Posts in branded content

Gen Z Activism

Food Purchases Are Now a Signal

September 21st, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, engagement, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Insight 0 comments on “Food Purchases Are Now a Signal”

What we buy is a waving statement of belief

Once upon a time food was food. Might be indulgent food or healthy food, but its reason for being resided somewhere between enjoyment, sustenance or weight management. The world around us has shifted once again as cultural influences work to redefine the paradigm of what food purchases are really about.

The implications here for food and beverage marketing cannot be understated: you might agree relevance to consumer interests is paramount to communication effectiveness. Thus, the impact of cultural upheaval manifesting in consumers’ lives is critically important to strategy and gaining a meaningful connection with people.

Food purchase is a cultural expression of _____________.

In 2019 Deloitte published the results of a consumer survey that revealed an emerging trend in brand preference: people believe brands have a greater responsibility to act on purposeful issues. Concerns such as how companies treat employees, impact on the environment and the communities where they operate surfaced as emerging drivers of brand preference.

This followed another Deloitte study conducted in collaboration with the Food Marketing Institute (recently re-branded as The Food Industry Association), that showed for the first time in modern history the standard food and beverage purchase motivations of taste, price and convenience were being eclipsed by interest in transparency, health and wellness, visibility to the supply chain and food safety.

What’s happening is the socialization of food and its purchase.

Increasingly, food brand selection and purchase is a telegraph of personal values and beliefs. You might be wondering, what’s driving these changes. In the U.S. there are now over 21,000 food centric blogs, an astounding bit of evidence of how food culture has risen to lifestyle prominence in the lives of most people.

  • Perhaps this was inevitable as consumers across all generational cohorts connected the dots between the quality of the food they consume and the quality of their lives. What is happening now is nothing short of revolutionary as the purpose of food acquires an even higher and symbolic purpose.

Food has always been important but now gains influence beyond consumption. People are emotional creatures and food is an emotional category that plays directly to human senses. Now, that significance is acquiring a new set of values that extends way past the physical aspects of the products’ use and roles in daily diet.

Wildfires and Green New Deal

When I was 16 my priorities were centered on how to go about buying a car and in doing so seal the path to my independence. Recently my 14-year old daughter announced her intentions to take assets from her babysitting earnings and donate them to organizations addressing hunger and racial inequality. Cultural and value changes reveal a different and more enlightened point of view on what matters. In turn, it is vital for brands and businesses to gain understanding on ‘mattering’ at a time when attitudes and importantly priorities are being reframed.

Generation Z is coming of age as an activist population focused on changing the way we live to take better care of the world around us. If you pay attention you hear the voices of concern rising around climate change and its rapidly building momentum to permanently alter the social and political landscape. Wildfires and super storms provide evidence that the way natural resources have been exploited has a serious downside. More specifically, how the food production, agricultural and energy industries are operating in service of convenience and consumption, and simultaneously exacting a horrible toll on the health of the planet and her inhabitants.

The Sunrise Movement and Green New Deal are being championed by the youngest generation. Their future quality of life may well depend on how fast changes can be created in the current systems that generate greenhouse gases fomenting weather related catastrophes, drought leading to fires, rising coastal water levels and the ongoing impact of melting polar ice caps.

Chief among the contributing threats to climate is the global food system and animal production in particular that collectively create more greenhouse gas than all worldwide transportation systems combined.

Generation Z now views purchase decisions as a path to creating a better world. In their view, if you’re not an active, visible part of the solution – your inaction is part of the problem.

“Power of the Purchase Order is Primal”

Errol Schweizer, producer of “The Checkout”, an industry trend watcher podcast, did a recent interview with Kevin Coupe’s Morning Newsbeat e-newsletter. Kevin asked, considering these societal changes on the horizon, what’s the one thing food retailers can do to build their relevance and value?

“Increase the amount of organic and regeneratively produced products that you sell. The organic trade association recently released a whitepaper that provided scientific proof organic agriculture can help mitigate the impact of climate change,” said Schweizer. He states this type of food production helps sequester carbon, reduces use of fossil fuels while also producing more nutrient dense food.

His call to action: keep growing your organic business. As a retailer you can do this, and it’s relevant to what people want anyway. He exhorts the retail purchase order can be a powerful instrument in helping answer the need for change. The cultural manifestations of food socialization are significant and will impact how retail strategy and brand building are conducted.

Food as a tool of self-definition

(The New) Brand Democracy:

I believe brands can be a powerful force for change.

I expect them to represent me and solve societal problems.

My wallet is my vote.

Increasingly, meaning is unearthed in consumption. Said another way, the food people choose is an advertisement of who they want to be and what they believe in. When purchases become a billboard for values, the marketing, product creation and innovation decisions need to reflect this insight.

Is it possible we are nearing an era when determining the contribution to greenhouse gas in production will matter as much as ingredient quality and nutrient density? The answer here is ‘yes’ and it’s coming more rapidly than previous developments such as the demand for greater transparency.

At Emergent, we suggest that successfully navigating these waters of change in human behavior can be best accomplished by brands and retailers who come to work bearing a soul – one that governs their actions and informs decisions.

When consumers see purchases as a path to creating a better world, it should play out in the brand voice, content marketing strategy and all that sits underneath.

Guidance to improved relevance in a time of cultural shift:

  • Listening is important and should be formalized as a consistent undertaking to understand the development of emerging attitudes and opinions that impact how consumers see the role of brands in their lives.
  • Building a higher purpose platform for the brand and business is now table stakes to continued relevance and connection with your users.
  • Identify specific actions your business can take to address climate change including how your supply chains operate and the standards and certifications of performance you require for compliance.
  • How can your brand contribute to the cultural conversation? What needs are you uniquely positioned to address?
  • Tell your users what you’re doing an engage them in a dialogue on their views and opinions.
  • Recognize that food is a tool of self-definition and a symbol to others of what your users think is important. How does this influence your messaging and social media strategies?

If you find this development challenging and want to consider a fresh approach, please use this link and let’s start a conversation about your questions and interests.

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.

Pet brand sameness works against brand engagement

How to Disrupt the Sea of Sameness

September 16th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, engagement, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance 0 comments on “How to Disrupt the Sea of Sameness”

Similar brand strategies lead to undifferentiated communication

Nowhere do we find the unrelenting challenge of sameness operating in full relief more often than the pet food business. No matter what product or retail category you are in, the requirement for message uniqueness and differentiation has never been higher. Here’s how to disrupt the pattern of sameness that follows brands around like a virus.

The good news: The pet food industry is expanding, fueled in part by the dramatic growth of pet owning households, now forecasted to reach 71 million in the U.S. by the close of 2020. Despite economic climate challenges, runaway joblessness and the vagaries of changing shopping behaviors spawned by the pandemic, pet business trends continue on an upward trajectory. The pandemic has served as a catalyst for elevating the pet value proposition. We need our furry companions now more than ever.

The tougher news: Yet despite this picture of continued potential prosperity that floats all premium pet brand boats, the competitive players seem to be held captive in a repetitive messaging loop that confronts pet parents trying to navigate the store aisles. Everywhere their eyes scan, the sea of storytelling sameness stares back, defeating opportunities to connect on an emotional level.

  • What marketing medicine is required to get pet brands to stop and reconsider the path to engagement? To step beyond, above and outside their tendency to reinforce similar tropes about formulation integrity, while intractably married to the protein percentage wars, and accented by assertions of nutritional superiority or human grade ingredient quality.

Everyone believes they make the best food. Indeed, many brands now have upgraded the quality of their ingredient sourcing and formulation techniques, to offer truly nutritionally- dense solutions. But does the pet parent make decisions on the cold analysis of facts and figures? The answer is no they don’t.

Here’s what we know:

  • People run in the opposite direction, away from complicated brain taxing messaging that would require them to study and consider elaborate details of pet nutrition.
  • Human beings are feeling creatures who think and not thinking creatures who feel. It is heart- over-head, always.
  • Trust is an issue in pet food driven in part by the elaborate claims of human quality food ingredients magically encapsulated in a small brown nugget known as kibble. It looks industrial to start with.

The quite natural conclusion of most pet marketing plans is focusing inwardly on all the reasons why brand X pet food is better than brands Y or Z. The incredible efforts undertaken by companies to make a high-quality product IS the story, correct?

The challenging outcome of this thinking is a recipe for similar statements and claims that operate in conflict with the fundamental requirement for brand uniqueness and differentiation. Hence the sea of sameness.

How to break the cycle of sameness.

What does the pet parent care about? Their pet. The incredible emotional bond that sits between them is unshakeable and demonstrable and visceral and real. What is pet food? It is the instrument of expressing love and care for their pet’s wellbeing and healthy longevity. Why? Because they have connected the dots between the quality of what they themselves eat and their quality of life, a point of view that translates over in a nano-second to their beliefs about pet wellness.

We know it’s really tough to refocus marketing on the pet parent and their lifestyle aspirations ahead of what’s going on in the formulation, the manufacturing and the supply of high-quality food ingredients. Yet the enemy in here is the very sameness this encourages.

  • When you can walk through the store aisles and literally transfer packaging statements from one brand to the next one over, and it remains essentially valid, you know the playing field is going to be murky for the consumer. Maybe even confusing.

Breaking the cycle requires putting pet parents at the center of planning and working backwards from there. It is the focus on them, their lives, interests and relationship with their pet where all the alchemy of marketing magic happens.

Great marketing isn’t logical and linear. It is better when the plan embraces the idea that humans are emotional and often irrational, driven by whims and the perceived wisdom of crowds.

Love in a bowl.

That’s right, love. You aren’t selling pet food or de-boned chicken or 38% protein. You are selling the means to express the great love people have for their pet. Emotional communication occurs when storytelling and images and focus are on the pet parent ahead of the product. Holding up a mirror on what they believe: “I’m spending more on pet food because I care deeply about the health and wellbeing of my four-legged family member.”

So celebrate the bond, the moments of happiness, the relationship, the companionship, the emotional connections and experiences of a life lived alongside furry children. In this way the pet parent immediately becomes the hero of brand storytelling, and in doing so the communication achieves its goal of being wanted and engaging.

Talk about the stories of your customer’s pet lifestyle experiences, triumph over health challenges, and the miraculous emotional connections people have received during one of the most uncertain periods in human history. When your marketing voice is a reflection of real world experiences and the value pet parents experience with their pets, your brand becomes a partner with them on their journey to a more fulfilling life with their pet companion.

  • This is how brand relationships are formed and fed. All of a sudden it matters less to  communication effectiveness when protein percentages vary slightly brand to brand. You are no longer chained to specsmanship. You have successfully disrupted the sea of sameness.

Should this kind of thinking inspire you to consider fresh ideas and approaches, please use this link and let’s start a 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.

Cooking burnout is upon families right now

Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived

August 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, engagement, food experiences, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, storytelling 0 comments on “Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived”

Food and beverage brands can take the lead as coach and guide

Your brand’s best opportunity for real engagement occurs when consumer need and your expertise overlap at precisely the right moment. And that moment is now.  It’s here, we’re in it. You have an opportunity to become a trusted partner, a useful resource, at a time when families are running out of menu ideas and kitchen fatigue is setting in.

  • We’ll provide guidance on what to do, but first let’s take a look at what’s happening right now that creates this important opening for brands to build a more meaningful relationship with their users.

Consumer research continues to reinforce a significant shift, and likely permanent change, to an increase in at-home meal preparation occasions. The pandemic has prompted millions of families to get back into the kitchen full time. Working and schooling from home makes this a three meal a day duty. Some are new to this culinary endeavor and the learning curve is upon them. Cooking veterans consistently have to devote more time and attention to laboring over the stove.

According to a recent “COVID-19 Impact on Eating” report from The Hartman Group, 93% of dinner eating occasions are prepared and consumed at home.

  • Even more amazing is the surge in lunch; 81% of occasions are occurring at home.
  • Dinner menus involving ‘heavy’ preparation are at 31% of occasions, up 9 points from a year ago, while lunch occasions requiring moderate preparation have jumped to 33%, up 14 points from 2019.

In sum, despite the dramatic falloff of restaurant eating events, Americans are choosing to cook rather than outsource their meals. The research also reveals that 33% of all eating and drinking occasions are in service of health and wellbeing objectives – no surprise given the elevated importance of health and wellness. People are purposefully making an effort to protect their immune systems while the pandemic continues to ravage the nation.

Kitchen burnout is a reality and it has arrived

Food, beverage and food retail brands are afforded an extraordinary opportunity to become a useful coach and resource for home cooks. This comes at a time when they not only need inspiration and instruction but personal encouragement and emotional support as well.

Considering people are spending more time at home, menu creation has taken on a new significance and importance for families. Previous studies of home cook behaviors determined that most have a repertoire of roughly 10 dishes they know well and will continue to keep in rotation. However, after months and months of repeat visits, menu weariness sets in as home chefs run out of ways to freshen their tried and true dishes.

Reinforcing the permanent home cooking shift is health and wellness aspirations

Alongside this cooking-from-necessity condition is a growing appreciation that home cooked meals are generally:

  • Healthier, more nutritious
  • Portion controlled
  • Completely customized
  • Convenient to scheduling
  • Safer
  • And can be functionally curated to support health and wellness objectives

Being relevant to consumers is the precursor to creating authentic engagement opportunities with them. What consumers are experiencing now puts your brand in an enviable position to be useful and helpful at a moment of real need.

“During this worrisome time many have re-discovered latent cooking expertise and more than a few have developed newfound culinary skills, but also most are feeling a bit weary and are reporting varying degrees of family meal fatigue. Our meal preparation muscles are tired, tested and stretched. Still we know the nutritional and family functioning benefits are out there awaiting us,” wrote David Fikes in a recent The Food Industry Association report ahead of their annual National Family Meals Month promotion in September.

In other words, now, when we’re tired, we most need the encouraging words of an inspiring trainer urging us to push beyond the fatigue, work through the discomfort and get reenergized about family meals, if we wish to reap the solid benefits they hold for us in terms of health, happiness and well-being,” he said.

Perfect moment for the most effective brand content strategy

Storytelling is best served when proper roles are recognized and respected. Consumers want and need to be the heroes of their own life journeys. The brand’s optimal function in this scenario is as coach and guide. That’s precisely what is required here. Your ability to step in with emotional support, inspirational culinary ideas and guidance on preparation skills and innovative cooking techniques will help consumers save time and avoid mistakes.

  • Your goal is to make the home chef more successful and comfortable in their kitchen-centric calling.

How to optimize this moment for connection and relationship building

Empathetic voice

Now is the time to put the brand ‘in league’ with the consumer by acknowledging the frustrations and burnout they may be feeling after months of constant meal preparation. It gets tough after the entire family is around the dining room table nearly seven days a week for months with no end in sight.

Food is an emotional category

Food consumption is enjoyable, social, indulgent, and can be transformational. This isn’t just about skills and cooking temperatures, it’s also about the table, experimentation, creativity and taste experiences.

Keep it simple

People literally run away from complexity and communication that taxes their brains. People are hardwired to avoid burning mental calories, so ideas and menus need to be presented simply, clearly with an eye towards simplifying what people must tackle in the kitchen.

Video and webinar are the right mediums

Harness the incredible capability of video to marry instructional or emotive words with pictures to amp the entertainment value. This will help people better understand through visual demonstration what they should be doing to bring great food to life.

Credible experts can help

Chef voices can elevate the conversation and add viewer interest to what you produce. As we said earlier, people now see food as a direct channel to improving their own health and wellbeing. Outside experts in nutrition and wellness add more authority to what your presenting. People are more likely to respect credentialed third-parties than in-house voices.

Social proof and trust creation

Consumers love to hear from other consumers. Employ your social channels to engage the community in sharing their own culinary content, recipes and ideas. People are far more likely to engage their peers before they’ll accept the assertions and claims brands make.

Transparency

Consider virtual farm visits with your suppliers and an opportunity to hear the personal stories of the families who create the ingredients you use. This serves as a transparency mechanism where customers get to see first-hand how your ingredients are sourced and then how your recipes are created.

Don’t wait

Now is the time to create a content calendar and begin operating in service of your customers during their time of need. With work-at-home looking like an ongoing condition and schooling- from-home likely to occur for many young people in the fall, kitchen and menu burnout isn’t going away any time soon.

This is a time for experimentation and openness to trying new flavors and cuisines. With the tried and true dishes most home cooks repeat losing their luster, people are gravitating to new experiences. In light of this condition, they need the guidance and expertise you can provide to bring new food ideas to the table.

Need help creating and building a strong culinary content calendar and fresh creative assets optimally messaged to engage home cooks in the right way? We can help! Let’s discuss your needs in greater detail.

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.

Avoid consumer disconnects

How to meet your consumer face-to-face, heart-to-heart

July 14th, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Insight, Navigation, Social community, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “How to meet your consumer face-to-face, heart-to-heart”

Defining the new path to brand relevance and attraction

You can’t afford marketing that fails to connect. Too often brands inadvertently embed their communication with disconnects because the story is constructed upside down. It’s rowing against the current of behavioral science that informs us about what draws people in, or conversely, repels them.

Every food, beverage and lifestyle marketer, every day, needs their outreach activity to engage and endear consumers to their respective brand. We know the ultimate goal for any business is to get and keep a customer, so strategic communication is job one. With consumers in full control to accept or bypass brand messaging intended for their eyes and ears, engagement remains elusive and, thus, is more precious to your business than gold.

What is the secret to message resonance?

  • What are the rules governing how relationships and ultimately brand advocacy are created? We will answer these key business-building questions soon in this story. First, we need to examine the failure to engage because too many brands are missing the mark and don’t realize it.

Head-over-heart fact-based storytelling is a fast track to “strike three, you’re out!”

Human beings have a remarkable ability to embrace the experiences and stories of their contemporaries. People care about other people, more so than ‘caring’ about a specific product feature. Yet brands and businesses are too often pre-occupied with telling their story of better technology and related formula benefits, believing this is the information that will attract an audience and build sales.

To understand this, we should explore what the brand’s role is in users’ lives. Every day of every week of every year in the consumer’s life, people operate as the heroes of their own life story. Unfortunately, the vast majority of brand communication places the product at the center of the story arc, competing with consumers for the coveted hero role. The consumer recognizes their rightful role in the story has been hijacked by the brand, and they move on trying to find a respectful guide who will help them on their path to a better and more fulfilling life.

  • Yes, the brand’s role is expert guide and coach. The brand relationship must be built on a foundation of reciprocity, activated by the brand’s ability to contribute to the users’ efforts to overcome obstacles and achieve goals on their journey.

Analytical arguments of “25% faster” or “15% more protein” do not, cannot, form the basis of engaging brand storytelling. To draw consumers close, emotion is required, and relevance, based on a holistic understanding of the customer’s aspirations, desires, concerns and needs, is necessary.

Emotion captures attention

Awhile back we represented the leading pet food brand in the raw food category. They made high quality kibble and wet foods but the raw segment of their product line was seen as the most nutritionally desirable. As we spent time getting closer to their best raw food users, we uncovered amazing stories of transformation and change for pets who had health issues and behavioral challenges. Once introduced to the nutritional density of a raw food diet, these pets’ lives were dramatically altered for the better.

We created video vignettes of these testimonials, featuring non-scripted interviews and a short documentary-style approach to tell their transformation stories. The tears literally flowed as pet parents described the difficulties their furry family members faced, and what happened when a dietary change helped reverse health problems and adjusted the trajectory of their pet’s life.

  • No amount of communication about quality food ingredients, proprietary recipes, or high protein levels would come within a country mile of creating a more compelling and powerful proposition for this brand.

Further evidence of this same phenomenon came to life in a different way years earlier when I led the Friskies pet food account while at Ogilvy & Mather in Los Angeles. We created a novel campaign aptly titled: the Search for the Friskiest Cat in America. Using a variety of integrated communications and package graphic tools, we moved the news to cat owners about the opportunity for their feline to win $10,000, a trip to Hollywood for a celebrity judged final event and a coveted place on the cover of the annual Friskies cat calendar.

The idea caught fire. Consumer entries showcased oil paintings of a frisky moment, videos, poems, even screen plays. The stories shared by people about the animals they loved were nothing short of amazing; emotion-packed, authentic, fun and entertaining. By the way, the brand went to the number one category share position for the first time in 20 years.

What did we learn? We tapped a vein of emotional relevance as thousands and thousands of people shared their stories of wacky cat behavior and why their pet deserved the “friskiest” accolade. We also learned how incredibly important these bonds and relationships were to people, as seen by the lengths people would go to demonstrate it.

The tragic human experience writ large

Perhaps the most powerful story we’ve ever encountered came from a mother who had lost her teenage daughter to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in their home. It served as powerful motivation to families to protect themselves and their loved ones from this invisible and dangerous household hazard. No amount of logical, fact-based communication about the CO threat and its presence in the home would come anywhere near the heart-breaking loss this family experienced. They felt a calling to share their story when they understood what a pervasive problem it is in homes and that 90% of American families weren’t aware of it.

The family championed our client’s product, the world’s first household CO detector, as the instrument to help other families avoid their fate. Human beings work very hard to prevent loss or risk of injury when they know what the threat looks like and what the outcomes can be at a human level. It was the mother’s personal story, grieving for the accidental loss of her daughter that made it real and credible. Her call to action: “If there had been a carbon monoxide alarm in our home, this could have been avoided. Don’t say it won’t happen to you.” People listened and thousands of lives were saved as a result.

The heroes of these stories are people and their experiences. Not recipes, or formulations or ingredient wizardry. In each instance the brand was a guide or coach to help the consumer along their path. This is what draws people closer.

Emotional resonance comes in different flavors

  • Home cooks who are spurred by creativity and food adventure experiences in the kitchen or backyard.
  • Amateur athletes and fitness buffs who search for inspiration and guidance on their quest for improvement and self-fulfillment.
  • People whose health and wellbeing are transformed by changes to their lifestyle and mental attitude through improved eating/drinking and exercise regimens.
  • Outdoor adventure enthusiasts who are drawn to the dramatic stories of shared lifestyle experiences from people their mountaintop passions.
  • The growing chorus of people whose higher purpose and mission is to improve the world around them, addressing racism, hunger, poverty, social injustice and climate change.
  • Every product category, viewed through the right strategic lens, can secure this sweet spot of emotional relevance.

It may seem counterintuitive to focus on the consumer’s journey and need more so than the product technology. However, it is a proportional measurement of how fully a brand becomes immersed in this deeper meaning and then operates as a partner to improve the consumer’s life, that impacts the ability to create and sustain an authentic relationship.

Your four-step plan to brand engagement and growth:

  1. Make the research and study of your consumer’s lifestyle, ambitions, worries, interests and experiences a top priority. To know them is to love them.
  2. Build a strategic platform around your company’s higher purpose and mission that bears relevance to what consumer’s care most about. Your brand’s goal is to improve their lives.
  3. Construct messaging, content and invite users to participate with their own stories that bring your purpose and mission to life. People want to be part of something that’s greater than themselves.
  4. Listen and improve. The more you know about them and their needs, the more powerful this dynamic relationship becomes.

Emergent has created a proprietary process called Brand Sustainability Analysis to help clients determine or refine their unique higher purpose and true north. If it’s time for a fresh perspective and help on defining your path to sustainable growth, click here to start a 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.

It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING

May 24th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Public Relations, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING”

The five essential guideposts to successful brand communication

In a recent article about the COVID-19 disruption of conventional marketing strategies, an industry contemporary weighed in to say change is here. He opined that the latest digital media platforms must be deployed as relevant vessels to convey the product sales-building message. The story was a remarkable resurfacing of a fundamental mistake now driving an unnecessary (and unwanted) wedge between many brands and their users.

You can no longer game your way into someone’s heart and head. When every media form or channel is viewed as a pipeline for pushing messages designed to interrupt and snare people who are trying to consume useful content, the product messaging gambit represents a form of marketing denial about how brand relationships are created.

  • A classic (but now worn) example of this is the misuse and abuse of social channels, treating them as yet another promotion broadcast medium with some begrudging two-way conversation sprinkled in.

We simply can’t look at marketing outreach as “persuasion” any longer, a type of digital bullhorn to broadcast product features, dressed up to look like a more educational piece of publishing. People see right through it. Moreover, they won’t stand for it, sit for it, hear it, consume it or engage with it.

When marketing dollars become precious and every one of them needs to perform more powerfully, it only stands to reason that dialing into cultural context to enhance message effectiveness is important.

Brands must become trusted sources and resources

The relationship brands build with consumers must evolve.

Consider how real, human friendships are created and nurtured. And how real friends communicate with each other. There’s a difference between telling and yelling in both conversational context and messaging construction.

The great brand storytellers know who the hero must be – it’s the consumer and not the brand. Yellers see things from the polar opposite angle, casting the brand and product as hero of every message. The brand’s role should be depicted as trusted guide and expert that operates in service of improving the consumer’s life.

Impactful stories show how the brand fits into an idealized narrative around the consumer’s aspirational lifestyle. As we conveyed in an earlier article, Health is the New Wealth.

Five guideposts to effective brand communication

  1. Relevance

Effective stories always follow a basic element of human truth. If brand relationships must operate more like human friendships, then what people fundamentally need should be factored into the communications messaging platform. People want to:

  • Feel safe
  • Be loved
  • Be valued
  • Inspire others
  • Be successful

Stories should address what’s relevant to user needs and desires.

  1. Social influence

Leveraging trends is important. People follow them, talk about them, share with others and through this process ‘collective wisdom’ forms to validate the acceptability and popularity of cultural developments. Whether that’s adopting new tech platforms like Zoom, TV programs such as the runaway success of Tiger King, use of e-commerce channels to shop, or a surge in home baking, emergence of new trends is not to be overlooked in content calendars.

Stay-at-home is one of the most compelling, dynamic and influential trends of all-time. It presents a treasure trove of opportunity for guidance and conversation on topics ranging from how to re-set the home for work and learning, to spending more time with the kids, to exercising culinary muscles.

  1. Reciprocity

People are hard-wired to recognize, appreciate and reciprocate when experiencing self-less, useful and helpful behaviors. When brands stop looking at customers as walking transactions and see them as real people who need support, the entire dynamic of the consumer-to-brand relationship starts to change.

  • Unselfishness is an admired human characteristic that when added to the brand voice and outreach, paves the way for a respected and trusted relationship.

Educational experiences that help improve expertise and knowledge can be a wonderful way to hone the brand’s role as expert guide and coach.

  1. Emotional intelligence

A lot has been written lately about the value of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and no doubt there are areas where data can be applied to improve decision-making. Targeted media selection would be a prime example. But it can also be a false god. The brand’s goal isn’t to be the one that measures but rather the one that matters.

Imbuing your brand with deeper meaning and higher purpose is the on-ramp to emotional forms of communication. When emotional connections take root between a consumer and brand – the relationship crosses a chasm from habit to ritual. Jasmine Bina, respected brand strategist and noted author recently published on the topic, saying “it only makes sense that when our daily habits are prevented, we hold on even tighter to the rituals that define us.”

Deeper meaning is a matter of perspective. Pet food brands transform when they understand they are not in the pet food making business. Instead they are selling an instrument of love for furry family members and a perception of elevated health, wellness and longevity. Bina quotes noted neurologist Donald Calne: “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”

What are the emotional catalysts in your business that will cause people to pause, feel emotionally involved and act?

  1. Authenticity

People yearn for the real and more authentic brand voices that are less formulaic and more credible – in part because the brand communication is human and conversational. People want to believe. To do so, though, they need to trust first and it’s harder for people to trust companies over the experiences and opinions of other consumers.

This may be the most important endorsement there is for social community building. It is when the voices of outside, third parties are enlisted that the requirement for authenticity is really served.

Authenticity and trust are siblings. Authentic means real, true and is less about false prophets, theater, artifice and magic. If the consumer were with us when we build stories they would say, “just talk to me like a person and remember it’s about me, my life and search for meaning and purpose, and not about you and your secret sauce and technical prowess.”

The obvious question then is how the brand comes to play. Messaging must be framed around consideration of the brand’s values, positioning and purpose. Which begs the question, what is the brand’s deeper meaning and higher purpose? Once that is correctly defined, the right messaging flows because it’s embedded with authentic, trustworthy, human characteristics.

So, my friend…examine your brand messaging strategy.  Is your brand supportive and telling – or self-involved and yelling?  Which friend would you rather have?

When this process is dialed in correctly, the outcomes can be transformational for engagement levels that lead to sustainable business growth.

Emergent stands ready to help you create powerful, meaningful and relevant brand stories. Use this link to let us know if you would like to discuss further.

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.

Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience

May 11th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand messaging, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Higher Purpose, Social community, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience”

A remarkable pandemic-authored condition

Don’t miss this chance to truly connect with your users.

The stay-at-home orders continue to shake-up every aspect of life including behaviors around social channel screen time. Your brand users and shoppers no longer go on-line. Instead they now live on-line. Kitchens, for their part, have become erstwhile home offices and educational centers to accommodate work and digitally-enabled classrooms for the kids.

  • How are you responding to this development?
  • How does his impact your social strategy?
  • What moves are you making to fill the need and address the opportunity for engagement?

We will answer these questions shortly, but first a little texture on what’s happening.

The blurring between work, education and leisure has spawned a behavior shift – social channels have moved from an occasional choice to a routine necessity as people seek  information – and guidance – and community – and social contact – and entertainment.

Has there ever been a time when your brand was presented with a near captive audience looking for useful content? The answer is unique to the pandemic, a historic first that is transforming life, health, commerce, time, attention and all the behaviors associated with it. This is precedent setting and now offers an unusual opportunity for brands and businesses to be of greater service and value, knowing that consumption of content is likely to be much higher and therefore more valuable than ever before.

  • A recent survey from Tin Man showed social channel use had risen 50% by the close of April 2020. Sixty percent of the population is on Facebook at least once (or more) a day and 27% are in Instagram. Daily screen time averages are up 50 to 75%.

Frequency and media choice = positive outcome

According to a social media report from Co-Schedule, brands that publish 16 or more social posts a month got almost 3.5 times more traffic and 4.5 times more leads than businesses that publish less often. Further, we observe video takes on added importance as a business generating medium with 64% of viewers more likely to buy a product online after viewing.

Your optimal social strategy

First and foremost, this is not the time to withdraw, go silent, retreat or otherwise disappear from the social-verse. Yes, messaging strategy has changed but the fundamental desire of people to connect and a need for interaction has never been greater.

The litmus test of sound strategy in social media revolves around this axiom: the brand should live in service of improving the health, wellbeing and happiness of its users. Social channels are not just transactional environments – and especially at this time, shouldn’t be managed as such.

This isn’t the time and place for a consumer hard-sell and we’ve now entered an era where overt brand self-promotion doesn’t produce results anyway. Consumers hold all the engagement cards and have shown themselves quick to tune out when the narrative isn’t relevant to them and their lifestyle aspirations.

We are now doing business in The Relationship Economy, founded on reciprocity and usefulness.

In the same Co-Schedule report, 21 ‘best in class’ examples of great content were profiled revealing one common element that shown brightly through all of them. In every case, the best content provided valuable information, guidance, utility and direction to the readers.

The examples noted were devoid of a strict self-serving narrative, nor grounded in product feature/benefit selling. To ensure the brand stays on the right social content path, follow this guardrail to keep the messaging on course: recognize that the consumer and their needs are always the hero of your storytelling and the role of the brand is to serve as expert guide and coach. Context is everything!

Yes, it is ok to talk about the product or deliver information about a retail promotion, but this should be no more than 30% of your content calendar. Know that the best material you will create is going to be a reflection of the lifestyle needs and aspirations of the people who comprise your fan base.

  • Glossier, a beauty product business built entirely on social channel engagement, is deservedly famous for creating content about their customers’ interests and needs first. They have become wildly successful as a result.

Social proof and community

Social channels are not one-way conversations. The most powerful asset you have is social proof – content created by your community that serves to verify and validate what you want people to believe about product benefits, shopping experiences or the lifestyle you advocate.

Testimonials are like gold. People will believe other people before they will ascribe credibility and truth to statements made by brands and businesses. It is important to encourage conversation, interaction, feedback and discourse from social community participants. You can do this by inviting it and asking questions.

  • An example: people adore their pets and will jump at opportunities to talk about their personal and anecdotal stories around lifestyle experiences, recovery from illnesses, behavior training tips and ideas, and opportunities to share photos and videos of their four-legged family members.

Pandemic specific social content guidance

Consumer culture has changed as a result of this unprecedented event. It has altered preferences and mindset. Here are some points to consider in social content creation.

  1. An empathetic and more human voice is essential in the content you publish.
  2. As a general subject platform, health and wellness is the top concern for people now and thus relevant to the material you develop.
  3. People feel out of control of the world around them. Provide guidance and ideas that help them regain a sense of control. Taking charge of personal health and wellness is how to do it.
  4. Loss of confidence is a thing. Anything you can do to reassure people about the future and give them confidence about improvements in the road ahead will be welcomed.
  5. Your brand should be guided by a higher purpose (a mission that transcends commerce and selling things), deeper meaning and shared values with your consumer. Know this matters and they are paying closer attention to your words and actions.

It’s extraordinary that an event like this could alternatively create an environment where people spend so much extra time online and in social communities. People yearn for contact and guidance, information that provides hope and helps them navigate the incredible changes they have experienced. You are no longer just selling products and stocking merchandise, instead you are in the deeper meaning business and have a much more important role to play in your customers’ lives.

It’s an important calling and comes with responsibilities. That said, it brings forward a unique opportunity to form relationships with your fans and followers that will last well beyond the current crisis. Now is the time to upgrade, enhance and invest in social channel outreach.

Use this link to let us know if you need help building the right social channel strategy, and content that will inform and endear your users.

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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