Posts in brand marketing

Learn the Five Anchors of Authenticity

December 11th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Learn the Five Anchors of Authenticity”

A required course on the path to business growth

Yes, the word authenticity may have reached cliché status given its pervasive use as a shorthand explanation of what drives best practices today in brand building. However, truth is, sea changes in consumer culture and resulting purchase behaviors foretell how vital authenticity is to create meaningful relationships between brands and their users.

  • Yet too many companies fail to make authenticity a core platform in their marketing plans, missing the opportunity for real engagement and connection they require to advance the business.

Like moving away from highly processed cheese food (fake) in favor of real natural cheese (genuine), authenticity has much to do with the yearning for belief, higher quality and a better, more meaningful and relate-able story.

This age of authenticity is fueled by a fundamental rule: consumer-centric thinking and planning is a prerequisite. In practice, this means that an organization’s –

Every decision

Every strategy

Every tactic

Every investment

must build from a continuous study and acutely deep understanding of the consumer’s needs, wants and aspirations. The consumer should sit at the heart of the business. All strategic moves emanate from insight about their concerns and interests.

“Customer first” is a long-standing axiom of the retail industry, but as obvious as it may sound, most companies live in a perpetual state of brand narcissism. Company operational and marketing behaviors reveal it’s actually all about “us” – our product features, our benefits, our new formulas, our processes sitting in service of company business objectives.

  • Today however, success springs from becoming an enabler, partner and guide on the consumer’s journey, seeking alignment with their needs and becoming a helpful resource as they work to create a better and more meaningful life.

In the absence of this sensibility, it’s no wonder that engagement with traditional marketing – that’s more often a one-way selling monologue  – is rejected by consumers as irrelevant to them at best – annoying to them at worst.

Authenticity and curating a trusted consumer relationship

The core essence of what authentic means always springs from a less commercial and transactional view of the relationship between seller and buyer. There is a latent suspicion among most people that old-school marketing is really selling, and selling is a form of self-serving persuasion. Buyer beware.

The irony of all this is how human beings are wired to respond to messages. When the consumer is the hero of your story and the brand serves as guide to an improved life, engagement can be achieved. In the absence of this, messaging is primarily noise and ignored.

Thus, if an organization’s objective is assurance their marketing investments will secure traction and work in service of the brand’s growth, it is vital that authenticity is embraced and embedded into how the brand operates and communicates.

The future success of the business depends on it.

Here are the five anchors of authenticity that help drive consumer engagement and brand growth:

  1. Truth

Consumers are faced daily with evidence of misleading information, headlines heralding lapses in judgement and integrity; and stories of businesses operating in their own self-interest at the expense of consumer trust and confidence. An example: recently The Honest Company was outed on their absence of honesty over chemical ingredients they vowed would never be present in their products. Lawsuits have already begun. Consumers demand the truth and truth is neither conditional nor can it be diluted or violated without serious consequences.

  1. Transparency

Truth’s big sister, transparency is how trust is earned. When the curtain is raised and the door is opened to outside scrutiny of all aspects of the product creation process, the opportunity is there to engender trust. “Come see for yourselves that our words do not ring hollow, and that we indeed deliver on the promises we make. Go on, take a look – we have nothing to hide.” In the absence of trust people look for evidence they can believe in.

  1. Relevance

Who is the hero of the story told in your marketing? It’s not the brand. The customer must be the hero; their aspirations, wants and needs take precedence. When consumers see themselves in the story, they pay attention. Everything else is static. Relevance is the acid test of authenticity. It is the center of a less selfish view of the brand/user relationship. The story is always about them, and the brand’s role is Yoda (the expert guide) to Luke Skywalker.

  1. Directness

Consumers can smell traditional marketing a mile away. When the conversation is one-sided and filled with self-promotion and hyperbole, the opportunity for a frank and direct conversation is lost. Consumers run in the opposite direction because the story is no longer about them. Directness is an attribute of a trusted guide and resource. A real conversation set on how the brand solves the problems people face is direct and honest and open.

  1. Validation

In the end, consumers want to believe – but belief must be earned before trust is achieved. People no longer accept assertions and claims at face value. They look for validation of what a brand conveys from sources they respect and perceive to be honest and unbiased. This is the power of social proof and why the voices of real people talking about their experiences with the brand are so powerful. People believe their peers and outside experts before they believe what the brand itself is saying.

Have you noticed a consistent theme in here?

Trust is required for any relationship to exist and it’s hard to earn and easy to lose. The future of marketing is less about entertainment, persuasion and artifice and more about conversation and openness. The goal of every brand is to be an accepted partner on the journey to an improved, happier and healthier life.

When the brand is authentic and honest, we open the door to reciprocity. It just makes sense to put the consumer at the center of strategic planning. Once there, this insight and understanding fuels effective strategy and helps brands avoid wasting money on marketing that doesn’t connect.

Emergent has a defined process to build messaging based on these principles: an approach that eliminates guesswork and serves to draw the consumer in because they are always at the center of the story.

Can we help you build the right story? Let us know if you’d like to learn more about our unique approach to effective messaging.

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.

Enjoy Life prospers

Can emerging food brands prosper inside the big mother ship?

November 25th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, change, CMO, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Growth, Healthy Living, Insight 0 comments on “Can emerging food brands prosper inside the big mother ship?”

Enjoy Life proves the case for unicorn in the herd

Enjoy Life Foods enjoys the enviable position of being intentionally unique and differentiated by virtue of the market it serves. Have you noticed the skyrocketing increases in the number of people with various forms of food allergy? My oldest daughter is one and many families these days have someone in their circle with a digestive rejection problem.

Of note, some experts believe the rapid ascent of allergen free foods is due to compromised immune systems, in part to blame from the cultural and technological shifts that help assure children will be exposed less and less to bacterial and viral hazards. It is contact with these microscopic threats that puts the immune system activity into higher gear. Use it or lose it?

Enjoy Life offers 86 SKUs of products created and designed to give allergy sufferers a shot at snack and sweets bliss with unconventional (entirely) clean recipe solutions. They are crafted with a staggeringly high intolerance for anything in the product creation process that could introduce an allergen somewhere along the path. Such is their franchise and commitment to becoming a trusted solution for people with food allergies.

Enjoy Life is an acquired brand of Mondelez, the spinoff of the Kraft Foods break-up that resulted in today’s Kraft Heinz packaged foods behemoth alongside the snack and sweets oriented and equally hefty Mondelez International operation. In either case we’re talking about big food.

Joel Warady, who leads the Enjoy Life team and has been on board there since its early days, is a bit of an iconoclast in the belly of the Mondolez whale, but it works and works well. Perhaps Enjoy Life offers a model for success to the innovation-challenged legacy packaged foods industry looking to stem the tide of fractional annual growth or share losses. Of late, many legacy CPGs are seeking the cachet of high quality, mission-oriented food brands by investing in or acquiring the fledgling company’s rapidly scaling share and market presence. The food world has turned upside down ever since the barriers to entry evaporated for independent food start-ups.

“Acquiring companies like Mondolez have learned, and sometimes the hard way, that it’s best to let these emerging businesses continue under their current management teams and without a lot of interference,” said Warady. “The challenge is figuring out how and where to help, usually with R&D and distribution support or providing ingredient sourcing efficiencies and pipeline scale.”

Warady believes Enjoy Life has been a success story because key strategic decisions are largely left in their own hands. “We’ve had some embedded executives from Mondolez along the way, but for the most part we operate as we did before the acquisition only with more resources at our disposal,” he said.

Legacy food companies like Kraft and Mondolez have greater challenges on the product innovation front due to their size, and cultural habits that work to wring out risk. It’s a point of view that has caused them to routinely favor line extensions over disruptive, unproven and yet demonstrably higher quality food ideas that are popping up everywhere.

Now, the magic and heat index in food innovation is coming mainly from entrepreneurs with a vision for solving a neglected corner of the market like Enjoy Life. Other successful ideas offer a preparation or ingredient twist that inspires a new category such as Beyond Meat that imitate the texture, flavor and mouthfeel of genuine animal-based meat. These plant-based proteins are more widely targeted to those whose values supports the overall mission (whether clean eating, regional sourcing, minimized carbon footprint, etc.) – not just aimed narrowly at serving Vegan interests.

Enjoy Life was designed from day one to be a difference maker in the lives of people suffering from allergies. It helps when you solve a real problem that has existed for some time but neglected as a niche business and ignored by companies that at one time believed if the volume isn’t a billion dollars within 15 months of launch, it isn’t worth pursuing.

Ingredients for Success

Warady offers some guidance for founders and acquirers alike:

  1. For founders, it’s important to know that food safety and sourcing standards – a pillar of strength for large CPG companies – is often lacking with start-ups and can be deal killers once a strategic investor starts to poke around. Thus for founders, it’s important to have consultants scour every corner of the supply chain ahead of a strategic conversation to help clarify areas of opportunity and deal points.

 

  1. For acquirers, it’s vital to recognize the secret sauce for emerging brands is often held in their story that combines mission and values often with a more artisanal product solution that completely redefines what quality means. Best to let them operate independently to help support and retain the trust they’ve earned.

 

  1. Because the path to market is completely different, emerging businesses can be extraordinary places to test new ideas and limited-edition products, while learning best practices. The old recipe of big TV advertising budgets mixed with quarterly price promotions isn’t resonating like it used to, and is antithetical to the more conversational, user experience-oriented world of emerging food and beverage.

Importantly, emerging food brands like Enjoy Life come to market embedded with deeper meaning and a higher purpose that transcends the more transactional genre of volume, velocity and profit.

Not that growth and profit aren’t equally important to the success of new food businesses, but these soul-driven companies recognize the path to riches is paved in reciprocity and relevance to the consumer’s interest in shared values.

Bottom line: the recipe for success inside big food is to allow the acquired businesses to retain the very lifeblood that makes them successful. Their sheer disruptiveness and uniqueness must be honored and fueled while maintaining the often higher quality sourcing commitments on which their recipes are based.

It is the user experience that sits at the foundation of early success for emerging brands – before there’s much of anything to talk about in brand equity. That said, smaller resource- constrained businesses will benefit greatly from a benevolent investor or owner that fills strategic gaps and helps nurture the business, providing expertise or capital where it can make a difference between a base hit and a grand slam home run.

Joel Warady and the Enjoy Life team sit as a worthy example of how remarkable innovation can prosper inside a much larger organization, continuing to dance to the beat of its own drum while offering a roadmap to the future of the food business.

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.

Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator

November 10th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Pet food, Pet food marketing, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator”

Case study: How to become a truly transparent brand

The impact of the ‘always on’ digitally-enabled world we live in is an emerging consumer desire to know the backstory and details of how products are created. Not surprising when you factor in the number one lifestyle concern for people across all age segments is health and wellness. This seek-to-understand behavior is transforming the human and pet food industries.

In parallel, consumers now care deeply about the businesses’ respective mission, purpose, and authenticity – seeking to connect with brands which share their values. As a result, consumers want to understand what’s in the food they’re buying and how the company’s standards and mission are brought to life inside the products they make.

Why is this happening?

Relevance:

First, consumers have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. People care about the foods they’re eating – and want to know more about them. Equally true for pet food.

Belief:

Second, because of eroding, declining trust in the claims and assertions made by brands about their products – consumers are seeking objective, credible sources of information to help them make their own informed judgments.

Personally symbolic:

Third, purchases have become emblematic of what people want the outside world to believe is important to them – so they seek reassurance of high-quality ingredients, ethical standards, healthier and made sustainably.

The concept of Transparency has floated to the top as shorthand for this intense, growing desire to experience and verify what brands claim about their products.

Why this should matter to you:

Consumer trust precedes any kind of relationship and willingness to engage with a brand or product. Trust is earned, not inherently owned – and is based on intentional investments (that don’t look, smell or feel like advertising) to secure it.

If you want your marketing to be welcomed (rather than click to avoid) and believed, then trust is a fundamental requirement. Transparency provides an operable platform for how this is achieved.

What is transparency?

Being truly transparent is about openness, disclosure, access and operating in a trustworthy and forthright manner. Call it actively encouraging observation, scrutiny and reporting from outside sources.

Verifying and validating what you want others to believe about your quality and integrity commitments creates the opportunity for a meaningful conversation with consumers and stakeholders. Respect and reputation are not commodities that come along with simply existing. They are difficult to create and hard to hold onto over time.

Best practices case study: Champion Petfoods

Disclaimer: this is a platform Emergent created and brought to life for Champion after a comprehensive audit of their operations, strengths and unique company commitments.

It goes without saying the pet food industry universally demands trust from its core customers. Given the nature of the product form (ubiquitous brown kibble) pet parents are required to buy into the statements and claims made by brands concerning ingredient quality and how the food is prepared.

Driving this interest is the intense desire pet parent have to express their love for their pets through the quality of the diet provided. Engaged pet owners try as best they can to discern product labels to understand the meaning of words, phrases and insider language used in the pet food world (like meat meal).

Still, a trust gap exists between what’s claimed by brands versus what can be credibly verified.

  • According to a recent study reported in Pet Food Industry magazine, 75% of consumers are willing to switch from their current brand to one that provides more in-depth product information than what appears on the physical label. That’s up from 39% in 2016.

Champion Petfoods is at the forefront of the protein forward, meat-focused, biologically appropriate approach to what has been popularly described as ancestral diet. The company’s early success was attributed to pioneering the focus on percentages of high-quality proteins in the recipe. Champion uses comparatively high levels of fresh and raw animal meat respectful of the physiology and eating anatomy of dogs and cats.

Additionally, to deliver on their mission the company started early to invest in an extensive network of regional farms, ranches and fish supplier partnerships to provide real food ingredients, many within driving distance of their kitchens. This helps enable Champion to be fully transparent about their ingredient sources, sustainability commitments and aligned production standards for its Orijen and Acana brands.

The Champion Transparency Council

The Transparency Council platform was created by Emergent, to address consumers’ evolving need to know more, and in so doing, begin a new conversation with them that addresses their questions about ingredients and safety, nutrition and quality.

This more earnest and authentic approach – galvanized by the Council’s independence and third-party voice – manifested as a sophisticated content engine designed to cement trust and generate a more informative and engaging brand communication.

Highlights:

Emergent conducted a comprehensive recruiting effort for expert Veterinary physician members and a social media based public search for two pet parents to join the four-member Council.

Their mission:  to observe, verify and report on everything Champion does related to making pet food.

Given the significance of trust and transparency to the Council’s mission, it was critical to leverage Champion’s unique supply chain relationships, state-of-the-art kitchens and knowledgeable personnel to underscore the integrity of its stated Biologically Appropriate pet food mandate.

Outcomes:

  • The Council delivered an ongoing content creation platform that carries with it the authentic voice of outside third-party experts and pet parents, offering valuable communication that people want rather than seek to avoid.
  • Champion secured the mantle of Transparency industry leadership at a time when this is an important consideration on the path to purchase.
  • Champion went from zero to 60 quickly as an industry leading editorial voice, in part because the Council and its activity was precedent-setting and newsworthy for the industry.

Emergent Guidance:

  1. Transparency is best served with embedded credibility, using the voices of independent, third parties to report and verify what the company claims about its products.
  2. Openness is a prerequisite and underscores a perception of inclusiveness and honesty.
  3. Seeing is believing, so the deployment of third parties helps fuel an ongoing source of reporting that, over time, can evolve into a channel of helpful, useful guidance on issues and topics important to core customers.
  4. Transparency-based information is ready-made for social channel distribution and helps close the loop on what brand fans believe and say is the reason for their advocacy and brand evangelism.
  5. We have left the era of brand-voiced assertions of performance, and entered a time when trust is paramount and earning it is a requirement for success. Invoking the transparency word in a sentence isn’t nearly as powerful as backing it up with authentic behaviors and actions.

If you’re exploring the power of transparency and would like to know more details about this case study and the tactics, activation and media we deployed, let’s find a time to talk.

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

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

The New 5 P’s of CPG Marketing

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

Planning shifts to a set of consumer-savvy principles

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

Now, things have dramatically changed.  Technology has:

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Purpose

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

  1. Pride

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

  1. Partnership

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

  1. Protection

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

  1. Personalization

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

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

“Most marketing makes the company the hero.

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

Most marketers’ main aim is to close the sale.

The most effective marketing makes the customer the hero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Importance of Brand Building to the Future of Emerging Food and Beverage Businesses

October 24th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose 0 comments on “Importance of Brand Building to the Future of Emerging Food and Beverage Businesses”

Early priority trap – singular devotion to sales

In our interactions with emerging food and beverage brands we take note of a consistent condition between virtually all nascent businesses: a single-minded focus on sales. Certainly it makes sense especially in the earlier stages of development that founders/owners are preoccupied with securing the next account and building the pipeline.

It’s not unusual for us to see lean teams with limited bandwidths deployed in a recurring cycle of production to distribution to account selling activity. Marketing in these cases is often light on strategy – and reduced to a few tactics in the form of social media posts, periodic press releases and an occasional third-party influencer/blogger outreach.

Today we make the case for starting early to invest in brand building. In the end entrepreneurs may believe they are on earth to sell their better mousetrap, and more of it, until an exit strategy is achieved. In fact, what should also be going on here is purposeful development of the one asset that holds the valuation multiples and burnishes the customer relationship, your brand.

Why This is Important Now

People are emotional creatures who (backed by reams of scientific evidence on behavior) do NOT make fact based, rational decisions on the brands they prefer and that matter to them. The story you should be telling must be specifically packaged and presented to begin sewing the emotional fabric and connectivity to your brand and its deeper meaning. Brand purpose is not a nice to have, it’s a must have.

Simply stated: you are not selling a product but rather a feeling people have in the presence of your product. Here we’ll lay out the pathway to greater success and scale based on a more enlightened view of what’s required to make the leap to sound marketing.

Primacy of Product Experience

First, we should acknowledge that in the early stages the magic in generating trial is the very experience people have with your product. This is where the higher quality ingredients, the artisanal recipes, the more authentic production of a better tasting food or beverage gets noticed. Your brand, a virtual unknown, secures traction because it delivers on its promise of a higher quality, better for you, great taste experience.

More than at any other time in the history of food and beverage, the consumer is primed for the innovative, the new, the better-quality version of many iconic categories from chips and crackers to ice cream. Bone broth instead of soup stock. Heart healthy snack bars. Artisan peanut butter. Upscale and functional teas. Heirloom produce. Small batch you name it… the list is long and getting longer of new players summoning the efficacy of healthier ingredients and better preparations on a clean label.

Yet while the product is indeed the marketing at the front door for emerging brands, the attention to strategic brand building shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘we’ll get to it someday’ part of the operating plan. Again, for emphasis here, brand cultivation is an investment in establishing relevance and connecting with consumers who are most likely to try your brand, rather than a result of how many press releases are pushed out the door.

The Rule of Sameness

In virtually every edition of the Food Navigator newsletter you’ll find new products in launch phase. The sheer ubiquity and volume of new ideas making their way to grocery shelves or direct-to-consumer platforms is astounding. Higher quality retail outlets like Whole Foods are shopped by ‘what’s new’ hunter gatherers on the prowl for great ideas, ready to plunk down the higher price for a shot at a better product experience – at least once. I know, I’m one of them.

But the go-to-market recipe employed by more than a few reinforces a condition that exists in far too many product categories – the Rule of Sameness. Emerging brands often observe the conventions in the category they do business in and, intentionally or not, replicate behaviors that are common to the business segment. Some great decisions are made in innovative packaging but for the most part players tend to look similar on shelf. Tactics are similar. Pricing is similar. Color schemes and messaging are similar. When RX Bar decided to put “No Bull___t” on the front of their bar package, that may have done more for advancement of the business than anything else. Not that expletive is a precursor to greatness. It was just unexpected (see disruption below) and an outlier move.

Perhaps the best category on earth to observe this phenomenon of sameness would be pet food, where it runs rampant. So much so that you can interchange messaging between many brands and it would still fit. Protein percentage is now the reference standard of pet food quality.

Disruption is a Requirement

The word disruption sounds a little scary, but the principle applies here. In essence it means to zig when everyone else zags. Uniqueness and differentiation are vital components of a strong strategy and are particularly meaningful when the marketing budget looks eerily similar to your take home pay rather than something approximating the gross national product of Belize.

When every dollar invested needs to work like ten, the requirements of sound strategy comes to the front quickly. The story you tell, how it’s told, to whom, how it’s packaged and presented all matter in attempting to engage an emotional creature. Emotive language?

More often than not emerging brands lean too far into a self-reverential form of messaging that conveys ‘it’s all about me, not you’ when in fact it is all about them (consumers), all the time. How does your brand become a guide, coach and enabler of the lifestyle interests and concerns of your core user?

It is when we bathe ourselves in the customer’s lifestyle needs and aspirations that we can find the path to relevance, connection and also engagement on a modest budget. You have an uncommon product so don’t be common.

Standing out is a prerequisite because things tend to run together at retail, especially at the shelf where snap judgments are made daily. Words matter. Context is important. Emotion is key. Relevance is the bottom line that leads to success.

How do you do that? That’s why Emergent exists.

Absence of a Fully Baked Mission

We have ample evidence that consumers care about sustainable farming, about transparency, about ingredient integrity, contributing to the greater good and offering something consumers can believe in beyond the transaction.

Yet even in the midst of popular culture’s insistence that most new food brands come to the table with an embedded mission, more often than not, we find it isn’t fully baked, and in some cases tacked on like a ‘new and improved’ package violator. Successful brands today come to market with a soul. This may explain why it’s increasingly difficult for legacy brands to pivot because finding a soul is hard to do.

If the approach to building business is purely transactional, then even the messaging around a belief or mission rings hollow because consumers are marvelously adept at seeing and separating assertions from reality.

A higher purpose has to inform everything the company does from sourcing to production and how you got to market. Actions speak louder than words and offering the consumer something to believe in, matched by authentic behavior is the road to trust. Trust by the way sits at the foundation of every successful business now — and is increasingly hard to come by given the barrage of misdeeds, misrepresentations, selfishness and fractures of truth people see almost everyday.

This is why we’ve designed a specific program to help bring greater texture and definition to what higher purpose is and how it should show up in what the brand is about.

Your Brand and Emotional Connectivity

Belief, mission, purpose, essential truths and lifestyle relevance all combine as the alchemy for brand building in an age when the size of your ad budget isn’t linked to the depth of your brand franchise.

That said, it requires attention and intention to put brand building strategies into the mix early. The result is better traction, improved engagement and a quicker ascent with a story that resonates.

Convinced? We would be happy to share more of these insights, just drop me a line.

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

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

 

 

 

 

Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement

October 10th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Digital marketing, Emergent Column, Healthy Living, storytelling 0 comments on “Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement”

Our ‘elevator speech’ requires unconventional response

At the recent GroceryShop convention “Friends of the Future” networking event we helped produce in Las Vegas, I was asked repeatedly, “what is Emergent?” – The event was an exciting veritable meet-and-greet mosh pit of first-time introductions. At one point a colleague of ours from the Food Marketing Institute turned to me during an overture to a Pepsico executive and said, “Bob, give him the elevator speech about Emergent.”

In these moments when time and everyone’s headspace is at a premium, we tend to default to the simple explanation, frequently bound up in the tactics of what we do. So reflexively I reached for the convenient list of tools in the toolbox: brand strategy and positioning guidance, earned and social media, etc.

I left these conversations thinking, “that really doesn’t convey the essence of our secret sauce.”

A reflection on who we are and why that should matter to you

When we look back over time at the special moments when clients have allowed us to rise to our very best, we find a legacy of bigger ideas and strategic concepts that represent game changes of various kinds in various categories.

Understanding that transformational change is at the core of what we do, this immediately shifts the focus from tactics and tools to strategic platforms that inform the solution. Candidly, communications tactics without a strategic, differentiating concept forming the foundation underneath are just messaging vessels.

So here it is: Emergent is in the CPG brand and food retail transformation business, delivering strategic platforms that can impact the behavior of the organization and its business to bring incremental, sustainable growth. Yes, we can actualize strategic ideas all the way to the ground and execute at the tactical level, but it’s the diagnostic upfront and our ability to not only see the big picture but distill the barriers to added growth that represents our defining moments with clients.

The real secret sauce is Lori Miller, my partner, and me in our strategic diagnostic analysis that helps build a roadmap for change. More often than not, we find organizations mired in the conventions and routines in their category and how they go to market. Thinking differently means looking for the marketing “zig” when everyone else is “zagging.” This is baked into how we tend to see things. Uniqueness and differentiation are never overrated.

Clients desperately want their marketing investments to hit engagement squarely on the head, no pun intended. Engagement these days, however, demands a customer-first approach to literally everything a company does.

Rule number one – we know the consumer is in charge and control of the brand relationship, requiring businesses to be less self-absorbed and more creative and agile in how they look at the opportunity to earn permission for a relationship.

Yes, relationship.

Consumers are on the hunt for deeper meaning in the products that matter to them and want brands they choose to engage with and buy, to be a mirror of their values and passions.

So, as a strategic brand communications platform, the standard, “let’s focus on the product features and benefits” messaging as the marketing chin you lead with is a non-starter. Self-reverential communication is exactly that.

Thus at Emergent, we are indeed Architects of Engagement. We work to ameliorate the tendency to dance the dance of self-serving promotion when the real opportunity starts with enabling, coaching, and guiding your consumers on their journey to greater fulfillment. This is where the messaging focus and relationships move beyond transactional interruptions and pleas. The goal is authentic alignment and conversation with consumers and the opportunity then for legitimate interaction and belief.

A specific point of view that recurs in our work

One of Emergent’s key insights is reflected in our agency’s ‘Validation Marketing’ planning model. We believe that consumers increasingly are challenged to trust the assertions and claims made by brands. In our digital always-on world, we all are confronted daily with a variety of public revelations in the media of misdeeds, scandals, errors of omission, half-truths and hyperbole.

Brand trust has taken a hit, and year on year, we see evidence of declines. Earning trust is fundamental to successful marketing outcomes and so we develop transformational strategic platforms, tools and tactics that help burnish trust, including:

  • A first-in-its-industry Transparency Council for a premium pet food brand in a category where consumer demand to know more about what’s in the food and how it’s made is valued and differentiating; and
  • Creating the first “True Cheese” trust mark in the cheese industry in a segment marred by product fraud and mislabeling to elevate our client’s brand and integrity above the bad acters.

We strategically deploy social media as a pipeline to social proof in the observations of delighted user stories.

We engage outside experts and credible voices to help validate what a brand states are the essential truths about their product.

We employ earned media to bring the imprimatur of editorial, reportorial assessments in consumer and trade news channels.

We create videos, that in unscripted moments, capture the essence of consumer experience and ‘see for yourselves’ tours behind the product creation curtain.

In the end, it’s our empathy for consumers as people and insight into their desires and concerns that is embedded in Emergent’s thinking. This is foundational as a primary skill in our client engagements; best seen in our devotion to putting the consumer at the center of planning each and every time. Out of that study comes relevant messaging we can successfully deploy.

Health and wellness – redefined – no longer a tertiary consideration

One visit to our web site and there in headline form is this recurring statement about Healthy Living. For a long time, “healthy” was defined as a food science proposition in varying attempts to create addition (healthier) by subtraction – less calories, fat, sugar or sodium.

Now, health and wellness are fundamental to what consumers want and is redefined as emphasis on high quality, real food experiences – less processed and with a provenance story to tell – that delivers greater transparency to the supply chain and entire product creation process.

  • We know how to bring this to life and secure relevance to these principles at a time when consumers absolutely demand it.

We’re on a mission, too

As keepers of this essential truth and the flame of consumer relevance as the non-negotiable precursor to engagement and purchase, we see our mission to bring this understanding to organizations seeking to write a new chapter – whether that’s an emerging brand or an established legacy business.

This is what gets us up in the morning and characterizes our ambitions and goals for what Emergent brings to the marketing challenge for our clients.

Should this strike a chord with you, we should talk.

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

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

 

 

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