Posts in brand marketing

How to Build a Trust Engine

April 18th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Higher Purpose, Social media, Transparency 0 comments on “How to Build a Trust Engine”

Investing in Trust Can Deliver Marketing Efficiencies

For the last millennia, the currency of food, beverage and retail brand marketing has been awareness generation. More money has been spent in pursuit of the holy grail of being top-of-mind than any other single objective; for the oft claimed reason that awareness ideally is supposed to drive consideration and purchase. Or said another way, it’s based on the self-reverential belief that if the consumer sees a product message enough times they will buy because, after all, the product is so alluring and necessary.

What if this point of view were wrong-headed and spending dollars devoted solely to awareness creation tactics was akin to spraying water in the desert in the hopes that crops will magically manifest themselves? There may be some benefit to being continuously present for low involvement categories but even there, awareness doesn’t automatically ladder up to brand preference any longer.

Significant cultural shifts have reframed the paradigm on how brands are built that favors mattering and deeper meaning over spraying product claim messages everywhere. The focus should be on narrow-casting to an engaged audience rather than broadcasting in an effort to capture every eyeball. Mission, relevance and lifestyle connection are more important than being ubiquitous in today’s marketing best practices.

  • This brings us to banishing one myth at the start: you don’t need to appeal to everyone to be amazingly successful. In fact, the 80/20 rule prevails in many food and beverage categories — most of the revenue and profit will be derived from a relatively small cohort of committed users.

However, despite evidence that consumers tune out most of the overt marketing noise around them, we find ourselves at Emergent in the midst of frequent conversations about metrics and measurement that mostly calculates assessments of awareness building. Call it a hold-over from the Madison Avenue era, the enthusiasm for tactics in pursuit of that goal remains a dominant conversation in some annual strategic plans and spending priorities.

What if there were a better, more cost efficient and effective way to go to market?

Today, trust is the currency of successful marketing between consumers and product or retail brands. Trust cannot be ordered up from central casting. It must be earned through how the company and brand conducts itself and how its purpose is defined and brought to life.

Here is the simple truth: building trust is more cost efficient than chasing awareness. Yet companies typically outspend efforts to convert and retain customers by a 42 to 1 margin in favor of awareness building tactics. Hard to let go apparently.

What if your best customers ran your marketing?

Well of course the first push-back would be they don’t know what the company knows about the product, brand or retail deep background on features and benefits, and further they aren’t versed in the details and strategies of positioning and marketing messaging.

A moment then to pause and reflect. Feature and benefit type selling isn’t what it used to be. In a marketing environment filled to the brim with claims, assertions and hype, people increasingly find it hard to believe any of it. Additionally, consumers work overtime to avoid overt, interruption style marketing tactics. What they do understand is their own hopes, wants, dreams and aspirations.

When marketing works to align with what’s relevant to your best users, the effort takes on a whole new meaning. The goal of your strategic plan is to earn trust and that won’t happen when talking ‘at them’.

What does a trust creation engine look like?

Here are the fundamental tenets of customer-first marketing:

  1. You have to understand and care about their interests first, before yours. This requires some investment in insight research designed to better analyze what they care about. Assumptions in this area are often off the mark.
  2. Map ways your brand can make a real difference in their lives. Be intentional here.
  3. Effectiveness is achieved when your plans and messaging align the brand and business as an enabler of their hopes, needs and answers to their concerns.
  4. Be transparent and honest in your actions, business practices and communications. No more ivory tower thinking, which is now made of glass anyway.
  5. Extend transparency to openness about product creation, standards, supply chain and other aspects of how the business operates that your best customers will want to know more about.
  6. Create outreach programs around content that is relevant and meaningful to them. By definition this requires being less self-absorbed in what is conveyed. This will require a disciplined effort to refrain from the all-too-common trope of shameless self-promotion.
  7. Look to create and optimize the experiences and interactions consumers have with your brand to ensure they’re walking away with something of value (not money) to them beyond the transaction.
  8. To inform this effort, it is vital for the company and brand to build and understand its unique higher purpose and mission that transcends commerce — and creates a runway for communication around issues of meaning and importance to people and their values.
  9. Make doubly sure the company’s actions, policies and behaviors align with the mission. When ‘mission’ appears to be bolted on as a marketing maneuver and not an expression of true belief, it will fall flat.
  10. Want to have a more meaningful relationship with your best customers? Then imbue your brand with greater, deeper meaning.

No amount of marketing magic can save a soulless business or an unremarkable product. The goal of the business is to strive daily to be special, unique, memorable, useful and valuable. The foundation on which your customer relationship is built has to be about more than the product alone. That said the product is in many ways your true north so investing in quality at every point in the customer experience is now table stakes.

Without trust there is no possibility of a real relationship and the business will eventually become a commodity bought on price. Anchoring the marketing plan to trust creation is the path now to sustainable growth. It just also happens to be a less costly journey than chasing awareness for the very reason that focusing on the consumer’s needs and journey doesn’t require massive amounts of media to become sticky.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet

March 6th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Uncategorized, Validation 0 comments on “Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet”

Transparency advances to gold standard for successful brand building

The value proposition of verified truth and honesty is rapidly turning into the foundation of strong marketing strategy in an era where consumers, starved of trust and belief, impose change on how brand relationships are built.

We’ve lost the signals of credibility.

Some time ago we reported on the impact of digital conditions in the marketplace and instantaneous access to anything you want to know. This manifests as ‘anything that can be known will be known’ – hence every company now resides in a glass house. This is an outcome of pervasive social and digital communication and dramatically increased scrutiny of how brands and businesses operate. Daily we are confronted with outed fraudulent practices, misinformation and less than genuine product representations, mislabeling, omissions, recalls, investigations, misrepresentations of fact, even indictments — all while messaging perceived as self-reverential brand apple-polishing and brimming with marketing hyperbole falls increasingly on deaf ears.

Toss into this milieu, everyone with a device is now a content creator…and not all content creators (or their motives) are created equally. Today’s digital platforms foster an environment where opinions look like news to our always scanning eye. And those who opine may not be professionally trained, held to or bound by time-honored journalistic practices which have protected the word-consuming public. John Kass, columnist at the Chicago Tribune recently lamented the rush-to-support style of reporting in the Jussie Smollett debacle as evidence of how journalism standards remain vital. He urged reporters to revisit the old but wise axiom of “if your mother loves you, check it out.”

Brand trust heads south.

An outcome of fractures in belief and trust is a shift away from marketing’s traditional tactic of attempted ‘persuasion.’ In this environment, when assertion-based claims are deployed it can breed further contempt. People aren’t buying any of it.

The unintended consequence of always on 24/7 availability of everything about everyone is the rapid spread of information chronicling corporate misfires. The steady drumbeat of ‘caught in the act’ misdeeds subtracts from the consumer’s willingness to trust any voice driven by a profit motive.

  1. In a recent global research study of some 350,000 consumers HAVAS advertising found that consumers would not shed a tear if 77% of the world’s brands were to disappear. So much for the millions invested in building brand equity. If the brand becomes a less relevant commodity in the consumer’s eyes, there’s no deeper meaning or relationship there to be had.

 

  1. Further 58% of advertising and promotion for the world’s 1,800 leading brands is seen as irrelevant. If the communication isn’t constructed around what’s important to the consumer, and is more about the brand’s self-reverential promotion, the disconnect is already embedded in the communications strategy.

 

  1. Of note, brands that are considered truly meaningful to people soared over other businesses on overall impression, purchase intent, advocacy and justification for premium pricing. Meaning, values and purpose are fundamental to earning permission for a relationship. Does a brand have a soul? Apparently one is needed. Those without risk dying on the shelf.

The study concludes: usefulness and delivering on what you say you are may be more important than anything else. What does that tell you? Demonstratingcredibility and taking actions to earn trust are prerequisites to engagement. Transparency is an important path to proven authenticity and belief.

  • The value proposition for truth and honesty goes up daily in proportion to the growing weariness over evidence that some brands operate selfishly at best and dishonestly at worst. What consumers want are brands that listen; that make a priority of working overtime to be relevant and engaged in their lifestyle aspirations. Consumers are resonating to brands that have a soul, stand for something greater than themselves, and see the value of integrity standards and faithfulness to more human values.

There’s equity and opportunity in operating openly. What does the alchemy of advantage look like when the formerly powerful rules of brand command and control that once governed how to go to market no longer apply?

Credible proof in the form of verified and validated claims

Several years ago we were helping a client (Schuman Cheese) in the cheese industry to mitigate rampant fraud, adulteration and mislabeling in their category. A significant percentage of the Italian cheese business in the U.S. was adulterated with lesser ingredients to protect profit margins. To help solve the challenge, we developed and launched the first trust mark in the cheese industry. The True Cheese seal we created would appear on product packaging to signal the product inside meets or exceeds the standard of identify for the type of cheese, and that the ingredient label is indeed truthful.

Outside testing of products bearing the seal would be done randomly and unannounced by sampling retail products from store shelves – the same products consumers buy. Tests performed by a respected outside third-party laboratory confirmed adherence to the code of Federal regulation and findings were published.

When we launched it was a big media story – about fake Parmesan cheese – that went viral in 72 hours and got sufficient traction in popular culture to prompt the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to feature an entire segment on the adulterated Parmesan cheese development.

Important to note that retailers resonated to the verified trust approach and believed they were better off to stock the real thing than take chances with something that might not be.

What’s the story you’re telling?

Consumers want the truth but understandably are reticent to accept company assertions at face value. Hence the incredible surge of interest in Transparency.

Being transparent means you allow consumers to observe for themselves what goes on behind the corporate curtain in product creation and ingredient sourcing.

Trust marks and seals are shorthand for validation. Standards and testing organizations like NSF.org are gaining traction as companies in food, beverage and lifestyle categories increasingly look for ways to credibly prove the quality story embedded in their products.

Recently Organic Valley and Maple Hill jointly announced the “Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program” to address misleading labeling in the grass-fed dairy products marketplace. The program, unlike others in the organic category, requires a full supply chain verification before qualifying to use the mark.

The strategic linkage in these validation programs and others we predict will come, is recognition that trust is vital to consumers and that assertions aren’t good enough to secure belief. Transparency’s call for openness and clarity, for access and demonstration to be brought to life through various techniques aimed at letting consumers, experts and media in the tent to see for themselves what brands hope they will recognize as truth.

Blockchain to digitize honesty

Perhaps the most significant development to come in the quest for verifiable trust is the advancement of digital solutions that are essentially tamperproof. Blockchain’s great promise is digital ledgers and contracts supported by the deployment of sensors and scanners — and backed by algorithms that monitor and validate every step from the soil to the store. Truth tech that will prove the tomato’s organic and heirloom heritage, its cultivation and harvest, its safe handling and freshness from the ground to store shelf.

Imagine the marketing opportunity that awaits for digitally verified trust… Emergent is following the development of Blockchain technology and is studying its evolution as we seek to stay ahead of Transparency strategies for our clients.

Where are you on the curve to provide these proof points in your marketing strategy?

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.

 

 

 

You are now selling sand in the desert…

February 22nd, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, e-commerce, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, shopper behavior, storytelling 0 comments on “You are now selling sand in the desert…”

Navigating the Impact of Infinite Choice

If ever there were a time when sound, informed strategy mattered to the success and outcomes of food, beverage and lifestyle marketing this would be it. Like it or not we’ve entered the era of nearly infinite consumer choices in a media environment of almost countless channels. This requires a new marketing formula.

Thinking at scale today takes on a completely different meaning when consumers are presented with so many options within a click to buy environment. Thus, how should you design for success when you’re ultimately selling sand in the desert? We will answer that question here.

Left to its natural course, food marketing tends to gravitate towards the vanilla middle – an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience – and in working to address everyone, you end up mattering to no one. When the options are legion this can quickly turn marketing and communication investments into a moonshot without navigation – the hit (or more often miss) driven by luck more than intention.

At various times we’ve written about the importance of putting consumers at the center of strategic planning. Now, we further qualify that statement by saying – in order for a strategic marketing plan to be measurably effective, putting consumers at the center of planning is table stakes. And determining who that consumer is will require even tougher decisions to prune and refocus the definition of the cohort you wish to serve. Why? Because the 80/20 rule is in full force as the vast majority of volume and profit will come from a smaller segment of committed advocates – assuming you’ve planned for relevance to a community of potential believers.

This is the most compelling argument ever for – different

Let’s start with a foundational understanding that the brand must be perceived as special, unique, useful and valuable before there’s any shot at being memorable. No one has the time or mental bandwidth any longer to assess the vast array of options in any given product category. So how do you resolve the reality of inexhaustible choice?

You must start with the intended core user and work backwards. Seth Godin made a cogent observation in his recent book “This is Marketing” when he described the effort behind what may be the most powerful TV commercial ever made – Apple’s “1984” spot for the launch of the Macintosh. The spot aired during the most watched American sports program on earth, the Super Bowl. The majority of viewers would not have understood or probably cared about what Apple was trying to convey in its dark Orwellian mini-movie.

The lesson: it didn’t have to register with everyone to be successful. Godin observed the spot only needed to touch a million savvy creators and early adopters who picked up that Apple was up to something revolutionary. The rest of the viewers didn’t matter, and indeed the rest is history given Apple’s ascent to brand superstardom. Whatever the brand, the audience of committed advocates will always remain relatively small.

It is with the small and devoted cohort where effort and outreach needs to be directed. And those investments should come from a concerted endeavor to push hard at the edges of what’s unique and different in your brand proposition. Here’s the question we often evaluate with clients: how can positioning, audience, product formulation, and the character of the brand, be dialed sufficiently to the right or left so that we’re able to create a new category – one that our client can own?

Who is it for and why?

To dial in your position successfully you then have to know who it’s for and why. It follows if you want to have meaningful relationships with consumers, then imbue your brand with greater meaning. But for whom?

That’s a big question that requires some rigor to answer correctly. Who is going to quickly respond and be drawn like a magnet to your product proposition? Once defined, all eyes and energy must be directed to fully understanding their hopes, dreams, needs and aspirations. Your marketing strategy is then fine-tuned to align with that insight, opening the door for the brand to become an enabler of their wants and needs – in a voice that’s relevant to them – becoming a reflection of their wants and how they’d like the world to perceive their beliefs and priorities.

This is important because purchases now are largely symbolic representations of what people want others to know about what they believe in and think.

The hard truth about marketing

Of note, we’re doing business in an environment overflowing with self-assured claims, assertions and hype. Here’s the difficult pill to swallow: people don’t believe any of it. The counterintuitive basis of effective marketing today is to not look, talk and walk like marketing.

That said, there is a reflexive habit in strategic planning to navel gaze. To focus on the craft of what’s been created, formulated or built. Here at Emergent we totally understand that spirit and where it comes from, after all most brands are justifiably proud of the considerable effort they invest in technology, quality and improvement. But this also sets the table for potential marketing disconnect.

You are not selling a food or beverage

In the same vein as pet food is sold to humans and not to dogs or cats, it isn’t the product that people are buying. What you are actually marketing are feelings, connection, desire, happiness and status. Not stuff, not items, not things in boxes or bags. Not chips or salsa or soup. People are buying a feeling and expression of their status and belief system.

So then, what’s the path to creating a marketing plan with this insight embedded all the way through? It will require all of the hands on the marketing tiller to be empathetic anthropologists of what the biggest brand fans are about.

Here are some areas to focus on strategically:

  • What your audience wants, not what you want to tell them
  • What they believe
  • What they need
  • What they aspire to
  • What story would emotionally resonate with them

The more you invest in seeking to understand, the more likely you are to land on the big idea (one that immediately influences the behavior of the business) and create a voice for the brand that is engaging and is shared. When you seek to improve the lives of your best customers, you earn permission for a relationship with them and the marketing you create comes across less like a transactional maneuver.

If you think this way, it will flow downstream to impact how the business operates. We already know that what the brand does is more powerful than what it says, so there’s an opportunity built into the recipe for authenticity.

Brand trust continues to decline, so the game plan must be to build it, earn it, cultivate it. The reason transparency has ascended to ever higher importance is precisely because people don’t accept anything on face value. Claims and assertions are exactly that. When you verify, validate and reveal the product creation story by letting consumers all the way in, it fosters belief and trust.

10 components of successful marketing  –

  1. You must push for positioning that’s truly unique, different and helps create a new category
  2. Refocus and narrow your audience definition to the smaller community of ardent fans
  3. Devote your insight research to this audience and discover how the brand sits in service of their lifestyle needs
  4. Become an enabler of their wants and desires
  5. Recognize you’re not selling a product but an emotional connection
  6. Activate brand experiences because behaviors speak louder than words
  7. Know that being relevant is more important than being superior
  8. Authentic storytelling to this audience is the path to engagement
  9. Trust is everything…you must earn it
  10. Transparency is the precursor to creating trust

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

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

How to put the consumer at the center of your marketing

January 30th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, storytelling 0 comments on “How to put the consumer at the center of your marketing”

Is it inward contemplation or outward relevance that drives growth?

Brand navel-gazing is exactly that – an inward preoccupation with your product and business advantages. With consumers increasingly objecting to anything that looks and sounds like overt product selling, is it time for a new model?

The historical approach tends to repeat…

When I started in the agency business in Seattle, my first formal account assignment was a regional packaged foods company named Nalley’s. I was to take over the account for a senior agency team member who was moving over to handle a new client. During our first formal visit the hand-off occurred, and I found myself meeting with the four brand managers who ran chips/snacks, canned meals, dressings and pickles, respectively.

At each meeting the client’s marketing executive provided a brief of the business, describing the strategic features, benefits and advantages of their products over competitive offerings. Of course my job was to creatively, persuasively communicate those points of difference to consumers.

This feature and benefit briefing was a staple of how things operated in almost every business category the agency served.With virtually every client there was a laser-like focus on recipes, technologies and operational achievements. As such, plans would always spring from this information, often matched to various forms of testing designed to determine which claim would be most memorable and compelling to the target audience.

In the business of building businesses, companies expend great effort to refine their products and operations, as they should. The goal of course is to stay ahead of the competition and achieve some measure of superiority and differentiation. The marketing team looks to these achievements as evidence of compelling reasons for selecting and buying.

  • This system, which is pervasive across so many divergent business categories, tends to reinforce a point of view that marketing is on the right track when it focuses the product features/benefits; so carefully created and packaged.

After all, an organization’s systems and activities are engaged in constant improvement and refinement so this effort tends to inform the strategy!

Executives believe this data ladders up to the formula for driving growth and expansion. More specifically, when an editorial story or advertisement messages around these advantages, benefits and formulation improvements, we reflexively believe this argument forms the basis of brand preference.

We know more today about how people actually operate

Except for one thing. We’ve learned people are not analytical, fact-based decision- making machines. Humans are irrational creatures driven instead by feelings and emotions, often without self-awareness that this is how everyone behaves.

However we like to think of ourselves as logical, thoughtful analysts who carefully consider the facts, weigh the merits and then decide. In reality, we are steered by how we feel in the presence of a brand or business. It is emotion that informs actions. Yet so much of what goes into the crafting of communication is based on analytical backgrounding and introspective messaging.

When I got married 22 years ago, I went from dating to the altar in 12 months. It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made. So, was the move to propose founded on a conscious consideration of the personal pros and cons, the facts of my intended’s upbringing and family history, education and career prospects? Heavens no! It was how I felt about her. I knew in my heart of hearts she was the one. It was a powerful, visceral sense of love, passion, rightness and earnest conviction.

My subconscious brain knew more about the salience and relevance of this relationship than any fact-based roll-up of so-called “features.” In all cases, all of the time it is heart-over-head. We are feeling creatures that think and not the other way around.

How does this manifest in communication?

Emergent’s stellar pet food client, Champion Petfoods, makes some of the finest pet food on earth. You could fill volumes on the details underneath their formulations that ladder up to optimal nutrition for dogs and cats.

It is easy to become pre-occupied with the analytical facts of proteins, vitamins and minerals served in a bowl. We know the anecdotal stories of transformation and change in pets’ lives from eating these foods. The improvements to their health, wellbeing and happiness are far more persuasive through the emotional voices of loving pet parents than any fact-based presentation of formulation and protein ingredient percentages.

Stop focusing inwardly

So what does this mean? In order to achieve consumer engagement we must thoroughly, fully understand the interests and aspirations of those with whom we hope to communicate. We need to get underneath what matters to them and how the client’s brand can operate in making their lives better.

The brand must operate in service of a deeper meaning than just commerce. How can we improve the customer’s life; how do we add value and become an enabler of things they care about?

We must actively mine the emotional turf that resides under what people want and care about. In the case of pets, we know that food quality is linked to a sense of welfare and wellbeing for cats and dogs. The higher quality of food purchased is an expression of how much people love their pet. The emotional grist lies in the relationship and companionship with pets, and a desire that our four-legged family members remain happy and healthy.

Marketers can trumpet statistics on protein contributions and the role of nutritionally dense ingredients to delivering what dogs and cats require. In doing so the brand may have missed the bond, the relationship, and yes, the love being expressed and the importance of this dynamic to happiness.

  • Our actions are influenced by how we feel; how we resonate to the brand and our sense of comfort and trust in it. The facts and figures exist only in support of the emotional narrative.

The litmus test for effectiveness

Here’s how to judge the merits of communications plans and proposals:

First, is there an assessment and review of the consumer – their wants, needs, dreams, aspirations and lifestyle interests? This is what is meant by putting the consumer first – insight on their interests that informs go-to-market strategy.

  1. Question number one: has effort been made to draw linkage between what we know about the consumer and how the brand and business can become a partner and enabler of those lifestyle needs?
  2. Has messaging been constructed around breathing life into emotional cues that hold up a mirror to how the consumer wants the world around them to perceive who and what they are?
  3. Have we looked at the cultural symbols relevant today for what consumers expect and want? Are those symbols showing up in the communication we produce?
  4. Are we creating synergy across all touch points from store to online to package to media to social channel?
  5. Are we tugging on the heartstrings? Are we keyed into the central motivation for why people want things, and the desires they have for a higher quality life?

If we wish to communicate in a way that’s understood and appreciated by the sub-conscious brain it will involve emotional cues. The facts and figures operate as reinforcement for ‘why’ we made a good decision post-purchase.

Moving from brief to resonance

So, instead of marching every marketing conversation down the hall of inwardly focused feature and benefit briefs and documents about technologies and product superiority, we should firstseek to understand the hearts and passions of those we wish to engage.

This is fundamentally a call for more (better) research: the kind that uncovers what makes customers happy; what they seek for fulfillment; where the pain points are; what they aspire to be – and then work creatively to create linkage between what we learn and how the brand is an active participant in achieving those goals.

  • This is how we earn permissionfor a meaningful relationship and how the emotional fabric is knit that leads consumers to brand trust and purchase. The operational and technical savvy is what delivers satisfaction with product experience, and thus powers a repeat purchase.

I get wistful at times thinking if we had known back in the day what we know now about how human beings operate — our strategies would have been much different, probably more powerful and effective.

While we can’t go back in time and make corrections we can carve a new path to victory; one based on putting the consumer at the center of planning strategy. This is harder than it looks because the inward focus on product features and technologies is ingrained in business cultures big and small.

But times have changed and what do we now know?

If you don’t change with the times, you’re probably in trouble.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2019 and The Future of Food and Beverage Marketing

January 17th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Retail brand building, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy, Transparency 0 comments on “2019 and The Future of Food and Beverage Marketing”

Our strategic roadmap for the year ahead…

Today we map the framework for business growth in 2019 anchored strategically to achieve trusted consumer relationships in the year ahead. As we begin this journey, it is important to note the incredibly important work by the Food Marketing Institute compiled in the “Power of Health and Wellbeing in Food Retail” report. In our estimation one of the best analyses FMI has produced in recent times.

This is a forward-thinking review created under the experienced leadership of Susan Borra of the FMI Foundation, and executed with persuasive evidence by David Orgel of David Orgel Consulting, and key data supplied by The Hartman Group. It is also a remarkable summation of what Emergent has been forecasting and publishing in various venues for the last five years about evolutionary changes in the food and beverage industry.

  • What’s ahead is a deeper dive on the strategic priorities, areas of focus for planning, and a healthy helping of relevant consumer insight data.

Thus it is job number one at Emergent: to earnestly pursue insight into the hearts and minds of consumers – their wants, wishes, dreams, aspirations, fears and concerns. It is in this effort to get ‘underneath’ that we more fully grasp how consumer relevance and engagement can be achieved. Make no mistake, it’s more difficult to be seen and heard than at any other time in modern marketing history because the consumer controls the levers of commerce – and talking ‘at them’ is a recipe for disconnect. Thus why relevance matters greatly.

Dear reader, here we will summarize the most important and salient points and data that should be reflected in go-to-market planning for the year ahead. Simply said, this is a great way to kick off the year – offering firm, insight driven strategic guidance on what matters to people and its influential link to their purchase and shopping behaviors.

Armed with this understanding, the path to trust and relationship becomes clearer. As we’ve said many times before, genuine relationship is everything. Consumers are not walking wallets; they are real, living constituents – and to the extent businesses can make a meaningful difference in their lives, the opportunity to earn affection and spending multiplies.

  • Without consumer relevance and resonance, food and beverage brands cannot gain the ear and interest of consumers who have more quality choices, more channel options, more control and power than ever before – power that will quickly mark the winners and losers in the next 12 months and beyond.

The number one opportunity for brand and food retail resonance and business traction: leveraging Health, Wellness and Wellbeing.

Consumers across all age cohorts have fully connected the dots between the quality and types of food and beverage they consume and their overall quality of life. For this reason, the very definition of health and wellbeing has expanded to include a broader array of key lifestyle attributes consumers care about such as emotional health and happiness.

Whereas “healthy” was once more narrowly defined as weight management and calories in and out, today it is about food quality and the origin story behind the food. This interest is fueled by consumer demand for transparency as a new prerequisite for creating lasting, meaningful relationships with the consumers we wish to serve.

Yes that’s serve, and not sell! Transactional thinking can infect the marketing playbook with ill-advised strategies and foster brand behaviors the consumer immediately repels as advancing the company’s commercial interests over their own; selling at them rather than cultivating their trust which precedes any willingness to spend money.

2019 Strategic Building Blocks

Five key areas demand attention in strategic planning. This list provides the basis for a holistic strategy that reflects what consumers truly care about. It goes without saying these five areas allow for a wealth of engagement from content creation to communication activities. Here they are:

  1. Health – Number one is the growing influence of healthier eating on brand choice. Healthy, by the way, is increasingly a quality story not a sacrifice game. Healthy and indulgent are cohabitating.
  2. Nutrition – Consumers are now looking at nutrition density in the foods and beverages they prefer. This tracks closely with the table stakes demand for greater transparency around product ingredients, sourcing and manufacturing. What was once described as a clean label is transforming into clear This is marked by disclosure, clarity, openness, honesty and more guidance not less.
  3. Enjoyment – Taste is fundamental to the human experience. Higher quality food experiences can be found everywhere and the use of fresher, real food ingredients is elevating the taste experiences people crave. Food is to be savored and enjoyed. It is an adventure. There’s a hedonist lurking in everyone in varying degrees.
  4. Discovery – Meal kits might offer an excellent example of how the food industry feeds low-risk culinary experimentation. The growth of new cuisines, tastes, global flavors and use of more exotic ingredients serve to expand the horizons of what consumers want and expect. We all want more choices than meatloaf and fried chicken at the Deli counter.
  5. Connection – Food is a social lubricant. It is a facilitator and player in how we relate to and engage our friends, family and business associates. No surprise here that according to the FMI report, 84% of consumers say it is very or extremely important to have a family meal together at home. People hunger for the connectivity and social discourse around the table. Food is an essential player in our social lives. Great food and great conversation are partners in life’s most memorable moments.

Two Key Strategic Trends in 2019

We stand today at the threshold of a new developing category in food and food retail. Early movers in this space stand to benefit from ‘first with the most’ opportunities that fall from being able to define what this new category is about and what constitutes best practices.

  1. Food As Medicine

This is an evolution and elevation of food and beverage solutions – products that aim to provide direct, measurable benefits to health and wellbeing. We’re not speaking just about weight management, although that is a component. We’re talking about food solutions that are an alternative to drug therapies or as preventatives to needing drug therapies.

In case after case we find that diet plays a role in the onset of disease. So, too, we’re discovering that foods high in fiber, plant sterols, Omega-3s, antioxidants, prebiotic and probiotic ingredients can be ‘dosed’ to achieve specific health benefits – without the often debilitating, unhappy side effects that can accompany medications.

Step One Foods in Minneapolis (disclosure: Step One is an Emergent client) is an excellent example of this emerging trend. Step One’s line of packaged foods including bars, smoothie and pancake mixes, oatmeal cereal and toppers are clinically proven to reduce LDL cholesterol at levels that match or exceed the outcomes from statin drugs.

It’s important to note from FMI’s report that 66% of shoppers already view foods as “medicine for their body.” When asked about food as a contributor to their health, the top five interests in solutions include:

  • Cardio-vascular health – not surprising as heart disease is the number one killer in America, and effective options like Step One speak directly to this need.
  • Weight management – a perennial concern, weight management remains connected to healthy lifestyle and a sense of wellness and wellbeing.
  • Energy – the link between energy and lifestyle satisfaction is palpable. Busy lifestyles and career demands make energy an important priority for people.
  • Brain function – memory and cognition are two areas we can expect more innovations to surface in as people increasingly look for a mental edge.
  • Digestive health – we are only beginning to see the growth in attention paid to inflammation and its role in aging and disease. This will continue to get greater innovation priority.
  1. Mining competitive advantage: Fusion of Transparency and Trust

Earning trust may be the single most important objective in the development of sound, successful marketing plans. This is due in no small part to its pivotal role in securing consumer interest and engagement and the avalanche of evidence that brand trust continues to decline.

Trust precedes any kind of brand/consumer relationship. Demand for transparency is the ante in curating trust. Consumers define transparency as “open, honest, clear and visible.” In short being transparent, providing access and more information about how food and beverages are made and what’s in them.

FMI’s report cited five key areas where consumers are looking for greater disclosure:

  • Ingredients used
  • Origin of ingredients
  • Product creation process
  • Animal welfare
  • Absence of anything artificial like preservatives or chemicals

Emergent guidance: build a suite of communications and content around how you make your products, the stories of suppliers and their work, what happens at your plant, what your standards are on quality, safety and sustainability.

It’s interesting to note, when consumers were asked who their allies are in the quest for healthy living and helpful advice, the top five sources were:

  1. Family
  2. Doctor
  3. Farmers – take note!
  4. Friends
  5. Fitness and health clubs

According to FMI’s report, when it comes to the most respected and trusted voices for guidance on healthy living, those sources include:

  • Registered dietitians
  • Personal healthcare providers
  • Wellness counselors
  • Scientific studies
  • Fitness professionals

Emergent guidance: this insight suggests the efficacy of consumer-generated content, investment in social communities and relevant content, and use of respected third parties to validate what food brands want consumers to know and believe.

Food Retail Opportunities

There will be more competitive shifts and changes for food retail in the year ahead. So how does this play out as retailers seek to re-invent themselves?

In Hartman Group’s “Food Shopping in America” Report, a consumer survey of retail channel preferences showed supermarkets scored well on assortment, products consumers want and preferred brands. But indexed lower than other channels of retail on a good place to browse and shopping enjoyment.

As center store continues to be dis-intermediated by e-commerce, competitive advantage is shifting to favor specialization and in-store experience. FMI’s report lands on two key areas of opportunity that point the way for food retails to enhance relevance and increase traction with shoppers.

The Healthy Living Coach…

Food retail has an important opportunity to answer the consumer’s desire for healthy lifestyle by assuming a stronger role in an area shoppers already think retailers can fill.

Consumers believe food retailers are a potential ally and guide on their journey to a healthier, higher quality life. The retailer can operate as coach through access to expert voices, better and healthier food solutions and providing in-store experiences or classes on healthier cooking and shopping techniques.

Nearly 50% of consumers, according to FMI’s report, say providing healthier food choices is a way to support ‘Eating Well’ which contributes to ‘Living Well.’ When asked what the components of Eating Well include, consumers saw this as an integration of healthy eating and enjoyment.

Specifically, retailers can offer:

  • Nutritious food and beverages
  • Higher quality foods
  • Portion control – eating in moderation
  • Foods with specific benefits (food as medicine)

But perhaps the most important business growth opportunity for 2019 lies in the resurgence of home cooking. According to Hartman Group survey data, 88% of consumers say they eat healthier at home than at restaurants. Home-prepared food carries with it a healthy halo. Knowing how important eating with family at home is to consumers, retailers can answer this call with greater investment in prepared food options from complete menus to meal kits and other prepped ingredients.

What’s important to note here is the enhanced demand for better quality food, unique meal experiences and culinary exploration. Thus retailers need to up there hot bar game from ribs and rotisserie chicken to more interesting, chef forward dishes.

In sum, it’s about activating wellness solutions from produce, to center store to foodservice. Putting adventure and discovery back into food shopping will go a long way to creating advantage and loyalty even as consumers move increasingly to online shopping for everything else.

We have another post coming on omni-channel strategies. Stay tuned…

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Marketers Seek New Strategies as Consumer Trust Declines

December 11th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Transparency 0 comments on “Food Marketers Seek New Strategies as Consumer Trust Declines”

Food and beverage brands must move to new story…

Growing consumer concerns over health and wellness.

Evolving expectations around higher product quality.

Emerging calls for greater transparency and truth in labeling.

General cynicism toward marketing that sells ‘at them’.

In study after study consumers continue to show their lack of trust while demanding more honesty from brands vying for their spending — with rewards going to those brands that ‘get them’.

Some marketers have attempted to force-fit traditional claim and assertion style marketing tactics into digital platforms but with little success. To consumers, it still smells like conventional spin so they work to avoid it entirely.

Other marketers have smartly moved their strategic game plan to focus on building more respectful consumer relationships around alignment with lifestyle interests and aspirations.

  • Yet new information and insight now coming to light suggests, while lifestyle connections remain important, there’s a new sheriff in town governing what breaks through the clutter to secure brand consideration and selection.

In many respects, this revelation makes absolute sense based on our deeper understanding of consumer skepticism and absence of trust combined with their desire for honesty, authenticity and expressions of a true soul coming from brands and businesses they choose to favor.

Seekers of truth and understanding

We’ve come to a place where marketers recognize consumer interests more fully, texturally, as they evaluate new and emerging food brands with a merit-based system. It’s important to note here first, the fundamental requirement for business growth in any category requires an unshakeable bedrock of clear brand differentiation.

Around the unwavering consumer call for standout uniqueness is an equally strong desire for better products that are also better-for-you, and culturally connected to relevant social issues such as sustainable farming, green environmentally-friendly operations and animal welfare. 

The new secret sauce for accelerating food brand growth

In a recent Premium Marketing Strategy report by food industry trend expert The Hartman Group, a survey question was posed: what kind of narrative would likely cause you to select a new premium brand?

The answer wasn’t about better price or taste. Rather, consumers wanted to know more about how the product was made. Followed in close order by a related topic – the source of ingredients used to make the product; in sum, the product creation story.

So what does this mean?

It’s a gigantic red, neon flag waving three feet in front of every marketer. Consumers want to assess the merits of the food or beverage based on how and who created it.

Contained in the details of this product creation backstory is the necessary evidence of quality, healthfulness, and connection to culturally relevant practices and beliefs. Rather than accept assertions on face value, consumers want to peer under the hood, and in doing so, narrow the chance of being influenced by proverbial brand apple-polishing.

  • It’s one thing to claim better-for-you, and it’s entirely another to reveal ingredients, processes, methods and sources that authentically demonstrate healthy and higher quality.

How to be the credible brand storyteller – Show Me!

So you sell hamburgers… where did the beef come from, who raised the cattle and how were they fed and cared for? About the bun and vegetables used, same need. What are your standards of quality and what about the relationships with your suppliers; their carbon footprints? How is the hamburger prepared, what evidence can be provided about food safety, ingredient integrity and freshness?

No matter the category, there’s a transparency story underneath about how you make things, how you source ingredients and what goes on in your kitchens.

This is the information that forms the basis of earning brand trust and evaluation of the brand’s relevance to consumer beliefs and cultural affiliations. Said another way, the product creation story isn’t a nice to do, rather it’s a must do in getting to active consideration.

Worried that this kind of information demand will be difficult due to weaknesses in your creation story? Then, you have a mandate to make improvements. It may be time to recognize that new premium food solutions are growing while many legacy brand businesses are losing share of heart and sales.

The strategic recipe

Armed with this consumer insight, the food and beverage path to marketing best practices begins with creating an inventory of competitively strong product attributes. These attributes will inform the rationale for how the product will credibly deliver on its key benefits.

  1. Important to note this should be cast as unique attributes that help elevate and separate the product from competing brands, and that make the product better at delivering its promised benefits.
  2. Competitively significant attributes are then integrated in storytelling about product creation and ingredient sourcing.
  3. This means elevated, premium production and sourcing criteria outweigh benefits in the hierarchy of successful brand outreach strategies. Thus, it’s important to cite value-added attributes not offered by legacy brands.

As the decline in consumer trust continues to chip away at the authority curve for brands, what moves in to fill the vacuum left when assertions and claims don’t resonate? A new era of food and beverage marketing opens based on a real-world reality-check about what’s inside the product.

Tangible, visible evidence of quality now passes assertions of quality in effectively reaching consumers with the motivating message. What the consumer is really saying: Show Me!

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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