Posts in Brand preference

Pandemic unleashes cultural changes

Context is Your Marketing Super Power

June 28th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Social community 0 comments on “Context is Your Marketing Super Power”

How are you deploying it?

The incredible disruption spawned by the global pandemic is creating an important opportunity to reframe the marketing conversation around your brand. During difficult times people are more receptive to brands making bolder moves. Uncertainty provides the latitude to experiment, in the context of answering cultural changes that are having a profound impact on how people view the world around them and what they care about in times of change.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Cultural shifts create influential moments when consumers are open to new ideas. Behavior change, which is hard to accomplish, becomes more attainable. What we know about people is the role that perceived risk has in their decisions. When a change is adopted by many, it can quickly become the default choice for the very reason human beings are a copying species. Popularity provides reassurance.

Permission operates in the same way. Witness what is happening now with work at home. Companies, especially in the tech sector, are making this a permanent adaptation and by virtue of doing so signaling a new acceptable default for how business will operate. If it were merely served up as an optional choice (as it has been for years!) the adoption curve falls immediately because of the perceived risks of not being in the office and any stigma that might accompany that perception. Companies that offer unlimited vacation see the same outcome as people don’t suddenly leave for extended periods for the same reasons – fear their career will be compromised and so the “choice” isn’t activated. Averting negative experiences is a highly motivating and universally common behavioral trait among consumers.

Human beings are hard-wired to avoid personal risk

The over-arching impact of COVID-19 on the value proposition of health and wellness moves the interest in healthy lifestyle from aspirational to practical to necessity. As we’ve said previously, Health is the New Wealth, essentially means there are life-maintaining, risk-mitigating reasons to shore up the immune system. This is having an impact on food and beverage brand growth in the coming year. The default for health and wellness has now changed – it’s visceral and existential. This also helps sponsor an emotionally charged marketing environment.

It’s important to note that humans are not governed by algorithms. We do not make decisions based on rational thus predictable assessments of facts. If we did, 1 + 1 = 2 could be applied to marketing activity with assured outcomes. Instead – we are feeling creatures who think and not thinking creatures who feel. Yet for some reason right alongside the birth of digital marketing platforms and the ability to amass data, we have become too preoccupied with marketing plumbing at the expense of paying closer attention to the (human behavior) water inside.

Psychological insights are simply more powerful and unilaterally effective than any form of technological or engineering advantage in products and service marketing. Said another way, a terrific well-designed product with subpar marketing behind it can fail – while a lesser product with better and more humanly relevant marketing strategies in support will win the race. How can this be? …Because now we can create high levels of satisfaction by knowing what truly ”floats the consumer’s boat,” more so than any advantage created by a less emotionally-compelling ingredient innovation or product feature.

Marketing is not a form of cosmetic surgery to apply a thin layer of magic fairy dust on the top of a product that succeeds on its own merits just because it is well crafted. Dyson vacuum was renowned as an engineering marvel, yet its suction power wasn’t really the big leap forward over other conventional models. Its sexy design created perceptions of new and modern (visual cue), while the ability to actually see dirt in a clear cup provided enormous levels of personal accomplishment and emotional satisfaction to people who could observe the outcome of their floor-cleaning efforts for the first time. The marketing behind Dyson was masterful in elevating the value of having one in the house as a symbol of being progressive and innovative while embracing the fashion of an edgy, differentiated design.

The most important move to make on the successful marketing path is….

Our job (and yours) is to identify the single most powerful motivation driving customer behavior in a client’s category. Armed with this understanding we place the consumer at the center of planning, working to apply our understanding of context, perceptions and emotions that are tied to their behaviors. We translate that insight into more effective communication.

Everyday people show their peculiarities, whims and irrational behaviors, wishes and fears. Armed with this knowledge we’re able to blaze new trails for brands that want to and can be more relevant to consumer needs. This happens because the brand’s deeper meaning and values now operate in sync with what people believe and care about.

In this unprecedented marketing environment, here are some questions to consider:

  • How can your brand contribute to the cultural conversation going on right now?
  • What are your users’ shifting attitudes about themselves?
  • What higher purpose can your brand fulfill that matches the beliefs consumers value the most?
  • With health and wellness now more important than ever to people, how does this play out in your strategic plan?

You have permission now to experiment outside the rational comfort zone, offering new reasons-to-believe that are tied to deeper meaning and values that transcend the product itself. A small example of the human emotional condition at work here: why is it that consumers perceive a car drives and performs better when it is clean? Not really rational is it!

We work to change the way people see your brand

Our role as creative communicators is to pay attention to the consumer who buys our clients’ product or service. Perception often leads reality and our job is to manage those perceptions, knowing that the reality is never far away in a digital world where anything that can be known, will be known.

The four horsemen of an effective strategic marketing plan are:

  • Context (in which it is consumed)
  • Environment (in which it is sold)
  • Cultural setting (that drives surrounding beliefs)
  • Who says it (the voice employed to build trust)

Harkening back to our earlier point about risk aversion and disaster avoidance, trust might be the most important consideration to directly address in the strategic plan. Trust drives purchase behavior. It can also disappear quickly if not managed with great care.

This explains why social media is such an important channel to deploy strategically. For the very reason the voices involved are consumers and not the company. People believe other people long before they’ll accept what a business claims about its product. Social proof serves as verification and validation of what you want people to understand and accept about your brand.

In a tough marketing environment, trusted brands will succeed and it doesn’t happen organically. Trust is acquired and earned over time. This is perhaps the most powerful argument for investing in brand building. Consumers trust those they know and believe. They also trust the wisdom of crowds and translate socially accepted choice as ‘vetted and approved’.

Now is the time to step beyond your comfort zone and consider bolder moves. If logic were the only defining path-to-purchase then every brand in a category would be on equal footing. However, that isn’t the case because logic doesn’t respect what we know about people and how they behave.

Your super power is the ability to embed context and relevance in brand communication. Emergent can help you navigate and design more engaging brand outreach and active social communities. Let us know if you’re interested in finding a fresh perspective.

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.

How to PREVAIL in the Midst of Uncertainty

June 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, CMO, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, food experiences, Healthy Living, Marketing Strategy, Navigation 1 comment on “How to PREVAIL in the Midst of Uncertainty”

Emerging brand navigates change at the speed of a SpaceX rocket launch

Over the last five years there has been an unprecedented shift in food culture to favor new and emerging food brands. These new brands have found traction by reinventing existing food and beverage categories or creating new ones with elevated recipes, higher quality ingredients and an ethos to go with it.

When the pandemic suddenly descended like a quick-forming Hurricane headed on-shore, we watched in earnest to see how these bright upstarts would weather the storm. On the one hand, these new businesses often fulfill the desire for healthier options right out of the gate. On the other, as young organizations without the deep cash reserves of legacy counterparts they can be vulnerable.

Among the new brands Emergent has been following is PREVAIL jerky. PREVAIL was founded and is guided by Glen Kohn in Chicago, a financial services investment expert (understands the balance sheet) who had a personal penchant for jerky making that turned into his life passion.

Answering a prevailing trend of higher quality, better for you

PREVAIL has reinvented the jerky category with a truly clean formulation that rids the meat-centric snack option of unwanted preservatives, horrific sodium levels, added sugars and ingredients that food allergy sensitive consumers can’t stomach. What’s extraordinary is the taste and eating experience, an uncanny ‘secret sauce’ ability of Glen’s products to deliver a jerky sensory bite but without the toughness often associated with dried meats.

We wanted to find out how Glen and PREVAIL were faring as COVID-sponsored upheaval sent shockwaves through many businesses that are in early stages of their development and growth curve. Glen graciously answered five questions intended to gauge the impact of the pandemic. We include our observations and insights following Glen’s answers.

Five Questions for Glen Kohn and PREVAIL Jerky

  1. In the last 60 days much has changed for emerging food and beverage brands. How has the pandemic impacted your business and what changes have you made in how you go-to-market?

Glen Kohn: “Many of our retail locations such as hotels, health clubs and coffee shops closed down at the start and some remain closed. Given what was happening around us in retail channels, we knew to retain our momentum we needed to pivot to online. On the ingredient supply side, we believed that beef prices would likely go up, so we got out ahead of the possible challenge in April and purchased 100% grass-fed beef to control our costs.” 

Emergent: What’s evident here was the quickness and resolve Glen and his team showed to get ahead of the shifts and do their best to keep the velocity moving. Especially important was the supply chain decision given the significant escalation in beef prices.

PREVAIL sells at a premium to other traditional category jerky brands. While the value proposition justifies the extra cost, in an uncertain economy, it is possible for price premium acceleration to hit a ceiling and generate resistance from users. Wisely Glen avoided the pricing meltdown. He also sidestepped taking a hit on slender margins by banking his supply.

  1. What specific shifts, changes have you created to your sales and marketing strategies?

Glen Kohn: “We quickly shifted to go after more e-commerce retailers, corporate snack boxes, and B to B online platforms. We also saw a spike and increased interest in Affiliate programs. Dollars that were allocated to retail channel tastings and events were shifted to bolster PR and social media spend.”

Emergent: Food retail industry watcher and guide Brick Meets Click recently published a report showing online grocery transactions were up 18% from 62.5 million in April to an astounding 73.5 million in May. Also in May, household penetration reached 33% as 43 million consumers shopped e-commerce channels for food and beverage. This is way ahead of earlier food industry studies that forecasted household penetration on a much slower ramp, and offers proof that the pandemic has caused an inflexion point with online ordering. Out of necessity consumers have become more comfortable with this shopping behavior. Glen’s pivot to emphasizing e-commerce was a smart move.

Trust is at a premium these days and now more than ever, people rely on the recommendations of other consumers to inform their brand selection decisions. Social proof is the most important mechanism to validate what Glen wants the world to believe about his product efficacy and to encourage trial.

  1. How have investors reacted to the COVID-19 situation and what do you think they’re looking for now from brands like yours?

Glen Kohn: “Food is definitely king now. As evidence, shelf stable, healthy snacks are booming. If anything, now is the time to invest in food and beverage brands while other industries such as travel and hospitality wrestle with systemic challenges to their business model post-pandemic. Investors will spend their money on businesses with strong ongoing sales traction.”

Emergent: Equity investors often point to company leadership and their business skills as a primary driver underneath their investment decisions. Glen approaches the business not just as a guy with passion and a great recipe, but also a business brain who isn’t hesitant to make decisions in the midst of uncertain conditions. Combined with better jerky category relevance and salience, you can see why Glen should continue to attract operating capital as he works to scale the enterprise. Stay-at-home conditions and protein snacking make great bedfellows. 

  1. How do you see consumer priorities and behaviors changing as a result of the economic uncertainty and lifestyle impacts of the pandemic?

Glen Kohn: “Consumers are increasingly turning to healthy foods during the pandemic. The food industry is one of the only industries to surge during this time. People are snacking more throughout the day and they are looking for healthy alternatives that the whole family can enjoy.” 

Emergent: The pandemic has ushered in significant transformational changes in consumer attitude and behaviors. In our recent article, “Health is the New Wealth” we outlined the sea-change in the reshuffling of priorities and needs for people. The COVID-19 event has dramatically demonstrated how ‘out of control’ the world can be, upending every single aspect of life, lifestyle and career. What is the one thing people can control in a seemingly uncontrollable world? Their investments to enhance their own health and wellbeing through what they put in their bodies and active efforts to take better care of themselves.

A healthy immune system is at a big premium these days. Brands that actively partner and help guide consumers on their journey to healthier living have an extraordinary opportunity to build a lasting and sustainable relationship. Glen sees this and his company is positioned to take advantage of it.

  1. What guidance would you offer to the founders and investors of new emerging brands that will help assure their continued development? What are the top three things you believe they should do to help ensure continued growth?

Glen: “From what we have heard and seen it’s best to diversify channel strategy and watch behavioral changes. We have seen brands that were primarily in one retail channel and were crushed when the country shut down.

  • Be nimble.
  • Cash is king.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a chance.
  • When the timing feels right be a first mover.” 

Emergent: During uncertain times when the future appears to be unpredictable and changes are occurring around you at unprecedented speed, occasionally fear can set in that causes businesses to turn inward and go dark as they “ride out the storm.” We have ample historical evidence that this is a recipe for disaster. Brands that continue to invest in their growth, in communication with consumers, that remain present and work quickly to adjust to the changes going on around them are likely to emerge in much better condition than those which retreat.

You can’t cut your way out of a recession. No question cash management and burn are fundamental business issues to address. That said, it is more important than ever to be a builder and as Glen says, a first mover.

A brand name that inspires consumers during uncertainty

PREVAIL is an interesting and compelling brand name. On a very visceral level it is aspirational to the consumer experience. People want to prevail over what looks at times to be insurmountable odds. This brand as guide, coach and expert authority can take the journey with consumers as a trusted source and resource.

The characteristics and drivers of successful brand building have changed as consumers seek deeper meaning and shared values with the brands they prefer. Equally, brands need to position themselves as partners in helping improve their consumers’ lives.

To help them prevail.

Emergent is expert in helping build new and emerging brands and businesses. If you’re looking for fresh ideas and perspective, let us know.

Editorial note: Emergent would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Glen Kohn for participating in this story. We appreciate his time and efforts to help inform the industry.

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.

Pandemic Advances Pet Value Proposition

March 18th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Pet care, Pet food marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Pandemic Advances Pet Value Proposition”

Pets Impact Your Health and Wellbeing

As families endure the uncertainty of pandemic conditions outside their homes, the value proposition of pet ownership is getting a boost. Most pet owners can easily attest to the emotional benefits of having that wagging tail or purring rub greet you each morning. Furry family members provide a calming, mood-enhancing effect in the face of adversity.

That said, moving beyond the stress-reducing benefits of spending more quality time around dogs and cats is emerging evidence that pets can contribute directly to owner health and well-being.

In Dr. Marty Becker’s landmark book, The Healing Power of Pets, this renowned Veterinarian brought to light tangible associations between pets and the health and wellbeing of their owners. Becker characterized dogs and cats as a “human life support system,” based on studies showing a link between the presence of pets and the prevention, detection and treatment of illnesses.

A literature search on pet-to-human health impacts, reveals studies and published reports that draw connections between pet ownership and –

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved recovery outcomes from cancer and strokes
  • Reduced use of medications
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Reduced doctor visits and associated costs
  • Early detection of cancer
  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • Improved mental health
  • Relief from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Treatment of depression and loneliness
  • Doctor recommended therapy in treatment of Autism, Alzheimer’s and spinal injury

According to the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of U.S. households include a pet, with 90 million dogs and 94 million cats residing in homes.

The deep emotional bond between pets and pet parents has always been a source of motivation driving the continued premiumization of the pet care marketplace. Advancing sales of super premium pet foods, for example, is attributed to the growing desire to provide nutritional quality that is on a par with human-quality diets. Pets are now fully ensconced as card-carrying family members.

A connection between human health benefits and pet ownership may become more apparent while the pandemic turns lifestyles upside down, and the pet to pet-owner relationship helps measurably improve wellness and happiness in the midst of unprecedented upheaval.

If pet ownership makes people not only happier but also healthier, it is likely the relationship value will rise with it, and the increase in pet-owning households will grow alongside.

Marketing best practices trail behind the evidence of lifestyle benefits

Pet food is an interesting category due to the similarities in product form – kibble has essentially the same brown nugget appearance brand-to-brand. The continued growth of brands offering higher protein foods made from animal, poultry and fish proteins, has prompted brands to also similarly emphasize analytical messaging around ingredients and protein percentages inside the nugget.

However, the latest research in consumer attitude and behavior shows that people remain emotional creatures who make decisions led by their feelings more than facts. The correlation between pet ownership and improved owner health and wellbeing could fuel the continued growth of high-quality pet foods. This will occur for the very reason that people themselves have already connected the dots between what they ingest and their own quality of life.

However, the pet food industry is still stuck in analytical rather than lifestyle marketing practices.

It’s time that pet brands look more closely at the contributions pet ownership can make to family health and understand the emotional connectivity this fosters. While other business categories will undoubtedly suffer in the presence of COVID-19, it is clear pet owners feel strongly about feeding quality foods and have routinely shown they will make sacrifices in other areas of their life to do so.

It may very well be that dogs and cats will be the heroes that elevate family health and happiness during this trying time.

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.

Building Trust in the Midst of Fear

March 15th, 2020 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Pet food, Restaurant trends, Social community, Social media, Transformation 1 comment on “Building Trust in the Midst of Fear”

Efforts to create, innovate and communicate will inform your brand’s future

You’ve undoubtedly run across the ‘dystopian future’ movie storyline, usually brought on by some cataclysmic disaster with intrepid or hysterical survivors running into a grocery store, only to be greeted by empty shelves while wading through torn packaging detritus everywhere. I had this movie-like experience only last night at the Mariano’s supermarket nearby. I witnessed the fear-driven cart Olympics mad dash as aisle after aisle of products were emptied save a lone, bruised apple and a dented, torn box of cereal left dangling precariously on an otherwise barren shelf.

Uncertainty and media drama are partners in the perceptual stew that pushes people into behaviors normally reserved for cinematic storytelling. Fear of the unknown grips as the house now achieves safe haven sanctuary status and toilet paper becomes one of the most elusive, rare and sought-after commodities in the nation.

Keep Calm and Carry On

In 1940 at the height of the Blitzkrieg (The Blitz) that showered Great Britain with bombs in the night, dropped indiscriminately on London neighborhoods, the government released its now famous poster Keep Calm and Carry On. This statement became a dominant theme embraced by incredibly brave British citizens in the face of unrelenting catastrophe and sharpened their resolve to weather the life-threatening storm.

Right now, today, you have an opportunity to help your customers Keep Calm and discover the opportunities presented by a large dose of enforced family time and homebound adventures and experiences. Creative, innovative thinking and generous outreach is the required skillset.

Lemonade from lemons

The foodservice industry is taking it on the chin. In Seattle, the hardest hit city in the nation from COVID-19, business has virtually disappeared from restaurants as people remain home. Arguably Seattle’s finest dining establishment, Canlis, an iconic example of culinary quality that has led the dining scene there for decades, elected to close.

Chef-owner Tom Douglas told Restaurant Business magazine revenue was off by 90%, which might as well be 100%. Nonetheless, Douglas’ response was instructive to us all. He announced the opening of three concepts based out of Canlis kitchens that will serve the takeout, drive through and home delivery market segments. The Bagel Shed will offer breakfast options; Drive on Thru will provide lunchtime burgers, veggie melts and salad; Family Meal will offer a rotating menu of dinner entrees and a bottle of wine delivered to your door. A creative deployment of solutions and assets that helps keep the team employed while answering the opportunity for off-premise consumption business.

Salve for Uncertainty

Communication, and lots of it, is required in these unprecedented times. Your motivation is not only to inform users of what your business is doing to keep the flow of goods and services they need safely in motion, but also to express care and concern for their health, wellbeing and happiness.

The schools my daughters attend are now closed. My youngest is a dancer, and her classes and performances have been cancelled. My oldest is an ice skater and the rink is shut and practices stopped. What we have going is each other, our wonderful dogs, more time together and adventurous spirits.

How can your brand operate as coach and guide for family activities, more hands-on experiences with the pets, and a renewed focus on home-prepared meals? With no sports, no concerts, no large group events of any kind, the marketplace may well be listening and consumers more open to engagement than ever before. There are certainly wayyy fewer distractions competing for precious attention.

Your brand’s ability to operate as an enabler and resource is important in this environment. Social communities can become outlets of shared experience. In Chicago, the Nextdoor online community bulletin board is on fire as people share thoughts, ideas and concerns on the changes occurring before us. One of the most active conversations is around the status of fresh food supplies in local supermarkets and guidance on who has what.

People want to share and engage with each other

We have arrived at a new era where businesses increasingly understand they are about more than manufacturing, retailing and commerce. Companies have discovered their growing role in authoring the greater good. This self-discovery opens the door to building a more human and approachable brand that understands relationships with users are increasingly like real, human friendships and the natural reciprocity that exists in that personal dynamic.

When brands talk, walk and behave in a more human and relate-able manner, they become more resonant and trustworthy. You have been handed an extraordinary opportunity to help people in the midst of a trying storm. Empathy is a great characteristic and will serve you well as people embrace your voice of reason and support.

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.

Emotion Will Transform Your Business Outcomes

March 3rd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Emotion Will Transform Your Business Outcomes”

The story of emotional marketing power

Awhile back the largest home safety products company, First Alert, had landed on a household hazard that no one even knew existed. It was the number one cause of accidental poisoning fatalities in America, a threat flying so low under the radar there was near zero measurable public awareness of the peril.

Yet households and families across the country were potential unwitting victims to this insidious threat that, among poison specialists, had acquired the nickname The Great Imitator. First Alert discovered the widespread existence of highly dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) gas, that could be present in homes because it is a natural, common by-product of all fossil fuel combustion. Anywhere a flame exists, carbon monoxide is there with it, released into the atmosphere where people unknowingly consume it through the simple act of breathing.

Most consumers associated carbon monoxide with car exhaust and suicides from distraught people leaving the car engine running with a garage door shut. CO inside the home living space was not understood. By anyone.

Carbon monoxide poisoning earned its Great Imitator title because it is odorless, colorless, tasteless and early poisoning symptoms perfectly mimic the flu. The presence of CO in a home an outcome of malfunctioning heat exchangers or venting in furnace systems, chimney drafts that reverse direction in certain outdoor wind conditions, or appliances like stoves and hot water heaters that when improperly tuned may emit measurable levels of CO into the building.

  • There was no way to detect it, no way to know if the family is being poisoned routinely by the presence of this invisible hazard. Remarkably First Alert had developed new technology that could sense the presence of CO in the household air and designed an alarm product around it.

Thousands of lives were lost every year to carbon monoxide poisoning but the awareness and understanding of this critical, life threatening problem went largely unnoticed. Until…

Changing the future and saving lives

We were hired to help First Alert build a marketplace for the alarm product. How could we possibly succeed with an invisible hazard that no one has any tangible experience with other than the unexplained headaches or nausea that accompanies low level exposure to the poison? CO operates in the lungs to reduce oxygen levels in the blood stream, slowly suffocating a person from the inside out. Even small amounts are highly toxic.

Consumer insight is a powerful tool and we felt strongly consumer research would help us find the right strategic path. Essential to our due diligence and discovery were one-on-one, deep dive conversations with men and women about the hazard. In these meetings we presented a variety of narrative stories that explained the condition and solution.

Some treatments were educational ‘explainer’ concepts that helped people understand the scope of the threat and where CO comes from inside the home. Some approached the story from the poison side, with physicians detailing how CO works to rob the blood of oxygen, eventually leading to unconsciousness and death.

One of the treatments, however, was a real-life story of a family in Maine that lost their teenage daughter to carbon monoxide poisoning inside their home. The story worked to humanize the entire proposition and focus on the loss of a loved one, in a life-ending condition that might have been prevented.

The mother’s heartfelt story was powerful. In fact, the outcomes of the research confirmed categorically that none of the analytical arguments and educational downloads came within a country mile of making an impact on attitude and behavior like the family tragedy, told by parents who were determined to help others understand how they can avoid this fate.

Dawn of ‘The Silent Killer’

We created short, memorable handle for the CO threat that turned its invisibility into a poignant indictment of the household menace. We developed a launch strategy around the family’s gripping story, created an entity called the Carbon Monoxide Information Bureau as a quote-able source, and rallied a team of respected physicians and indoor air quality experts to fill in the details of how CO occurs and what it does to a person exposed.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington DC made CO poisoning events a priority for their public outreach efforts that credibly affirmed the scope of the problem.

What came next is one of the largest earned media campaigns we ever conducted that blended the family story with information on how people could protect themselves. Chief among the messaging points were medical reports that confirmed children and unborn babies are at greater risk to CO poisoning and could be adversely impacted by smaller amounts of the gas.

Producers at network news and talk shows like NBC Today Show and Good Morning America were genuinely shocked at the revelation, and The Silent Killer story quickly gained national attention and momentum.

Soundbites along with B-roll footage of household hazard conditions went to major market TV newsrooms across the country. First responder fire departments in the top 25 markets were enlisted to weigh in on the conditions and events surrounding CO events in an effort to help people protect themselves and their families.

The First Alert business went from zero to hundreds of millions in CO alarm sales within 15 months of launch. The buyer at Walmart called the new category the ‘Cabbage Patch Doll’ of the hardware department. Local news reported lines outside stores to get the alarms. Thousands of lives were saved, and families protected. Local governments began to weigh in writing Ordinances to require CO alarms in households, while product design created integrated alarms that combined smoke and CO monitoring in one detection unit.

Don’t leave emotion out of your marketing

This was one of the most gratifying marketing and communications experiences in my career for the very reason we were able to save so many lives, while creating a new product category to help prevent a life-threatening hazard that no one can see.

  • Most important was the family who stepped up to help us tell this story out of their personal experience. From a pure communications strategy standpoint, emotion and heart-over-head are directionally vital takeaways to this approach.

People resonate to people. No matter how powerful the facts may be, the analytical evidence of superiority your product may possess, emotional stories of human experience will be more compelling. After all, every consumer is first and foremost a human being and we are simply wired to respond this way.

We can help you harness emotion and craft powerful brand stories that build business.

Want to know more? Let’s talk.

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

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.

How to Manage Your Future Success at Retail

February 14th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, shopper behavior 0 comments on “How to Manage Your Future Success at Retail”

The Vital Role of Velocity in the Growth of Emerging Brands

Every new, emerging food and beverage brand is a leap of faith for the founders. It’s also a leap of faith for the retailers who put those new products on the shelf. For this reason, a near universal yardstick is used to determine if the product is a winner and thus a longer-term player, or if it’s a bust and headed towards delisting. That unalterable path to traction and success, or lack thereof, is velocity.

Velocity in simple terms is the repeat purchase data that shows what happens following the initial run-up on trial after a product is launched at retail. The question retailers are attempting to answer: are purchases escalating as users come back again and again while new users continue to enter the top of the sales funnel?

For most new successful brands, a heavy category user audience has resonated to the product and fuels the outcome. Getting to this sweet spot isn’t luck of the draw or guaranteed once the product is on shelf.

There are two primary drivers of velocity:

  1. Memorability – the consumer remembers your brand name and seeks it out
  2. Effectively answering the “why” – every successful food or beverage has a primary ”why” that draws fans in time after time. The “why” can be defined as the primary dietary objective or problem that the product solves.

Both of these drivers are marketing challenges. Yet far too often, we find founders and investors preoccupied with the finer points of securing distribution gains (meeting with distributors and retail buyers), ingredient sourcing and manufacture (getting the product out the door) and financial management of both.

It may appear that the ability to scale the business is best served by adding more retail accounts or driving more traffic to the web site. While in fact, if velocity is not successfully managed, and the memorability and the “why” go unattended, greater risk is injected into the business.

Number one error going in

In the very early going before any brand equity exists, product experience is the primary reason why early adopters come back. Simply said, the promise is fulfilled in the eating and drinking experience. The product taste is a home-run and the expectations on healthier, higher-quality choice are delivered.

This means that in the early periods before any retail scale is achieved, it is vital to seek input and review from the product’s best users to determine if any tweaks need to be made to the recipe, texture or flavor profile. If the product is optimal then added distribution makes sense.

However far too often there’s a false sense of security embedded in the initial product experience win. This may prompt the brand’s owners to mistakenly believe once on shelf the product will sell itself. “If you build it, they will come” is a precarious trail to navigate because other key ingredients in managing velocity goals go unaddressed.

Bandwidth can be a challenge here because there’s already so much on the plate for founders in the day-to-day struggle to get the product made and off to distributors or retail outlets. More often than not, we find that business owners are not expert marketers and can at times assume that marketing consists only of social channel posts or sending out press releases. There’s much more to it than that.

How to manage velocity

Memorability is required to get consumers coming back again and again. This puts greater pressure on the web site, packaging and consumer-facing communication to bring the brand front and center in the context of the consumer’s needs and wants.

However, it is right here where the most frequent fundamental errors are made. Most emerging brands cast the story upside down. They believe the story should be about themselves and their product attributes and benefits. When that happens, the story is embedded with a disconnect right out of the gate, because it casts the brand as the hero.

Every consumer, every day wakes up believing they are the hero of their life story. When the brand presents itself as a hero, it competes with the consumer for that role and people walk on by in search of a guide to help them solve their needs. The construction of the story is paramount, with the consumer as hero and the brand operating as the expert guide and coach on their journey.

The story is about them, the consumer, and their wants, needs, concerns, aspirations, desires and challenges. The consumer needs to find themselves in the story you are telling. Then and only then will they engage and listen.

This is the path to relevance, an essential ingredient in effective marketing strategy.

For the most part new, emerging businesses are b-to-b players, devoting most of their time, energy and communication to investor, trade and distributor audiences. So, it’s no surprise the skill sets in consumer-facing outreach may not be fully developed. The story creation is a top priority and is best done by experienced, creative marketing brains who have the skill sets to build it, and then move the story in earned, owned and (later) paid media channels.

This leads us to the second key element of velocity – the “why”

There’s a key message that needs to be addressed in all forms of outreach from package to outbound communication. What is the primary dietary need or want your product solves that keeps people coming back? Insight research is vital here to determine what the “why” is. Is it weight management? Is it energy? Is it an indulgent reward? Nearly every food and beverage category has a heavy user audience whose purchase frequency is a vital component to achieving velocity objectives. Interviewing these heavy users to get your arms around the “why” is vital to managing velocity because the answer should become a focus of your messaging and hammered everywhere.

People are interesting creatures – we all are – and we never tax our brains if the message is too complicated or dense. Far too often new brands turn their packages into a Heinz 57 variety of claims and benefits in the hopes that one of the many bullets will register. However, consumers will not invest the time and energy to wade through all of that to find something – anything – meaningful to them.

Instead they move on.

Simple, clear, concise messaging is incredibly important especially in a retail setting where the consumer may allocate only a second or two of brain time before they walk past. This explains the importance of the “why” and how it becomes a core area of messaging focus in an effort to simplify what’s being conveyed.

The role of emotion

Another key insight – people are not analytical, fact-based decision-making machines. We are led by the heart over the head. It is the feeling people have in the presence of your brand that impacts whether they are drawn closer or repelled.

Emotional storytelling is important because it respects what we know about people and how they operate. The emotional stories of improvement or change experienced by users can be a vital component of bringing this insight to life. Authentic, real stories are more powerful than the old “that’s why we” tropes of traditional, self-promotional advertising.

“Trusted” is the desired result – and that is best earned through honesty, transparency and a brand voice that is human and real, not ad-like.

Video is an excellent medium for emotional storytelling because words, pictures and music can be combined to achieve that effect. Unscripted testimonials can be valuable here because they’re authentic, relate-able, and honest.

Intentional message design

Words matter. Dialing in emotion, the “why” and a more human, conversational voice are important when creating consumer-facing outreach. It’s harder than it looks and must be done with intention.

When memorability and the “why” are correctly brought to life, velocity outcomes can be managed in earnest. When you know that your heavy users have found themselves and their needs in this incredibly exciting brand and its mission – and are responding as hoped – real velocity management has begun. The scale will come.

We can help you build the right story.

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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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