Posts in consumer behavior

Know your customer's pain points

To acquire consumer trust, you must walk in their shoes

March 5th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Journey Map, Retail brand building, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Strategic Planning, word of mouth 0 comments on “To acquire consumer trust, you must walk in their shoes”

Keys to successful customer journey mapping

What is the biggest marketing challenge facing food, beverage and lifestyle brands? Creating improvements to brand strategy that will deliver more impact and measurable outcomes from limited resources. Here we’ll talk about an important tool that can help remove risk and uncertainty from your marketing plan and spending decisions while optimizing effectiveness.

What do you ultimately need to deliver sustainable business growth? Consumers who love and appreciate your brand. Trustworthiness is harder to achieve than meets the eye. Relevance and higher value can only be secured when the consumer sees your brand as “mattering” to them on a deeper level than product functionality.

Embedding strategic insight and drawing the brand as close to your customer base as possible requires a disciplined approach. The plan strategy must assure that at every key point on their journey to purchase and later hopefully to evangelism, there’s connection with the right experience, the right message that mirrors their pain point, needs and aspirations.

This outcome is made possible by placing consumers at the center of your strategic planning process. To do this effectively and with clarity, Customer Journey Mapping is the best tool to hold the consumer priority feet to the relevance fire. We’re going to walk you through best practices in journey mapping, an incredibly exciting and important exercise that will bring greater resonance to every aspect of your brand strategy.

Ultimately it will inform more impactful and compelling brand communication and lead consumers to a trusted and closer relationship, for the very reason your interaction with them will resonate at each stage on their path to purchase.

The customer journey map process helps you address the following:

  • Engage your customers in your brand message
  • Believe your brand claims
  • Appreciate your brand purpose
  • Trust your brand
  • Buy your brand with confidence
  • Advocate for your brand

Successfully joining your customer on their journey requires you to think like they do. It will entail empathy, understanding and appreciation of their needs and concerns. The map brings this insight to life. Without it you’re really flying blind.

Your first objective always is to add value to their lives

Simply stated, to:

  • Help them
  • Educate and coach them
  • Demonstrate you are showing up for them
  • Empathize with their needs
  • Fulfill your promises

Here’s the Emergent three-step recipe for an optimal Customer Journey Map

Step One – Persona understanding and Insight

As we’ve conveyed previously, consumer purchase behaviors are 100 percent driven by trying to avoid making a bad decision. Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman at Ogilvy & Mather, so accurately describes it, “a one percent chance of nightmare dwarfs a 99 percent chance of a five percent gain.” Accurately understanding and characterizing the consumer’s needs, pain points and “risk” related concerns begins with Persona creation.

Here we identify the key segments of your customer base from early adopters to heavy and occasional users to those motivated more by values or social issues such as sustainability. Within each cohort we take a deep dive on lifestyle, interests, needs, passions.

When fully built out the personas should address these six key questions:

  1. What are the triggers (need/want) that kick off the purchase journey?
  2. What are the pain points and practical needs they wish to solve?
  3. What cultural and societal influences are at play?
  4. Given purchases are largely symbolic signaling now, what symbols of relevance do they look for?
  5. What are the emotional levers that impact their perceptions and actions?
  6. What media do they consume and where?

To do this at an optimal level we operate like anthropologists who observe, investigate and study to know their interests and behaviors.

Step Two – Moments of truth on the path to purchase

The map segments their journey from discovery to purchase, digesting each step along the way so you can articulate what they think, feel and do. Armed with this understanding you’re able to design communications that meet the appropriate moment, thus assuring your brand remains relevant, engaging and helpful.

Here are the seven journey map components

  • Discovery

Steps taken to identify the brand/product choices available for consideration based on consumers’ needs and alignment symbolically with how they see themselves and their values.

  • Exploration

Within a shortlist of candidate brands the consumer is acquiring more information on features, benefits and lifestyle associations. Most of this occurs online in social channels, web sites and media platforms.

  • Comparison

The shortlist alternatives are compared for plus and minus assessments of risk and ability to successfully answer the pain point or desire.

  • Trust check to verify

Consumers look for recommendations and reviews from peers and credible experts or influencers. Their goal is to reduce risk by validating the claims made by a brand on results, ease of use and effectiveness. Social channel proof (testimonial) is a key component in achieving this trust.

  • Purchase

The ease, convenience and absence of friction in the purchase process will influence perceptions of satisfaction and fulfillment of your promise.

  • Experience

Everything that can be done to assure an optimal user experience is delivered to assure the outcome matches the perceived value proposition.

  • Evangelize

Assuming all the previous steps have matched with their needs, the “discovery” aspects of a well-done brand experience will help initiate advocacy, word-of-mouth and sharing of experiences via word-of-mouth and the users’ social channels.

At each step the map is populated with an assessment of what consumers in the moment think, feel and do. This information is used to inform communications and messaging. The right words, at the right time, in the right place.

Step Three – translation to messaging and media plan

Armed now with a full understanding of your customers’ thinking, emotional needs and behaviors at each moment on their purchase journey, you’re in a position to serve up communication and content relevant to their needs as it evolves from need triggers all the way to potential ambassadorship.

Given the mapping focus comes back to what the consumer is thinking, feeling and doing at each step, you’re able to tailor messaging for whichever moment of truth they are in. By virtue of this added relevance, your brand can operate as a guide and empathetic coach at each phase, providing useful information while resolving issues that contribute to perceptions of risk or making a bad decision.

Media selection can be optimized to deliver the right kind of content; from social proof to purchase support and reassurance on issues they care about most. The tool should match the need. This creates greater marketer confidence –understanding what’s going on along the path and knowing which message to deliver. Important to outcomes because the plan now is free from hunches and assumptions about what to convey, when and where.

Mapping the Moments = Momentum

The customer journey map brings added rigor and discipline to the planning process, infuses consumer relevance throughout their journey and acts as guide to message and media based on audience behaviors and preferences.

The consumer recognizes your understanding of them amplified by the usefulness and value of what you’re able to tell them. In the year ahead, brand strategy improvements will be needed to step past the significant behavioral changes and attitude shifts authored on by the pandemic. The Journey Map is the way to get there.

If you think the Journey Map process might be right for you, and you’re interested in help and support, use this link to ask questions about what’s best for you.

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.

Climate change impacts consumer preferences

New climate-conscious consumer has a beef, are you ready?

February 9th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, Climatarian, Climate Change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, COVID-19, Differentiation, engagement, Greenhouse Gas, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Pandemic, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “New climate-conscious consumer has a beef, are you ready?”

Culture change impacts food and beverage brand relevance

There’s a new sheriff in food and beverage town now. A consumer on the hunt for climate- friendly choices. They have a hankering to use the checkout counter as a ballot box to vote their beliefs. Are you prepared for them? Just who is this new cohort rapidly gaining momentum?  As an audience of influencers and advocates how significant will their impact be on the future fortunes of food businesses and retailers in 2021?

Read on.

Five years ago, a great dot-connecting moment transpired when consumers determined that the quality of what they eat has a direct and tangible impact on the quality of their lives. Food retail saw a marked shift in shopping patterns to the perimeter fresh departments as preference for fresh, real food overtook the decades-long infatuation with convenient, inexpensive, highly processed packaged foods and snacks. The aftermath of this transformed ‘what does healthier mean’ calculus and fed the innovation skate ramp of new, entrepreneur created food products flooding the store. These super premium brands-with-deeper-meaning and made from higher quality, ethically sourced real food ingredients have captivated consumer attention and retail shelf space. How many brands of artisanal beef jerky are there now competing for a slice of the snack dollar?

We reminisce on this point just to remind us all that change comes quickly. Our collective goal as marketers is to stay ahead of these transformative shifts. Thus able to help define the state of the art for your brands, rather than scrambling to re-acquire relevance after observing share erosion in the quarterly results report.

Rise of the Climatarian

Another dot-connecting transition is underway. A growing number of bellwether consumers are grasping the connection between the food production system and its out-sized impact on greenhouse gas production plus the climate change threats that accompany it. According to our insight research partner Brand Experience Group, their ground-breaking study on sustainability, estimates the current number of consumers who are passionate about or committed to the importance of “sustainable consumption” at 34% and rising.

The role of meat production and industrial agriculture processes contributing to the planet’s warming is changing the food choice value proposition to invoke a claim that defines carbon footprint. While the word sustainable has gained traction in recent years as a formal player in marketing lexicon, it is acquiring a more specific meaning. Sustainability and climate change are getting married and we’re all invited to the reception.

What’s driving this? In his stellar New Yorker magazine feature “After Alarmism: The War on Climate Denial Has Been Won,” climate advocate David Wallace-Wells paints the picture.

“In California in 2020, twice as much land burned as had ever burned before in any year in the modern history of the state — five of the six biggest fires ever recorded. In Siberia, “zombie fires” smoldered anomalously all through the Arctic winter; in Brazil, a quarter of the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, was incinerated; in Australia, flames took the lives of 3 billion animals. All year, a planet transformed by the burning of carbon discharged what would have once been called portents of apocalypse.”

Increased media attention on the issue has circulated data revealing the significant top box role beef and lamb production have in methane creation. Global agriculture practices and meat collectively contribute more to climate threat than all fossil fuel transportation combined. The impact of climate on people and society is being played out in prime time through recurring news coverage of raging wildfires, droughts, super storms, increasing Hurricane impacts, melting glaciers, rising water levels and flooding worldwide.

We’re about to see a shift towards carbon footprint as a definer of sustainability. Those with an attractive, relevant brand story to tell are manifesting this attribute in product label scoring while legacy food and beverage companies swarm to announce “Net Zero” emission commitments. Meanwhile there will be growing scrutiny of supply chains to root out sources of greenhouse gas. The decarbonization of our food system is getting underway. Consumers will demand it. It will be juiced by new food technologies and a cohort of emerging brands that pioneer ways to create food without built-in climate deficits.

Digital innovation will be eclipsed by bio-degradable everything

Alongside global warming is a related developing trend – an innovation heat map swing from digital technology to significant advancements in bioengineering and biofabrication.  A complementary view of sustainability looks hard at the role of plastics and other trash dump materials in so many facets of our lives with a convincing argument that recycling isn’t the best answer. Creating products, packaging, even clothing, from materials that simply disappear harmlessly is exponentially better for the planet.

In 2019, nearly 500 million plastic toothbrushes were sold with the majority of them ending up in landfills and the ocean. They cannot be recycled. Since plastic was first mass-produced in the 1950’s, 9.1 billion tons of it has been created and landfilled – an astonishing 91% of this massive plastic tsunami isn’t recyclable, according to Fast Company magazine. On the toothbrush front, Colgate owns 30% of the entire category and in an effort to end the proliferation of plastic they are introducing “Keep” – the first planet-friendly brush that employs a reusable aluminum handle. The replaceable brush head is still plastic but the design represents an 80% reduction in plastic material use.

Steve and Nick Tidball’s Vollebak, a futuristic brand of men’s fashion, is re-writing the rules and process for clothing creation. Their plant and algae t-shirt is made from plant-based linen and wood pulp fibers decorated with ink from algae. The shirt can completely decompose in 12 weeks when tossed into the compost pile. A shirt that literally disappears. “Sustainability is easier to understand when it involves feeding your clothes to worms,” said founder Steve Tidball in an overview article on their technology showcased in The Future Normal newsletter.

Key to this coming movement of planet friendlier foods, products, processes and ingredients is a revealing focus on the impact of lifestyle and consumption habits on our planet’s health. The realization that what we buy is a reflection of our values rises as a functional and viable path to signal those preferences and beliefs. Consumers’ wallets are used to vote their preferences. This new path to purchase will require brands to look deeply across the organization to determine where improvements and changes can be made to align with this sea change.

Undoubtedly yet another generation of new brands will emerge with carbon footprint claims and planet-friendly packaging as the lead in their brand voice. More innovation is coming. There are, however, business challenges ahead for these upstarts.

  • What is the secret to scale-able and sustainable growth, the path to sales homeruns not base hits? We reveal it here.

80% of CPG start-ups will never get past $1 million in sales

Some new emerging brands have well-connected founders and are able to attract investment that creates resource advantages. “Money can buy distribution. It can buy advertising. It can buy huge field marketing events. But it can’t by consumer enthusiasm. It can’t buy cultural relevance for the brand’s attribute-outcome symbolism,” exhorts Dr. James Richardson, of Premium Growth Solutions.

After an initial, well-funded launch with a strong velocity report card, things start to stall or plateau. What’s wrong is often embedded in the product itself. It just isn’t that remarkable. Or, importantly a narrow, niched positioning causes the brand to stall. It simply runs past its ability to attract an audience sufficiently large enough to keep the velocities on a northward trajectory. Enthusiastic users, perhaps, but a narrow, smaller fan base nonetheless.

Scaling beyond the mid-range isn’t an outcome of more funding or the awareness that can buy. It is delivered by steering the brand towards the right and largest addressable market. Beyond Meat famously did not create a better vegan burger for vegans. They opened the aperture wide by casting themselves as a meat made from plants for meat lovers. They threw down the gauntlet of crave-able taste experience and asserted they were as good as a beef burger. Bold to be sure. The product delivered on its promise under that scrutiny.

The genius was casting a wide net to meat lovers and in doing so working to build relevance and resonance with a very big audience of meat department beef shoppers. It wasn’t because there was this giant standing pool of people representing themselves as “flexitarian.” No, instead they invoked meat lover and by that they meant anyone and everyone who loves hamburgers, the most popular sandwich on earth. The outcome was a rapid rise to hundreds of millions in sales.

Largest. Addressable. Market.

Don’t make vegan cheese for vegans. Instead craft extraordinary, delicious plant-based cheese for cheese lovers. A high taste bar to be sure, but then that’s what separates the extraordinary product innovation from the merely average.

Climate change and bioengineering will reshape the food, beverage and lifestyle brands business more quickly than anyone imagines. Venture capital and innovation will quickly chase these dreams. More higher-purpose brands will be invented. Some will be out-sized winners while some will remain small or fail altogether. The difference maker won’t be the size of the budget and the awareness that can acquire. Sound strategy will play a decisive role in the fortunes (or lack thereof) of these businesses based on the quality of the innovation itself, the size of its potential market and the alchemy of how and where its relevance is expressed.

If this thinking strikes a chord and you would like to brainstorm further the implications for your business, use this link to start an informal, no-charge 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.

Pandemic impact on consumer needs and lifestyle

Pandemic Requires Meeting People Where They Are

February 3rd, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, COVID-19, Emotional relevance, engagement, Marketing Strategy, Pandemic, storytelling 0 comments on “Pandemic Requires Meeting People Where They Are”

How you can improve consumer care and communication

In recent days the new Administration has brought greater transparency and clarity to the state of all things Pandemic. We’ve learned about more contagious strain variants, and non-optimal vaccine availability, and the real “final mile” logistical challenges of “getting vaccines into arms.” And just like the proverbial frog in the ever-increasing boiling pot of water, we’ve been reminded that although we’ve adapted to pandemic conditions over the last several months – we are still very much in a state of “national emergency” – a condition which “wasn’t created overnight and won’t be solved overnight.”

And so here we are.

At a new starting block.

Together – with more road to travel.

With these new revelations, people (read: consumers) are still caught betwixt and between the very human push toward any-kind-of-normalcy-now-please and pulling back to be pragmatic and practical in protecting themselves and their loved ones.

This juxtaposition brings ongoing challenges to brand communications for the foreseeable future.

  • Can we (finally) move off of Pandemic-related communication and get back to “normal”?
  • How can we best engage in the context of current consumer sentiment?
  • Do we need to reassess how we’re balancing our messaging and tone?

Pushing too hard toward normalcy now with block-and-tackle promotional messages (not something Emergent recommends anyway) – at best, may be perceived as out of touch – at worst, tone deaf. (Be ready for those social media keyboard vigilantes who will point that out to you and your followers.)

If ever there was a time to take the ol’ axiom “meet people where they are” to heart – the time is now.

As any regular reader of our Emerging Trends Report can attest, we assert that consumers are people first – emotion-driven, emotion-based – replete with hopes, dreams, fears and sometimes conflicted and complicated lives. Like now.

Reaching them today – being relevant and meaningful to them – requires less marketing genius and more real-life empathy and humanity.

While it’s true that the Pandemic has impacted communities and individuals differently, the overall shared experience has revealed five universal themes that more effectively address consumer sentiment and relevance, and are considerations when approaching communication strategies, tone and messaging in the coming months.

Consider these Five C’s of Ongoing Pandemic Brand Communications.

Compassion

Let’s talk tone as it undergirds everything to follow and is the basis of really connecting to our collective experience.

Though some of us have been merely inconvenienced during the Pandemic, others have suffered devastating generational losses – of loved ones – of livelihoods – of places to call home. Others still, are angry about life-momentum interrupted or golden years robbed of time spent with family, friends and grandchildren. Many are and will be struggling to get back on track emotionally and financially.  None of us are totally un-affected. As such “happy talk” messaging may fall on deaf ears.

  • How can your messaging and tone demonstrate a little compassion?
    • Like a good neighbor, have you just checked in with your followers on social with, “How are you doing today?” and then offered words of encouragement?
    • Are you sharing with your community how you’ve been helping and are continuing to help during this crisis – and in a way which is less about corporate philanthropy and more about doing your part

Comfort

Recently, we’ve all heard “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” While, thankfully, the survival-panic demonstrated by The Great Toilet Paper Run of 2020 has leveled out, the idea of comfort – being comfortable – feeling comforted – remains. For some, the idea of getting back to normal is comforting (albeit not immediately completely realistic). Some in the early goings ensured their more indulgent comfort foods were well stocked to help weather the storm. Others still are finding new definitions of comfort in completing “pandemic projects” – many of those in the context of improved health & wellness.  This type of comfort is borne more from achieving peace of mind through boosting immunity and shoring up any perceived health deficits making them more susceptible to illness.

We’re reminded, though, that we’re still in uncertain times. Uncertainty portends dis-comfort. While not as acute as in March for some, the idea of comfort is still sought after by most.

  • How are you telegraphing and expressing the concept of comfort in your communications tone and messaging?
    • Can you craft messages in ways to offer reassurance, consistency and perseverance?

Confidence

The aforementioned uncertainty, the evolving information now being revealed about the Pandemic, and even the elements around the state of our Union have manifested if not in a crisis of confidence – at least a solid pressure-testing of it. As we eventually return to normal life, returning to work or school – enjoying a dine-in restaurant meal – for some, even just getting out of the house – all will require stretching a confidence muscle many haven’t tapped in months. To them this will feel foreign and unsettling as they try to regain their sea legs. Important to note here, that our collective emergence will not happen with a flip of a switch but rather in a slow roll-out – first among those duly vaccinated or as geographic restrictions are lifted. People informed by their various degrees of pandemic impact, personal assessments of their healthfulness and states of mental fortitude will be re-entering at a personal pace.

  • How can your messaging help inspire greater personal confidence?

Connection (and Re-Connection)

Much has been written about ongoing isolation whether self-imposed or otherwise. Plenty of people are still hunkered down or limiting external exposure to protect themselves and those in their homes.  As virtual connection has filled a void, anticipating eventual en masse in-person re-connecting brings much anxiety and complexity for consumers to process and manage. Even with vaccinations administered or others over their illnesses and boasting antibodies, the same public health measures of mask wearing and physical distancing are advised for the long term. That’s tricky – especially as more virulent strains emerge and current vaccines are evaluated against them, and questions abound about how long vaccines and antibodies may offer effective protection. 

Safely re-connecting won’t be like those sun-on-your-face, mask-free, personal-space invading “before times.”

The promise of eventual re-connecting is joyous.

The realities of re-connecting are, well, complicated.

  • Are there ways you can help simplify or otherwise support the idea of safely reconnecting?

Convenience

The Pandemic fueled contact-free convenience expectations among consumers. We’ve become (more) accustomed and maybe even dependent upon online ordering, curbside pick-up, drive-thru prepared meal take-out – even burgeoning auto-replenishment and subscription-based services. It is a new day.  While some may long for the leisurely visit to the grocery or the day spent strolling and shopping the mall – it won’t be at the expense of relinquishing the new pandemic-induced, creature-comfort conveniences to which we’ve become accustomed.

  • What ongoing role is the convenience playing in your communications?
  • Is it evolving as our situation is evolving?

We know that business marches on and there’s selling to be done but for the coming months is it really just “business as usual” as our collective Pandemic experience continues?

Can you spare a percentage of your social media posts to offer support rather than sell?

Importantly, can you acknowledge the whole person who sums up the consumer?

You may find this earnest, authentic approach endears.  

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.

Storytelling can change history, alter the path for brand growth

The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome

January 22nd, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Insight, Public Relations, storytelling, Validation 0 comments on “The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome”

When Real, Powerful Human Stories Must be Told

It’s in the story telling and the strategic nuances of where and how they’re told that great things happen. Over time I have come to see and appreciate these tools that work to greatest effect and benefit in altering the future trajectory of client businesses.

There’s one story that stands out above others. The strategic principles bound up in this example have proven effective time and time again. It recurs often enough to have earned first place in the strategic arsenal as a reliable go-to for business progress. It’s the stories well-told by real people about how their lives have been impacted by our clients’ products.

An unforgettable day, a powerful moment, a sea-change that saved lives

A while back I owned an agency called Wheatley Blair. We were retained by home safety products company First Alert to launch the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm, a warning device for a household hazard that is unseen, dangerous and invisible to any human. It was the leading cause of accidental poisoning fatalities in America, claiming more than 1,500 lives every year and countless thousands more who were sickened or injured.

In our efforts to build a platform for launch we felt it was important to create a constituency of ambassadors including families who had lived through poisoning events or lost loved ones. Alongside them we built an advocate team of poison physicians who understood the threat, air quality experts who could explain how the gas is released and builds up in a home, and the fire service community of emergency first responders. We initiated a collaboration with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency charged with evaluating and monitoring new safety solutions.

Our campaign to alert American families gained traction as major news media broadcast our story of the “Silent Killer.” Word spread rapidly about this household hazard produced by combustion appliances like furnaces, ovens, hot water heaters and fireplaces. People lined up outside at hardware and homecenter stores to buy the alarms.

What we didn’t expect at the beginning was a foe to quickly emerge

The American Gas Association stormed out of the wings taking aim at our client because they felt the issue disparaged their product. Frankly while I understood their concern, it made no sense to me because the threat isn’t the fuel, it’s malfunctioning combustion appliances, exhaust systems and chimneys. But never mind, the industry came out swinging suggesting we were creating unnecessary alarm.

A David vs Goliath story if there ever was one

The natural gas industry is gigantic. They had more money to throw at this issue than our client had in total sales company wide. We were David to a well-financed Goliath. Naturally when this challenge emerged, we made a beeline for the Gas Association head offices looking to enlist them as collaborators in the effort to save lives and protect families. We thought, “Who wouldn’t sign on for that kind of life safety effort?”

  • Walking into the lion’s den, we made an appearance in their executive conference room attempting to persuade them that this was a golden opportunity for the industry to join in a lifesaving education activity.  This would endear them to families while associating their “brand” and product with a public safety initiative.

Unfortunately, they saw the issue as a threat and instead kicked off an effort to try and derail the carbon monoxide education campaign. When you’re working on the side of the angels it is unlikely that even a well-financed effort to discredit and downplay will work.

It came to its pinnacle at an industrywide conference held in Washington DC. It was their effort to rally the regional gas company members around a call to resist the carbon monoxide alarm education efforts and counter with their own claim that this was much ado about nothing.

  • But the handlers inadvertently made a strategic error. To create a perception of due diligence, they invited the Consumer Product Safety Commission to join and be part of the speaker line up. By law if the CPSC is involved in a meeting, it becomes a public event which anyone is free to attend.

Initially we offered to provide speakers and expert content but were denied. We decided to meet the challenge head-on by attending the meeting uninvited. Our strategy: to bring 10 families who had experienced a carbon monoxide disaster of their own to come and tell their stories at the conference. During question-and-answer sessions in the meeting agenda, they would come to the microphone and share their story while challenging the industry to help save lives.

  • One by one families in the audience stood up and told their stories, some of them heart rending of how loved ones were lost. Poison physicians explained how the gas impacts the human body causing people to suffocate from the inside out. Air quality experts detailed how an appliance can malfunction to emit this highly toxic material.

In the hallway outside the ballroom, I observed. My heart was racing as the testimonials unfolded in hostile territory. You could hear a pin drop as the families shared their unscripted, real, personal experiences. Meantime, the chief conference organizer was furious at our team for this move to confront the industry, and threatened to throw us out of the building. I calmly explained that CPSC rules and law require that these families be given entry to what was now a public meeting. If they did throw us out, we would invite national TV news crews to the parking lot to interview the families about being denied access.

He quickly backed down.

The meeting went on.

Then, the sea change occurred.

I witnessed the tide turn before my eyes as gas company CEOs came to the lectern to say they were personally touched by and impressed with what they heard. By the end of the meeting the industry moved to begin educating people about the threat rather than resisting it. Many eventually became sellers of carbon monoxide alarms themselves.

Why did this work so powerfully?

Real people telling honest stories with passion and pathos impacts the heart as much as the head. It is immediately trustworthy in a communications environment often filled with dubious claims and assertions that may or may not hold up under scrutiny.

Negative claims had no power in the face of real personal story. It was overwhelming and in the moment the chasm was bridged, the path permanently altered, and the world changed.

You can do this, too.

I enjoy what I do. Marketing and communication is my life calling. The business has rewarded me with an outlet for my creative bent, a curiously accurate business sense and ability to see the big picture of how client organizations can move to take the next leap in their development and growth.

So it’s really an avocation as much as a vocation. That said, I learned a ton from the First Alert assignment – about the power of stories to alter the course of history and events. What’s more I’ve seen this outcome repeat over and over. When people share their personal stories of change, renewal, improvement and growth, big things can happen and business leaps abound.

  • The devil is in the details of how this is executed. Want people to join your brand as advocates and evangelists? Give them a voice, move those stories out and let their experiences verify what you want people to know and believe about your products and brand.

The outcomes can be life changing. In First Alert’s case, it created a successful new category that propelled the company to a higher level of significance and value with consumers and trade customers, plus $250 million in added business within 15 months of launch. The Walmart buyer called carbon monoxide alarms the Cabbage Patch doll of the hardware department. We called it a significant achievement in the goal to save lives. A win and win.

  • These moments in life and marketing signify the places where we make a difference. Don’t you want to be a part of this kind of game-changing influence?

Let us know if you would be interested in unearthing marketplace impact and influence relevant to your brand and category. Together we can find a path to sustainable growth and business development.

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.

Brands serve as expert advisors on the consumer's journey

Brands are not products, they are stories well told

September 8th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Brands are not products, they are stories well told”

Here is how to tell them powerfully, persuasively

Brands and businesses are increasingly challenged by shifts and changes in consumer behavior that make it harder than ever to win in the marketplace based on perceived technical advantage, ingredient strengths or special formulation “sauce” as a reason to believe.

Moreover, brand content creation is being held captive by outmoded strategies built on feature and benefit selling that no longer holds sway with consumers who are in a position to ignore it. The path to authentic engagement is now found through hyper relevance to consumer interests, concerns and passions.

What remains most challenging about this authentic engagement insight is the conventional, outmoded marketing paradigm stands as a barrier to securing the needed relevance. The root trouble begins with how brand audiences are defined, in many instances painted with a broad brush that declares everyone is a prospect between a certain age range and household income level. This kind of thinking, which leads to “all things to all people” communications strategies, is a recipe for ignorable and wasted marketing spending.

We have seen this time and time again: when the consumer cohort the brand wishes to serve is narrowed considerably to the audience most likely to become enthusiastic fans and followers based on lifestyle considerations and priorities, the door is opened to almost magical opportunities for connection at an emotional level. Precisely where the brand needs to be by the way, for the very reason human beings are emotional and not rationally-driven creatures.

Success begins with a tighter, more focused and thus stronger go-to-market strategy

When we first were engaged by Sargento Foods, the brand behaved in the marketplace as a commodity cheese player in a commoditized category. Dairy aisle cheese share leader was the store brand and the primary national brand participants, Kraft and Sargento, were in constant motion to manage block cheese price costs to the gap between national brand and private label retail pricing. This was a recipe over time for static share conditions and fluctuating margin performance. For the consumer cheese was cheese was cheese unless provided with another relevant reason to prefer one brand over another.

The cycle could only be broken by first redefining the target audience. Rather than all things to all people, insight and segmentation research uncovered a cohort of the dairy aisle cheese-buying consumer who was all about cooking, using quality ingredients, inspired by chefs, consumers of food TV programming, bought cookbooks, loved being in the kitchen and cared about the food adventure they put on the dinner table.

What if Sargento worked to serve their interests and needs, focusing on the story that had to be created around culinary inspiration, love of food, taste, quality and cooking? This led to premiumization of the entire business, along with new products called Artisan Blends that combined their classic varieties with high quality cheese created by artisan producers, a new premium pricing strategy at retail and importantly, an entirely new story to tell.

It was a bold move. It was decisive. It was focused. It fed a platform of more compelling brand storytelling because it was first and foremost about this consumer segment’s love of food, passion in the kitchen and romance around taste and flavor. This is different than publishing a recipe for lasagna or the next round of ‘buy one get one.’

The outcome was compelling and transformational for the company. Today Sargento is a leader in their category and the move to snack products through the Balanced Breaks line has been a phenomenal success.

Proof that even a larger CPG brand can find a new reason to be and add deeper meaning by starting with a new picture of whom they wish to serve. Then, relentlessly driving on that insight to be hyper relevant to a consumer who is actually paying attention.

Do you know what the deeply engaged consumer values?

The road to engagement is paved with insight and understanding into the hearts, minds and lives of those you wish to serve.

Imagine the treasure trove of understanding the Clif Bar company amassed as they became an early mover in higher purpose brand building, aligning their business with outdoor adventure experiences and cycling. They understood this human because they lived and breathed the same air, participated in the same adventures, and remained steadfast in mirroring the ethos and beliefs of people who were driven to live this way, on a mountain trail on a mountain bike.

Whole Foods was an early player in the organic movement, and then successfully made a pivot to embrace culinary inspiration and the transition to higher quality, fresh food experiences. In doing so they invested heavily in content creation around creativity and inspiration in the kitchen, catering to the lifestyle aspirations of home cooks who found creativity at the stove to be a purposeful and fulfilling avocation.

  • They were a mirror of what people who care about food and love to cook are concerned about. Quality of ingredients is a big deal, and so the videos they created took customers to the farm to meet the grower of fresh strawberries. It was powerful for the very reason it helped these shoppers feel good and wise and confident and connected to the earth and what they purchased earlier that day.

Ironically, when Whole Foods began to dilute this investment and commitment to relevant culinary storytelling, the company balance sheet slid at the very time other banners were closing the gap on store experience, and opened vulnerability to acquisition. We all know what happened there.

Where’s the magic?

Here is your goal, and it’s a big one: content and storytelling that wins hearts and minds is always a story that is worth talking about. This is the incredible creative challenge best answered by master storytellers who know the construction of tales that draw people in, and the role of emotion, conflict, drama and resolution so vital to bringing people close.

This approach is more uncommon than you think. Yes, there’s a ton of brand created content published each and every day, and the vast majority of it is forgettable. Why does it miss the mark so frequently? The disconnect begins with the story. The path to real engagement isn’t paved with rational, logical, fact-based downloads on your product formulation superiority. It just isn’t emotionally moving and violates the number one rule of successful storytelling.

  • The consumer is always the hero of the story, not your product. The brand’s role is Yoda to the consumer’s Luke Skywalker – the wise and seasoned guide who helps the hero overcome their insecurities and lack of understanding, on their journey to mastery, bravery and success.

Rich material is found in what your users care about. This approach is unexpected and refreshing. It can become emotionally moving. It is, dare we say, how to be hyper relevant. You may be reading this and saying yeah but my business exists to sell our products or get people in the front door of our stores. To be sure, but how you get there has changed.

The greatest moment of transition to a new era of marketing success begins with embracing the counterintuitive understanding that your best move is to reflect user lifestyle needs and aspirations, feed their adventures, enable their passions and in doing so align your brand with who they want to become. This enlightened understanding of the authentic brand relationship leads to transformation in the consumer to brand relationship.

The remarkable story is built from WHY

People do not buy products, instead they buy the meaning that sits underneath. Today consumer purchases are largely symbolic gestures to signal to others what people value and what they think is important. This is the story they will tell others (their why). This matters to you because the holy grail of marketing is word of mouth and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is now amplified by social media channels that enable the sharing of consumer experiences.

The recipe for more compelling story telling is understanding:

  • Insight to how consumers see themselves
  • Knowing what they value
  • Their desire for deeper meaning and greater purpose in their lives
  • How they can acquire a feeling of belonging
  • Their goal to achieve a sense of distinction

We are doing business in the age of distinction

Category to category we continue to find in varying degrees a similar challenge: sameness.

Perhaps the best example of this is pet food, a business riding a wave of premiumization that has closely followed the rise of four-legged family members to furry “children” status. Of course, the one instrument to express the love and appreciation of the new-found value is in the quality of the food provided. Pet stores are chock full of emerging brands and some new larger players like Blue Buffalo who have successfully leveraged this ‘float all premium boats’ condition.

Having said that, the business is rife with similar, unremarkable messaging devoted to formulation superiority claims, the protein percentage wars, and assertions of improved nutrition. Walking the aisles in a pet food store is a living museum to sameness in presentation. So much so it is possible to lift language from one brand, apply it to the package of another and it still remains essentially true.

People are buying the story first and product second.

Imagine the pet brand that understands the importance of the relationship and bond between pet parent and pet, celebrating a pet-centric lifestyle – a phenomenon that is gaining momentum during the turmoil and emotional uncertainty of the pandemic. The ability of dogs and cats to favorably impact the health and wellness of their owners is a true thing. And a marketing opportunity waiting to happen!

Why is putting the wants and needs of consumers ahead of brand promotion so difficult to embrace?

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is coming to a realization that the herculean effort to build a fantastic product is now table stakes. Awesome product performance is a requirement and not necessarily the marketing secret sauce it may have been before. The secret sauce is now found in the hyper relevant, emotionally-satisfying story that reflects the aspirations of the consumer hero and their search for a better, happier life.

Tangible benefits for paying a premium price may be there, but the truth is the price and margin multiple are enabled by the story more than the ingredient or technology.

Here it is:

Great marketing builds a perceptual advantage for the very reason it completely respects how the customer feels when buying the premium solution.

If you need help thinking through how your brand and business goes to market in the era of consumer control, 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.

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