Posts in Consumer insight

Pandemic unleashes cultural changes

Context is Your Marketing Super Power

June 28th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Social community 0 comments on “Context is Your Marketing Super Power”

How are you deploying it?

The incredible disruption spawned by the global pandemic is creating an important opportunity to reframe the marketing conversation around your brand. During difficult times people are more receptive to brands making bolder moves. Uncertainty provides the latitude to experiment, in the context of answering cultural changes that are having a profound impact on how people view the world around them and what they care about in times of change.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Cultural shifts create influential moments when consumers are open to new ideas. Behavior change, which is hard to accomplish, becomes more attainable. What we know about people is the role that perceived risk has in their decisions. When a change is adopted by many, it can quickly become the default choice for the very reason human beings are a copying species. Popularity provides reassurance.

Permission operates in the same way. Witness what is happening now with work at home. Companies, especially in the tech sector, are making this a permanent adaptation and by virtue of doing so signaling a new acceptable default for how business will operate. If it were merely served up as an optional choice (as it has been for years!) the adoption curve falls immediately because of the perceived risks of not being in the office and any stigma that might accompany that perception. Companies that offer unlimited vacation see the same outcome as people don’t suddenly leave for extended periods for the same reasons – fear their career will be compromised and so the “choice” isn’t activated. Averting negative experiences is a highly motivating and universally common behavioral trait among consumers.

Human beings are hard-wired to avoid personal risk

The over-arching impact of COVID-19 on the value proposition of health and wellness moves the interest in healthy lifestyle from aspirational to practical to necessity. As we’ve said previously, Health is the New Wealth, essentially means there are life-maintaining, risk-mitigating reasons to shore up the immune system. This is having an impact on food and beverage brand growth in the coming year. The default for health and wellness has now changed – it’s visceral and existential. This also helps sponsor an emotionally charged marketing environment.

It’s important to note that humans are not governed by algorithms. We do not make decisions based on rational thus predictable assessments of facts. If we did, 1 + 1 = 2 could be applied to marketing activity with assured outcomes. Instead – we are feeling creatures who think and not thinking creatures who feel. Yet for some reason right alongside the birth of digital marketing platforms and the ability to amass data, we have become too preoccupied with marketing plumbing at the expense of paying closer attention to the (human behavior) water inside.

Psychological insights are simply more powerful and unilaterally effective than any form of technological or engineering advantage in products and service marketing. Said another way, a terrific well-designed product with subpar marketing behind it can fail – while a lesser product with better and more humanly relevant marketing strategies in support will win the race. How can this be? …Because now we can create high levels of satisfaction by knowing what truly ”floats the consumer’s boat,” more so than any advantage created by a less emotionally-compelling ingredient innovation or product feature.

Marketing is not a form of cosmetic surgery to apply a thin layer of magic fairy dust on the top of a product that succeeds on its own merits just because it is well crafted. Dyson vacuum was renowned as an engineering marvel, yet its suction power wasn’t really the big leap forward over other conventional models. Its sexy design created perceptions of new and modern (visual cue), while the ability to actually see dirt in a clear cup provided enormous levels of personal accomplishment and emotional satisfaction to people who could observe the outcome of their floor-cleaning efforts for the first time. The marketing behind Dyson was masterful in elevating the value of having one in the house as a symbol of being progressive and innovative while embracing the fashion of an edgy, differentiated design.

The most important move to make on the successful marketing path is….

Our job (and yours) is to identify the single most powerful motivation driving customer behavior in a client’s category. Armed with this understanding we place the consumer at the center of planning, working to apply our understanding of context, perceptions and emotions that are tied to their behaviors. We translate that insight into more effective communication.

Everyday people show their peculiarities, whims and irrational behaviors, wishes and fears. Armed with this knowledge we’re able to blaze new trails for brands that want to and can be more relevant to consumer needs. This happens because the brand’s deeper meaning and values now operate in sync with what people believe and care about.

In this unprecedented marketing environment, here are some questions to consider:

  • How can your brand contribute to the cultural conversation going on right now?
  • What are your users’ shifting attitudes about themselves?
  • What higher purpose can your brand fulfill that matches the beliefs consumers value the most?
  • With health and wellness now more important than ever to people, how does this play out in your strategic plan?

You have permission now to experiment outside the rational comfort zone, offering new reasons-to-believe that are tied to deeper meaning and values that transcend the product itself. A small example of the human emotional condition at work here: why is it that consumers perceive a car drives and performs better when it is clean? Not really rational is it!

We work to change the way people see your brand

Our role as creative communicators is to pay attention to the consumer who buys our clients’ product or service. Perception often leads reality and our job is to manage those perceptions, knowing that the reality is never far away in a digital world where anything that can be known, will be known.

The four horsemen of an effective strategic marketing plan are:

  • Context (in which it is consumed)
  • Environment (in which it is sold)
  • Cultural setting (that drives surrounding beliefs)
  • Who says it (the voice employed to build trust)

Harkening back to our earlier point about risk aversion and disaster avoidance, trust might be the most important consideration to directly address in the strategic plan. Trust drives purchase behavior. It can also disappear quickly if not managed with great care.

This explains why social media is such an important channel to deploy strategically. For the very reason the voices involved are consumers and not the company. People believe other people long before they’ll accept what a business claims about its product. Social proof serves as verification and validation of what you want people to understand and accept about your brand.

In a tough marketing environment, trusted brands will succeed and it doesn’t happen organically. Trust is acquired and earned over time. This is perhaps the most powerful argument for investing in brand building. Consumers trust those they know and believe. They also trust the wisdom of crowds and translate socially accepted choice as ‘vetted and approved’.

Now is the time to step beyond your comfort zone and consider bolder moves. If logic were the only defining path-to-purchase then every brand in a category would be on equal footing. However, that isn’t the case because logic doesn’t respect what we know about people and how they behave.

Your super power is the ability to embed context and relevance in brand communication. Emergent can help you navigate and design more engaging brand outreach and active social communities. Let us know if you’re interested in finding a fresh perspective.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Appetite appeal

Everipe Stands on a Moment of Extraordinary Relevance

June 12th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, Growth, Insight 0 comments on “Everipe Stands on a Moment of Extraordinary Relevance”

Right for the times we are in and when it truly matters

Perhaps the single most important emotional revelation coming out of the pandemic and surrounding events is the complete loss of control experienced by people, now buffeted by an unseen disease and historic events. The conditions have taken charge of our everyday lives, challenged our cultural norms, and affected our behaviors and personal priorities. 

We now have overwhelming evidence that people want to reassert control in their lives in meaningful ways. In our recent article, Health is the New Wealth, we started a discussion around the one thing consumers can actively participate in controlling that helps correct the imbalance and uncertainty they’re experiencing: health and wellbeing matters. 

The pandemic amplifies the health and wellness issue exponentially as people work to protect themselves by investing in their immunity thresholds through better eating and healthy living. This has influenced the purchase patterns and brand preferences for millions and ushered in an era of incredible innovation brought by entrepreneurs who, right and left, are reinventing legacy categories and creating new ones with better ingredients while serving a higher purpose to boot. Every so often we come across a new brand that has relevance written all over it because it so squarely hits the touchpoints of what matters to people now.

Everipe lands at precisely the right moment with precisely the right solution

The pandemic has locked families into homebound consumption occasions and a need for healthy beverages that are pantry ready and convenient. Imagine this: a shelf-stable, super-food smoothie developed using freeze-drying tech to perfectly preserve real fruit ingredients. Freeze-drying removes moisture while also concentrating the flavor profile. 

Then add super-food ingredients to enhance nutritional density. Make it easy to do – just add water, juice or dairy and some ice to a blender. Make it at an affordable price point. And oh by the way, eliminate the hassle of building a homemade smoothie from scratch while fresh fruit ingredients go from ripe to fuzzy in a matter of days. 

Everipe is right for the moment we’re in. We interviewed founding partner Kerry Roberts to learn how the company is handling the pandemic and what they see in the future ahead. Here’s our Q&A with Kerry and some related observations from Emergent.

1.   In the last 60 days much has changed for emerging food and beverage brands. How has the pandemic impacted your business and what changes have you made in how you go-to-market?

Kerry Roberts: “These last couple of months have managed to pull the rug of ‘business normal’ out from under us as company leaders, parents, and partners.

Everipe, is a direct-to-consumer, shelf-stable superfood line of good-for-you smoothies. We suddenly found ourselves relevant for these functional benefits overnight, and for reasons we never could have crafted in a strategy deck. We were incredibly lucky to have planned a launch with Amazon in March that was expedited with Amazon’s emerging business team given the need for nutritious (easy to ship) pantry foods – and so we have seen that channel immediately exceed our expectations. At the same time, we’re seeking out additional E-commerce channels with launches in past weeks on Zulily, Walmart.com and we’re temporarily pausing any plans to pursue brick and mortar.”

Emergent: Ready-to-drink smoothies have been around for a while, but many of them are higher in sugar and the taste isn’t quite on a par with fresh-blended versions. Making smoothies from scratch is time consuming, like baking a daily cake. Frozen fruit ingredients can be expensive and there’s only so much room in the freezer to start anyway. 

Everipe hits so many appropriate buttons from great taste to convenience to nutrition delivery to satisfying at a friendly price – you just know this is going to catch fire. My oldest daughter, who is a smoothie fanatic, loves them. The innovation here is timed, positioned and packaged correctly. 

2.   What specific changes have you implemented in your sales and marketing strategies?

Kerry Roberts: “Consumers in the early stages of quarantine were shopping under duress and it was important to recognize that they were not wired for aisle-browsing discovery of new brands and their messaging. 

As we thought about consumer motivations and how they had shifted on-a-dime in our category from things like energy and weight management to home delivery and shelf-stability, we immediately adjusted our messaging.

Instead we focused on pantry storage, clean ingredients and free delivery – which sound functional at face value, however they all ladder up at present, to safety.

Tactically, in addition to seeking out expanded e-commerce distribution, we’re also leaning aggressively in on our own direct-to-consumer channel, offering a deep trial discount and tripling our digital Ad spend to introduce a captive audience to Everipe.” 

Emergent: Right here you are witnessing the one great lesson that feeds trial and development of a new brand: put the consumer first at all times. Listen carefully to what they are saying, how they are behaving. Be cognizant of the environmental conditions they find themselves in. Work to understand the nuances of what they care about and plan backwards from there.

Relevance and resonance are the twin engines of growth in food and beverage businesses. You can’t have either without an acute understanding of what drives consumer behavior. 

The “if you build it they will come” approach just won’t work. Everipe understands the consumer comes first. Period.

3.   How do you think investors are reacting to the COVID-19 situation and how does that impact their interest in brands like yours?  

Kerry Roberts: “Everipe has not taken on funding as yet and as we think about the coming months, we’re conscious that dollars may tighten as Venture Capitalists and funds work to support their own portfolios through a recession. 

That said, I feel this year presents an incredible opportunity for founders to create a story around how they navigated these challenging times – how quickly they pivoted, how strategic they reacted, and how they set their brand up to weather what may become a lengthy recovery. 

With no shortage of incredible product ideas, I think investors look to invest in founders as potential teammates. While this may not be an easy time to champion an emerging brand, the chance for founders to showcase your character and intellect is probably as poignant as it’s ever going to be (at least I hope this is as tough as it gets!)”

Emergent: We are reminded once again that it is the strength and skill sets of founding partners and creators that imbues brands with “difference.” It is rare that you find a CPG experienced marketer like Kerry Roberts at the controls of building a new brand like Everipe. More often than not founders don’t hail from the marketing discipline. Yet, how a new brand is packaged and presented can have enormous impact on scale and staying power. 

Knowing your skill sets and capabilities can help owners identify the blind spots – and brand building can be one of them. This is why Emergent is a resource for emerging brands. Consumers are emotional creatures. They do not make analytical, fact-based decisions concerning the brands they care about. 

We know that both the stories and the words used to convey the value proposition are of great importance in creating a strong brand right out of the gate. It’s a highly specialized area of expertise not always “owned” by the owners.

Kerry’s presence at Everipe gives them a significant advantage, because she understands the emotional fabric and character of what a brand consists of and how vital it is these days to design it with higher purpose and deeper meaning.

4.   How will the economic uncertainty and lifestyle impacts of the pandemic influence consumer priorities and behaviors?

Kerry Roberts: “I reflect on the spotlight placed right now on wellness, particularly immunity – and health as the only currency that really matters and I am hopeful that the connection between how we fuel our bodies, and how we feel, (and heal), becomes more appreciated. 

At the same time, I worry that in a recession, consumers may not have the resources to invest in healthier options. As a startup with lean margins we understand this friction. I hope that the leadership for making truly clean foods more accessible continues to extend to, and include, big CPG businesses who have the resources to make those changes.”

Emergent: As we’ve said, “Health is indeed the New Wealth.” The pandemic and related events have made the home a more important safe zone; making and consuming food at home more desired; and investing in our health and wellbeing a top priority. There is no greater calling now for the food and beverage industry to acknowledge this will not be achieved through incrementalism in formulation adjustments, but in reinvention of legacy brands to answer the desire for higher quality, shorter ingredient decks and improved nutritionals. 

Six years ago we reported on the seismic move in food and beverage preferences to fresh, locally sourced, higher quality food and beverage choices as people fully connected the dots between what they ingest and the quality of their lives. This single event has created a shift in consumption patterns, food and foodservice retail strategies, and changed the very definition of what better-for-you eating is about. The pandemic has only heightened the shift.

Better-for-You is what the consumer cares about. It is what they want. A panicked blip in sales of boxed mac and cheese should not be interpreted as a lasting return to highly processed food consumption. 

If we indeed care about the health and wellbeing of our users, we owe it to them to advance the creation of healthier products and new food and beverage experiences like Everipe.

5.   What advice can you offer to the founders and investors of new emerging brands that will help assure their continued growth? 

Kerry Roberts: “I wish there was a pandemic playbook! If I might offer any advice it would be: 

  • To think carefully about any aggressive plans for rapid expansion and instead to first ensure that existing partners and channels are well cared for, and cash is managed. 
  • To double down on listening to and serving your consumer, employees and partners. Your most efficient marketing efforts right now may just lie in how you listen to and treat people.
  • To get comfortable with the discomfort of not having a crystal-clear road map. Exercising mental muscles for making the best decisions with available information, while the ground shifts underneath you, will position us all well as an uncertain future unfolds.”

Emergent: Following the true north and optimal strategic game plan in these uncertain times requires that new and emerging businesses pay close attention to consumers – and continuously dial how the brand and business behaves to serve their needs. What people want now is greater control over their lives and to invest in their own health and wellness. This is the path.

To the extent the brand lives in service of improving customer wellbeing, the opportunity for continued growth is achievable. The brand’s role here is as expert guide and coach on the consumer’s life journey. That principle should sit at the foundation of business decisions, marketing messaging and how the offer is presented to all stakeholders. 

Too often we see a form of brand narcissism unfold when the business celebrates itself and is in love with its formulation first, over its relevance to fulfilling consumer needs. Business is now built on reciprocity and that requires a less self-centered operating philosophy. 

Everipe is on a journey itself

As much as we speak about the consumer journey to fulfillment, meaning and purpose, so too Everipe is on a path to revolutionizing the smoothie and healthy beverage category. It will not be easy. Nothing of any real value ever is. Kerry’s comments are evidence of a remarkable sense of self and values that operates as guardrails for their decisions and provide a litmus test for their judgments.

We see great opportunity ahead. When food retail distribution re-emerges as a channel for their growth, we believe the evolving center store will become more of a curated location for higher quality, healthier choices. Everipe will likely be a star in that environment.

If your brand and business is on the hunt for fresh ideas, and improved brand storytelling, we’d love to talk with you.

Editorial note: Emergent would like to express our deepest appreciation to Kerry Roberts for participating in this story and helping to inspire and educate other brands now trailblazing a new healthier frontier in food and beverage.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

How to PREVAIL in the Midst of Uncertainty

June 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, CMO, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, food experiences, Healthy Living, Marketing Strategy, Navigation 1 comment on “How to PREVAIL in the Midst of Uncertainty”

Emerging brand navigates change at the speed of a SpaceX rocket launch

Over the last five years there has been an unprecedented shift in food culture to favor new and emerging food brands. These new brands have found traction by reinventing existing food and beverage categories or creating new ones with elevated recipes, higher quality ingredients and an ethos to go with it.

When the pandemic suddenly descended like a quick-forming Hurricane headed on-shore, we watched in earnest to see how these bright upstarts would weather the storm. On the one hand, these new businesses often fulfill the desire for healthier options right out of the gate. On the other, as young organizations without the deep cash reserves of legacy counterparts they can be vulnerable.

Among the new brands Emergent has been following is PREVAIL jerky. PREVAIL was founded and is guided by Glen Kohn in Chicago, a financial services investment expert (understands the balance sheet) who had a personal penchant for jerky making that turned into his life passion.

Answering a prevailing trend of higher quality, better for you

PREVAIL has reinvented the jerky category with a truly clean formulation that rids the meat-centric snack option of unwanted preservatives, horrific sodium levels, added sugars and ingredients that food allergy sensitive consumers can’t stomach. What’s extraordinary is the taste and eating experience, an uncanny ‘secret sauce’ ability of Glen’s products to deliver a jerky sensory bite but without the toughness often associated with dried meats.

We wanted to find out how Glen and PREVAIL were faring as COVID-sponsored upheaval sent shockwaves through many businesses that are in early stages of their development and growth curve. Glen graciously answered five questions intended to gauge the impact of the pandemic. We include our observations and insights following Glen’s answers.

Five Questions for Glen Kohn and PREVAIL Jerky

  1. In the last 60 days much has changed for emerging food and beverage brands. How has the pandemic impacted your business and what changes have you made in how you go-to-market?

Glen Kohn: “Many of our retail locations such as hotels, health clubs and coffee shops closed down at the start and some remain closed. Given what was happening around us in retail channels, we knew to retain our momentum we needed to pivot to online. On the ingredient supply side, we believed that beef prices would likely go up, so we got out ahead of the possible challenge in April and purchased 100% grass-fed beef to control our costs.” 

Emergent: What’s evident here was the quickness and resolve Glen and his team showed to get ahead of the shifts and do their best to keep the velocity moving. Especially important was the supply chain decision given the significant escalation in beef prices.

PREVAIL sells at a premium to other traditional category jerky brands. While the value proposition justifies the extra cost, in an uncertain economy, it is possible for price premium acceleration to hit a ceiling and generate resistance from users. Wisely Glen avoided the pricing meltdown. He also sidestepped taking a hit on slender margins by banking his supply.

  1. What specific shifts, changes have you created to your sales and marketing strategies?

Glen Kohn: “We quickly shifted to go after more e-commerce retailers, corporate snack boxes, and B to B online platforms. We also saw a spike and increased interest in Affiliate programs. Dollars that were allocated to retail channel tastings and events were shifted to bolster PR and social media spend.”

Emergent: Food retail industry watcher and guide Brick Meets Click recently published a report showing online grocery transactions were up 18% from 62.5 million in April to an astounding 73.5 million in May. Also in May, household penetration reached 33% as 43 million consumers shopped e-commerce channels for food and beverage. This is way ahead of earlier food industry studies that forecasted household penetration on a much slower ramp, and offers proof that the pandemic has caused an inflexion point with online ordering. Out of necessity consumers have become more comfortable with this shopping behavior. Glen’s pivot to emphasizing e-commerce was a smart move.

Trust is at a premium these days and now more than ever, people rely on the recommendations of other consumers to inform their brand selection decisions. Social proof is the most important mechanism to validate what Glen wants the world to believe about his product efficacy and to encourage trial.

  1. How have investors reacted to the COVID-19 situation and what do you think they’re looking for now from brands like yours?

Glen Kohn: “Food is definitely king now. As evidence, shelf stable, healthy snacks are booming. If anything, now is the time to invest in food and beverage brands while other industries such as travel and hospitality wrestle with systemic challenges to their business model post-pandemic. Investors will spend their money on businesses with strong ongoing sales traction.”

Emergent: Equity investors often point to company leadership and their business skills as a primary driver underneath their investment decisions. Glen approaches the business not just as a guy with passion and a great recipe, but also a business brain who isn’t hesitant to make decisions in the midst of uncertain conditions. Combined with better jerky category relevance and salience, you can see why Glen should continue to attract operating capital as he works to scale the enterprise. Stay-at-home conditions and protein snacking make great bedfellows. 

  1. How do you see consumer priorities and behaviors changing as a result of the economic uncertainty and lifestyle impacts of the pandemic?

Glen Kohn: “Consumers are increasingly turning to healthy foods during the pandemic. The food industry is one of the only industries to surge during this time. People are snacking more throughout the day and they are looking for healthy alternatives that the whole family can enjoy.” 

Emergent: The pandemic has ushered in significant transformational changes in consumer attitude and behaviors. In our recent article, “Health is the New Wealth” we outlined the sea-change in the reshuffling of priorities and needs for people. The COVID-19 event has dramatically demonstrated how ‘out of control’ the world can be, upending every single aspect of life, lifestyle and career. What is the one thing people can control in a seemingly uncontrollable world? Their investments to enhance their own health and wellbeing through what they put in their bodies and active efforts to take better care of themselves.

A healthy immune system is at a big premium these days. Brands that actively partner and help guide consumers on their journey to healthier living have an extraordinary opportunity to build a lasting and sustainable relationship. Glen sees this and his company is positioned to take advantage of it.

  1. What guidance would you offer to the founders and investors of new emerging brands that will help assure their continued development? What are the top three things you believe they should do to help ensure continued growth?

Glen: “From what we have heard and seen it’s best to diversify channel strategy and watch behavioral changes. We have seen brands that were primarily in one retail channel and were crushed when the country shut down.

  • Be nimble.
  • Cash is king.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a chance.
  • When the timing feels right be a first mover.” 

Emergent: During uncertain times when the future appears to be unpredictable and changes are occurring around you at unprecedented speed, occasionally fear can set in that causes businesses to turn inward and go dark as they “ride out the storm.” We have ample historical evidence that this is a recipe for disaster. Brands that continue to invest in their growth, in communication with consumers, that remain present and work quickly to adjust to the changes going on around them are likely to emerge in much better condition than those which retreat.

You can’t cut your way out of a recession. No question cash management and burn are fundamental business issues to address. That said, it is more important than ever to be a builder and as Glen says, a first mover.

A brand name that inspires consumers during uncertainty

PREVAIL is an interesting and compelling brand name. On a very visceral level it is aspirational to the consumer experience. People want to prevail over what looks at times to be insurmountable odds. This brand as guide, coach and expert authority can take the journey with consumers as a trusted source and resource.

The characteristics and drivers of successful brand building have changed as consumers seek deeper meaning and shared values with the brands they prefer. Equally, brands need to position themselves as partners in helping improve their consumers’ lives.

To help them prevail.

Emergent is expert in helping build new and emerging brands and businesses. If you’re looking for fresh ideas and perspective, let us know.

Editorial note: Emergent would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Glen Kohn for participating in this story. We appreciate his time and efforts to help inform the industry.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING

May 24th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Public Relations, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING”

The five essential guideposts to successful brand communication

In a recent article about the COVID-19 disruption of conventional marketing strategies, an industry contemporary weighed in to say change is here. He opined that the latest digital media platforms must be deployed as relevant vessels to convey the product sales-building message. The story was a remarkable resurfacing of a fundamental mistake now driving an unnecessary (and unwanted) wedge between many brands and their users.

You can no longer game your way into someone’s heart and head. When every media form or channel is viewed as a pipeline for pushing messages designed to interrupt and snare people who are trying to consume useful content, the product messaging gambit represents a form of marketing denial about how brand relationships are created.

  • A classic (but now worn) example of this is the misuse and abuse of social channels, treating them as yet another promotion broadcast medium with some begrudging two-way conversation sprinkled in.

We simply can’t look at marketing outreach as “persuasion” any longer, a type of digital bullhorn to broadcast product features, dressed up to look like a more educational piece of publishing. People see right through it. Moreover, they won’t stand for it, sit for it, hear it, consume it or engage with it.

When marketing dollars become precious and every one of them needs to perform more powerfully, it only stands to reason that dialing into cultural context to enhance message effectiveness is important.

Brands must become trusted sources and resources

The relationship brands build with consumers must evolve.

Consider how real, human friendships are created and nurtured. And how real friends communicate with each other. There’s a difference between telling and yelling in both conversational context and messaging construction.

The great brand storytellers know who the hero must be – it’s the consumer and not the brand. Yellers see things from the polar opposite angle, casting the brand and product as hero of every message. The brand’s role should be depicted as trusted guide and expert that operates in service of improving the consumer’s life.

Impactful stories show how the brand fits into an idealized narrative around the consumer’s aspirational lifestyle. As we conveyed in an earlier article, Health is the New Wealth.

Five guideposts to effective brand communication

  1. Relevance

Effective stories always follow a basic element of human truth. If brand relationships must operate more like human friendships, then what people fundamentally need should be factored into the communications messaging platform. People want to:

  • Feel safe
  • Be loved
  • Be valued
  • Inspire others
  • Be successful

Stories should address what’s relevant to user needs and desires.

  1. Social influence

Leveraging trends is important. People follow them, talk about them, share with others and through this process ‘collective wisdom’ forms to validate the acceptability and popularity of cultural developments. Whether that’s adopting new tech platforms like Zoom, TV programs such as the runaway success of Tiger King, use of e-commerce channels to shop, or a surge in home baking, emergence of new trends is not to be overlooked in content calendars.

Stay-at-home is one of the most compelling, dynamic and influential trends of all-time. It presents a treasure trove of opportunity for guidance and conversation on topics ranging from how to re-set the home for work and learning, to spending more time with the kids, to exercising culinary muscles.

  1. Reciprocity

People are hard-wired to recognize, appreciate and reciprocate when experiencing self-less, useful and helpful behaviors. When brands stop looking at customers as walking transactions and see them as real people who need support, the entire dynamic of the consumer-to-brand relationship starts to change.

  • Unselfishness is an admired human characteristic that when added to the brand voice and outreach, paves the way for a respected and trusted relationship.

Educational experiences that help improve expertise and knowledge can be a wonderful way to hone the brand’s role as expert guide and coach.

  1. Emotional intelligence

A lot has been written lately about the value of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and no doubt there are areas where data can be applied to improve decision-making. Targeted media selection would be a prime example. But it can also be a false god. The brand’s goal isn’t to be the one that measures but rather the one that matters.

Imbuing your brand with deeper meaning and higher purpose is the on-ramp to emotional forms of communication. When emotional connections take root between a consumer and brand – the relationship crosses a chasm from habit to ritual. Jasmine Bina, respected brand strategist and noted author recently published on the topic, saying “it only makes sense that when our daily habits are prevented, we hold on even tighter to the rituals that define us.”

Deeper meaning is a matter of perspective. Pet food brands transform when they understand they are not in the pet food making business. Instead they are selling an instrument of love for furry family members and a perception of elevated health, wellness and longevity. Bina quotes noted neurologist Donald Calne: “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”

What are the emotional catalysts in your business that will cause people to pause, feel emotionally involved and act?

  1. Authenticity

People yearn for the real and more authentic brand voices that are less formulaic and more credible – in part because the brand communication is human and conversational. People want to believe. To do so, though, they need to trust first and it’s harder for people to trust companies over the experiences and opinions of other consumers.

This may be the most important endorsement there is for social community building. It is when the voices of outside, third parties are enlisted that the requirement for authenticity is really served.

Authenticity and trust are siblings. Authentic means real, true and is less about false prophets, theater, artifice and magic. If the consumer were with us when we build stories they would say, “just talk to me like a person and remember it’s about me, my life and search for meaning and purpose, and not about you and your secret sauce and technical prowess.”

The obvious question then is how the brand comes to play. Messaging must be framed around consideration of the brand’s values, positioning and purpose. Which begs the question, what is the brand’s deeper meaning and higher purpose? Once that is correctly defined, the right messaging flows because it’s embedded with authentic, trustworthy, human characteristics.

So, my friend…examine your brand messaging strategy.  Is your brand supportive and telling – or self-involved and yelling?  Which friend would you rather have?

When this process is dialed in correctly, the outcomes can be transformational for engagement levels that lead to sustainable business growth.

Emergent stands ready to help you create powerful, meaningful and relevant brand stories. Use this link to let us know if you would like to discuss further.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Pet Industry Experts Forecast Future

May 14th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, e-commerce, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, shopper behavior 0 comments on “Pet Industry Experts Forecast Future”

Recession-proof category, but winners and losers

You probably sat down this morning at your kitchen-table-home-office, like every morning nowadays, looking at the screen in front of you like it’s a crystal ball. You’re hoping to conjure certainty in the face of little and gaze at a future with well-defined outcomes and assurances. This can be hard to come by. On occasion it helps to have some of the most experienced minds in your industry offer perspective.

Emergent asked four leading voices in the pet care business to weigh in on current conditions and provide their observations on where the business is headed for the balance of 2020. Helpful news ahead – we summarize the key takeaways at the end of this article.

Despite the economic chaos and roller-coaster conditions at retail, one thing remains steadfast and true – people assign a higher pocketbook priority to furry family members.

The headline: despite the pandemic impact on businesses generally, pet food remains on a trajectory to finish the year ahead of 2019. That said, there will be winners and losers in the battle to come. Retailers and pet parents will remember those brands which were there for them, that communicated to build trust, supported them and remained present – and those which didn’t.

Out of sight is out of mind and some brands have gone underground in the last two months, creating an open invitation for more progressive players to step in and take share. As you plan for what lies ahead, here are assessments and recommendations from experts the industry relies on for guidance.

Participating in this report are:

Mark Kalaygian, Editor-in-Chief, Pet Business

Lindsay Beaton, Editor, Petfood Industry

Glenn Polyn, Editor-in-Chief, Pet Age

Jennifer Semple, Editor, Pet Food Processing

It’s a time of uncertainty and contradictions

  1. Pet brands are trying to navigate uncertainty in the supply chain (meat packing plant closures) on one side and retail sell-through on the other. What’s your best take on the state of the industry’s health and what do you foresee happening in the next six months?

Mark Kalaygian: “Based on what I’m seeing, the industry is quite healthy. All reports are that the supply chain is holding up nicely, with minimal, isolated disruptions caused by logistical issues, as opposed to production problems.” While e-commerce has picked up momentum, “I believe when stay-at-home orders relax, traditional shopping patterns will return,” he reports. “That said emphasis on omni-channel strategies are important when people have a more limited number of shopping excursions.”

Lindsay Beaton: “While stay-at-home orders and social distance concerns may have prevented some people from getting to physical stores, e-commerce saw 77% growth in March as people stockpiled. However choppy sales conditions may continue for the rest of the year.  My gut is pet food companies should look at their e-comm strategies not just for now but as a new standard for doing business.”

Glenn Polyn: “Pet brands are in a good place, all things considered. Any who may be under duress were probably struggling before the pandemic happened.” The grain-free segment, one of the industry’s strongest categories over the last decade, took a sales hit following DCM-related media reports. “Those who were already more impacted by a DCM (grain-free) slow-down may be experiencing added pressures,” he said.

Jennifer Semple: “Pet food is typically a recession-proof industry and is expected to remain one. Package Facts is still projecting 4% growth for the year.” Knowing the importance of impulse buying to some more discretionary categories at retail, “treat sales may well be soft until consumers have a comfort level to go out and shop at the store,” she said.

  1. On the one hand we have evidence that the value proposition for pet ownership is at an all-time high and pet rescue and shelters are seeing a surge in adoptions, yet we’re also observing evidence of balance sheet strain such as some retailers cutting headcount and reducing employee hours. What do you think is impacting the conditions between growing enthusiasm for pets in the home and pet food category fiscal health?

Mark Kalaygian: “The high levels of quality time people are spending with pets, and new ones in the household, could lead to a trade up in food quality to brands carried (mostly) at independents.” Right now, FDM (Food Drug Mass) channels are experiencing a lot of traffic based on consumer response to stay-at-home orders, “there is SKU overlap between big box chain (Petco, etc.) and FDM channel that could create some erosion for big box if FDM shopping patterns persist. We saw a similar dynamic play out during the ‘08/’09 recession. We think food sales will remain strong. However, it will be (increasingly) important to optimize channel strategy,” he explained.

Lindsay Beaton: “It’s true that animal shelters all over the U.S. are seeing adoptions and fosters in numbers they’ve possibly never seen before. Many shelters had to reduce staff or shut down entirely to protect their human workers and volunteers when the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading. The best way to look after their animals was to get them into private homes. With employees suddenly telecommuting or with reduced work hours, communities responded heartily. At the same time, these (temporary or otherwise) pet owners were unable to get to physical stores to take care of their new furry companions. The current conditions have served to speed up an already-occurring migration to online channels.”

Glenn Polyn: “The retailers I have spoken to tell me that their sales are on a roller coaster ride that changes daily. One day there might be a huge wave of customers clearing the shelves only to be followed by the slowest of days with hardly any sales. Some retailers may be cutting staff, and that’s to be expected as customers are mostly going to be seeking necessities. And the fact that pet owners aren’t always walking up and down aisles means they aren’t going to be impulse buying. Considering the pandemic is such a unique event, the wave of adoptions might not be permanent once the nation returns back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Jennifer Semple: “Boston Consulting and IRI reported a surge in pet food sales during March, likely due to panic buying, and followed by a dip. Pet ownership levels are strong but many of the opportunities for impulse purchasing and trying new pet foods and treats are suppressed right now without as many people browsing in physical stores. As communities open up, the drive to feed, nurture and pamper pets will help revitalize the industry. In the near term I expect pet brands will focus on their best sellers, while tracking how consumers are spending.”

  1. What is your best advice to pet food companies working to optimize their plans and navigate current market uncertainty? If you were CEO, what are the top three moves you would make?

Mark Kalaygian: “Going forward, a strong, clear channel strategy is in order in light of e-commerce growth. Independent pet specialty retailers were already paying close attention to how pet food companies were balancing their approach to omni-channel sales before the pandemic struck, and that is only going to increase in the months ahead.

“If I were running a pet food business I would focus on the following: Make sure the supply chain is consistent and working across all retail segments and partners, and not just the larger accounts. No independent pet retailer wants to deal with product shortages while a bigger competitor down the street enjoys high fill rates.

“With a fair amount of overlap already I would consider how to create uniqueness and distinctiveness for brands in independent vs. big box channels.

“Given the growth and shift to e-commerce shopping I would make an added effort to help independents compete more effectively with online specialists.”

Lindsay Beaton: “According to a recent PFI survey, only 11.9% of pet food manufacturers cited ingredient shortages or inconsistent supply as a top challenge. That said it’s better to be prepared with multiple options should any supplier conditions change.

“If I were a pet brand CEO, I would pay attention to:

“Anyone who was already set up for e-commerce had a significant leg up when the pandemic hit and everyone started staying at (and shopping from) home. Now a much larger portion of the pet-owning population has come to understand their e-tail options. Subscription purchasing surged 28% in March.

“It seems wise for pet brands to either be doing business on the larger e-comm platforms or helping specialty retailers make sure their e-commerce platforms are robust and marketed well.

“According to market surveys, by and large consumers are pleased with the way their brands of choice are handling the COVID-19 situation and want to continue hearing from them. When people head online it also means they are doing research there, checking influencer sites, reading product reviews, browsing social channels so it’s important to have your marketing house in order.”

Glenn Polyn: “Communication is vital. CEOs need to ensure the brand message is getting across to both pet owners and to retailers. On the one hand, you want to help consumers realize their pet lifestyle goals to keep pets happy and healthy, and perhaps share their stories on social media channels. Not to be overlooked, now is also the time to create well-written, engaging, interesting stories that help retailers and distributors understand how the company values (and understands) their efforts and how their concerns and needs are being supported.”

Jennifer Semple: “If I were making the calls at a pet food company, I would communicate, communicate, communicate. I would frequently talk to distribution partners, retail owners, competitors and friends in the business to gauge what is resonating with customers, what the customer concerns are, how their purchasing habits are evolving, and I would optimize my processing efforts to better serve what I’m seeing in the market.

“I would also look to diversify to meet another product need, serve another distribution or sales channel, or identify how I could help another company serve their customers better by manufacturing for them.

“Another priority would be to rally the troops within the company. Be open with where the company currently stands, what the immediate priorities are and what the near-term and long-term goals are. I would provide avenues to receive input and ideas from all corners of the company to identify the clearest, most direct path to growth and opportunity. I think many companies are successful because they create a culture of ‘we’re all in this together’ and from that culture gain a better understanding of the company’s true strengths and opportunities.”

Optimism if the right moves are made

It’s cathartic to hear the words and passion coming from those who so closely follow the pet care industry and by virtue of their occupation, have routine detailed conversations with the leaders of many businesses both big and small. Anytime you see the words ‘recession proof’ in a sentence it brings a measure of confidence.

But the challenges nonetheless are steep and varied. Some brands will come out ahead and some will lose ground despite the forecasts. The reason is straightforward: uncertainty can sponsor a form of organizational retreat and withdrawal. While understandable, that condition helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy of defeat. It requires a measure of business moxie to stand in the breach and operate progressively.

Yet that is our call to action to the leaders who read this report. Here, in sum, is the counsel of your pet food prophets:

  • The business remains generally in good condition despite a faltering economy.
  • Communication is a resounding call to action and was repeated over and over for the very reason the experts have taken note of a retreat to silence. Not every story or word needs to be treated like a CIA top security file disclosure. Talking to customers and pet parents is necessary, important and will be rewarded.
  • In a related insight, keep the intel investments going to assess how consumer attitudes and behaviors are shifting within this new cultural minefield they’re living in. To truly know them and their aspirations and concerns is the secret sauce for more effective marketing investments and messaging strategies.
  • Segments of the business driven largely by impulse buying will indeed take a hit until store browsing fully returns.
  • E-commerce is big and getting bigger, and likely to remain an important channel long after the pandemic recedes, so best to map strategy now.
  • When assets are tight and every dollar needs to work like 10, focus on your best sellers and prioritize.
  • Pay attention to supply chain conditions and make sure you have strategies in place should a healthy “Plan B” be required for continuity purposes.

It is important to know that as much as experts see some insulation for the pet food business given the out-sized priority families assign to pets, multiplied by their growing value in a chaotic, less secure world, it is the actions leaders take now that will inform the business outcome later.

Your true north is operating in service of retailer and pet parent needs, aspirations and the health and wellness of pets. Being mindful of consumer concerns and needs can help shape the one thing our experts repeated most often: communicate, communicate, communicate.

Editorial note: Emergent would like to express our heartfelt thanks to each of the editors who participated in this story. We appreciate your time and efforts to help inform the industry.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience

May 11th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand messaging, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Higher Purpose, Social community, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience”

A remarkable pandemic-authored condition

Don’t miss this chance to truly connect with your users.

The stay-at-home orders continue to shake-up every aspect of life including behaviors around social channel screen time. Your brand users and shoppers no longer go on-line. Instead they now live on-line. Kitchens, for their part, have become erstwhile home offices and educational centers to accommodate work and digitally-enabled classrooms for the kids.

  • How are you responding to this development?
  • How does his impact your social strategy?
  • What moves are you making to fill the need and address the opportunity for engagement?

We will answer these questions shortly, but first a little texture on what’s happening.

The blurring between work, education and leisure has spawned a behavior shift – social channels have moved from an occasional choice to a routine necessity as people seek  information – and guidance – and community – and social contact – and entertainment.

Has there ever been a time when your brand was presented with a near captive audience looking for useful content? The answer is unique to the pandemic, a historic first that is transforming life, health, commerce, time, attention and all the behaviors associated with it. This is precedent setting and now offers an unusual opportunity for brands and businesses to be of greater service and value, knowing that consumption of content is likely to be much higher and therefore more valuable than ever before.

  • A recent survey from Tin Man showed social channel use had risen 50% by the close of April 2020. Sixty percent of the population is on Facebook at least once (or more) a day and 27% are in Instagram. Daily screen time averages are up 50 to 75%.

Frequency and media choice = positive outcome

According to a social media report from Co-Schedule, brands that publish 16 or more social posts a month got almost 3.5 times more traffic and 4.5 times more leads than businesses that publish less often. Further, we observe video takes on added importance as a business generating medium with 64% of viewers more likely to buy a product online after viewing.

Your optimal social strategy

First and foremost, this is not the time to withdraw, go silent, retreat or otherwise disappear from the social-verse. Yes, messaging strategy has changed but the fundamental desire of people to connect and a need for interaction has never been greater.

The litmus test of sound strategy in social media revolves around this axiom: the brand should live in service of improving the health, wellbeing and happiness of its users. Social channels are not just transactional environments – and especially at this time, shouldn’t be managed as such.

This isn’t the time and place for a consumer hard-sell and we’ve now entered an era where overt brand self-promotion doesn’t produce results anyway. Consumers hold all the engagement cards and have shown themselves quick to tune out when the narrative isn’t relevant to them and their lifestyle aspirations.

We are now doing business in The Relationship Economy, founded on reciprocity and usefulness.

In the same Co-Schedule report, 21 ‘best in class’ examples of great content were profiled revealing one common element that shown brightly through all of them. In every case, the best content provided valuable information, guidance, utility and direction to the readers.

The examples noted were devoid of a strict self-serving narrative, nor grounded in product feature/benefit selling. To ensure the brand stays on the right social content path, follow this guardrail to keep the messaging on course: recognize that the consumer and their needs are always the hero of your storytelling and the role of the brand is to serve as expert guide and coach. Context is everything!

Yes, it is ok to talk about the product or deliver information about a retail promotion, but this should be no more than 30% of your content calendar. Know that the best material you will create is going to be a reflection of the lifestyle needs and aspirations of the people who comprise your fan base.

  • Glossier, a beauty product business built entirely on social channel engagement, is deservedly famous for creating content about their customers’ interests and needs first. They have become wildly successful as a result.

Social proof and community

Social channels are not one-way conversations. The most powerful asset you have is social proof – content created by your community that serves to verify and validate what you want people to believe about product benefits, shopping experiences or the lifestyle you advocate.

Testimonials are like gold. People will believe other people before they will ascribe credibility and truth to statements made by brands and businesses. It is important to encourage conversation, interaction, feedback and discourse from social community participants. You can do this by inviting it and asking questions.

  • An example: people adore their pets and will jump at opportunities to talk about their personal and anecdotal stories around lifestyle experiences, recovery from illnesses, behavior training tips and ideas, and opportunities to share photos and videos of their four-legged family members.

Pandemic specific social content guidance

Consumer culture has changed as a result of this unprecedented event. It has altered preferences and mindset. Here are some points to consider in social content creation.

  1. An empathetic and more human voice is essential in the content you publish.
  2. As a general subject platform, health and wellness is the top concern for people now and thus relevant to the material you develop.
  3. People feel out of control of the world around them. Provide guidance and ideas that help them regain a sense of control. Taking charge of personal health and wellness is how to do it.
  4. Loss of confidence is a thing. Anything you can do to reassure people about the future and give them confidence about improvements in the road ahead will be welcomed.
  5. Your brand should be guided by a higher purpose (a mission that transcends commerce and selling things), deeper meaning and shared values with your consumer. Know this matters and they are paying closer attention to your words and actions.

It’s extraordinary that an event like this could alternatively create an environment where people spend so much extra time online and in social communities. People yearn for contact and guidance, information that provides hope and helps them navigate the incredible changes they have experienced. You are no longer just selling products and stocking merchandise, instead you are in the deeper meaning business and have a much more important role to play in your customers’ lives.

It’s an important calling and comes with responsibilities. That said, it brings forward a unique opportunity to form relationships with your fans and followers that will last well beyond the current crisis. Now is the time to upgrade, enhance and invest in social channel outreach.

Use this link to let us know if you need help building the right social channel strategy, and content that will inform and endear your users.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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