Posts in consumer behavior

Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator

November 10th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Pet food, Pet food marketing, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator”

Case study: How to become a truly transparent brand

The impact of the ‘always on’ digitally-enabled world we live in is an emerging consumer desire to know the backstory and details of how products are created. Not surprising when you factor in the number one lifestyle concern for people across all age segments is health and wellness. This seek-to-understand behavior is transforming the human and pet food industries.

In parallel, consumers now care deeply about the businesses’ respective mission, purpose, and authenticity – seeking to connect with brands which share their values. As a result, consumers want to understand what’s in the food they’re buying and how the company’s standards and mission are brought to life inside the products they make.

Why is this happening?

Relevance:

First, consumers have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. People care about the foods they’re eating – and want to know more about them. Equally true for pet food.

Belief:

Second, because of eroding, declining trust in the claims and assertions made by brands about their products – consumers are seeking objective, credible sources of information to help them make their own informed judgments.

Personally symbolic:

Third, purchases have become emblematic of what people want the outside world to believe is important to them – so they seek reassurance of high-quality ingredients, ethical standards, healthier and made sustainably.

The concept of Transparency has floated to the top as shorthand for this intense, growing desire to experience and verify what brands claim about their products.

Why this should matter to you:

Consumer trust precedes any kind of relationship and willingness to engage with a brand or product. Trust is earned, not inherently owned – and is based on intentional investments (that don’t look, smell or feel like advertising) to secure it.

If you want your marketing to be welcomed (rather than click to avoid) and believed, then trust is a fundamental requirement. Transparency provides an operable platform for how this is achieved.

What is transparency?

Being truly transparent is about openness, disclosure, access and operating in a trustworthy and forthright manner. Call it actively encouraging observation, scrutiny and reporting from outside sources.

Verifying and validating what you want others to believe about your quality and integrity commitments creates the opportunity for a meaningful conversation with consumers and stakeholders. Respect and reputation are not commodities that come along with simply existing. They are difficult to create and hard to hold onto over time.

Best practices case study: Champion Petfoods

Disclaimer: this is a platform Emergent created and brought to life for Champion after a comprehensive audit of their operations, strengths and unique company commitments.

It goes without saying the pet food industry universally demands trust from its core customers. Given the nature of the product form (ubiquitous brown kibble) pet parents are required to buy into the statements and claims made by brands concerning ingredient quality and how the food is prepared.

Driving this interest is the intense desire pet parent have to express their love for their pets through the quality of the diet provided. Engaged pet owners try as best they can to discern product labels to understand the meaning of words, phrases and insider language used in the pet food world (like meat meal).

Still, a trust gap exists between what’s claimed by brands versus what can be credibly verified.

  • According to a recent study reported in Pet Food Industry magazine, 75% of consumers are willing to switch from their current brand to one that provides more in-depth product information than what appears on the physical label. That’s up from 39% in 2016.

Champion Petfoods is at the forefront of the protein forward, meat-focused, biologically appropriate approach to what has been popularly described as ancestral diet. The company’s early success was attributed to pioneering the focus on percentages of high-quality proteins in the recipe. Champion uses comparatively high levels of fresh and raw animal meat respectful of the physiology and eating anatomy of dogs and cats.

Additionally, to deliver on their mission the company started early to invest in an extensive network of regional farms, ranches and fish supplier partnerships to provide real food ingredients, many within driving distance of their kitchens. This helps enable Champion to be fully transparent about their ingredient sources, sustainability commitments and aligned production standards for its Orijen and Acana brands.

The Champion Transparency Council

The Transparency Council platform was created by Emergent, to address consumers’ evolving need to know more, and in so doing, begin a new conversation with them that addresses their questions about ingredients and safety, nutrition and quality.

This more earnest and authentic approach – galvanized by the Council’s independence and third-party voice – manifested as a sophisticated content engine designed to cement trust and generate a more informative and engaging brand communication.

Highlights:

Emergent conducted a comprehensive recruiting effort for expert Veterinary physician members and a social media based public search for two pet parents to join the four-member Council.

Their mission:  to observe, verify and report on everything Champion does related to making pet food.

Given the significance of trust and transparency to the Council’s mission, it was critical to leverage Champion’s unique supply chain relationships, state-of-the-art kitchens and knowledgeable personnel to underscore the integrity of its stated Biologically Appropriate pet food mandate.

Outcomes:

  • The Council delivered an ongoing content creation platform that carries with it the authentic voice of outside third-party experts and pet parents, offering valuable communication that people want rather than seek to avoid.
  • Champion secured the mantle of Transparency industry leadership at a time when this is an important consideration on the path to purchase.
  • Champion went from zero to 60 quickly as an industry leading editorial voice, in part because the Council and its activity was precedent-setting and newsworthy for the industry.

Emergent Guidance:

  1. Transparency is best served with embedded credibility, using the voices of independent, third parties to report and verify what the company claims about its products.
  2. Openness is a prerequisite and underscores a perception of inclusiveness and honesty.
  3. Seeing is believing, so the deployment of third parties helps fuel an ongoing source of reporting that, over time, can evolve into a channel of helpful, useful guidance on issues and topics important to core customers.
  4. Transparency-based information is ready-made for social channel distribution and helps close the loop on what brand fans believe and say is the reason for their advocacy and brand evangelism.
  5. We have left the era of brand-voiced assertions of performance, and entered a time when trust is paramount and earning it is a requirement for success. Invoking the transparency word in a sentence isn’t nearly as powerful as backing it up with authentic behaviors and actions.

If you’re exploring the power of transparency and would like to know more details about this case study and the tactics, activation and media we deployed, let’s find a time to talk.

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.

Importance of Brand Building to the Future of Emerging Food and Beverage Businesses

October 24th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose 0 comments on “Importance of Brand Building to the Future of Emerging Food and Beverage Businesses”

Early priority trap – singular devotion to sales

In our interactions with emerging food and beverage brands we take note of a consistent condition between virtually all nascent businesses: a single-minded focus on sales. Certainly it makes sense especially in the earlier stages of development that founders/owners are preoccupied with securing the next account and building the pipeline.

It’s not unusual for us to see lean teams with limited bandwidths deployed in a recurring cycle of production to distribution to account selling activity. Marketing in these cases is often light on strategy – and reduced to a few tactics in the form of social media posts, periodic press releases and an occasional third-party influencer/blogger outreach.

Today we make the case for starting early to invest in brand building. In the end entrepreneurs may believe they are on earth to sell their better mousetrap, and more of it, until an exit strategy is achieved. In fact, what should also be going on here is purposeful development of the one asset that holds the valuation multiples and burnishes the customer relationship, your brand.

Why This is Important Now

People are emotional creatures who (backed by reams of scientific evidence on behavior) do NOT make fact based, rational decisions on the brands they prefer and that matter to them. The story you should be telling must be specifically packaged and presented to begin sewing the emotional fabric and connectivity to your brand and its deeper meaning. Brand purpose is not a nice to have, it’s a must have.

Simply stated: you are not selling a product but rather a feeling people have in the presence of your product. Here we’ll lay out the pathway to greater success and scale based on a more enlightened view of what’s required to make the leap to sound marketing.

Primacy of Product Experience

First, we should acknowledge that in the early stages the magic in generating trial is the very experience people have with your product. This is where the higher quality ingredients, the artisanal recipes, the more authentic production of a better tasting food or beverage gets noticed. Your brand, a virtual unknown, secures traction because it delivers on its promise of a higher quality, better for you, great taste experience.

More than at any other time in the history of food and beverage, the consumer is primed for the innovative, the new, the better-quality version of many iconic categories from chips and crackers to ice cream. Bone broth instead of soup stock. Heart healthy snack bars. Artisan peanut butter. Upscale and functional teas. Heirloom produce. Small batch you name it… the list is long and getting longer of new players summoning the efficacy of healthier ingredients and better preparations on a clean label.

Yet while the product is indeed the marketing at the front door for emerging brands, the attention to strategic brand building shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘we’ll get to it someday’ part of the operating plan. Again, for emphasis here, brand cultivation is an investment in establishing relevance and connecting with consumers who are most likely to try your brand, rather than a result of how many press releases are pushed out the door.

The Rule of Sameness

In virtually every edition of the Food Navigator newsletter you’ll find new products in launch phase. The sheer ubiquity and volume of new ideas making their way to grocery shelves or direct-to-consumer platforms is astounding. Higher quality retail outlets like Whole Foods are shopped by ‘what’s new’ hunter gatherers on the prowl for great ideas, ready to plunk down the higher price for a shot at a better product experience – at least once. I know, I’m one of them.

But the go-to-market recipe employed by more than a few reinforces a condition that exists in far too many product categories – the Rule of Sameness. Emerging brands often observe the conventions in the category they do business in and, intentionally or not, replicate behaviors that are common to the business segment. Some great decisions are made in innovative packaging but for the most part players tend to look similar on shelf. Tactics are similar. Pricing is similar. Color schemes and messaging are similar. When RX Bar decided to put “No Bull___t” on the front of their bar package, that may have done more for advancement of the business than anything else. Not that expletive is a precursor to greatness. It was just unexpected (see disruption below) and an outlier move.

Perhaps the best category on earth to observe this phenomenon of sameness would be pet food, where it runs rampant. So much so that you can interchange messaging between many brands and it would still fit. Protein percentage is now the reference standard of pet food quality.

Disruption is a Requirement

The word disruption sounds a little scary, but the principle applies here. In essence it means to zig when everyone else zags. Uniqueness and differentiation are vital components of a strong strategy and are particularly meaningful when the marketing budget looks eerily similar to your take home pay rather than something approximating the gross national product of Belize.

When every dollar invested needs to work like ten, the requirements of sound strategy comes to the front quickly. The story you tell, how it’s told, to whom, how it’s packaged and presented all matter in attempting to engage an emotional creature. Emotive language?

More often than not emerging brands lean too far into a self-reverential form of messaging that conveys ‘it’s all about me, not you’ when in fact it is all about them (consumers), all the time. How does your brand become a guide, coach and enabler of the lifestyle interests and concerns of your core user?

It is when we bathe ourselves in the customer’s lifestyle needs and aspirations that we can find the path to relevance, connection and also engagement on a modest budget. You have an uncommon product so don’t be common.

Standing out is a prerequisite because things tend to run together at retail, especially at the shelf where snap judgments are made daily. Words matter. Context is important. Emotion is key. Relevance is the bottom line that leads to success.

How do you do that? That’s why Emergent exists.

Absence of a Fully Baked Mission

We have ample evidence that consumers care about sustainable farming, about transparency, about ingredient integrity, contributing to the greater good and offering something consumers can believe in beyond the transaction.

Yet even in the midst of popular culture’s insistence that most new food brands come to the table with an embedded mission, more often than not, we find it isn’t fully baked, and in some cases tacked on like a ‘new and improved’ package violator. Successful brands today come to market with a soul. This may explain why it’s increasingly difficult for legacy brands to pivot because finding a soul is hard to do.

If the approach to building business is purely transactional, then even the messaging around a belief or mission rings hollow because consumers are marvelously adept at seeing and separating assertions from reality.

A higher purpose has to inform everything the company does from sourcing to production and how you got to market. Actions speak louder than words and offering the consumer something to believe in, matched by authentic behavior is the road to trust. Trust by the way sits at the foundation of every successful business now — and is increasingly hard to come by given the barrage of misdeeds, misrepresentations, selfishness and fractures of truth people see almost everyday.

This is why we’ve designed a specific program to help bring greater texture and definition to what higher purpose is and how it should show up in what the brand is about.

Your Brand and Emotional Connectivity

Belief, mission, purpose, essential truths and lifestyle relevance all combine as the alchemy for brand building in an age when the size of your ad budget isn’t linked to the depth of your brand franchise.

That said, it requires attention and intention to put brand building strategies into the mix early. The result is better traction, improved engagement and a quicker ascent with a story that resonates.

Convinced? We would be happy to share more of these insights, just drop me a line.

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food

September 24th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Healthy lifestyle, shopper behavior 0 comments on “The Impact of Higher Quality Experiences on the Future of Food”

Once you’ve tasted an heirloom tomato you can’t go back…

For most of my adult life I have experienced a love/not love relationship with fresh tomato. The routine, ubiquitous beefsteak variety a frequent guest star that decorates the roof of a hamburger with some color. The pink flesh offers a hard, mealy somewhat bland flavor. In a salad the standard tomato as hero can be even more pronounced in its meh-ness. We hear it travels well through distribution channels and offers some shelf life. Yay.

Along comes the heirloom tomato with its erratic colors, crags, lumps and fissures to completely upend everything you think you understand about a tomato, punching your taste buds with luxurious flavor, acidity and tenderness that elevates anything it swims with. More expensive to be sure and worth every penny. Once you know this you can’t retreat to the beefsteak.

  • So it is with the continued culinary-ization of America: as higher quality food experiences forever elevate the palate and expectation of nearly everyone who eats, the baseline standard of what people want is changing with it.

Thus why strategic planning needs to address this development because as the old but very real saying goes, “times are changing and if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.”

What happens when the consumer is at the center of strategic planning?

If it is vital for the collective futures of food retail and food CPG companies to put the consumer at the epicenter of planning and work backwards from there, then we’re going to pay attention to cultural and behavioral shifts. The goal to sync strategies and capitalize on those insights. It is definitely not business as usual these days because the pace of change has accelerated so significantly in the last five years.

Seven observations on the changes now upon us.

The quality bar keeps rising. The impact of chefs-as-media-heroes, cooking shows, elevated corner bar food, transformation of legacy food categories with reimagined higher quality versions, and the advancement of culinary experiences at restaurants – all blend together in a perfect recipe for moving taste and quality expectations upward.

  1. Once you’ve experienced the added value of a pan reduction sauce to transform a flavor- challenged piece of chicken, you want the sauce every time.
  2. Home delivered meal kits operate as boxed culinary academies, teaching consumers about roasting techniques for vegetables, layering flavors and saucing.
  3. Higher quality ingredients and preparations now reflect the new intersection of indulgent taste and healthier. Healthy now redefined not as calorie math but the use of better quality fresh, real food ingredients, less processed and with a clean label as evidence of same.
  4. Weekends are now calendared opportunities for scratch home-cooking exploration, experiments and food adventure. Which grocery stores observe this phenomenon and move to inspire ideas, ingredient solutions, menus and culinary guidance? …More meatloaf?
  5. Maybe we’re still selling boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity and so there’s no time to match merchandising to the elevation of food experiences in America? Can you afford not to when disintermediating options are emerging all over the food business landscape?
  6. Restaurants are trial generators for new global flavors, cuisine exploration and realization of unique cooking techniques. Outsourced meals aren’t just about convenience on a busy night, it’s also part of the food culture milieu that’s stoking the fire of culinary excitement.
  7. Where’s the Chef de Cuisine now? He or she is a home chef operating in the kitchen looking to create, innovate and experiment with standard menus and dishes now getting an elevated makeover with layered flavors, sauces and artisanal quality ingredients.

The headline: could it be that the American home kitchen is not that far behind the restaurant kitchen, save a few thousand BTUs from the stove burner, as a place to produce distinctive flavor experiences? The answer to this query is yes. How are retailers and CPG innovators working to recognize and service this consumer? Small niche you say!? Not so fast…

In a recent report from the Hartman Group we find evidence in Compass data:

  • 39% of restaurant sourced eating occasions are efforts to lean in on the culinary skill and experience going on in the professional kitchen. Remember the quality of restaurant food keeps going up, and while doing so challenges some chain foodservice operators who are trapped in cost structures and business models that make it difficult to profitably move up.
  • 29% of at home eating occasions use cooking sauces, flavor aids, Deli prepared items, alongside higher quality produce, meat and seafood intended to replicate the restaurant experience at home.

Food culture changes are an undeniable juggernaut impacting where the ball is moving and challenging everyone to determine if they’re keeping pace with it or languishing behind.

Emergent’s guidance:

  1. Consumers want the unique, higher quality flavor experiences they find at restaurants, repurposed for them in food retail available products. Hence the emerging brand phenomena now roiling legacy CPG market shares. Consumers yearn for the surprise and delight of more innovative packaged and prepared foods.
  2. On the other side, food retail is ideally situated to sponsor artisanal exploration in cheese, baked goods, alternate proteins and cooking ingredients. Yet many find it difficult to get beyond the traditional infrastructure to position themselves in the culinary chair alongside shoppers who want more relevance and food experience in their shopping trip…and their shopping cart.

While so much preoccupation now exists with installing e-commerce platforms and digitizing the management and flow of inventory, we should not lose sight of what the consumer longs for and how we can enhance food relevance and adventure for them.

Your products and store could be a culinary Field of Dreams!

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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