Posts in brand messaging

Storytelling can change history, alter the path for brand growth

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

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

When Real, Powerful Human Stories Must be Told

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A David vs Goliath story if there ever was one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He quickly backed down.

The meeting went on.

Then, the sea change occurred.

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

Why did this work so powerfully?

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

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

You can do this, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Healthy eating to boost immune system

Pandemic driving shift in food brand value proposition

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

Clarion call to optimize brand positioning and messaging now

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

The numbers tell the story

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

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

A tall order.

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

Evolving health and wellness calculus

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

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

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

Three anchors of message priority brands should implement

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

Messaging and brand storytelling should rally around these important themes:

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

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

Optimal storytelling guidance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t let this moment pass!

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

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

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Brand storytelling must be emotionally relevant

Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot

January 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot”

Turning forgettable messaging into UNforgettable engagement…

The vast majority of brand communication fails to engage its intended audience. It’s like continuously pumping messaging fuel into a mental gas tank with a hole in the bottom. Why? Because it is inadvertently constructed to be quickly forgettable.

  • Numerous behavioral research studies confirm within an hour people forget more than half of the information they’ve read, seen or heard. That percentage rapidly accelerates as more time goes by. Pfft, gone.

The message creator hasn’t fully grasped the critical elements of compelling, memorable storytelling that respect with what we know about how people operate. Instead, they lean on fact-based, logical feature/benefit oriented pieces of communication that won’t intersect with the emotional drivers that secure engagement and trust.

Consider this: stories are 22 times more memorable than facts. But what constitutes great storytelling? The best of the best storytellers recognize they are interacting with humans and work to understand specifically what drives cognition and outcome. For one you have to move beyond the product “plot” to plant a beating heart in the brand story with consumer as hero.

You’re speaking to a human

The magic occurs when great communication engages the neurotransmitters that drive people towards and not away from what is being conveyed. The two most important physical elements of messaging brain chemistry are Dopamine and Oxytocin.

Dopamine is a ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that is produced when a person is expecting some kind of meaningful reward or pleasurable experience. Dopamine helps us strive, focus ourselves and find things interesting. It has a direct impact on learning, motivation, mood and attention. The key here is creating anticipation of a sought-after reward.

Oxytocin is a hormone that operates as a neurotransmitter. It is created when people hear and experience how much you appreciate and care about them. Unsolicited acts of kindness can be instrumental in building this response. Oxytocin is the precursor to enhancing empathy and trust. You already know how fundamentally important trust is to any kind of real brand-to-consumer relationship.

  • Do you still believe that fact-based arguments are the way to go? The information will begin to disappear from your customer’s head within an hour.

The most powerful example of this I’ve ever experienced was during our work for home safety products brand First Alert, and the introduction of the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm. It is a living illustration of the link between emotion, empathy and impact on behavior.

The carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning story is laced with facts about sources of this unseen gas in the home, how leaks occur, what happens in the human body when it is ingested, and what the impacts look like. Yet our message testing revealed that none of that held a candle to the power of a personal story about a Maine family who lost their eldest daughter in a CO poisoning incident.

The heart-wrenching narrative about what happened to this family made the case for protection from an invisible threat in a far more personally-compelling way than any fact or figure ever could. Relate-able emotion is a powerful and influential communications tool.

The path to better communication outcomes

What is your consumer looking for? People resonate to a desire for love, connection, acceptance, safety and happiness. The goal here is weaving together a story that encounters this insight in various ways.

Your cheese business is not selling cheese. You are using compelling visuals and copy to convey mouth-watering desire. You’re actually selling incredible taste experiences delivered in a shared social environment people crave. Your narrative wraps in beliefs and values that embed your brand with deeper meaning. This transcends the forgettable ‘buy my cheese’ message because you know people want to be a part of something greater than themselves.

  • Tone here is important. The more human you are in storytelling, the better. Vulnerability and honesty come in to play when you’re reaching for resonance and relevance. Give your audience experiences they can relate to, empathize with and recognize in their own lives.

Want to hear the voice of honest and human?

“Smart phones exist already and they’re stupid. But mine is smarter than your computer at home.” Steve Jobs, launch of the iPhone. Does Jobs employ facts, technology examples or recitation of features? No. He nails the proposition by creating a relate-able context of what was an astonishing revelation in its era. Beautiful.

Story structure

Here’s the question that must be answered in brand storytelling: how does your product change a person’s life? You are working to unearth the true “why” behind a consumer’s reason and desire to purchase.

Stories should address three fundamental elements:

  1. Set up – the problem your product solves. Think long and hard on a higher level about what this is.
  2. Conflict – create some tension around how you go about solving the problem. Is there a villain you can identify?
  3. Payoff – the happy outcome of what success is and what it feels like to prevail.
Remy and food passion
Passion, heart and soul create the basis for message engagement

The Pixar movie “Ratatouille” isn’t about a rat as chef

Yes, the central character Remy the rat can read cookbooks and has ongoing conversations with a famous French chef who is a figment of his imagination. The magic of this story is his love affair with food and flavor combinations. It is his passion for incredible taste experiences that drives him and the arc of the story.

He makes you want to cook, to pick up a knife and chop, to invent and create because of the romance he liberally dollops into his sauté pan. Pixar studios is famous for embedding heart and soul in its movies. What inevitably happens? You get invested, you care, you become engaged and feel empathetic for the characters involved.

  • This understanding of great storytelling is no less important and meaningful in business communications. Your brand deserves this kind of thinking and expression under what could become the unforgettable stories you tell.

If this approach resonates with you, Emergent employs a proprietary brand story telling process to tease out these great narratives and bring them to life. Use this link to find out more.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

COVID 19 and Pet Brand Marketing

Our new monthly column at Pet Age magazine…

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

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

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Cultivating brand advocacy

Is your brand remarkable enough to earn conversation?

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

How to cultivate and deploy genuine word of mouth

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

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

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

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

Why is WOM so elusive for most businesses?

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

Why do we find ourselves here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The enemy of WOM is incrementalism and sameness.

Defining the path to word-of-mouth excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do the unexpected?

Endear your brand to customers?

Create a tell-able tale?

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

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

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Brand activism is on the rise

Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism

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

Is your brand’s higher purpose dialed in?

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

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

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

The Socialization of Brands

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

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

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

Brands are now expected to be social actors.

“My Wallet is My Vote”

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

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

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

Alignment reaches a new level

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

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

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

The relationship of food to climate change threat

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

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

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

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

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

Brand activism and brand voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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