Posts in Brand Activism

Storytelling can change history, alter the path for brand growth

The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome

January 22nd, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Insight, Public Relations, storytelling, Validation 0 comments on “The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome”

When Real, Powerful Human Stories Must be Told

It’s in the story telling and the strategic nuances of where and how they’re told that great things happen. Over time I have come to see and appreciate these tools that work to greatest effect and benefit in altering the future trajectory of client businesses.

There’s one story that stands out above others. The strategic principles bound up in this example have proven effective time and time again. It recurs often enough to have earned first place in the strategic arsenal as a reliable go-to for business progress. It’s the stories well-told by real people about how their lives have been impacted by our clients’ products.

An unforgettable day, a powerful moment, a sea-change that saved lives

A while back I owned an agency called Wheatley Blair. We were retained by home safety products company First Alert to launch the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm, a warning device for a household hazard that is unseen, dangerous and invisible to any human. It was the leading cause of accidental poisoning fatalities in America, claiming more than 1,500 lives every year and countless thousands more who were sickened or injured.

In our efforts to build a platform for launch we felt it was important to create a constituency of ambassadors including families who had lived through poisoning events or lost loved ones. Alongside them we built an advocate team of poison physicians who understood the threat, air quality experts who could explain how the gas is released and builds up in a home, and the fire service community of emergency first responders. We initiated a collaboration with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency charged with evaluating and monitoring new safety solutions.

Our campaign to alert American families gained traction as major news media broadcast our story of the “Silent Killer.” Word spread rapidly about this household hazard produced by combustion appliances like furnaces, ovens, hot water heaters and fireplaces. People lined up outside at hardware and homecenter stores to buy the alarms.

What we didn’t expect at the beginning was a foe to quickly emerge

The American Gas Association stormed out of the wings taking aim at our client because they felt the issue disparaged their product. Frankly while I understood their concern, it made no sense to me because the threat isn’t the fuel, it’s malfunctioning combustion appliances, exhaust systems and chimneys. But never mind, the industry came out swinging suggesting we were creating unnecessary alarm.

A David vs Goliath story if there ever was one

The natural gas industry is gigantic. They had more money to throw at this issue than our client had in total sales company wide. We were David to a well-financed Goliath. Naturally when this challenge emerged, we made a beeline for the Gas Association head offices looking to enlist them as collaborators in the effort to save lives and protect families. We thought, “Who wouldn’t sign on for that kind of life safety effort?”

  • Walking into the lion’s den, we made an appearance in their executive conference room attempting to persuade them that this was a golden opportunity for the industry to join in a lifesaving education activity.  This would endear them to families while associating their “brand” and product with a public safety initiative.

Unfortunately, they saw the issue as a threat and instead kicked off an effort to try and derail the carbon monoxide education campaign. When you’re working on the side of the angels it is unlikely that even a well-financed effort to discredit and downplay will work.

It came to its pinnacle at an industrywide conference held in Washington DC. It was their effort to rally the regional gas company members around a call to resist the carbon monoxide alarm education efforts and counter with their own claim that this was much ado about nothing.

  • But the handlers inadvertently made a strategic error. To create a perception of due diligence, they invited the Consumer Product Safety Commission to join and be part of the speaker line up. By law if the CPSC is involved in a meeting, it becomes a public event which anyone is free to attend.

Initially we offered to provide speakers and expert content but were denied. We decided to meet the challenge head-on by attending the meeting uninvited. Our strategy: to bring 10 families who had experienced a carbon monoxide disaster of their own to come and tell their stories at the conference. During question-and-answer sessions in the meeting agenda, they would come to the microphone and share their story while challenging the industry to help save lives.

  • One by one families in the audience stood up and told their stories, some of them heart rending of how loved ones were lost. Poison physicians explained how the gas impacts the human body causing people to suffocate from the inside out. Air quality experts detailed how an appliance can malfunction to emit this highly toxic material.

In the hallway outside the ballroom, I observed. My heart was racing as the testimonials unfolded in hostile territory. You could hear a pin drop as the families shared their unscripted, real, personal experiences. Meantime, the chief conference organizer was furious at our team for this move to confront the industry, and threatened to throw us out of the building. I calmly explained that CPSC rules and law require that these families be given entry to what was now a public meeting. If they did throw us out, we would invite national TV news crews to the parking lot to interview the families about being denied access.

He quickly backed down.

The meeting went on.

Then, the sea change occurred.

I witnessed the tide turn before my eyes as gas company CEOs came to the lectern to say they were personally touched by and impressed with what they heard. By the end of the meeting the industry moved to begin educating people about the threat rather than resisting it. Many eventually became sellers of carbon monoxide alarms themselves.

Why did this work so powerfully?

Real people telling honest stories with passion and pathos impacts the heart as much as the head. It is immediately trustworthy in a communications environment often filled with dubious claims and assertions that may or may not hold up under scrutiny.

Negative claims had no power in the face of real personal story. It was overwhelming and in the moment the chasm was bridged, the path permanently altered, and the world changed.

You can do this, too.

I enjoy what I do. Marketing and communication is my life calling. The business has rewarded me with an outlet for my creative bent, a curiously accurate business sense and ability to see the big picture of how client organizations can move to take the next leap in their development and growth.

So it’s really an avocation as much as a vocation. That said, I learned a ton from the First Alert assignment – about the power of stories to alter the course of history and events. What’s more I’ve seen this outcome repeat over and over. When people share their personal stories of change, renewal, improvement and growth, big things can happen and business leaps abound.

  • The devil is in the details of how this is executed. Want people to join your brand as advocates and evangelists? Give them a voice, move those stories out and let their experiences verify what you want people to know and believe about your products and brand.

The outcomes can be life changing. In First Alert’s case, it created a successful new category that propelled the company to a higher level of significance and value with consumers and trade customers, plus $250 million in added business within 15 months of launch. The Walmart buyer called carbon monoxide alarms the Cabbage Patch doll of the hardware department. We called it a significant achievement in the goal to save lives. A win and win.

  • These moments in life and marketing signify the places where we make a difference. Don’t you want to be a part of this kind of game-changing influence?

Let us know if you would be interested in unearthing marketplace impact and influence relevant to your brand and category. Together we can find a path to sustainable growth and business development.

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.

Big ideas inform business and brand behaviors

How Emergent can help you win in the year ahead

December 3rd, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Activism, brand marketing, branded content, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “How Emergent can help you win in the year ahead”

2021 will not be kind to ineffective strategies

Emergent’s secret sauce is our unique ability to help clients understand and navigate barriers to their growth – mission critical in what will be a challenging year ahead. The 2021 strategic goal posts have already been moving. In sum, current conditions place an extraordinary premium on correctly dialing in your brand’s higher purpose and deeper meaning – essential to creating consumer trust that unlocks the path to purchase.

  • We can help you define brand higher purpose in your category. Translate this understanding into a strategic go-to-market game plan and map your brand’s relevant messaging. Then create the communication tools to help build an enthusiastic core of brand fans who voluntarily spread your message in their own communities and social circles.

Why this matters to you: consumers’ trust in companies and brands has been declining for years. People believe the voices and experiences of other people before they will accept a brand’s claims and assertions. Social proof is the required verification and validation of what you want people to believe about your brand and products.

Our services:

  • Brand sustainability analysis: defining your higher purpose and brand stand that informs every aspect of the go-to-market plan.
  • Connecting consumer insight to strategic planning: dialing in and optimizing your brand’s relevance to consumers’ lifestyles.
  • Messaging and brand storytelling that engages, enlightens and guides: making the consumer the hero of your brand communication.
  • Building social channel strategies and tools that engage consumers in word-of-mouth activity: the most powerful, credible communications tool on earth.

Free consultation and audit:

We’re offering an easy, zero cost way to assess fit. We start with an informal conversation about your needs and interests in the year ahead. With signatures on an NDA if you desire, we will conduct an audit of your current brand messaging and business priorities. We’ll provide our guidance and thinking at no charge. If what we offer creates value for you and further interest, then we can discuss a scope of work appropriate to your unique needs.

Use this link to open a conversation and let’s talk about how to transform your outcomes in 2021.

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.

Brand activism is on the rise

Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism

November 30th, 2020 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Differentiation, Emerging brands, engagement, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism”

Is your brand’s higher purpose dialed in?

“Food is now so much more than food: It’s this representation of the self. We’ve managed to use it as a signifier for so many virtues, whether that’s obvious ones like health or indulgence, but also ancestry and connection to kin and family, or the fact that you’re just a unique person out in the world.” – Benjamin Lorr, The Secret Life of Groceries, Grocery Business interview.

To successfully build and grow a base of enthusiastic brand fans these days consumer relevance is everything. In the absence of a high-quality consumer connection and a valued relationship, food, beverage and lifestyle brands can be cast out of the economic Garden of Eden, forced to wander in the wilderness of commodities interchangeably bought on price.

Now a new challenge is emerging to creating relevance that must be weighed carefully if brands are to retain the attention and support of a growing an influential new base of users. Here’s what’s coming fast and hard:

The Socialization of Brands

Six years ago we tracked a cultural shift indicating consumers were leaning heavily into deeper, meaning, values and mission in assessing the merits of their preferred brands on the path to purchase. This condition is rapidly evolving and is accelerated farther and faster as a result of Pandemic induced upheaval in mindset and evolving personal priorities.

COVID-19 presents an out-of-control social and economic environment. It is enhanced by the absence of effective readily available solutions and clear public policy guidance from previously respected sources of social organization, government and educational institutions. Into this societal vacuum comes a new form of behavior we call brand activism.

  • “COVID-19 has forced communities to grapple with how individual behavior impacts collective health and social wellness, and it has elevated the mandate that companies demonstrate how their products, practices and systems positively impact the community and support the greater good.” – Hartman Group, Value in the Time of COVID 19” whitepaper

Brands are now expected to be social actors.

“My Wallet is My Vote”

Imagine the checkout aisle at your supermarket or drug store transforming into a form of voting booth. The wallet and purchase performs the role of ballot-enhanced virtue signaling as consumers cast a vote on their brand candidate’s values through the purchases they make.

  • Purchases are largely symbolic gestures now, intended to telegraph what people want others to know about their priorities and identity. That said, the nature of this beast is evolving further with emergence of pressing issues that are forming on the horizon of our food system, how it operates and what it represents beyond abundance, indulgence and health.

The cultural shift taking place is a pervasive belief among people, Gen Z especially, that they are unique and empowered to help create change. Rather than relying on the performance of others or institutions, people look at their own relationships, networks and voices as opportunities to activate their advocacy on a larger canvas.

Alignment reaches a new level

Awhile back people discovered alignment between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. The impact of this revelation was seismic. Enter the fresh food revolution, the move to perimeter shopping at grocery, the emergence of preference for locally-sourced foods, and the decline of heavily processed packaged products.

Healthy food was no longer defined as addition by subtraction (or food science at work) to remove fat, sugar, salt and calories in order to achieve a better-for-you claim. In its place came higher quality real fresh food solutions that impacted the course of emerging food brands from large cap CPG line extensions to entrepreneurial, new food brands with an ethos and higher quality, small batch formulation.

Now another revolution is in the works as alignment evolves yet again.

The relationship of food to climate change threat

The alignment emerging now is awareness of a relationship between our current food system and the over-production of greenhouse gases that sit at the foundation of the climate change crisis. The increased pace of super storms, wildfires, droughts followed by floods, topsoil erosion, and the threats to shorelines advanced by higher water levels, serves as evidence the earth has its problems.

Now comes the realization that meat and industrial agricultural practices are the largest contributor to greenhouse gas creation on earth. The revelation: food production enabled by increased consumption by an ever-growing global population could endanger the planet. The food system specifically meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture, is producing greenhouse gas at a level exceeding the contribution of all forms of global transportation combined. Current GHG levels outstrip any prevailing public policy or naturally occurring solution that would lower it sufficiently to address rising earth temperatures and their impact.

  • As this knowledge becomes more widespread it will usher in a new era of calculation on favorable brand attributes, specifically carbon footprint. Advantage will go to brands that provide evidence of their sourcing and production processes that work to mitigate contributions to greenhouse gas creation.

Many plant-based brands have already stepped into this arena by invoking climate change in their stories. Some brands have already begun including carbon footprint claims on their product packaging or menus (Panera, Chipotle and Flora plant butter).

Fast on the move is another generation of new product concepts that employ the latest techniques in fermentation and microbe use designed to step away from the agricultural production chain entirely and thus advancing a new cadre of claims and benefits associated with climate change.

Brand activism and brand voice

We have long lauded those incredibly advanced brand ethos players like Yeti who have injected new-found lifestyle associations and deeper meaning into their brand personas. These companies take consumer lifestyle very seriously and operate as mirrors of people who, in Yeti’s case, are devoted to outdoor adventure – or at least aspire to do so.

Now a new battlefield emerges for brands that take the socialization of food and food production to a new level. These informed brands work to answer both the coming tide of planet-level food scarcity and the impact of our global agricultural system on greenhouse gas creation.

Thus we envision a new phalanx of emerging brands that weigh in on such important topics, working to associate themselves with the activist mindset of consumers wishing to vote their preferences via the food purchases they make.

Supporting regenerative agriculture practices will be one area we expect to rise in importance in the year ahead. The potential exists now to help support a new view of farming practices that can help turn farmland into the world’s largest carbon sink. These kinds of stories and the behavioral moves by brands to embrace this new thinking will mark a new era and opportunity in brand communication.

  • As consumers increasingly view purchases as a flag of their beliefs, it is vital that brand communication strategy advances to lead this conversation and facilitate the dialogue in social channels.

It’s coming faster due to the cultural shift now underway that aligns food production with climate change, making activism a part of the purchase decision. Failure to recognize this coming shift could put brand relevance at risk and hand competitive advantage to those who are already moving to answer this form of brand activism.

  • If further guidance on this evolving path is of interest to optimize your brand’s higher purpose-related messaging and story creation, we can help you determine the right path and create the right story.

Use this link to start a fresh conversation around questions you have about this emerging change-in-motion.

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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