Posts in Brand preference

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.

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.

What defines fearless, swing-for-the-fences marketing?

February 11th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “What defines fearless, swing-for-the-fences marketing?”

The recipe for transcendent business growth

What do marketers want to achieve?

  • Sky-rocketing sales
  • A growing legion of enthusiastic brand fans
  • Advancing market share
  • A profitable balance sheet

But what about:

  • Making a difference in customers’ lives
  • Recognition as a brand with a soul, standards and a higher purpose

What stands in the way of achieving these goals? Of course, consumers have to join you fully on the journey. However more often than not, what that journey is, how it’s assembled and executed, plays a significant role in calculating the anticipated outcomes.

The path to marketing success begins with redefining the task at hand and how the consumer can participate. It doesn’t start and end with selling product features and benefits. Rather, it begins with fundamental recognition that human beings are on a life-long hunt for resolution to their external, internal and philosophical problems.

In truth people are not actually buying products; they are attempting to become better versions of themselves.

Swing-for-the-fence marketing is on a mission to create transcendence, recognizing customers are ultimately looking to be:

Wiser

More respected

More valued

Better equipped

Healthier and more physically fit

More accepted and loved

More at peace

Happier and more fulfilled

Summarizing fearless marketing behaviors

Successful brands look beyond the basic functionality, utility and value proposition of the product, to envision how the brand can inspire and improve the customer’s life.

This means defining an aspirational, human quality which resonates with consumers. And further, considering how the brand can help their customers achieve those aspirations.

The best brand building answers the following important questions:

Who does our customer want to become?

What kind of person do they want to be?

What does their aspirational identity look like?

How can we help inspire and enable their goals?

When you reach for a higher purpose and deeper brand meaning, the foundation is set for the kind of marketing that inspires people. They want to be part of something that’s greater than themselves. For brands, the irony of being centered on the customer rather than the brand, is the very thing needed to facilitate what businesses want to achieve – consistent year-on-year growth that provides the grist for a healthy balance sheet. This occurs because your consumer truly opts in, becomes emotionally invested in the brand, and decides to participate.

The marketing fearlessness resides in the intentional vision to go beyond tried and true marketing approaches – to recast what the business is trying to accomplish by redefining its purpose and mission.

This strategic approach puts the brand in league with the consumer and celebrates them as the hero of the storytelling, with the brand operating as the expert guide.

What does this look like in practice?

It’s…

  • The food company that works to inspire home cooks and help them on their creative culinary journey
  • The beverage business that recognizes the consumers longing for improved health and wellbeing
  • The pet food company that fully embraces the emotional relationship and connectivity between the pet parent and pet
  • The technology brand that sees the consumer’s passion for human connection and creative expression
  • The car company that enables the drivers’ quest for adventure and exploration

The opportunities are there when you look past the product and into the aspirations and desires of those you seek to serve.

What adventure can you enable?

What passion can you feed?

This is the right conversation to have at the center of your communications planning and marketing program development.

We can help you navigate this exploration.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serving a Narrower Audience of Devoted Fans is a Recipe for Success

February 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, Emotional relevance, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Serving a Narrower Audience of Devoted Fans is a Recipe for Success”

One brand’s story of transformational growth.

Awhile back we represented Sargento Foods, today the leading brand in dairy case cheese. When we started, Sargento was looking for a new chapter in its legacy as a packaged cheese-specialist, family-owned company. However, the Sargento business was challenged with rampant category commoditization – cheese is cheese is cheese. The segment share leader was store brand, providing ample evidence that consumers primarily bought on price.

  • Our goal was to transform the business by reinventing the dairy case cheese category. In doing so, devise a competitive advantage for Sargento that would change the landscape against historic branded segment leader, Kraft Foods.

Working in collaboration with Brad Flatoff, Sargento Chief Marketing Officer, insight research was commissioned to dig into consumer segmentation and behaviors in cheese use. The effort unearthed an evolving consumer relationship with food. A new and important audience was emerging, roughly 26% of the category overall, who were heavy cheese users and had a budding love affair with food.

  • This food-savvy audience formed the foundation of the Food TV Network’s expanding fan base.
  • They love being in the kitchen, or on the culinary receiving end, appreciated higher quality cooking and ingredients.
  • They could tell you about the functional differences of knives and pans they used in the kitchen.
  • They bought cookbooks for inspiration and subscribed to culinary magazines.
  • They were, as characterized in the study, Food Adventurers.

As is often the case in high volume, high velocity businesses, Sargento had cast themselves for years as the choice for everyone and anyone. This thinking ironically contributed to a form of water-treading stasis that held the brand locked in a third-place share position.

Then, a remarkable thing happened. Executive leadership agreed to let the marketing team redefine the target user, narrowing in on Food Adventurers and working backwards from that profile. We built a plan that redefined the category, the product composition, the packaging, pricing strategy and communications.

In short, Sargento elected to become the premium brand in the dairy aisle and play to food quality cues the Food Adventurer would recognize and embrace. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, Sargento wisely decided to pursue an audience that was invested in food experience and paid attention to the ingredients they used.

A new product line was created called Artisan Blends that combined artisan style cheeses with Sargento classic flavors. The step-up line was priced at a premium to other products and the packaging got a make-over to accentuate the tone and visuals of a European more premium esthetic. But most importantly, the messaging was changed, and the communications tactics moved to align with Food Adventurer ambitions in the kitchen.

  • Our strategy put the brand in league with a specific set of consumers as they participated in culinary discovery and pursued elevated taste experiences. Sargento became a sponsor and participant at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, among other events. Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello was retained as a spokesperson and cooking videos were created with him.

Bottom line: the gears were put in motion to carve a new future based on relevance and resonance specific to a food fan consumer.  Becoming important to a segment of the marketplace rather than defaulting to the all-things-to-all-people approach. Since then the retail channel business has transformed and the future, with help from the company’s enormously successful Balanced Breaks snack product line, is on a different trajectory.

Bold moves make for big results

To a large degree the success of this shift was in the hands of Lou Gentine and his son Louie, now CEO. Their willingness to swing for the fence and re-position the business led to the outcomes that have paid lasting dividends.

The lessons here come directly from the consumer and insight into their food needs and interests. Asking, how can we be of greater value to them and make a difference in their lives? When we brought the insight research to life, all aspects of the marketing mix were refocused on how we could build relevance and value with this audience and help them on their culinary journey.

Brand strategy guru Bernadette Jiwa summarized the approach in a recent post:

“Like most of us with something to say, serve or sell, they [marketers] have to do a better job of speaking to only their right customers. They don’t depend on the footfall of mass awareness—they thrive on the loyalty of minority affinity, built one customer at a time, over time. They understand what their customers want, they make promises, then show up consistently, week in week out, without fail to keep them.

There is no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. The tactics we use must align with our goals and the goals of the people we want to serve. How are you creating affinity with the minority of people who enable you to do your best work?”

The Sargento case study is a great example of the benefits of narrowcasting and marketing bravery.

  • When you decide to go all in with an audience that cares, and then cater to their wants, needs and aspirations, the results can be very satisfying – even transformative to the business.

This would not have happened without the insight research investment up front that, with trained eyes, unearthed the Food Adventurer target and their culinary aspirations. Armed with this understanding, the marketing plan became a lesson in ‘mattering’ to an audience of food fans. The impact on message and media was a powerful testament to why smaller engaged audience segments can have a significant impact on the balance sheet.

Can we bring this kind of fresh perspective to your business? 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. 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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