Posts in consumer behavior

Digital commerce redirects the future of retail

June 27th, 2019 Posted by CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, e-commerce, food retail strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance 0 comments on “Digital commerce redirects the future of retail”

Profile of refined strategy for brick and mortar

In today’s consumer-driven marketplace, staying ahead of food and lifestyle cultural swings, shopping behaviors and the significant sea changes they create, are the most important considerations to marketing strategy effectiveness. Failure to recognize and address these ongoing shifts can negatively impact brand relevance with core consumers.

Case in point:  increased traction of e-commerce occurring in most product categories consumers’ value is causing a domino effect that will drive the future of successful retail strategy. Consumers are pushing harder on their preference for retail uniqueness, differentiation and memorable experiences. In the first of our two-part series we will look at implications of digital commerce to retail, and in part 2 we’ll peel the onion on what’s coming for CPG brands.

Home is where the heart, wallet and shopping reside

As consumer friction declines in e-commerce purchases and fulfillment, the inevitable move to online-ordering convenience will continue to grab share momentum. This trend is starting to amass a variety of ancillary impacts, such as consumer preference for the exceptional retail experience over the mundane. When the very definition of convenience to satiate needs transfersfromregional zones toarmchairs and screens in the family room, retail businesses are now being challenged  to adjust their optics and embrace new cultural (read consumer) priorities sooner rather than later.

  • This is an inevitable transition. In a recent report from Federal Express, the granddaddy of quick delivery is projecting e-commerce growth will double the number of packages shipped to 100 million per dayby 2026.

The point-and-click ease of fulfilling product ‘wants’ creates a companion outcome: less and less venturing out from the four walls of the residence. More in-home purchase and consumption of everything. More online comparison shopping. More emphasis on consulting consumer reviews. Along with this at-home shopping revolution is a declining tolerance for the routine hassles of destination shopping and the time requirements to drive, park and walk. How far will people be willing to go for a shopping experience that has nothing special to offer — what’s really going to pull them from that point-and-click simplicity?

Experience with the endless shelf of digital commerce will adjust expectations of ‘want it now’ and cause people to be less forgiving of retail out-of-stocks and more limited assortments. With it, the added value premium on exceptional in-store experiences goes up as anything that feels commodity-like will yield to the ease of electronic ordering.

Trends ahead and the emergence of micro-trading areas –

Consider the long-term impacts of the decline in car ownership (once a defining metaphor for personal financial success and independence), alongside the emergence of driverless delivery vehicles and drones. Distance-confining legs, scooters and bikes are increasingly common modes of urban transportation. Witness the explosion of online restaurant and ghost- kitchen prepared food delivery that jumps squarely on the never-have-to-leave-home bandwagon.

As retail shopping becomes increasingly commoditized, there is a growing consumer thirst for scarce and transcendent experiences, more personalization and meaningful relationships with retail banners that matter. This may play against the vanilla, conventional character of some chain store concepts that can feel derivative, common and maybe even a bit boring.

By definition, the chain model depends on consistency and mechanization to achieve operating efficiencies and the ability to replicate at scale. Is it possible to rethink the business paradigm to allow for different designs, footprints and merchandise collections more attuned to the community they serve?

As convenience gets a makeover, with it comes a premium on re-casting what a trading area looks like to smaller circles of proximity. Alongside this condition we observe the continued idealization of the “small town” as a colloquial, romantic reference point for aspirational lifestyles. In urban areas this puts an increasing premium on reflecting neighborhood character and shopping within walking distance.

In Chicago, a fair example of this is Andersonville, a northside city neighborhood known for its Clark Street shopping district packed with unique collectible stores, fashion boutiques, local restaurants – all walk-able within a three-block core. Stands to reason this ‘go smaller’ development favors shopping experiences that mirror the lifestyle characteristics and populace of the neighborhood.

For retail we see five implications for planning strategy:

  1. Increased pressure on the viability of destination shopping centers, as convenience is recast within shorter distances from home.
  2. The rise of smaller footprint store designs that align with neighborhood shopping areas.
  3. Emergence of retail concepts based on lifestyle experience more so than the traditional array of shelves and merchandise. Instead the attractions are ideas, emotion and guidance rather than pushing merch off fixtures (a twist on omni-channel commerce strategies).
  4. Recognition that the future is with those who work to build bonds and relationships beyond just stocking inventory at a price.
  • Expect to see a host of novel ideas develop in service of more relevant lifestyle associations such as on-line dating brand Bumble and their wine bar café concept and Taco Bell’s new hotel.
  1. The bifurcation of omni-channel strategies to embrace exceptional experience that reside inside the retail store front while volume objectives are delivered online. How will this symbiotic hand-off work between high touch retail and digital convenience? Only the seamless survive.

Speaking of smaller footprint concepts, if people are increasingly food shopping for meals and menus more so than stock-ups, does it make sense to force them to search for 7 to 12 items in an 80,000 square foot maze? Can food shopping be made more fun and less of a navigational chore by specializing in what’s for dinner?

ALDI, a darling of grocery hard discount, recently announced an expanded test of their new “Local” store concept in the United Kingdom. The 6,000 square foot stores operate with 300 fewer SKUs than the normal ALDI. Proof that hard discount does not mean absence of insight, relevance and creativity.

Larger trend: ‘Extremeification’ of retail in America

Robinhood, the investment platform for non-one-percenters, recently reported examples of the growing bookends of success between the higher and lower ends of the retail spectrum — while the middle falls away. Restoration Hardware (RH) continues its relentless march towards further upscaling its retail roots. After recently posting a 7% gain in sales, RH stock shot up 25% on the related news of its new chic catalog concepts RH Beach House and RH Ski House. As well LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) and Dollar General are celebrating record highs at the same time in their share prices.

Yoga pant purveyor Lululemon reports Spring quarter revenue of $782 million vs. its period forecast of $755 million, despite increased competition in its category. Last quarter profits hit a record $97 million. Hard discount and heavenly experience collectively show how disparate propositions that lean in heavily on their mission and ethos are advancing.

You have to stand for something — and go all in (go low or go high). In fact that’s really the message here. The future of retail belongs to the innovators who go deep on uniqueness and memorable experiences — which by definition requires focusing the concept and target audience appeal to a specific need and cohort. All things to all people is often a recipe for ambivalence.

Find your core, narrow your appeal, optimize your mission and go for it.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Trust Now Precedes All Brand Engagement

June 18th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Pet food marketing, Transparency 0 comments on “Why Trust Now Precedes All Brand Engagement”

A storied call to embrace trust creation

Consumers continue to vote using their time, attention and spending to favor brands they trust while virtually ignoring the rest. Yet this important insight apparently hasn’t informed the daily barrage of product claim and assertion-style communication that dominates the food and beverage marketing landscape.

What’s needed is a fresh approach and new ideas that disrupt the old model of overt selling in favor of a more enlightened view of reciprocity — which works to form the proper foundation of any successful brand and consumer relationship. What’s changed? The ever-evolving consumer who shapes cultural norms and with it, expectations that impact what they find meaningful, relevant and purchase-worthy among the brands they consider.

Here’s the profound truth about what sits at the core of consumer behavior: Jerald Podair, Editor of The Rutledge History of the 20th Century United States said it succinctly, “we live in the age of disputed facts, disputed truth, personal truth, my truth and your truth.” The collective desire and yearning among people are simple – they want to know and believe they are in receipt of the truth about products and services they love.

This explains the rapid rise of transparency, product creation candor, and validation as a fundamental driver of what people require ahead of purchasing the brands that matter to them. See-for-yourself-marketing. Thus, food marketing best practices must move further away from gloss and artifice, and closer to embracing the plain-spoken credible voices of personal experience intertwined with respected expert guidance.

Survey data shows the extent of this important swing

At the recent Cannes festival celebrating the ad creative world, Edelman once again presented their annual Trust Barometer, a quantitative study focused on consumer attitudes about brands. The evidence reinforces the conclusion that trust is required for anything in marketing to function effectively.

Here’s the hard truth:

  • 73% of people actively work to avoid advertising. This is likely to increase with continued adoption of ad blocker software that makes it easy to do so.
  • 41% of people say about the marketing activity they do encounter that the communication is seldom seen as truthful.
  • 63% trust what outside third-party experts and influencers say more so than what a brand conveys on its own – what’s that tell you?

Lest this all appear to be an assault on brand communication, there’s another statistic in the report that bodes well for brands that put trust creation at the center of strategic planning.

  • 76% of consumers want and will pay attention to advertising from brands they trust. How come? Because they believe in and embrace the story as true.

The path forward: Emergent guidance

It’s important that we note the difference between trusted and not yet trusted. Brand believers want affirmation of their good decision. Believers enjoy and seek out (confirmation bias) a little positive drama and emotion connected with the community they’ve joined.

On the other hand, the unconverted require evidence and credible demonstration of the product creation backstory, disclosure of company beliefs and mission, and proof of visible actions that shine a light on the truth of what’s being conveyed.

Here are three simple steps to improved engagement and greater marketing success:

  1. What is the message?

Shameless brand self-promotion isn’t nearly as effective as aligning the brand with the consumer’s lifestyle interests and needs – and becoming an enabler of them. You have to earn trust first. Before you can sell your pet food for example, pet parents need to see how the brand helps enhance and contribute to the experiences and interests they have in their shared lifestyle and pet’s wellbeing.

  1. Who is the messenger?

For the yet-to-be-converted credibility matters. Social proof is a critical factor to help foster trust. People believe their family, friends and contemporaries first. How is the brand enabling the voices of fans to convey their experiences and to distribute content that tells their stories? Outside credible experts can also be enlisted to amplify the evidence underneath the product creation story about ingredient sourcing, standards of quality, safety and generally walking the walk.

  1. Intentionally following the path to trust

It’s important to note here this is easier said than done. It requires changing the mindset on why the company exists and what, in the larger, human, universal scope – and certainly beyond the balance sheet – is the company trying to contribute to the greater good. It requires everyone to care about the consumer’s welfare and to see the brand as contributing to their health and happiness. However, what you think and believe will inform every action. It’s hard to get away with messaging around this without addressing the company’s true higher purpose and at its foundation what it stands for.

People are very astute these days at recognizing the truthful from anything that isn’t. If your brand heart is in the right place and you’ve optimized strategies to make trust creation a top priority, there’s an opportunity to earn permission for a relationship that can drive sustainable growth.

What kind of conversation are you really having with your prospective consumers? Is trust creation a top priority around the strategic planning table?

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 a Trust Engine

April 18th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Higher Purpose, Social media, Transparency 0 comments on “How to Build a Trust Engine”

Investing in Trust Can Deliver Marketing Efficiencies

For the last millennia, the currency of food, beverage and retail brand marketing has been awareness generation. More money has been spent in pursuit of the holy grail of being top-of-mind than any other single objective; for the oft claimed reason that awareness ideally is supposed to drive consideration and purchase. Or said another way, it’s based on the self-reverential belief that if the consumer sees a product message enough times they will buy because, after all, the product is so alluring and necessary.

What if this point of view were wrong-headed and spending dollars devoted solely to awareness creation tactics was akin to spraying water in the desert in the hopes that crops will magically manifest themselves? There may be some benefit to being continuously present for low involvement categories but even there, awareness doesn’t automatically ladder up to brand preference any longer.

Significant cultural shifts have reframed the paradigm on how brands are built that favors mattering and deeper meaning over spraying product claim messages everywhere. The focus should be on narrow-casting to an engaged audience rather than broadcasting in an effort to capture every eyeball. Mission, relevance and lifestyle connection are more important than being ubiquitous in today’s marketing best practices.

  • This brings us to banishing one myth at the start: you don’t need to appeal to everyone to be amazingly successful. In fact, the 80/20 rule prevails in many food and beverage categories — most of the revenue and profit will be derived from a relatively small cohort of committed users.

However, despite evidence that consumers tune out most of the overt marketing noise around them, we find ourselves at Emergent in the midst of frequent conversations about metrics and measurement that mostly calculates assessments of awareness building. Call it a hold-over from the Madison Avenue era, the enthusiasm for tactics in pursuit of that goal remains a dominant conversation in some annual strategic plans and spending priorities.

What if there were a better, more cost efficient and effective way to go to market?

Today, trust is the currency of successful marketing between consumers and product or retail brands. Trust cannot be ordered up from central casting. It must be earned through how the company and brand conducts itself and how its purpose is defined and brought to life.

Here is the simple truth: building trust is more cost efficient than chasing awareness. Yet companies typically outspend efforts to convert and retain customers by a 42 to 1 margin in favor of awareness building tactics. Hard to let go apparently.

What if your best customers ran your marketing?

Well of course the first push-back would be they don’t know what the company knows about the product, brand or retail deep background on features and benefits, and further they aren’t versed in the details and strategies of positioning and marketing messaging.

A moment then to pause and reflect. Feature and benefit type selling isn’t what it used to be. In a marketing environment filled to the brim with claims, assertions and hype, people increasingly find it hard to believe any of it. Additionally, consumers work overtime to avoid overt, interruption style marketing tactics. What they do understand is their own hopes, wants, dreams and aspirations.

When marketing works to align with what’s relevant to your best users, the effort takes on a whole new meaning. The goal of your strategic plan is to earn trust and that won’t happen when talking ‘at them’.

What does a trust creation engine look like?

Here are the fundamental tenets of customer-first marketing:

  1. You have to understand and care about their interests first, before yours. This requires some investment in insight research designed to better analyze what they care about. Assumptions in this area are often off the mark.
  2. Map ways your brand can make a real difference in their lives. Be intentional here.
  3. Effectiveness is achieved when your plans and messaging align the brand and business as an enabler of their hopes, needs and answers to their concerns.
  4. Be transparent and honest in your actions, business practices and communications. No more ivory tower thinking, which is now made of glass anyway.
  5. Extend transparency to openness about product creation, standards, supply chain and other aspects of how the business operates that your best customers will want to know more about.
  6. Create outreach programs around content that is relevant and meaningful to them. By definition this requires being less self-absorbed in what is conveyed. This will require a disciplined effort to refrain from the all-too-common trope of shameless self-promotion.
  7. Look to create and optimize the experiences and interactions consumers have with your brand to ensure they’re walking away with something of value (not money) to them beyond the transaction.
  8. To inform this effort, it is vital for the company and brand to build and understand its unique higher purpose and mission that transcends commerce — and creates a runway for communication around issues of meaning and importance to people and their values.
  9. Make doubly sure the company’s actions, policies and behaviors align with the mission. When ‘mission’ appears to be bolted on as a marketing maneuver and not an expression of true belief, it will fall flat.
  10. Want to have a more meaningful relationship with your best customers? Then imbue your brand with greater, deeper meaning.

No amount of marketing magic can save a soulless business or an unremarkable product. The goal of the business is to strive daily to be special, unique, memorable, useful and valuable. The foundation on which your customer relationship is built has to be about more than the product alone. That said the product is in many ways your true north so investing in quality at every point in the customer experience is now table stakes.

Without trust there is no possibility of a real relationship and the business will eventually become a commodity bought on price. Anchoring the marketing plan to trust creation is the path now to sustainable growth. It just also happens to be a less costly journey than chasing awareness for the very reason that focusing on the consumer’s needs and journey doesn’t require massive amounts of media to become sticky.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are now selling sand in the desert…

February 22nd, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, e-commerce, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, shopper behavior, storytelling 0 comments on “You are now selling sand in the desert…”

Navigating the Impact of Infinite Choice

If ever there were a time when sound, informed strategy mattered to the success and outcomes of food, beverage and lifestyle marketing this would be it. Like it or not we’ve entered the era of nearly infinite consumer choices in a media environment of almost countless channels. This requires a new marketing formula.

Thinking at scale today takes on a completely different meaning when consumers are presented with so many options within a click to buy environment. Thus, how should you design for success when you’re ultimately selling sand in the desert? We will answer that question here.

Left to its natural course, food marketing tends to gravitate towards the vanilla middle – an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience – and in working to address everyone, you end up mattering to no one. When the options are legion this can quickly turn marketing and communication investments into a moonshot without navigation – the hit (or more often miss) driven by luck more than intention.

At various times we’ve written about the importance of putting consumers at the center of strategic planning. Now, we further qualify that statement by saying – in order for a strategic marketing plan to be measurably effective, putting consumers at the center of planning is table stakes. And determining who that consumer is will require even tougher decisions to prune and refocus the definition of the cohort you wish to serve. Why? Because the 80/20 rule is in full force as the vast majority of volume and profit will come from a smaller segment of committed advocates – assuming you’ve planned for relevance to a community of potential believers.

This is the most compelling argument ever for – different

Let’s start with a foundational understanding that the brand must be perceived as special, unique, useful and valuable before there’s any shot at being memorable. No one has the time or mental bandwidth any longer to assess the vast array of options in any given product category. So how do you resolve the reality of inexhaustible choice?

You must start with the intended core user and work backwards. Seth Godin made a cogent observation in his recent book “This is Marketing” when he described the effort behind what may be the most powerful TV commercial ever made – Apple’s “1984” spot for the launch of the Macintosh. The spot aired during the most watched American sports program on earth, the Super Bowl. The majority of viewers would not have understood or probably cared about what Apple was trying to convey in its dark Orwellian mini-movie.

The lesson: it didn’t have to register with everyone to be successful. Godin observed the spot only needed to touch a million savvy creators and early adopters who picked up that Apple was up to something revolutionary. The rest of the viewers didn’t matter, and indeed the rest is history given Apple’s ascent to brand superstardom. Whatever the brand, the audience of committed advocates will always remain relatively small.

It is with the small and devoted cohort where effort and outreach needs to be directed. And those investments should come from a concerted endeavor to push hard at the edges of what’s unique and different in your brand proposition. Here’s the question we often evaluate with clients: how can positioning, audience, product formulation, and the character of the brand, be dialed sufficiently to the right or left so that we’re able to create a new category – one that our client can own?

Who is it for and why?

To dial in your position successfully you then have to know who it’s for and why. It follows if you want to have meaningful relationships with consumers, then imbue your brand with greater meaning. But for whom?

That’s a big question that requires some rigor to answer correctly. Who is going to quickly respond and be drawn like a magnet to your product proposition? Once defined, all eyes and energy must be directed to fully understanding their hopes, dreams, needs and aspirations. Your marketing strategy is then fine-tuned to align with that insight, opening the door for the brand to become an enabler of their wants and needs – in a voice that’s relevant to them – becoming a reflection of their wants and how they’d like the world to perceive their beliefs and priorities.

This is important because purchases now are largely symbolic representations of what people want others to know about what they believe in and think.

The hard truth about marketing

Of note, we’re doing business in an environment overflowing with self-assured claims, assertions and hype. Here’s the difficult pill to swallow: people don’t believe any of it. The counterintuitive basis of effective marketing today is to not look, talk and walk like marketing.

That said, there is a reflexive habit in strategic planning to navel gaze. To focus on the craft of what’s been created, formulated or built. Here at Emergent we totally understand that spirit and where it comes from, after all most brands are justifiably proud of the considerable effort they invest in technology, quality and improvement. But this also sets the table for potential marketing disconnect.

You are not selling a food or beverage

In the same vein as pet food is sold to humans and not to dogs or cats, it isn’t the product that people are buying. What you are actually marketing are feelings, connection, desire, happiness and status. Not stuff, not items, not things in boxes or bags. Not chips or salsa or soup. People are buying a feeling and expression of their status and belief system.

So then, what’s the path to creating a marketing plan with this insight embedded all the way through? It will require all of the hands on the marketing tiller to be empathetic anthropologists of what the biggest brand fans are about.

Here are some areas to focus on strategically:

  • What your audience wants, not what you want to tell them
  • What they believe
  • What they need
  • What they aspire to
  • What story would emotionally resonate with them

The more you invest in seeking to understand, the more likely you are to land on the big idea (one that immediately influences the behavior of the business) and create a voice for the brand that is engaging and is shared. When you seek to improve the lives of your best customers, you earn permission for a relationship with them and the marketing you create comes across less like a transactional maneuver.

If you think this way, it will flow downstream to impact how the business operates. We already know that what the brand does is more powerful than what it says, so there’s an opportunity built into the recipe for authenticity.

Brand trust continues to decline, so the game plan must be to build it, earn it, cultivate it. The reason transparency has ascended to ever higher importance is precisely because people don’t accept anything on face value. Claims and assertions are exactly that. When you verify, validate and reveal the product creation story by letting consumers all the way in, it fosters belief and trust.

10 components of successful marketing  –

  1. You must push for positioning that’s truly unique, different and helps create a new category
  2. Refocus and narrow your audience definition to the smaller community of ardent fans
  3. Devote your insight research to this audience and discover how the brand sits in service of their lifestyle needs
  4. Become an enabler of their wants and desires
  5. Recognize you’re not selling a product but an emotional connection
  6. Activate brand experiences because behaviors speak louder than words
  7. Know that being relevant is more important than being superior
  8. Authentic storytelling to this audience is the path to engagement
  9. Trust is everything…you must earn it
  10. Transparency is the precursor to creating trust

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.

2019 and The Future of Food and Beverage Marketing

January 17th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Retail brand building, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy, Transparency 0 comments on “2019 and The Future of Food and Beverage Marketing”

Our strategic roadmap for the year ahead…

Today we map the framework for business growth in 2019 anchored strategically to achieve trusted consumer relationships in the year ahead. As we begin this journey, it is important to note the incredibly important work by the Food Marketing Institute compiled in the “Power of Health and Wellbeing in Food Retail” report. In our estimation one of the best analyses FMI has produced in recent times.

This is a forward-thinking review created under the experienced leadership of Susan Borra of the FMI Foundation, and executed with persuasive evidence by David Orgel of David Orgel Consulting, and key data supplied by The Hartman Group. It is also a remarkable summation of what Emergent has been forecasting and publishing in various venues for the last five years about evolutionary changes in the food and beverage industry.

  • What’s ahead is a deeper dive on the strategic priorities, areas of focus for planning, and a healthy helping of relevant consumer insight data.

Thus it is job number one at Emergent: to earnestly pursue insight into the hearts and minds of consumers – their wants, wishes, dreams, aspirations, fears and concerns. It is in this effort to get ‘underneath’ that we more fully grasp how consumer relevance and engagement can be achieved. Make no mistake, it’s more difficult to be seen and heard than at any other time in modern marketing history because the consumer controls the levers of commerce – and talking ‘at them’ is a recipe for disconnect. Thus why relevance matters greatly.

Dear reader, here we will summarize the most important and salient points and data that should be reflected in go-to-market planning for the year ahead. Simply said, this is a great way to kick off the year – offering firm, insight driven strategic guidance on what matters to people and its influential link to their purchase and shopping behaviors.

Armed with this understanding, the path to trust and relationship becomes clearer. As we’ve said many times before, genuine relationship is everything. Consumers are not walking wallets; they are real, living constituents – and to the extent businesses can make a meaningful difference in their lives, the opportunity to earn affection and spending multiplies.

  • Without consumer relevance and resonance, food and beverage brands cannot gain the ear and interest of consumers who have more quality choices, more channel options, more control and power than ever before – power that will quickly mark the winners and losers in the next 12 months and beyond.

The number one opportunity for brand and food retail resonance and business traction: leveraging Health, Wellness and Wellbeing.

Consumers across all age cohorts have fully connected the dots between the quality and types of food and beverage they consume and their overall quality of life. For this reason, the very definition of health and wellbeing has expanded to include a broader array of key lifestyle attributes consumers care about such as emotional health and happiness.

Whereas “healthy” was once more narrowly defined as weight management and calories in and out, today it is about food quality and the origin story behind the food. This interest is fueled by consumer demand for transparency as a new prerequisite for creating lasting, meaningful relationships with the consumers we wish to serve.

Yes that’s serve, and not sell! Transactional thinking can infect the marketing playbook with ill-advised strategies and foster brand behaviors the consumer immediately repels as advancing the company’s commercial interests over their own; selling at them rather than cultivating their trust which precedes any willingness to spend money.

2019 Strategic Building Blocks

Five key areas demand attention in strategic planning. This list provides the basis for a holistic strategy that reflects what consumers truly care about. It goes without saying these five areas allow for a wealth of engagement from content creation to communication activities. Here they are:

  1. Health – Number one is the growing influence of healthier eating on brand choice. Healthy, by the way, is increasingly a quality story not a sacrifice game. Healthy and indulgent are cohabitating.
  2. Nutrition – Consumers are now looking at nutrition density in the foods and beverages they prefer. This tracks closely with the table stakes demand for greater transparency around product ingredients, sourcing and manufacturing. What was once described as a clean label is transforming into clear This is marked by disclosure, clarity, openness, honesty and more guidance not less.
  3. Enjoyment – Taste is fundamental to the human experience. Higher quality food experiences can be found everywhere and the use of fresher, real food ingredients is elevating the taste experiences people crave. Food is to be savored and enjoyed. It is an adventure. There’s a hedonist lurking in everyone in varying degrees.
  4. Discovery – Meal kits might offer an excellent example of how the food industry feeds low-risk culinary experimentation. The growth of new cuisines, tastes, global flavors and use of more exotic ingredients serve to expand the horizons of what consumers want and expect. We all want more choices than meatloaf and fried chicken at the Deli counter.
  5. Connection – Food is a social lubricant. It is a facilitator and player in how we relate to and engage our friends, family and business associates. No surprise here that according to the FMI report, 84% of consumers say it is very or extremely important to have a family meal together at home. People hunger for the connectivity and social discourse around the table. Food is an essential player in our social lives. Great food and great conversation are partners in life’s most memorable moments.

Two Key Strategic Trends in 2019

We stand today at the threshold of a new developing category in food and food retail. Early movers in this space stand to benefit from ‘first with the most’ opportunities that fall from being able to define what this new category is about and what constitutes best practices.

  1. Food As Medicine

This is an evolution and elevation of food and beverage solutions – products that aim to provide direct, measurable benefits to health and wellbeing. We’re not speaking just about weight management, although that is a component. We’re talking about food solutions that are an alternative to drug therapies or as preventatives to needing drug therapies.

In case after case we find that diet plays a role in the onset of disease. So, too, we’re discovering that foods high in fiber, plant sterols, Omega-3s, antioxidants, prebiotic and probiotic ingredients can be ‘dosed’ to achieve specific health benefits – without the often debilitating, unhappy side effects that can accompany medications.

Step One Foods in Minneapolis (disclosure: Step One is an Emergent client) is an excellent example of this emerging trend. Step One’s line of packaged foods including bars, smoothie and pancake mixes, oatmeal cereal and toppers are clinically proven to reduce LDL cholesterol at levels that match or exceed the outcomes from statin drugs.

It’s important to note from FMI’s report that 66% of shoppers already view foods as “medicine for their body.” When asked about food as a contributor to their health, the top five interests in solutions include:

  • Cardio-vascular health – not surprising as heart disease is the number one killer in America, and effective options like Step One speak directly to this need.
  • Weight management – a perennial concern, weight management remains connected to healthy lifestyle and a sense of wellness and wellbeing.
  • Energy – the link between energy and lifestyle satisfaction is palpable. Busy lifestyles and career demands make energy an important priority for people.
  • Brain function – memory and cognition are two areas we can expect more innovations to surface in as people increasingly look for a mental edge.
  • Digestive health – we are only beginning to see the growth in attention paid to inflammation and its role in aging and disease. This will continue to get greater innovation priority.
  1. Mining competitive advantage: Fusion of Transparency and Trust

Earning trust may be the single most important objective in the development of sound, successful marketing plans. This is due in no small part to its pivotal role in securing consumer interest and engagement and the avalanche of evidence that brand trust continues to decline.

Trust precedes any kind of brand/consumer relationship. Demand for transparency is the ante in curating trust. Consumers define transparency as “open, honest, clear and visible.” In short being transparent, providing access and more information about how food and beverages are made and what’s in them.

FMI’s report cited five key areas where consumers are looking for greater disclosure:

  • Ingredients used
  • Origin of ingredients
  • Product creation process
  • Animal welfare
  • Absence of anything artificial like preservatives or chemicals

Emergent guidance: build a suite of communications and content around how you make your products, the stories of suppliers and their work, what happens at your plant, what your standards are on quality, safety and sustainability.

It’s interesting to note, when consumers were asked who their allies are in the quest for healthy living and helpful advice, the top five sources were:

  1. Family
  2. Doctor
  3. Farmers – take note!
  4. Friends
  5. Fitness and health clubs

According to FMI’s report, when it comes to the most respected and trusted voices for guidance on healthy living, those sources include:

  • Registered dietitians
  • Personal healthcare providers
  • Wellness counselors
  • Scientific studies
  • Fitness professionals

Emergent guidance: this insight suggests the efficacy of consumer-generated content, investment in social communities and relevant content, and use of respected third parties to validate what food brands want consumers to know and believe.

Food Retail Opportunities

There will be more competitive shifts and changes for food retail in the year ahead. So how does this play out as retailers seek to re-invent themselves?

In Hartman Group’s “Food Shopping in America” Report, a consumer survey of retail channel preferences showed supermarkets scored well on assortment, products consumers want and preferred brands. But indexed lower than other channels of retail on a good place to browse and shopping enjoyment.

As center store continues to be dis-intermediated by e-commerce, competitive advantage is shifting to favor specialization and in-store experience. FMI’s report lands on two key areas of opportunity that point the way for food retails to enhance relevance and increase traction with shoppers.

The Healthy Living Coach…

Food retail has an important opportunity to answer the consumer’s desire for healthy lifestyle by assuming a stronger role in an area shoppers already think retailers can fill.

Consumers believe food retailers are a potential ally and guide on their journey to a healthier, higher quality life. The retailer can operate as coach through access to expert voices, better and healthier food solutions and providing in-store experiences or classes on healthier cooking and shopping techniques.

Nearly 50% of consumers, according to FMI’s report, say providing healthier food choices is a way to support ‘Eating Well’ which contributes to ‘Living Well.’ When asked what the components of Eating Well include, consumers saw this as an integration of healthy eating and enjoyment.

Specifically, retailers can offer:

  • Nutritious food and beverages
  • Higher quality foods
  • Portion control – eating in moderation
  • Foods with specific benefits (food as medicine)

But perhaps the most important business growth opportunity for 2019 lies in the resurgence of home cooking. According to Hartman Group survey data, 88% of consumers say they eat healthier at home than at restaurants. Home-prepared food carries with it a healthy halo. Knowing how important eating with family at home is to consumers, retailers can answer this call with greater investment in prepared food options from complete menus to meal kits and other prepped ingredients.

What’s important to note here is the enhanced demand for better quality food, unique meal experiences and culinary exploration. Thus retailers need to up there hot bar game from ribs and rotisserie chicken to more interesting, chef forward dishes.

In sum, it’s about activating wellness solutions from produce, to center store to foodservice. Putting adventure and discovery back into food shopping will go a long way to creating advantage and loyalty even as consumers move increasingly to online shopping for everything else.

We have another post coming on omni-channel strategies. Stay tuned…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Marketers Seek New Strategies as Consumer Trust Declines

December 11th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Transparency 0 comments on “Food Marketers Seek New Strategies as Consumer Trust Declines”

Food and beverage brands must move to new story…

Growing consumer concerns over health and wellness.

Evolving expectations around higher product quality.

Emerging calls for greater transparency and truth in labeling.

General cynicism toward marketing that sells ‘at them’.

In study after study consumers continue to show their lack of trust while demanding more honesty from brands vying for their spending — with rewards going to those brands that ‘get them’.

Some marketers have attempted to force-fit traditional claim and assertion style marketing tactics into digital platforms but with little success. To consumers, it still smells like conventional spin so they work to avoid it entirely.

Other marketers have smartly moved their strategic game plan to focus on building more respectful consumer relationships around alignment with lifestyle interests and aspirations.

  • Yet new information and insight now coming to light suggests, while lifestyle connections remain important, there’s a new sheriff in town governing what breaks through the clutter to secure brand consideration and selection.

In many respects, this revelation makes absolute sense based on our deeper understanding of consumer skepticism and absence of trust combined with their desire for honesty, authenticity and expressions of a true soul coming from brands and businesses they choose to favor.

Seekers of truth and understanding

We’ve come to a place where marketers recognize consumer interests more fully, texturally, as they evaluate new and emerging food brands with a merit-based system. It’s important to note here first, the fundamental requirement for business growth in any category requires an unshakeable bedrock of clear brand differentiation.

Around the unwavering consumer call for standout uniqueness is an equally strong desire for better products that are also better-for-you, and culturally connected to relevant social issues such as sustainable farming, green environmentally-friendly operations and animal welfare. 

The new secret sauce for accelerating food brand growth

In a recent Premium Marketing Strategy report by food industry trend expert The Hartman Group, a survey question was posed: what kind of narrative would likely cause you to select a new premium brand?

The answer wasn’t about better price or taste. Rather, consumers wanted to know more about how the product was made. Followed in close order by a related topic – the source of ingredients used to make the product; in sum, the product creation story.

So what does this mean?

It’s a gigantic red, neon flag waving three feet in front of every marketer. Consumers want to assess the merits of the food or beverage based on how and who created it.

Contained in the details of this product creation backstory is the necessary evidence of quality, healthfulness, and connection to culturally relevant practices and beliefs. Rather than accept assertions on face value, consumers want to peer under the hood, and in doing so, narrow the chance of being influenced by proverbial brand apple-polishing.

  • It’s one thing to claim better-for-you, and it’s entirely another to reveal ingredients, processes, methods and sources that authentically demonstrate healthy and higher quality.

How to be the credible brand storyteller – Show Me!

So you sell hamburgers… where did the beef come from, who raised the cattle and how were they fed and cared for? About the bun and vegetables used, same need. What are your standards of quality and what about the relationships with your suppliers; their carbon footprints? How is the hamburger prepared, what evidence can be provided about food safety, ingredient integrity and freshness?

No matter the category, there’s a transparency story underneath about how you make things, how you source ingredients and what goes on in your kitchens.

This is the information that forms the basis of earning brand trust and evaluation of the brand’s relevance to consumer beliefs and cultural affiliations. Said another way, the product creation story isn’t a nice to do, rather it’s a must do in getting to active consideration.

Worried that this kind of information demand will be difficult due to weaknesses in your creation story? Then, you have a mandate to make improvements. It may be time to recognize that new premium food solutions are growing while many legacy brand businesses are losing share of heart and sales.

The strategic recipe

Armed with this consumer insight, the food and beverage path to marketing best practices begins with creating an inventory of competitively strong product attributes. These attributes will inform the rationale for how the product will credibly deliver on its key benefits.

  1. Important to note this should be cast as unique attributes that help elevate and separate the product from competing brands, and that make the product better at delivering its promised benefits.
  2. Competitively significant attributes are then integrated in storytelling about product creation and ingredient sourcing.
  3. This means elevated, premium production and sourcing criteria outweigh benefits in the hierarchy of successful brand outreach strategies. Thus, it’s important to cite value-added attributes not offered by legacy brands.

As the decline in consumer trust continues to chip away at the authority curve for brands, what moves in to fill the vacuum left when assertions and claims don’t resonate? A new era of food and beverage marketing opens based on a real-world reality-check about what’s inside the product.

Tangible, visible evidence of quality now passes assertions of quality in effectively reaching consumers with the motivating message. What the consumer is really saying: Show Me!

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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