julie Pryor and Margaret Core, has created Emerge to help nurture the increasingly important population of up and coming food and beverage brands. These growing businesses are gaining attention of the food buying public and occupy an ever more significant proportion of in-store real estate at food retail.

This new world of emerging brands is evidence of a dramatic shift in consumer preferences for food choices with a creation story founded in higher quality, more artisanal and sustainable attributes. These businesses are often married to a higher purpose that transcends commerce; a purpose aimed at improving the food supply, sustainable farming, battling hunger or some other altruistic commitment that imbues the business with greater meaning.

For our part, we enter the FMI Emerge relationship as Mentors – a resource that new and emerging brands most likely would not have access to until later in their development. The goal is to help scale these businesses more rapidly while avoiding some of the mistakes that can occur early in the fundamentals around marketing, packaging, distribution and channel decisions or innovation.

Reengineering of the food and beverage business

The emerging brand growth engine has attracted the interest of private equity investment and large cap CPG looking to participate in this unique, culturally relevant space. Additionally, retailers interested in leveraging this wave must adopt a new set of best practices to help support these new brands that don’t come to the table with deep-pocket promotion and brand-building budgets.

As the pendulum swings towards marketplace reward for the more entrepreneurial food brand business – where everything about their origins and path follows the beat of a different drummer than legacy CPG food brands – NEW marketing rules must also be considered and executed with commitment to maintain the specialness of these businesses.

What remains true for all participants is an interest in scale. But not scale at any cost. Great care must be exercised in building these brands to make successful expansion a reality in a shorter time span. Wrong moves can violate the very principles that sit underneath why these emerging products got traction in the first place.

Application of old-school marketing technique and thinking can interrupt and disrupt the very important reasons why consumers prefer these up and comers. It’s critical that entrepreneurs maintain the artisanal characteristics of their products which is the very reason consumers are attracted to them in their ongoing treasure hunt for new and more interesting, real food experiences.

What’s changed?

To uncover the right formula for growth, it only makes sense to understand the context that makes these businesses relevant and important to the future of the food and beverage business.

Perhaps fundamental here, is the influence of food culture cues on consumer behavior. At one time taste, price and convenience held sway in defining what consumers want. While taste remains an arbiter of anything that ultimately succeeds, other issues command consumer attention and help pull the purchase lever.

Consumers now look for cultural symbols and lifestyle relevance in the food and beverages they buy for the very reason they believe that higher quality choices help them secure a higher quality life.

Here in sum are some few of the evolutionary changes taking place which these new brands are tapping into:

  • People see food differently: higher quality, real and fresh food = higher quality and healthier lifestyle
  • Cultural markers are advancing around health and wellness, clean eating and cleaner labels, shorter ingredient lists, local sourcing, visibility to supply chain, more unique flavor profiles, even fresh versions of previously processed food ideas
  • The pace of innovation and development of new food ideas has made a quantum leap– from concept to beloved at speed — witness Ripple pea milk and Beyond Meat
  • Radical Innovation = new category creation – this is no longer a story built around line extensions of a legacy brand. Wholesale new categories and reinventions of existing ones are becoming the norm
  • Embracing small-is-good – big used to be reliable, trusted and consistent. Now craftsmanship, ingredient integrity and more culinary-inspired solutions hold sway. Smaller often translates as better quality
  • Mission mentality – what used to be understood as philanthropy has changed to represent a core belief imbedded at the onset of product development that then stretches beyond the product. It is most often anchored in a mission aimed at improving the world around us. Food brands with a true soul, if you will

Mentoring new brands

Perhaps most evident in early stages of emerging brand development are resource constraints that make optimal investments in marketing more difficult.

Yet, it also remains true that superior product experience is most vital to initial sales outcomes. The product itself is the marketing in this respect, and relies heavily on the creation story, higher quality components and more unique formulations to gain ground. Nevertheless, scale is a desired outcome for all involved and thus brand marketing will inevitably become a catalyst.

Challenges for new brands trying to scale:

  • Lack of internal seasoned marketing talent
  • Early mistakes and missteps in packaging, pricing, distribution (channel choice)
  • Inability to fully leverage differentiation in crowded product categories
  • Little to no investments in consumer insight that informs, adds relevance to the story and dials in the messaging
  • Loose, patchwork sales infrastructure
  • Supply chain inefficiencies that layer on cost and depress the ability to invest in consumer-facing communication

These conditions make intermediaries like FMI Emerge so important in growth and development. Larger CPGs and equity investors alike would also benefit from making contributions and resource investments in emerging brands that extend beyond sales and distribution infrastructure.

Emergent: The Bridge to Scale

Our agency, Emergent, is focused on these developing brand opportunities because we believe this is the future of the food and beverage industry, and so we have an obligation to support and address the need for scale on a more rapid trajectory.

To do this we help food, beverage and lifestyle brands successfully navigate the sea change from interruption style, talk-at marketing and communications to a more healthy lifestyle relevant and participatory model.

Here are some examples of appropriate guidance we make to emerging brands and CPGs working to help accelerate the pace of growth:

  • Insight research on core user lifestyle, message testing, innovation assessments
  • Wringing out inefficiencies in cost structures (supply chain) to help fund marketing
  • Improved package design and communication; telegraphing from the shelf
  • More strategic, consumer/lifestyle-relevant earned, owned and social communications assets and programs
  • Developing novel trial-generating programs and product demonstrations

In the end, our offer is a team of experienced marketing, communications and operations talent focused on the unique needs of emerging brands. We eat, live and think Emergent. Our goal with FMI Emerge is to help provide this guidance while the industry continues to transform.

Are you ready?

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.

 

How to get the very best from your agency partners

April 27th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, Emergent Column, Insight, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “How to get the very best from your agency partners”

What do good clients do?

Marketing isn’t easy. It’s tough and intellectually demanding. It requires an integrated understanding of product and brand strategy, coalesced with consumer insight and served in a warm basket of relevant creative, business-building solutions.

  • There’s really no way to do this well without both parties getting deeply involved in the work.

Unless of course, the goal is just to mark time and fill slots for a la carte communications tactics across a spectrum of expected “support tools” identified in a marketing plan.

On the other hand, if the goal of engaging an agency in the first place is transformative business results then the aforementioned collaborative effort is mission critical.

So what’s the alchemy that governs whether or not this kind of client/agency collaborative thinking occurs? What’s required in the relationship dynamic that makes for fertile ground in delivering out-sized outcomes?

Here it is, in a word: partnership. The truly successful agency and client relationships perform optimally because of aligned interests and goals. But what does that word partner really mean?

  • It begins as a unique way of thinking and behaving with your agency allies that springs from a foundation of trust and inclusion: “yes, we’re in this together.”

For context you can look at the flip side. The opposite of partner might be vendor: an outside supplier cost center to be managed and controlled; confined to a set of stay-in-your-lane guardrails and vertical silo thinking. A fulfillment cog in the marketing wheel to deliver a communications tactic, be it PR, advertising, social media, content or the like. Absence of genuine client/agency trust equates to “relationships” that are governed financially with one-sided agendas (spend as little as possible) and keeping agencies at a ‘do your job’ distance.

The true value of an agency partner

Good agencies are an amalgam of consultant and guide, business strategist, creative thinker, an outside resource devoted to marketing, strategy and communication across a spectrum of businesses and categories.

Better firms are also an elite think tank of communication insight experts. The best of them see a client’s business challenges holistically and not just as a place to apply artistic skill sets in creating engaging campaigns – as if the goal of the ad agency is just making another ad, or the PR firm slating another media interview – rather than their full engagement in creating a strategic solution to address the client’s need or problem in whatever form that might take.

But to really gain the most of a mutual investment, a relationship a true partnership must be symbiotic, with shared wins and benefits.

What do agencies want?

  • Clients that bring them all the way in and share every relevant detail of how their business operates and the challenges they face. Thus, providing enough visibility to information so an agency can truly serve as a trusted and entrusted advisor.
  • Clients should openly ask for counsel, both informative and challenging. Those who overtly say – “we want your best advice, your best ideas at all times. We want your honesty, too, when you think we’re not making a good decision.”
  • Clients who recognize that agencies are businesses too, and deserve to make a reasonable profit from the relationship. This manifests usually as a declaration from the client early in a new assignment: “we want our account to be a profitable one in your company and in return we ask for the very best of your experienced minds engaged to help meet our business goals and solve our problems.”
  • Clients who routinely ask their agencies to weigh in on challenging issues whether they be operational, R&D, cultural, financial or marketing; these are the very best clients because it’s so exceptional when it happens. These clients recognize the breadth, experience and value of agencies that often come equipped with prior experience where similar challenges have been solved successfully. Music to agency ears is the sweet song of trust and respect these requests imply.

Agency obligations

Superior athletes reach for the very best every time they take the field. So, too, agencies have to bring their “A” game everyday. There’s no way to do that unless you become invested in and are passionate about the client’s business. If the agency is operating with the client’s needs and best interests in mind, this will be evident in the daily effort, responsiveness and program outcomes.

  • If the agency sees client work simply as a financial management proposition, then the focus will be on deliverables within budgets, management of staff time to this agenda, and a quick move to ring the alarm bell if work goes out of scope. Nothing wrong with disciplined business management, but if the culture is primarily about managing for profit rather than adding value to the client relationship, the former will subtract from the latter.
  • So for agencies, the partnership begins with making the client’s business a continuing, ongoing study: evaluating and tracking the competitive environment, trade media, and other sources of business intelligence. The more you know the better this gets. It’s as if the client’s business is your own and thus worthy of the attention this priority will receive.
  • This ongoing commitment should be delivered in an envelope of respect for the superior knowledge clients possess of their own business. At times, in the name of leadership, agencies can get off track into “my way” land, based on we-know-best thinking. This form of arrogance usually ends in disintegration of trust and has no place in the mutual respect universe. Disagreement is ok and expected. Brinksmanship, though, is no way to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

Humanity – the glue that binds

When there’s belief that people from both camps are operating in mutual best interest, then agency and client combinations will work optimally. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, business decisions are made emotionally not rationally. It is the human condition.

We sense almost immediately when people are genuine, when we like each other, when we’re being honest and open. Life is short, and thus fit and chemistry matter. The kind of fit that occurs when people think highly of each other and actively work to see things from the other’s point of view.

So optimally, a good dose of values, integrity and empathy becomes the daily vitamin all involved in the client/agency partnership ingest to keep the mission focused on success all the way round.

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.

Mining for Growth: The Consumer’s Relationship with Food

March 2nd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Culinary lifestyle, Digital marketing, food experiences, Healthy Living, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “Mining for Growth: The Consumer’s Relationship with Food”

Marketing and the day’s main meal

Cultural shifts and changes impact how consumers treat eating occasions. This condition becomes even more important as people no longer build their schedules around mealtimes. The script has flipped and thus mealtimes are arranged to facilitate the daily schedule.

In this new world order that puts time and where it’s spent at a premium, distinct functional requirements have surfaced around the consumer’s objectives for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast now orbits the purposeful necessity of energy needs and is often governed by habit and routine. It’s also subject to elimination at times. Whereas lunch often falls victim to another evolving behavior – snacking. Like the start of the day, lunch serves as another fuel-stop to drive the personal engine, often while navigating a complex schedule and a fluid set of time priority constraints.

The dinner bell singularly chimes as a culinary and social oasis…

Dinner continues to hold steadfast as the clear winner in time devoted to food thinking, planning and engagement – offering a unique opportunity for brands to become enablers and participants in a personal and social culinary journey.

  • Dinner is a food-forward rite where the meal and menu serve as a means to elevate enjoyment, self-esteem, creativity, exploration and social engagement.

Breakfast, lunch and snacking reside in a practical, efficiency zone. The consumer’s brain-time investment is just different than dinner. In the evening, according to The Hartman Group’s Transformation of the American Meal report, the experience around food and preparation takes on a higher level of priority and added meaning.

What does the consumer aspire to do with dinner?

Hartman reports to fulfill their expectations for:

  1. Good food – nutritious and delicious
  2. Good cooking – skillful, personalized and often from scratch
  3. Good company – enjoyable moments and warm conversation

So, the logistics around dinner are on another level entirely for food sourcing, creativity, time spent and energy invested by home cooks and their helpers. Simply stated, dinner is less routine, not snack-ified and works to satisfy the yearning for shared food adventure.

As a marketer could you find more fertile territory for engagement than the one meal occasion where inspiration and help are clearly needed?

Dinnertime is a clear pathway to relevant engagement

Dinner is rich connection territory and we’re not just talking about flavor profiles. Dinnertime is an open field for resonance exploration and relationship building for both CPG food and foodservice.

When the day has been too mentally and maybe even physically taxing, outsourcing the evening meal is on the agenda. That said we know from secondary studies that people prefer home-cooked meals when they can do it and believe those meals are universally healthier – as home cooks are able to control ingredients, preparations and portions.

However, when scheduling overload collides with evening mealtime needs, restaurant and other “do it for me” solutions hold sway. Meal kits sit in an interesting position as low-risk enablers of culinary exploration, while also making it easier to deliver a high-quality meal with less effort mentally and at the stove.

Ordering food for delivery or visiting a restaurant shifts the balance of time investment from culinary work to social interaction – an important component of the evening mealtime experience.

The eco-system of needs and requirements for the evening meal is a place where brands can play a pivotal role. Key direction: help make dinner meal planning and execution more enjoyable.

Areas to leverage strategically:

  • Health and wellness – key to lifestyle preferences across the board. What’s the bulls-eye? Helping people bridge their interests between healthy ideals and indulgent desires. Now that higher quality food experiences have become the new healthy, the door is open to blending these two universal human needs.
  • Palate planning – for the most part dinner has increasingly become a just-in-time mini-shopping event as people, often coming from work, stop at the store to shop for menu ingredients. Right there is a moment of uncertainty that can become more purposeful with the right menu ideas and curated shopping lists.
  • Social connection – the social milieu around dinner is an interesting pastiche of enlivened senses, warmth, close attention and enjoyment that enables sharing and conversation. The dinner table is more than a piece of furniture. It’s a place where memorable moments and personal connection are served right alongside the main course.

If effective brand communication is dependent entirely on its relevance to consumer interests and passions, then imbuing your brand with greater meaning becomes paramount in making marketing investments work.

Knowing this, dinner is an important moment and opportunity where need and fulfillment are open territory for brand helpfulness. Also vital to note is the significance that food culture informed strategies play to secure consumer engagement in social channel and content marketing outreach programs.

  • Said another way, it is often the absence of cultural resonance and connectivity that dooms brand communication to the vast pile of ignored messages.

It’s our job here at Emergent to monitor these cultural and consumer-insight conditions so we’re able to respond strategically and creatively for the brands and businesses we represent. If your strategic plan isn’t feeding and exploring these important moments of real-life consumer connection…then you’re potentially skipping the marketing meal that offers the greatest opportunity for engagement and brand growth.

Is it dinnertime yet?

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.

 

WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?

February 23rd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, digital tools, food retail strategy, Food service, Social community, Social media, social media marketing 0 comments on “WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?”

Brands look to better manage their own destiny

As we’ve stated many times here at Emergent, the brand that gets closest to the customer wins. Yet a form of strategic separation now descending on the food marketing universe has made it more challenging for brands to manage how that consumer closeness is achieved. These same conditions help contribute to the collapse of traditional media marketing models (about scale and control) often deployed by legacy brands to build and maintain consumer relationships.

As a result, we believe what’s ahead for CPG food may well include a large helping of direct-to-consumer outreach efforts. E-commerce growth has already redefined the business landscape, giving consumers a comfort level with buying products from home.

Retail isn’t going away, online or off, but we think a measurable percentage of the business overall may indeed move to direct-to-consumer platforms.

Meantime escalating brand participation in the “walled garden” of rented audiences in major social channels, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, has also conveyed relationship control to these platform intermediaries. On any given day, the decisions made by these social media giants can be a good thing or bad as their policy changes impact what brands can and cannot do on their platforms.

  • Brands, now forced to reckon with the shift of business to e-commerce, are finding the complexity of cross channel marketing and online engagement has already worked to snuff out the last embers of mass media’s flame. Disappearing with mass media’s grip is the brand’s ability to efficiently leapfrog various forms of retail or other digital gatekeepers to capture consumer brand equity and preference.

Algorithm alarm bell – now what?

Food and beverage companies working to implement their brand-building strategies in social channels find themselves challenged once again, as the behemoth community aggregators like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube adjust algorithms and feed policies making it harder to organically scale audience attention and reach.

In January, the tide turned (the second time since 2016) as Facebook announced yet another round of changes that favor posts from friends and family while diminishing organic post distribution from brands and publishers. Larger, mega-influencers – who must use Pages rather than personal Facebook accounts – will face a similar audience squeeze.

More regulated content policies put greater pressure on brands in social channels to up their shareable post quality game. We believe though, these restrictive conditions will add more value to building direct consumer relationships. This means, thoughtfully reconsidering how best to connect with consumers and deploy tools that sit outside the control of social channel policy moves, through owned channels like Blogs and email (e-newsletter).

Consequently, we believe the model for food and beverage brand building may change in the next three to five years. Pepsico currently projects their annual e-commerce sales to be north of a $1 billion across direct, retailer-owned and pure play (Amazon) e-commerce channels.

Of note, many of the new and emerging brands now grabbing the marketing spotlight in food, got their start in the direct-to-consumer space, where they built a loyal fan following before venturing into retail channel distribution.

  • A classic example: in the personal care category, online brand Harry’s disrupted the legacy razor blade industry by answering consumer frustration over runaway price increases. They successfully constructed a direct-to-consumer subscription model that helped Harry’s deliver a more affordable, high-quality alternative. The new Harry’s brand story, alongside rival Dollar Shave Club, helped end Gillette’s dominance.

As consumer contentment with buying online continues to expand in adjacent businesses, Harry’s recently secured added equity investment to fund another bellwether expansion. This time into other personal care, household and baby products categories that may naturally fit into a subscription model.

Bottom line: selling directly allows the brand unfiltered and unfettered access to consumers. As such it enables a direct flow of conversation without the unexpected shifts that are occurring in third party social channels due to conflicting business interests and priorities.

Behavior changes occurring behind the curtain

We see the shift to e-commerce as an outcome of evolutionary progress – meaning anything that adds measurably to consumer convenience and satisfaction is going to get its day in the sun.

During the last decade consumers spent 12 percent less time shopping, according to Jared Koerten, senior food analyst with Euromonitor International. “Consumers are spending less time shopping (while) looking for efficiencies and ways to save time,” he said. The result is fewer conventional shopping trips while online ordering continues to accelerate.

E-commerce and the digital communications environment will continue to be a major focus of brand marketing strategies. Consumers see the value in reallocating their spare time from shopping trip to other passions and pursuits. Be that as it may, other changes are occurring in the digital universe that impact how closer consumer relationships are incubated.

Emergent’s guidance on optimizing social channel strategy:

  1. Social algorithm changes enhance the valuable role of smaller (nano) influencers and the content they create, while amplifying the need to ensure that influencer relationships are truly founded on aligned interests and subject matter relevance.
  2. Social channel policy changes that depress organic distribution and engagement will necessitate yet again, more pay-to-play activity to boost posts.
  3. There will be diversification of outreach strategies to include more investment in direct paths of communication through Blogs and email.
  4. Rise of User Generated Content as a key component of social media marketing strategy. This tactic helps sidestep the policy changes and hits the right notes on authenticity and value to brand community participants.
  5. In case you’re wondering what form of content ranks highest in shares on social channels: Infographics.

Social channel policy changes and the dynamics of e-commerce may favor a new look for brand marketing that leans in on going direct. With it comes great responsibility in how these interactions are managed – so it doesn’t appear to be just a transactional proposition.

Help over hype – always.

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

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

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