Posts in branded content

Healthy Living Insight and the Future of Food and Beverage

October 1st, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, Brand preference, branded content, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emergent Column, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living 0 comments on “Healthy Living Insight and the Future of Food and Beverage”

Are you aligned on the pathway to true relevance?

What is the most powerful and pervasive condition impacting consumer product category growth across the lifestyle continuum? Effectively answering the consumer’s desire for a healthier lifestyle. This is the driving force that sits underneath Emergent’s agency value proposition and the work we do for our clients.

At the foundation of this transformational shift is an over-arching interest in a higher-quality life. Consumers believe their decisions and actions in this arena will impact personal happiness, safety and wellness.

Healthy living knocks at the front door of relevance to consumer wants and desires. It is a mindful choice made by increasingly mindful consumers across all age cohorts. Nowhere can this be seen in greater relief than food and beverage choices which have morphed in recent years from taste, price and convenience purchase drivers to a more enlightened set of criteria that pays homage to the healthy lifestyle priority.

Transparency, supply chain visibility, clean labels, ingredient quality, fresh and real food preferences are all evidence of momentum behind the consumer’s growing self-awareness. They are in charge of their lives, in control of brand relationships and thus able to exercise choice to reward those brands that are aligned with their personal interests, beliefs and needs.

  • Simply stated, consumers believe that the quality of what they consume impacts the quality of their lives. What people choose to eat manifests in their daily lives as a contribution to health, wellness, career performance, happiness, satisfaction and the ability to achieve life goals.

This is no longer a tertiary issue or a sub-segment of the larger consumer population. It is a swollen river of preference that is washing away the less relevant while rewarding the brands that mirror consumer lifestyle requirements.

How did we get here?

We can trace the origins of this shift back to the early 1990’s when the organic foods market was still emerging, and consumers started to pay attention to a new voice on how food is produced and what the differences are between factory made and farm fresh options. This became transformational when the rBST debate took hold and the organic milk business started to skyrocket as serving organic milk to children became a marker of good parenting skills.

Concurrently, the explosion of digital communication created a shift in the balance of power where anything that can be known will be known, and with it a cultural change. Now consumers want to be informed on where food comes from, how products are produced, thus enhancing the value proposition for higher quality real and fresh foods vs. packaged and highly processed legacy brand mainstays.

You are what you eat

The relationship between what people put in their bodies and how it affects health and wellness goals changed from addition by subtraction – the scientific removal of fat, sugar, sodium and the like, to a different picture of addition by addition.

People now perceive the quality of the food they eat or drink is related to the quality of their lives. This cultural swing resulted in a sea change at food retail, with center store packaged food businesses facing headwinds in share losses and volume declines. Meanwhile, the perimeter departments selling fresh and reimagined, more transparent and relevant versions of packaged stalwarts have skyrocketed.

  • Equity investment in the food space has plunged into the abyss in efforts to help scale the myriad of new, nascent food brands coming to market with quality elevations in virtually every category with a growth pulse.

Meanwhile, home cooking is experiencing a renaissance as consumers shop fresh ingredients and menus that require preparation; looking to feed their appetite for new flavor adventures. Convenience in this new world order translates to enhanced Deli menus and fresh solutions at supermarkets, and the emergence of meal kits to help curate the dinner need with prepped high-quality ingredients and tantalizing recipes.

Relevance and the future of food and beverage marketing

What does it all mean? This is what keeps the C-suite leadership teams in CPG food and beverage companies and food retailers up at night. What was once a brand controlled state in the marketplace, where heavy media spending could spell the difference in achieving quarterly results, has fallen away as consumers own and operate the levers of commerce.

Consumer control requires deft and agile moves by brands to align themselves with their desires, interests and lifestyle goals. The more powerful path in marketing is no longer lined with assertions of product features and benefits. Now the momentum belongs to brands that truly try to help and enable what their users dream to accomplish.

Marketing today is a reciprocity construct where brands earn permission for a relationship by thinking past their own product and trying to make a clear difference in their customers’ lives – be that by activating their creative aspirations in the kitchen, the social experiences around the table, or serving as a functional contributor on their path to healthy living.

Emergent as arbiter of insight and translation to strategy, better communication

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we do at Emergent. We’ve been ahead of the trend even before healthy lifestyle became a ‘thing’ and remain a voice in the industry on this evolving landscape upheaval.

Our value proposition is bound to the insights we own on consumer interests, needs and the new marketing toolkit required to successfully leverage that understanding for business growth.

By virtue of that, Emergent is purposefully a hybrid of strategic guidance tied to creative communications, smothered in a secret sauce of consumer insight that helps inform our thinking, messaging and go-to-market ideas.

Whether you are a food retailer trying to evolve as conditions around you in e-commerce and consumer preference change, or a food and beverage brand, large or small, trying to optimize and scale the business you’re creating; we can help optimize your core proposition and add value to your efforts to gain the ear of elusive and hard-to-reach consumers.

How can we be helpful to you?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mining for Growth: The Consumer’s Relationship with Food

March 2nd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Culinary lifestyle, Digital marketing, food experiences, Healthy Living, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “Mining for Growth: The Consumer’s Relationship with Food”

Marketing and the day’s main meal

Cultural shifts and changes impact how consumers treat eating occasions. This condition becomes even more important as people no longer build their schedules around mealtimes. The script has flipped and thus mealtimes are arranged to facilitate the daily schedule.

In this new world order that puts time and where it’s spent at a premium, distinct functional requirements have surfaced around the consumer’s objectives for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast now orbits the purposeful necessity of energy needs and is often governed by habit and routine. It’s also subject to elimination at times. Whereas lunch often falls victim to another evolving behavior – snacking. Like the start of the day, lunch serves as another fuel-stop to drive the personal engine, often while navigating a complex schedule and a fluid set of time priority constraints.

The dinner bell singularly chimes as a culinary and social oasis…

Dinner continues to hold steadfast as the clear winner in time devoted to food thinking, planning and engagement – offering a unique opportunity for brands to become enablers and participants in a personal and social culinary journey.

  • Dinner is a food-forward rite where the meal and menu serve as a means to elevate enjoyment, self-esteem, creativity, exploration and social engagement.

Breakfast, lunch and snacking reside in a practical, efficiency zone. The consumer’s brain-time investment is just different than dinner. In the evening, according to The Hartman Group’s Transformation of the American Meal report, the experience around food and preparation takes on a higher level of priority and added meaning.

What does the consumer aspire to do with dinner?

Hartman reports to fulfill their expectations for:

  1. Good food – nutritious and delicious
  2. Good cooking – skillful, personalized and often from scratch
  3. Good company – enjoyable moments and warm conversation

So, the logistics around dinner are on another level entirely for food sourcing, creativity, time spent and energy invested by home cooks and their helpers. Simply stated, dinner is less routine, not snack-ified and works to satisfy the yearning for shared food adventure.

As a marketer could you find more fertile territory for engagement than the one meal occasion where inspiration and help are clearly needed?

Dinnertime is a clear pathway to relevant engagement

Dinner is rich connection territory and we’re not just talking about flavor profiles. Dinnertime is an open field for resonance exploration and relationship building for both CPG food and foodservice.

When the day has been too mentally and maybe even physically taxing, outsourcing the evening meal is on the agenda. That said we know from secondary studies that people prefer home-cooked meals when they can do it and believe those meals are universally healthier – as home cooks are able to control ingredients, preparations and portions.

However, when scheduling overload collides with evening mealtime needs, restaurant and other “do it for me” solutions hold sway. Meal kits sit in an interesting position as low-risk enablers of culinary exploration, while also making it easier to deliver a high-quality meal with less effort mentally and at the stove.

Ordering food for delivery or visiting a restaurant shifts the balance of time investment from culinary work to social interaction – an important component of the evening mealtime experience.

The eco-system of needs and requirements for the evening meal is a place where brands can play a pivotal role. Key direction: help make dinner meal planning and execution more enjoyable.

Areas to leverage strategically:

  • Health and wellness – key to lifestyle preferences across the board. What’s the bulls-eye? Helping people bridge their interests between healthy ideals and indulgent desires. Now that higher quality food experiences have become the new healthy, the door is open to blending these two universal human needs.
  • Palate planning – for the most part dinner has increasingly become a just-in-time mini-shopping event as people, often coming from work, stop at the store to shop for menu ingredients. Right there is a moment of uncertainty that can become more purposeful with the right menu ideas and curated shopping lists.
  • Social connection – the social milieu around dinner is an interesting pastiche of enlivened senses, warmth, close attention and enjoyment that enables sharing and conversation. The dinner table is more than a piece of furniture. It’s a place where memorable moments and personal connection are served right alongside the main course.

If effective brand communication is dependent entirely on its relevance to consumer interests and passions, then imbuing your brand with greater meaning becomes paramount in making marketing investments work.

Knowing this, dinner is an important moment and opportunity where need and fulfillment are open territory for brand helpfulness. Also vital to note is the significance that food culture informed strategies play to secure consumer engagement in social channel and content marketing outreach programs.

  • Said another way, it is often the absence of cultural resonance and connectivity that dooms brand communication to the vast pile of ignored messages.

It’s our job here at Emergent to monitor these cultural and consumer-insight conditions so we’re able to respond strategically and creatively for the brands and businesses we represent. If your strategic plan isn’t feeding and exploring these important moments of real-life consumer connection…then you’re potentially skipping the marketing meal that offers the greatest opportunity for engagement and brand growth.

Is it dinnertime yet?

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.

 

Relevance Drives the Recipe for Social Media Results

February 13th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Public Relations, Social community, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Relevance Drives the Recipe for Social Media Results”

Social media has emerged as one of the most important channels of communication for brands and retailers – in no small measure due to high levels of consumer participation on these platforms and in these communities. Fueling consumer traction is an opportunity for two-way communication; a dialogue rather than monologue. It is a more human and interactive environment – and thus adds value to the consumer’s life and experience by providing unique ways to engage.

  • Of note, social media participation accounts for at least one of every three minutes people spend on the Internet, according to Global Web Index.

We already know that consumers prefer to get information, guidance and ideas from voices they deem trustworthy. Social channels help fill this need as a trusted source, especially when the proportion of content generated by consumers themselves (trusted) is correctly balanced with posts created by brands (not as trusted).

The question we often get from clients starts with how to extract optimal effectiveness from social channel program investments.

Here’s the Emergent recipe for improved social channel results: 

1. Competing successfully for social attention through relevance and utility

Rule number one: social is not a conventional media platform for pushing out self-promotional sales messaging. The great divide between social channels contributing measurably to growth vs. not, begins with the relevance of content and value to the consumer’s lifestyle passions and interests. Social discourse is not advertising.

  • While this may seem intuitively obvious, we observe any number of brands using social as a traditional media play, dominated by product promotion and transactional messages.

The first step towards social media engagement success begins with mining insight into the lives and aspirations of the audiences brands wish to serve. Ideally consumer insight research is part of the overall marketing plan and can be deployed to gain a better understanding of what a brand’s core users care about. Better to truly know them rather than base the messaging map on hunches and assumptions.

From this baseline insight, we build personas – detailed descriptions of consumer segments that make up the population of users either existing or desired. The personas then inform content strategy and help design a community experience founded on relevance, and added meaning to consumer interests and lifestyle.

This approach helps guide community managers to optimize the entire social encounter around core consumers, and in doing so, feeds engagement levels and social’s holy grail – content sharing. When content delivers intrinsic value to the audience, often in an entertaining way, it gets shared and thus multiplies reach.

2. High quality content wins, every time

According to user generated content platform company Stackla, 86 percent of consumers say authenticity matters in deciding what brands they like and prefer. Additionally, 60 percent of consumers believe content from a friend or family member will influence their purchase decisions. Comparatively only 23 percent say they are influenced by content from a celebrity.

User generated content (UGC) is another key component – again founded on the fundamental construct of trusted source. UGC should be embedded as an important component of social strategy, bringing in the voices of real people and their stories as a powerful foundation of validation and proof.

  • Consumers believe each other’s experiences with a brand first and foremost; more so than self-promotional content from a brand asserting the benefits and performance of its products and services.

Balanced content strategy enhances engagement. As such, to enhance overall content effectiveness, social channel management should address an apportioned mix of:

  • User generated
  • Brand created
  • Curated third-party content

Within this content eco-system is a formula we follow to plan content on a calendar basis. We recommend that roughly 80 percent of the content track message, topic and tone that are inspirational, educational, useful or fun. The remaining 20 percent of the calendar can be devoted to brand promotions and offers.

Of note, we know that quality content is far more important than quantity in social channels. It simply takes more thought, time and effort to create material that truly benefits other people and adds value to them than inconsequential frequency-fillers. Even when aggregating user generated material it’s important to curate the posts that are interesting and informative from anything that’s not offering a coaching or relevant entertaining moment.

3. Content creation guidance

HubSpot reports that visual content is 40 times more likely to be shared on social media than other forms. This data tracks with evidence that Blog posts using photos garner much higher readership than those without. This helps explain the out-sized popularity of Instagram – especially for food and healthy lifestyle brands.

In general:

  • Show readers the lifestyle they aspire to live. If its outdoor adventure they crave, then you know where to go. If they’re kitchen commanders, help build their culinary adventure.
  • Reveal the emotion under your product story. The devotion of craftsman to craftsmanship is an emotional journey people want to take. Talk about your commitments, standards and beliefs.
  • Inject some art into product photography. Make your photos more interesting by thinking creatively about the setting and how to imbue the image with greater meaning or emotion.

4. Influencers and influencing

At the start of this post we described the anchor from which all audience blessings flow: trust. Trusted voices are the key component to securing belief among consumers. Today’s consumers are understandably skeptical, and their ‘trust threshold’ is that much higher.

Brands are no longer free to simply assert claims of superiority or better experience. Other respected sources need to corroborate what you hope to convey. Influencers are a part of this strategy.

Bloggers and third-party subject matter experts add another dimension to content plans, bringing borrowed equity and credibility to the table. So it makes sense to build and nurture a universe of relevant influencers in your category. These voices can help verify what you want people to believe, while expanding the reach of your message through their networks.

The 50 or so Bloggers who are currently part of our Emergent Media Network operate in this role as added credible voices and authorities. Our obligation in this symbiotic relationship is to bring useful, relevant, well-researched and credible story ideas to the table. Quality in equals quality out.

Social strategy is, by definition, an integration of content marketing, community building, nurturing and the aggregation of user-generated stories. When built around insight about the audience and their needs, with content they care about, an opportunity exists to earn permission for a deeper relationship – based on mutual respect and trust.

Social is, well, social.

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.

Wild Idea Delivers Fresh Engagement and New Meaning

November 29th, 2017 Posted by brand strategy, branded content, Content Marketing, digital tools, Insight 0 comments on “Wild Idea Delivers Fresh Engagement and New Meaning”

A Turkey that shows its marketing intelligence…

Awhile back we took note that actor Matthew McConaughey had signed on with the Wild Turkey brand as marketing and creative director. Seemed at first like a bit of a stunt, however if their latest venture is any example, this pairing has inspired some relevant thinking served with effective outcomes.

So often in the adult beverage and spirits category we see the same tale told about distilleries and barreling, liquid aging and founder legacy. You can almost write the pitch from brand to brand and interchange the names; it’s an old saw of sameness laced with differing graphic elements.

  • But marketing has evolved in the face of seismic changes in how consumers behave and how their relationships with brands are built. Authenticity counts as we heralded in our last post. So, how does this play out in the real world with Kentucky bourbon? McConaughey and his colleagues at Wild Turkey mine the zeitgeist of deeper connections and meaning with an inspired idea to bring fresh turkeys at Thanksgiving to nearly every household in their headquarters town of Lawrenceburg, KY.

Two hundred and fifty employees fanned out to bring 4,500 Butterball®-donated turkeys to homes while a video crew captures the adventure in real time with McConaughey ringing doorbells. Local families opened their front doors in astonishment as the Hollywood moment unfolded in front of them.

First, the video is surprising and engaging. McConaughey himself is humanized in his role as the deliveryman of holiday cheer and thanksgiving. The reaction of people experiencing the moment was emotional, and we get to participate with them in their amazement at the generosity and celebrity touch.

The video itself is simple and captures the experience as it occurs. There’s no overt brand messaging in the traditional sense. But there’s more going on here than meets the marketing eye. It’s engagement and mattering when so much of what passes for marketing misses this objective.

We witness straightforward, honest, entertaining and emotional communication with real human value at its core. Just brilliant. This will do more for the brand than a 100 of the bottle beauty shot ads with a glowing amber pour. It’s inspired thinking that honors how marketing has changed in the era of relevance to consumers and their lives.

Additionally, Wild Turkey also donated 50,000 Thanksgiving meals to Share our Strength and another 580 turkeys to the town’s food bank. The entire project served as a launch pad for their “Friendsgiving to End Hunger” campaign aimed at securing additional matched donations to the charity partner. Here’s the sign-up landing page.

Watch the adventure here:

Perhaps we could call this approach real-vertising. It’s unexpected, honest, authentic and told in real-people terms. The Turkey distribution is a worthy cause and backed by extensions that help others in true need. Great thinking. A higher purpose served.

As someone who has never been much of a bourbon drinker, I feel compelled to go out and purchase a bottle. And that’s saying a lot for someone who considers himself more of a creative critic and creator than marketing target.

Hats off, Wild Turkey!

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.

Part 1: Integrated Communications – the New Maestro of Food Marketing

November 14th, 2017 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, branded content, CMO, Integrated Communications, Marketing Strategy, Public Relations 0 comments on “Part 1: Integrated Communications – the New Maestro of Food Marketing”

Is PR ready to move from instrument to orchestra leader?

Perhaps the harshest lesson for anyone in food and beverage marketing is the stark realization that persuasion no longer works. Persuasion was a welcome, business-friendly concept because its DNA was founded in brand-built, self-promotional messaging: here’s our product and why you should buy it.

Cultural shifts and behavior changes have transformed the shape of effective marketing from “talking at” consumers to “helping guide.” Consumers now rule the relationship – thus forcing changes in today’s marketing best practices and the service mix provided by agency partners.

Consumer shifts demand integrated communication solutions

When I first started in the agency business, public relations was primarily the sum of its media relations parts. Editorial media placement defined the marketing PR discipline, springing from its press agent roots in the post World War II rise of global agency companies. As the consumer packaged goods industry grew so did public relations. Its value exemplified in the context of cultivating third party, credible advocacy by a journalistic media source – one that was perceived to be unbiased and thus believable.

  • The marketing PR theory at work then: people in all demographic segments would consume media in print and broadcast forms to engage in the content – news or entertainment – while ads revolve around the perimeter searching (again and again) for attention. Getting your product talked about in the well of content was the ultimate in “intrusive” message delivery; wearing the aura of independent, reportorial endorsement. Controlled message and frequency were never in the equation like advertising, however, extended and cost-effective reach lived within its core proposition.

Mass media lived well with mass communication strategies.

Ogilvy (I was there for 11 years), in an effort to gain greater effective traction on behalf of its consumer branded clients, built an integrated proposition called Ogilvy Orchestration. It was an effort to bring symmetry and alignment between ad, PR, promotion and direct marketing services. While the concept had merit, its execution occasionally misfired due to competition between the various operating companies jockeying for the pole position of strategic client leadership. It was an early form of integrated thinking, yet, more about creating synergy among agency disciplines than a concept built to optimize and leverage consumer behavioral insight on the client’s behalf.

Digital changed the world: the old model lost traction, and a new one arrived

Let’s start by staking a claim: integrated communications – built around consumer lifestyle relevance – is the path forward for effective brand communication.

The consumer, for the most part, is in charge of how, when and where they engage in any and all brand messaging and hence, are in control of the relationships they choose to have with brands. Hence the tools deployed might blend earned media in the form of publicity, or branded content, or social channel conversation, or influencer engagement, or improved forms of advertising built around help over hype.

There’s an old adage, if the only thing you sell is a hammer then the answer to every problem is a nail.

So true. The Internet has facilitated consumer control over media channels and consumption. So there is easy avoidance of anything that walks and talks like traditional marketing. This condition ushered in a new marketing paradigm and tool kit – a decidedly less transactional model founded in relevance to consumer lifestyle interests, passions, needs and concerns.

Along with it, the current digital media eco-system literally demands a more conversational, straightforward and authentic form of communication. I would argue that PR brains are well suited to this task given the history of focus on editorial sensibility around “educating” versus the conventional solution leaning into cinematic salesmanship.

Today, brands must become partner, coach and guide to their audience as an enabler of their lifestyle goals. It is in this method of marketing reciprocity that more meaningful relationships between brand and consumer can be formed. It begs and answers the strategic question: in what ways can the brand improve the customer’s life?

At Emergent, we appreciate the shift to mattering and deeper meaning, rather than singularly advancing product features and benefits. The mattering construct requires businesses to fully operate in the customer’s best interests – which historically was a core principle that sat underneath the value proposition of public relations.

Implications to the planning model and agency

We believe integrated communication is a fundamental requirement for effective marketing strategy. Agencies that understand and can execute this fully will remain a vital and valuable resource to clients.

That said, it requires some modifications in operating behavior from the typical PR model of fielding tactical teams of publicists and creators of editorially-sensible material.

Integrated communications involves assembling an orchestra of expertise: part management consultants, part behavioral research experts, part brand strategy planners, part creative and producers of relevant content in a variety of media forms.

So, for clients and agencies looking to leverage integrated communications in earnest, the talent mandate must answer the call for integrated thinking. Inevitably, this will redefine the skill set requirements for firms who expect to provide the highest levels of value to their clients.

Integrated thinking informs integrated plans, which leads to successful integrated execution.

In Part 2 we’ll take a closer look at the elements of the new integrated marketing tool kit.

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

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

How to Build Your Brand’s Tellable Tale

October 20th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Social community, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “How to Build Your Brand’s Tellable Tale”

The formula for brand stories that drive engagement

Marketers are living in the age of consumer control – of the conversation, of granting access, of the genesis of any relationship that may exist between a brand and its users. For this reason, relevance has become a watchword to define what separates real engagement with people from that of disinterest and disconnection.

Relevance always begins with a deep understanding of the consumer’s lifestyle interests and passions, their concerns, needs and desires. It is here, in alignment with what people care about, that brands can find mutually beneficial ground to create conversation. We’ve described this as engaging via help over hype.

To activate relevance, brand stewards must think differently about the relationship dynamics with consumers. It’s hard to move away from the usual transactional behavior and messaging – unless – you really embrace caring about the people you wish to win as customers. You must commit to deep understanding of how the brand sits in service of improving people’s lives –and not just in terms of delivering on product benefits.

Tactically, nowhere is this seen in greater relief than through building communities of brand participants and ambassadors. Social platforms enable interested groups and fan communities to join together. These communities are powerful forces. There’s simply no better way to win new customers than to have current true believers share with others what they love about the brand – it’s the ultimate testimonial.

However in doing so, there are some rules which must be respected: this is not a channel to push out self-serving sales messages. Instead, it is the land of relevance and creating connection – to people’s lives, to each other, to community and sharing.

What’s at stake? There are two types of brands: those that matter and in which the consumer becomes invested, and those that don’t where products are viewed as commodities bought on price – easily interchanged with other options on any given day. The former is a way of becoming embedded in the hearts and minds of consumers through community and engagement, while the latter bypasses this approach in favor of talking “at” people.

Building brand engagement through story

Forming relationships is first and foremost a storytelling mission. Either those shared by brands or those created by consumers.

Have you ever noticed the stark contrast between brand communication that feels like informing, educating and honest conversation, as opposed to a message that looks like marketing and is designed to persuade?

“People influence people. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message.” Mark Zuckerberg

The tellable tale by definition is useful, valuable communication the consumer wants to share. All too often brand social channels are preoccupied with using the medium as another platform to push selling messages out the door. Which is vastly different than respecting the sharing and conversational aspects of the environment.

Here are six steps for brands to create compelling tellable tales:

  1. Feature real-people stories – activate the compelling real people customer tales of change, improvement, transformation and delight earned by brands who work to enhance the lives of their users.
  2. Demonstrate beliefs and mission – people want to be part of something greater than themselves. It is imperative that brands fully embrace a relevant ‘higher purpose’ that guides brand/company behaviors and decisions. A real, human, useful purpose beyond fueling product transactions.
  3. Transparency rules the relationship – people want to know about the commitments and standards you follow that govern how you do business. Integrity and honesty are critical to establishing connections with consumers.
  4. Go behind the curtain – companies, intentionally or not, are often like black boxes that operate behind a closed door. Now, however, people want to know how products are created, where ingredients are sourced, how employees and suppliers are treated. Open the door and let them in.
  5. Humanize your brand – bring to life the people who create, innovate, build and personify the company’s beliefs and mission. Tell their stories. Let them explain in their own words why the company is operating in the consumer’s best interests and how the business works to improve people’s lives.
  6. Entertain along the way – as the great David Ogilvy once said, “you cannot bore the customer into buying your product.” Entertaining communication allows elements of fun, humor and excitement to filter into the construction of content. Make it interesting, engaging and emotional, as well as informative.

Finally, encourage your fan community to co-create and build content of their own. Nothing is more powerful or compelling than this form of outreach. Be an enabler of social sharing. Encourage customers to contribute. Make it easy to do that. Repurpose what they make and distribute widely.

The 80/20 rule is usually in effect across most product categories, meaning that a smaller population of heavy users are most likely also to be the fans who help tell your story and carry the message. Take care of them!

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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