Posts in change

How to put the consumer at the center of your marketing

January 30th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, storytelling 0 comments on “How to put the consumer at the center of your marketing”

Is it inward contemplation or outward relevance that drives growth?

Brand navel-gazing is exactly that – an inward preoccupation with your product and business advantages. With consumers increasingly objecting to anything that looks and sounds like overt product selling, is it time for a new model?

The historical approach tends to repeat…

When I started in the agency business in Seattle, my first formal account assignment was a regional packaged foods company named Nalley’s. I was to take over the account for a senior agency team member who was moving over to handle a new client. During our first formal visit the hand-off occurred, and I found myself meeting with the four brand managers who ran chips/snacks, canned meals, dressings and pickles, respectively.

At each meeting the client’s marketing executive provided a brief of the business, describing the strategic features, benefits and advantages of their products over competitive offerings. Of course my job was to creatively, persuasively communicate those points of difference to consumers.

This feature and benefit briefing was a staple of how things operated in almost every business category the agency served.With virtually every client there was a laser-like focus on recipes, technologies and operational achievements. As such, plans would always spring from this information, often matched to various forms of testing designed to determine which claim would be most memorable and compelling to the target audience.

In the business of building businesses, companies expend great effort to refine their products and operations, as they should. The goal of course is to stay ahead of the competition and achieve some measure of superiority and differentiation. The marketing team looks to these achievements as evidence of compelling reasons for selecting and buying.

  • This system, which is pervasive across so many divergent business categories, tends to reinforce a point of view that marketing is on the right track when it focuses the product features/benefits; so carefully created and packaged.

After all, an organization’s systems and activities are engaged in constant improvement and refinement so this effort tends to inform the strategy!

Executives believe this data ladders up to the formula for driving growth and expansion. More specifically, when an editorial story or advertisement messages around these advantages, benefits and formulation improvements, we reflexively believe this argument forms the basis of brand preference.

We know more today about how people actually operate

Except for one thing. We’ve learned people are not analytical, fact-based decision- making machines. Humans are irrational creatures driven instead by feelings and emotions, often without self-awareness that this is how everyone behaves.

However we like to think of ourselves as logical, thoughtful analysts who carefully consider the facts, weigh the merits and then decide. In reality, we are steered by how we feel in the presence of a brand or business. It is emotion that informs actions. Yet so much of what goes into the crafting of communication is based on analytical backgrounding and introspective messaging.

When I got married 22 years ago, I went from dating to the altar in 12 months. It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made. So, was the move to propose founded on a conscious consideration of the personal pros and cons, the facts of my intended’s upbringing and family history, education and career prospects? Heavens no! It was how I felt about her. I knew in my heart of hearts she was the one. It was a powerful, visceral sense of love, passion, rightness and earnest conviction.

My subconscious brain knew more about the salience and relevance of this relationship than any fact-based roll-up of so-called “features.” In all cases, all of the time it is heart-over-head. We are feeling creatures that think and not the other way around.

How does this manifest in communication?

Emergent’s stellar pet food client, Champion Petfoods, makes some of the finest pet food on earth. You could fill volumes on the details underneath their formulations that ladder up to optimal nutrition for dogs and cats.

It is easy to become pre-occupied with the analytical facts of proteins, vitamins and minerals served in a bowl. We know the anecdotal stories of transformation and change in pets’ lives from eating these foods. The improvements to their health, wellbeing and happiness are far more persuasive through the emotional voices of loving pet parents than any fact-based presentation of formulation and protein ingredient percentages.

Stop focusing inwardly

So what does this mean? In order to achieve consumer engagement we must thoroughly, fully understand the interests and aspirations of those with whom we hope to communicate. We need to get underneath what matters to them and how the client’s brand can operate in making their lives better.

The brand must operate in service of a deeper meaning than just commerce. How can we improve the customer’s life; how do we add value and become an enabler of things they care about?

We must actively mine the emotional turf that resides under what people want and care about. In the case of pets, we know that food quality is linked to a sense of welfare and wellbeing for cats and dogs. The higher quality of food purchased is an expression of how much people love their pet. The emotional grist lies in the relationship and companionship with pets, and a desire that our four-legged family members remain happy and healthy.

Marketers can trumpet statistics on protein contributions and the role of nutritionally dense ingredients to delivering what dogs and cats require. In doing so the brand may have missed the bond, the relationship, and yes, the love being expressed and the importance of this dynamic to happiness.

  • Our actions are influenced by how we feel; how we resonate to the brand and our sense of comfort and trust in it. The facts and figures exist only in support of the emotional narrative.

The litmus test for effectiveness

Here’s how to judge the merits of communications plans and proposals:

First, is there an assessment and review of the consumer – their wants, needs, dreams, aspirations and lifestyle interests? This is what is meant by putting the consumer first – insight on their interests that informs go-to-market strategy.

  1. Question number one: has effort been made to draw linkage between what we know about the consumer and how the brand and business can become a partner and enabler of those lifestyle needs?
  2. Has messaging been constructed around breathing life into emotional cues that hold up a mirror to how the consumer wants the world around them to perceive who and what they are?
  3. Have we looked at the cultural symbols relevant today for what consumers expect and want? Are those symbols showing up in the communication we produce?
  4. Are we creating synergy across all touch points from store to online to package to media to social channel?
  5. Are we tugging on the heartstrings? Are we keyed into the central motivation for why people want things, and the desires they have for a higher quality life?

If we wish to communicate in a way that’s understood and appreciated by the sub-conscious brain it will involve emotional cues. The facts and figures operate as reinforcement for ‘why’ we made a good decision post-purchase.

Moving from brief to resonance

So, instead of marching every marketing conversation down the hall of inwardly focused feature and benefit briefs and documents about technologies and product superiority, we should firstseek to understand the hearts and passions of those we wish to engage.

This is fundamentally a call for more (better) research: the kind that uncovers what makes customers happy; what they seek for fulfillment; where the pain points are; what they aspire to be – and then work creatively to create linkage between what we learn and how the brand is an active participant in achieving those goals.

  • This is how we earn permissionfor a meaningful relationship and how the emotional fabric is knit that leads consumers to brand trust and purchase. The operational and technical savvy is what delivers satisfaction with product experience, and thus powers a repeat purchase.

I get wistful at times thinking if we had known back in the day what we know now about how human beings operate — our strategies would have been much different, probably more powerful and effective.

While we can’t go back in time and make corrections we can carve a new path to victory; one based on putting the consumer at the center of planning strategy. This is harder than it looks because the inward focus on product features and technologies is ingrained in business cultures big and small.

But times have changed and what do we now know?

If you don’t change with the times, you’re probably in trouble.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge

June 2nd, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Healthy Living, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge”

Wallet wields power and Z-ers are ‘voting’ with it

Alert: in two short years Gen Z will be 40 percent of all U.S. consumers. They arrive in economic primetime with a distinctive and unique point of view: economic power is a tool for social change and improvement.

Dissatisfied with politics and politicians whom they feel can’t be trusted to operate decisively for the greater good, Gen Z-ers see their purchases as influential and an expression of what they want the world around them to believe about their priorities and values.

For brands this means young people expect companies to use their influence and platforms for the greater good, to imbue their brands with greater meaning, and to create pathways for participation in something that’s meaningful.

Voting with their dollars

According to a recent study by DoSomething.org:

  • 76 percent of Gen Z-ers have purchased a brand specifically to support issues the brand stands for (this of course assumes the brand indeed stands for something beyond its product expertise, business results, and to the benefit of people and society).
  • 67 percent have stopped purchasing a brand or would do so, if the company does not operate in alignment with their beliefs and values.
  • 40 percent have used purchase power intentionally to boycott bad company behaviors and policies, or to influence improvements and change.

A more values-driven generation, Z-ers believe what you buy and where you shop or eat is a cultural, and at times political, statement. So it’s no surprise the study discovered 49 percent believe it is vital for a company to have social change initiatives in their mission and planning.

Consumerism and the channel for change

Z-ers see mainstream politics as often out of touch with social and environmental issues they deem important, such as gun control and climate change; and politicians as operating in a cycle of self-interest at the expense of others’ well-being as with DACA, healthcare, justice reform, and some aspects of the current political environment on immigration.

Importantly, this can be attributed to control. Z-ers may feel public policy operates beyond their sphere of influence, but economic power tied to social change issues, is seen as entirely within their realm of accessibility to participate in something that matters.

What’s important to note here is the focus on social change and improvement; a generation of consumers who place priority on helping the world around them, and who expect brands to participate in a meaningful way in this arena with them as a prerequisite to earning and maintaining their business.

Higher Purpose?

What is your brand and company mission beyond the balance-sheet interests? And by the way, this is not just a call for philanthropy. Check writing in service of a cause is not unimportant, but this goes beyond donations to how the company’s core purpose is configured.

For food businesses this can be about addressing issues like sustainable agriculture, improving the quality and health of food generally for people, fair wages for farm workers and fair trade practices, or taking care of those less fortunate through proactive and tangible acts and programs.

  • Of course, given we live in the era of anything that can be known will be known, it is not possible to do this with window-dressing assertions and marketing that’s disconnected from real behaviors. Z-ers can quickly assess if the brand has a soul or not, or how to sort authentic motivation from business as usual.

For this very reason, Emergent has embedded Higher Purpose assessment and evaluation as a core part of our capability – to help clients determine or refine their path to social good and mission that extends beyond product and promotion.

Z-ers see this as integral to the purchases they make. What you stand for and how you behave as a brand are under the cultural microscope. Now more than ever, pocketbook politics is a thing to be factored into plans and programs. It manifests from a core belief system sitting in service of society, people, their growth and welfare, planet earth, the environment and government policy.

If anything at Emergent we see this as refreshing and an evolutionary improvement that helps advance the role business can play beyond rewarding investors. It’s okay now to espouse beliefs, to enact efforts for social change and to put this out front as a measure of what the company believes and values.

The operable point here is the overwhelming desire people have, in all age cohorts, to be a part of something greater than themselves. This principle simply gains more importance among Z-ers who operate with intention in their purchases and active alignment with brands they care about and see as consistent with their values. In saying this, all purchases become a form of symbolic signal.

What flag are you waving?

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.

The Power and Influence of User Generated Content

November 27th, 2017 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Food Trend, Social community, Social media, User Generated Content 0 comments on “The Power and Influence of User Generated Content”

UGC has greater influence on purchase behavior than brand-built

Marketing food and beverage brands these days can feel a bit like playing darts with the lights off – trying to hit the mark of engagement when unsure of the path to this goal. A recent global consumer study sponsored by Stackla and conducted by Market Cube, helps illuminate the pathway to delivering the kind of content that resonates with consumers. Turns out it is stories created by their contemporaries, friends and family that matters most.

The old era of interruption-style, one-way marketing has been dethroned. We now live in a content-driven world. In an effort to reach increasingly elusive consumers, brands have become self-publishers and active participants in their own social channel communities.

  • People tend to tune out and avoid anything that looks or sounds like conventional marketing, so it is vital that new thinking be applied when designing brand building content strategies.

That said consumers have also become more savvy and sophisticated in assessing the credibility of content based, in part, on the source of that information.

What kind of content is most influential to purchase decisions?

  • Eighty-six percent of consumers believe that authenticity is important when deciding about brands they will purchase, according to the study.
  • Yet 57 percent of consumers think that less than half of the brand-produced content out there is truly authentic.

What does authentic mean to consumers?

User generated content is seen as three times more authentic when it comes from friends, family and other consumers rather than content produced by the brand itself or through the voice of a celebrity spokesperson. (We think use of celebrities can be deemed credible if great care is given to genuine and natural connections to the brand, and when organic and believable messaging tone is achieved.)

People choose to believe other people like themselves first because there’s a perceived higher threshold of honesty and integrity than company-built material. Which, in the eyes of the beholder, may be seen as serving only a transactional agenda.

Here are some highlights from the research:

  • What kind of content is most authentic? Created by consumers: 60 percent. Created by brands: 20 percent.
  • 52 percent of people say they post on social media at least once a month about products they’ve purchased.
  • 39 percent of consumers say they post about food and beverages at least two times a month.
  • 76 percent of people will post on social media (mostly Facebook) after a positive experience purchasing a food or beverage product, or dining out.
  • 70 percent of the time consumers can identify an image created by a brand rather than a consumer.
  • 20 percent of consumers have un-followed a brand on social media because they thought the content was too corporate and self-serving.
  • Authenticity matters to 90 percent of Millennials, 85 percent of Gen-Xers and 80 percent of Boomers

User generated content is a highly intrusive, credible and effective form of engagement because it respects the consumer desire for honesty and integrity above all.

The litmus test for success here comes back to a fundamental understanding of what people believe. Building trust is paramount in brand communication. The voices of users and family members work more effectively here because it flows from a desire to be helpful; it’s not self-serving. For brand-created content, the aforementioned tone and spirit should be factored into messaging to help assure it conveys a human, real and believable approach that doesn’t come across as a hard sell.

The testimonial voices of happy consumers can be one of the most powerful and persuasive of tools at your brand’s disposal. So help them tell their story. Encourage this behavior in your social channels. Feature the voices of your fans and ambassadors. It’s the equivalent of a laser-guided dart hitting the bulls-eye of engagement.

The five-point UGC checklist:

  1. Create rewards for fans that share photos, videos and experiences
  2. Offer incentives for users who share content in their own networks
  3. Develop promotions and contests to solicit content and amplify distribution
  4. Embed UGC content in your email campaigns
  5. Integrate shared authentic customer experiences at your web site

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 2: New Food Culture Requires New Brand Communications

October 21st, 2015 Posted by brand marketing, change, Insight, shopper behavior, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Part 2: New Food Culture Requires New Brand Communications”

As the food landscape changes, the equally disruptive media-machine upheaval reaches into and upends conventional CPG brand communications strategies – Where’s Don Draper when you really need him?

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The Food Brand Marketing Sea Change

June 19th, 2015 Posted by brand marketing, change, storytelling 0 comments on “The Food Brand Marketing Sea Change”

Part 2: Reimagining Food and Beverage in America

Family At Farmers Market

Let’s start with defining what brand means. CPG businesses have been building temples to brand strategy for decades. The brand is supposed to be the emotional bridge and equity vessel that supports a premium price and drives preference at the shelf.

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Big Food Facing Big Trouble or Big Opportunity?

June 15th, 2015 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, change, Food Trend, Insight, retail brand relevance, shopper behavior, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Big Food Facing Big Trouble or Big Opportunity?”

Part 1: Reimagining Food and Beverage in America

Big Food in Big Trouble

Fortune Magazine’s special report “The war on big food,” cited an astonishing fact: the top 25 food and beverage companies have lost a collective $18 billion in market share since 2009. Repeat: $18 BILLION in 6 years.

Inside supermarkets the evidence is there for all to see as smaller more nimble niche players like Annie’s (now owned by General Mills) and Boulder Brands’ Evol frozen entrees secure more and more in-store real estate.

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