Posts in brand advocacy

Climate change impacts consumer preferences

New climate-conscious consumer has a beef, are you ready?

February 9th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, Climatarian, Climate Change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, COVID-19, Differentiation, engagement, Greenhouse Gas, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Pandemic, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “New climate-conscious consumer has a beef, are you ready?”

Culture change impacts food and beverage brand relevance

There’s a new sheriff in food and beverage town now. A consumer on the hunt for climate- friendly choices. They have a hankering to use the checkout counter as a ballot box to vote their beliefs. Are you prepared for them? Just who is this new cohort rapidly gaining momentum?  As an audience of influencers and advocates how significant will their impact be on the future fortunes of food businesses and retailers in 2021?

Read on.

Five years ago, a great dot-connecting moment transpired when consumers determined that the quality of what they eat has a direct and tangible impact on the quality of their lives. Food retail saw a marked shift in shopping patterns to the perimeter fresh departments as preference for fresh, real food overtook the decades-long infatuation with convenient, inexpensive, highly processed packaged foods and snacks. The aftermath of this transformed ‘what does healthier mean’ calculus and fed the innovation skate ramp of new, entrepreneur created food products flooding the store. These super premium brands-with-deeper-meaning and made from higher quality, ethically sourced real food ingredients have captivated consumer attention and retail shelf space. How many brands of artisanal beef jerky are there now competing for a slice of the snack dollar?

We reminisce on this point just to remind us all that change comes quickly. Our collective goal as marketers is to stay ahead of these transformative shifts. Thus able to help define the state of the art for your brands, rather than scrambling to re-acquire relevance after observing share erosion in the quarterly results report.

Rise of the Climatarian

Another dot-connecting transition is underway. A growing number of bellwether consumers are grasping the connection between the food production system and its out-sized impact on greenhouse gas production plus the climate change threats that accompany it. According to our insight research partner Brand Experience Group, their ground-breaking study on sustainability, estimates the current number of consumers who are passionate about or committed to the importance of “sustainable consumption” at 34% and rising.

The role of meat production and industrial agriculture processes contributing to the planet’s warming is changing the food choice value proposition to invoke a claim that defines carbon footprint. While the word sustainable has gained traction in recent years as a formal player in marketing lexicon, it is acquiring a more specific meaning. Sustainability and climate change are getting married and we’re all invited to the reception.

What’s driving this? In his stellar New Yorker magazine feature “After Alarmism: The War on Climate Denial Has Been Won,” climate advocate David Wallace-Wells paints the picture.

“In California in 2020, twice as much land burned as had ever burned before in any year in the modern history of the state — five of the six biggest fires ever recorded. In Siberia, “zombie fires” smoldered anomalously all through the Arctic winter; in Brazil, a quarter of the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, was incinerated; in Australia, flames took the lives of 3 billion animals. All year, a planet transformed by the burning of carbon discharged what would have once been called portents of apocalypse.”

Increased media attention on the issue has circulated data revealing the significant top box role beef and lamb production have in methane creation. Global agriculture practices and meat collectively contribute more to climate threat than all fossil fuel transportation combined. The impact of climate on people and society is being played out in prime time through recurring news coverage of raging wildfires, droughts, super storms, increasing Hurricane impacts, melting glaciers, rising water levels and flooding worldwide.

We’re about to see a shift towards carbon footprint as a definer of sustainability. Those with an attractive, relevant brand story to tell are manifesting this attribute in product label scoring while legacy food and beverage companies swarm to announce “Net Zero” emission commitments. Meanwhile there will be growing scrutiny of supply chains to root out sources of greenhouse gas. The decarbonization of our food system is getting underway. Consumers will demand it. It will be juiced by new food technologies and a cohort of emerging brands that pioneer ways to create food without built-in climate deficits.

Digital innovation will be eclipsed by bio-degradable everything

Alongside global warming is a related developing trend – an innovation heat map swing from digital technology to significant advancements in bioengineering and biofabrication.  A complementary view of sustainability looks hard at the role of plastics and other trash dump materials in so many facets of our lives with a convincing argument that recycling isn’t the best answer. Creating products, packaging, even clothing, from materials that simply disappear harmlessly is exponentially better for the planet.

In 2019, nearly 500 million plastic toothbrushes were sold with the majority of them ending up in landfills and the ocean. They cannot be recycled. Since plastic was first mass-produced in the 1950’s, 9.1 billion tons of it has been created and landfilled – an astonishing 91% of this massive plastic tsunami isn’t recyclable, according to Fast Company magazine. On the toothbrush front, Colgate owns 30% of the entire category and in an effort to end the proliferation of plastic they are introducing “Keep” – the first planet-friendly brush that employs a reusable aluminum handle. The replaceable brush head is still plastic but the design represents an 80% reduction in plastic material use.

Steve and Nick Tidball’s Vollebak, a futuristic brand of men’s fashion, is re-writing the rules and process for clothing creation. Their plant and algae t-shirt is made from plant-based linen and wood pulp fibers decorated with ink from algae. The shirt can completely decompose in 12 weeks when tossed into the compost pile. A shirt that literally disappears. “Sustainability is easier to understand when it involves feeding your clothes to worms,” said founder Steve Tidball in an overview article on their technology showcased in The Future Normal newsletter.

Key to this coming movement of planet friendlier foods, products, processes and ingredients is a revealing focus on the impact of lifestyle and consumption habits on our planet’s health. The realization that what we buy is a reflection of our values rises as a functional and viable path to signal those preferences and beliefs. Consumers’ wallets are used to vote their preferences. This new path to purchase will require brands to look deeply across the organization to determine where improvements and changes can be made to align with this sea change.

Undoubtedly yet another generation of new brands will emerge with carbon footprint claims and planet-friendly packaging as the lead in their brand voice. More innovation is coming. There are, however, business challenges ahead for these upstarts.

  • What is the secret to scale-able and sustainable growth, the path to sales homeruns not base hits? We reveal it here.

80% of CPG start-ups will never get past $1 million in sales

Some new emerging brands have well-connected founders and are able to attract investment that creates resource advantages. “Money can buy distribution. It can buy advertising. It can buy huge field marketing events. But it can’t by consumer enthusiasm. It can’t buy cultural relevance for the brand’s attribute-outcome symbolism,” exhorts Dr. James Richardson, of Premium Growth Solutions.

After an initial, well-funded launch with a strong velocity report card, things start to stall or plateau. What’s wrong is often embedded in the product itself. It just isn’t that remarkable. Or, importantly a narrow, niched positioning causes the brand to stall. It simply runs past its ability to attract an audience sufficiently large enough to keep the velocities on a northward trajectory. Enthusiastic users, perhaps, but a narrow, smaller fan base nonetheless.

Scaling beyond the mid-range isn’t an outcome of more funding or the awareness that can buy. It is delivered by steering the brand towards the right and largest addressable market. Beyond Meat famously did not create a better vegan burger for vegans. They opened the aperture wide by casting themselves as a meat made from plants for meat lovers. They threw down the gauntlet of crave-able taste experience and asserted they were as good as a beef burger. Bold to be sure. The product delivered on its promise under that scrutiny.

The genius was casting a wide net to meat lovers and in doing so working to build relevance and resonance with a very big audience of meat department beef shoppers. It wasn’t because there was this giant standing pool of people representing themselves as “flexitarian.” No, instead they invoked meat lover and by that they meant anyone and everyone who loves hamburgers, the most popular sandwich on earth. The outcome was a rapid rise to hundreds of millions in sales.

Largest. Addressable. Market.

Don’t make vegan cheese for vegans. Instead craft extraordinary, delicious plant-based cheese for cheese lovers. A high taste bar to be sure, but then that’s what separates the extraordinary product innovation from the merely average.

Climate change and bioengineering will reshape the food, beverage and lifestyle brands business more quickly than anyone imagines. Venture capital and innovation will quickly chase these dreams. More higher-purpose brands will be invented. Some will be out-sized winners while some will remain small or fail altogether. The difference maker won’t be the size of the budget and the awareness that can acquire. Sound strategy will play a decisive role in the fortunes (or lack thereof) of these businesses based on the quality of the innovation itself, the size of its potential market and the alchemy of how and where its relevance is expressed.

If this thinking strikes a chord and you would like to brainstorm further the implications for your business, use this link to start an informal, no-charge 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.

Pet brand engagement and social media

Pet Age magazine published our column on social media best practices

February 4th, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Pet food, Pet food marketing 0 comments on “Pet Age magazine published our column on social media best practices”

How to optimize social media strategy for pet brand marketing

Our new monthly column for Pet Age magazine tackles how to build consumer trust and engagement with one of the most powerful, credible channels of brand communication. You can read it here.

Learn how to maximize social channel outreach for impact and connection for your business...

Or, enter this link in your browser: https://bit.ly/SocialChannelStrategy

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.

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.

Healthy eating to boost immune system

Pandemic driving shift in food brand value proposition

January 20th, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, engagement, Healthier habits, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Pandemic, storytelling 0 comments on “Pandemic driving shift in food brand value proposition”

Clarion call to optimize brand positioning and messaging now

Is your brand correctly positioned and messaging aligned to answer the pandemic induced sea change impacting food preferences and purchase decisions? If not, the fortunes of less responsive food businesses will inevitably be challenged in the year ahead.

The numbers tell the story

Root cause driving this condition is our escalating, culture-influencing battle with the pandemic. In the U.S. alone there are currently 24,800,000 cases of COVID 19 infection alongside a staggering 411,000 fatalities. This latter figure exceeds the casualties America endured in all of World War II. According to CNN, another 38,000 American lives were claimed by the pandemic in the first two weeks of 2021 alone. To provide optics on the scale of this, Johns Hopkins University reported 224,000 new domestic cases of COVID 19 in one day – Wednesday, January 13th.

  • With the arrival of approved vaccines will the tide turn soon? Not likely given the enormity of the vaccination challenge: In a Washington Post story on the vaccine rollout, Dr. Peter Hotez, professor of microbiology and molecular virology at Baylor College of Medicine said, “The nation must vaccinate an estimated three-fourths of Americans to interrupt coronavirus transmission and stop the spread. Reaching this target by September 1 will require us to fully immunize about 240 million Americans over the next eight months, or 1 million people every day from now until then.”

A tall order.

Never before have people been confronted so closely, continuously and repeatedly with an unseen and potentially lethal hazard that impacts how we live and behave.

Evolving health and wellness calculus

As cited in the Emerging Trends Report earlier this year, health and wellness concerns were already a priority for most consumers. Now, due to a daily confrontation with a global pandemic, the case for investing in one’s health and wellbeing has acquired significant relevance, gravitas and urgency.

  • This cultural development is reshuffling the deck of what matters as consumers look to take back control over their lives by managing what they buy and ingest with a specific goal in mind: to boost their immune system.

The calculus employed by consumers to determine their brand preferences and purchase decisions is evolving. Their goal to assess how food and beverages stack up in achieving specific health and wellness needs alongside the legacy “does it taste good” attribute.

Three anchors of message priority brands should implement

Consumers are wanting to understand how a product choice serves their health and wellness objectives, beliefs and values. At a granular level they are examining ingredients, sourcing standards and creation techniques looking for evidence of nutritional density and functional health benefits (microbiome).

Messaging and brand storytelling should rally around these important themes:

  1. Perception of quality – now defined as a health and wellness assessment
  2. Relevance – focus on lifestyle utility, values and beliefs (carbon footprint)
  3. Experience – contribution to social Interaction and personal enjoyment

Immunity and safety are the primary concerns. Knowing this is the litmus test now applied to brands that fall into the “matters to me” column, are you confident your brand is correctly positioned with the right messaging strategy to address this compelling need?

Optimal storytelling guidance

Empathy could not be more important here. Reaching out with a human voice is how your brand places itself “in league” with the consumer’s needs and concerns. Your story should place consumers in the role of hero with your brand operating as guide, coach and expert in their wellness journey.

Emergent’s recommended approach to messaging in this environment coalesces around operating in service of the five Ps of brand-to-consumer relationship development.

Purpose – your brand’s higher purpose that transcends the product itself, your deeper meaning

Pride – your ability to generate passion and inspiration around serving the greater good

Partnership – your guidance and coaching to help them succeed and fulfill their goals

Protection – help them feel secure and safe in your standards, behaviors in their best interest

Personalization – tailored to their specific needs based on keen insights about who they are

Health and wellness in support of immunity investment creates an extraordinary opportunity for food and beverage brands to closely align themselves in a relevant way with a powerful motivation consumers care about.

This development began in earnest eight years ago when a large swath of the food buying public associated the quality of what they eat with the quality of their lives, pushing food purchases towards fresh, local and higher quality food choices. This changed the definition of convenience and ushered in the era of farm-to-table and interest in supply chain transparency of packaged food ingredients while consumers worked to elevate and adjust their food choices.

Coincidentally it was this move past taste, price and convenience to health and wellness as drivers of brand growth that informed the foundation of Emergent’s business model among marketing communications agencies. We are purposeful experts in healthy living.

Don’t let this moment pass!

Relevance and trust are critical components now on the path to sustainable business growth. Earning and retaining these key attributes will only happen when your brand is aligned with their interests. The question you must answer: how can we work to improve people’s lives and make a difference during a time of uncertainty and challenge to their wellbeing? 

If a source of fresh ideas on how best to meet this cultural shift head on would be helpful to you, use this link to let us know your open to a get-acquainted 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.

COVID 19 and Pet Brand Marketing

Our new monthly column at Pet Age magazine…

January 4th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Pet food marketing 0 comments on “Our new monthly column at Pet Age magazine…”

Delighted to share the first installment of our new monthly column at Pet Age magazine (Click here to read): COVID 19’s Unintended Gift to Pet Brand Marketing: https://bit.ly/COVIDPetBrandMarketing

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.

Cultivating brand advocacy

Is your brand remarkable enough to earn conversation?

December 14th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, brand messaging, Brand preference, change, CMO, Emotional relevance, Social community, Social media, social media marketing, word of mouth, word of mouth 0 comments on “Is your brand remarkable enough to earn conversation?”

How to cultivate and deploy genuine word of mouth

Consumer trust in what your company says about your brands has been in decline for more than a decade. Sadly, customers just don’t believe you. Thus, why buying awareness in paid media channels is less useful and effective now. So, what then is powerful and persuasive? Other people.

The holy grail of marketing is word-of-mouth (WOM). For the very reason it comes embedded with trust and belief from an independent source people respect. According to Nielsen, 83 percent of Americans trust the recommendations of friends and family. Testimonials from other users far outweighs any other form of brand outreach on engagement metrics and ability to credibly validate what brands want people to believe about the merits of their products and services.

Is this a happy accident? Is talk value a gifted benefit only to some naturally-alluring brands in high involvement categories – the equivalent of being born with a silver spoon and inherited buzz-worthiness? Can it be managed and created? Is it unattainable for low involvement, more commodity-type businesses like say baking flour?

  • It can be achieved.
  • It requires intention and careful strategic development.
  • It is not the outcome of easily replicated table stake strengths such as better taste, higher quality ingredients or great service.
  • Proof: check out King Arthur Flour’s incredible dedication to feeding a community of people hooked on baking.

Why is WOM so elusive for most businesses?

Entirely too much similarity exists between brands in many food and beverage categories. Marketing strategies that essentially mimic competitors are all too common due to low perceived risk. But then rewards are low, too. Leverage and advantage will go to those businesses that organically create talk value because they are truly distinctive and remarkable. In absence of this ability to standout brands are forced to compete for attention – usually on the basis of sheer tonnage in paid media spend.

Why do we find ourselves here?

Buying awareness through paid media is a hallmark of traditional marketing thinking that’s been around for more than a generation. It is expensive, increasingly less effective, yet easier to understand and implement. It’s the path of least resistance. The art of talking to people is an entirely new skill that while less costly is more complex and nuanced. It bears mentioning here, paid influencer campaigns are not word of mouth creators, they are another form of purchased awareness from the ‘talking at’ media toolbox.

If you agree that word of mouth is the most effective platform available to brands in this age of fractured media channels, short attention spans – and a paucity of trust in what brands want consumers to believe, then how do you secure the authentic marketing horsepower the tellable tale offers?

More specifically what constitutes remarkable-ness and word-of-mouth generating exceptionalism? The best answer begins with peeling the onion on what won’t generate this kind of serial advocacy.

  • Better ingredients – marginal distinctions, easily copied
  • Better taste – subjective and one reformulation away from disappearing
  • Sustainability standards – more common card now played by many brands
  • Philanthropy – good to do but increasingly commonplace and thus not distinctive
  • Operational strengths – efficient attentive service, clean and well-organized stores already a must
  • Premiumization of legacy categories – manifested by many who now follow the artisanal path of product creation
  • Local sourcing – advances in distribution infrastructure are making this easier to do
  • The outcome of stunts – yes, a diluted form of word of mouth can be created but the shelf life isn’t sustainable past a few days

WOM generation is hard to do, but it can be done with impact

Hope is not a strategy. You have to work hard to earn recommendations. It takes planning and design to build a talk-worthy experience. It is not a happy accident. WOM can be cultivated by building and embedding the remarkable and unexpected into your operations and product. People are conditioned to talk about the extraordinary and exceptional and ignore everything else. Having said that, improved customer experience is a common strategy and not a differentiator.

We should note here: being better is not as powerful as being different. Remarkable means worthy of a remark and that is uncommon.

The enemy of WOM is incrementalism and sameness.

Defining the path to word-of-mouth excellence

Here’s the question to address in planning: what can we do differently that will be unexpected, remarkable and endear our brand to our core customers?

  • It must be available, accessible to every customer, every day
  • It is really about how your business DOES business
  • It must be easy to understand and share-able
  • It must serve your objective to build a community of passionate advocates

When I first purchased a Dyson vacuum years ago, I was stunned by its design and departure from what was expected in the operation and features of a floor cleaner. It worked as promised. It did not lose suction. I could see the outcomes of my labor in a clear basket. No messy bag to install. Its design was modern and sleek. I talked about it. The WOM created by Dyson was embedded in the design and story underneath its creation.

The company violated accepted rules in the floorcare category. It changed the game. Dyson charged a higher price and people paid it. The product invention story created legend around the inventor.

Now, the mimicking is in full swing and the concept has lost its edge. Many, many billions of dollars in sales later. Evidence that the fundamentals of disruption and remarkable-ness must be revisited from time to time as the marketplace observes success and then works to replicate it over time, eroding the original uniqueness.

In their delightful book on the topic of WOM titled “Talk Triggers” authors Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin cite the seemingly mundane move by Five Guys to pile on the extra fries in every bag of burgers their customers’ order. It’s available to everyone, everyday. No one else in the burger world does it, and it is a tellable tale of generosity. Scans of social media show evidence of this simple benefit showing up repeatedly as a consistent differentiator. They don’t spend big money on advertising because they don’t have to.

In every case of strong WOM strategy we find creativity, boldness, departure from the norm, and rule-breaking around category conventions. When you decide to be remarkable and thus worthy of a remark, day in and day out, you automatically know your brand isn’t going to present itself like all the other adjacent businesses in the competitive set. It cannot be all things to all people.

Baer’s story about Holiday World, the family-owned theme park in Santa Claus, Indiana that made the “crazy” decision to provide all soft drinks to their visitors free of charge, shows the power of audacity and courage. Their social media channels repeat the free drinks benefit, attracting crowds with an unusual idea that continues to pay for itself over and over.

Do the unexpected?

Endear your brand to customers?

Create a tell-able tale?

Why bother? For the very reason the world has changed and the marketing game-plan needs to change with it. When consumers believe the stories of their peers first over your carefully crafted outreach, that right there is reason enough to develop an intentionally designed WOM solution.

Should this idea strike a chord, and you believe some fresh thinking might help shape this strategy for your brand, use this link to start a conversation. It could create benefits and advantages that last for years, while reducing your dependence and spending on old-school ad tactics.

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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