Posts in Differentiation

Building the Human Brand

Building a More Human Brand

October 19th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Building a More Human Brand”

Time to banish the old marketing playbook

Remember the good old days of command and control, interruption-style marketing and business development strategies? Consumers were viewed as “targets” to be persuaded through repetition and subtle manipulation of their emotions or pocketbook sensibilities.

Vestiges of this way of thinking remain handcuffed to far too many brands that continue pushing feature, benefit and price messages at consumers in both digital and analog channels. Thus, why engagement is increasingly hard to secure. Consumers have become serial avoiders of self-promotional brand outreach as a result. No one likes to be “sold.”

It’s time to stop, reconsider and move on to build more human-centric brands.

Think for a minute about the people you care about in your life. Your family, friends and colleagues. Those closest to you enjoy a special position of value and affection. You’re concerned about their welfare and wellbeing. You make time for them, cherish them and invest in their progress. In short, you care. You express love in words and deeds. You listen. You help. You support and respect them. Moreover, you don’t see those relationships as merely transactional.

Now think about your business behaviors and how customers are viewed and treated. Is it the same? You say well, we’re in business to sell our products. To be sure, but maybe the goal of share and volume glory follows a different path now. One that is built on a model of reciprocity that looks more and more like the valued relationships we have in real life.

Not ‘data points’, they’re human beings

What are the five things your customers want from you?

  1. Inspiration
  2. Advice
  3. Guidance
  4. Education
  5. Entertainment

We have moved from a product focus to content. Are you optimizing the brand communications arsenal for help over hype? Here are three observations that should be considered in developing human-led brand communication.

Utility over cleverness

This may be the toughest consideration of all when viewed through the lens of ad creative traditions. It has been the province of creatives in the agency game to be focused on translating a key product selling proposition into the artful headline or theme. The theory: engagement is achieved through artistic wordsmithing. An artful turn of phrase or catchy tagline is prized as an achievement on the road to being “intrusive” and therefore noticed in the vast sea of message overload.

Times have changed and while great copy is going to be a key driver of engagement, the character and content of the communication is better served through its usefulness rather than pure cleverness alone. Attention is hard to secure. The path to gaining consumer participation is better aided by providing relevant value. That means the message moves closer to serving the consumer’s role as hero of the brand story, in a narrative that is helpful and educational more than self-promotional. It’s about them not us.

Someone is better than everyone

The definition of sound strategy is making tough choices. When the intent is to be all things to all people, the outcome is mattering to no one. It is better to focus on someone rather than everyone. To do that requires sacrifice. It means you select an audience cohort closest to the center of your most ardent user base. Then zero in on what they want and care about. Prune the rest.

In our own experience this played out to great effect when former client Sargento cheese agreed to focus on a consumer segment called The Food Adventurer. This audience of cheese lovers and heavy users care deeply about the quality of ingredients they use. They love to cook, pay attention to culinary media. They are routinely engaged on topics and content that help advance their skills in the kitchen and culinary creativity. By focusing here, Sargento created an opportunity to matter to an engaged audience of food fans, rather than speaking to everyone  (usually defined as moms with kids) across the expanse of the commodity cheese marketplace.

Make a choice, narrow the focus to those who care and are therefore listening.

Inspirational beats transactional

There is a great temptation to assume if you aren’t hitting hard on the product features and benefits, then you’re not selling effectively. But the world has changed. Gaining attention isn’t a math problem of calculating media channels to frequency of message distribution. If the relationship economy is respected, then you understand that winning permission for a conversation depends on following a different set of rules.

  • Your brand voice is built around empathy and care for the passions, interests and concerns of your best customers. You understand that the role of the brand in this relationship is one of guide and coach. Your goal to help them overcome the barriers to their success and fulfillment.

Your brand becomes a source of encouragement and education. Sargento helps the home cook deliver on their passion for creativity in the kitchen. Boom – now we’re talking. Literally. Now we’re actually communicating rather than monologuing. The brand stops barking at people and begins to engage in their community and lifestyle in a useful, valuable way.

When you speak to those in your orbit that you care about, are you selling to them? Pushing self-serving messages at them? No instead you are genuinely listening and helping.

The enlightened brand building of our era begins with injecting humanity into the marketing plan by making consumers the center of it and deciding to earn a relationship based on valuable-ness.

The last word: “Every brand is now a B-corp” – Ana Andjelic, The Sociology of Business

We are in the midst of another evolutionary shift. Consumers care deeply about your values, mission and actions to address social issues like climate impact and sustainability. They care about the impact their buying decision has on the world around them. They have connected the dots between their purchases and a consequence. They want to identify and act on more sustainable choices.

You can help them do that. But be aware that substance and authenticity matter here. Your own sustainability readiness house needs to be in order before invoking solidarity with consumers on these concerns. Sustainability can’t be a message construct floating independently from policies and standards that address the company’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment. There should be clearly expressed targets and actions steps to mitigate those challenges.

Embracing sustainability is yet another way to put the brand “in league” with consumers on a culture imperative issue they care about and expect brands to be part of the solution.

All of this coalesces around one key point: when brands understand that customer relationships these days operate a lot like the kind we have with people we care about, then you understand how the brand should behave and engage in that setting. More empathy, guidance and coaching than promoting. It’s time for the more human brand.

If this guidance strikes a chord as you look towards strategic planning in the year ahead, then let’s start an informal conversation about your concerns and needs. Use this link and let’s talk.

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.

The CEO Bulletin

Trends Impacting Where Your Business is Truly Headed

October 14th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand trust, Carbon footprint, change, Climate Change, climate culture, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Growth, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Sustainability 0 comments on “Trends Impacting Where Your Business is Truly Headed”

Early adopter behavior driving the marketplace

Emergent appreciates our growing CEO and C-suite readership. Our goal is to provide meaningful trends analysis and strategic guidance through the Emerging Trends Report. We are introducing a special series – the CEO Bulletin – intended to inspire new thinking on organization planning and strategy. Should you have a topic you’d like us to cover – drop us a note. Your comments and feedback are always welcome.

Sustainability will be the most important strategic consideration for your company in the coming year, and Higher Purpose will be a key point of differentiation that helps move your performance in the marketplace.

Here’s why.

Sustainability is no longer a tertiary, benign or merely aspirational construct. This strategic imperative is connected to the health and wellbeing of the planet on which we live. Early adopter consumers see conscientious consumption as their flag and are empowered to signal to the world around them that climate-responsible products are their first choice. Half-baked solutions and absence of Climate Footprint and Life Cycle Analysis fundamentals that guide mitigation metrics will be exposed for all to see. These influential consumers are driving expectations, preference and marketplaces.

Being responsive to their Sustainability concerns isn’t just the “right thing to do” it is a source of competitive advantage and a critical point of leverage on the path to growth in marketing, distribution and sales leadership.

  • Imagine the friction consumers are encountering right now because it’s nearly impossible to sort which product is a more sustainable choice at retail. The consumer’s priority is once again ahead of brand performance in the marketplace. Who will be first with the most? How will sustainability impact labeling and retail navigation?

When cultural changes take root, it presages larger shifts in sentiment – leading to momentum deviations that are an immutable guide to strategic investment. What should be at the forefront of your thinking now is the very real potential of ending up on the wrong side of this sea change. Not because the word sustainability is left out of your brand communication lexicon, rather because it is not fully, correctly built out, thus creating real vulnerabilities around greenwashing. People will notice, experts will weigh in, influencers will influence. There will be winners and losers in the “Sustainability Battles”.

Moreover, we have data and proof that fully realized sustainability strategies lead to share growth and sales leadership in your respective category. Why? The same rule applies here: because consumers care about it and support businesses that authentically walk the walk of climate impact mitigation alongside business strategies that clearly, emphatically support authentic sustainability practices. Consumers are watching. Early adopters are showing them what to do. This creates a steamroll effect that leads to category upheaval as smarter brands overtake the laggards and pretenders.

  • Recent research conducted by IRI and the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business indicates consumer uptake of sustainability marketed products has remained strong despite the Pandemic. Sustainable brands outperformed conventional alternatives across 36 categories in 2020. The segment achieved 16.8% of total purchases in a banner year for CPG sales. 

Think differently

Sustainability practices should lead business strategy and will have a profound impact on new product launch initiatives. This isn’t just a corporate commitment, it’s an anchor at the street level to differentiation, meaning and value and must be fully baked into marketing planning all the way through to execution.

  • What will your brand voice be on this? What evidence can you provide to the early adopters who know great practices from anything less than that? How is this integrated into your story and narrative? You already know that story-well-told is where all of this begins and takes root.

In a recent report at Pet Food Industry magazine, one quote-able source nailed the conditions squarely:

“Clean label will move into sustainability — how are pet food manufacturers being more conscious of the environment?” said Tammi Geiger, marketing manager U.S. for Oterra, a supplier of natural colors. “How are they producing their products so they are having a positive impact on the planet and even communities? Manufacturers will be asked by their customers to tell their production story and they will therefore put pressure on their ingredient vendors to have sustainability as a main focus. This can be a way to differentiate from other brands as well.”

Purpose is a marketplace imperative

You can see the pattern emerging. Purpose, beliefs and meaning equate to value and preference. The trouble with Purpose is you can’t bolt it on as a marketing message construct. Purpose needs to emanate from why your company exists, what you are doing to empathize with user needs  and how are you adding value to their quality of life in tangible ways.

Sustainability and higher purpose are family, joined forever in a union that showcases how people have changed, what matters and the real drivers of competitive advantage that goes way beyond the features and benefits layered into your products.

You need:

Purposeful brands

Purposeful labels

Purposeful shopping experience

Purposeful supply chain

Purposeful organization

Purposeful employee policies

Purposeful corporate soul

There is a natural tendency to lean in on technology and better mousetrap thinking. To be sure product quality and innovation are key to brand and business health. But the truth of the matter is brand beliefs, values and higher purpose matter even more on the path to success. The world has changed, and you must change with it to remain relevant and resonant.

The chin you lead with

Now more than any other time in the history of business and marketing strategy, uniqueness and differentiation are key to elevating your business above the vast degree of sameness and similarity that exist category to category, retailer to retailer.

Higher Purpose is a differentiator!

This is how your unique company DNA and value system gets wired into the brand narrative in a manner that’s own-able for your organization. It manifests in how your business operates to meet the life-journey aspirations of your customers. Note: you have to truly care about the welfare of the people you serve to make this work.

Our Brand Sustainability Analysis process is designed to optimize this requirement for the very reason it is aligned with consumer preferences and behaviors. The early adopters you encounter are the ones creating influence that drives momentum changes. What becomes popular, noticed and sought after should factor in to your strategic thinking.

  • Purpose is a center-of-bulls-eye concept that works seamlessly into the sustainability recipe as a component of business and brand value.

If fresh perspective and assessment of your sustainability and purpose bona fides would be helpful to your planning, use this link to open an informal conversation with us about your needs. We promise a thorough, complete analysis of competitive advantage at a time when consumer behaviors are changing the game around you.

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

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

The return of brand investment

After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back

September 18th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Consumer insight, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back”

Consumers are human beings, not data points

As part of our ongoing series devoted to strategic planning guidance, we bring a mission critical recommendation on where to place your planning emphasis for 2022:

Brand building has returned to the fulcrum of marketing and business strategy leadership. After a decade of holding all the cards as a budget and plan priority, digital performance marketing has lost a bit of its luster. Customer acquisition costs are on the rise. There’s also a companion decline in the supply of digital ad inventory.

The creative deployment of your brand as ultimate differentiator and emotional connector should return to the strategic planning front burner.

Rethinking the path to business growth

  • Brand building: securing your position, uniqueness, values, mission and emotional equity.
  • Performance spending: driving the conversion funnel and revenue metrics.

These two approaches are not necessarily fighting one another. Both can enhance the outcomes of the other. Consumers, however, are the deciders. Their behaviors inevitably tipped the scale in favor of enhanced brand building. Now over-saturated and swimming in an ocean of digital content, people have evolved looking for deeper meaning and values in the brand relationships they care about. Digital native brands like Allbirds and Warby Parker saw this coming and pivoted to focus on brick-and-mortar retail so they can create richer in-person experiences with their brands.

Brands have always been valuable – but in recent years lost their priority in the marketing plan to the ease and electronic allure of digital data ROI claims. The untold part of this story: tech platforms usurped the essential role of brand building investment, ushering in another consequence: the splintering of agency partner resources. A thousand platform specializations emerged as companies looked for the next shiny new tech Saas solution that promised glorious, algorithm and data-driven performance.

Thus, marketers also found themselves managing a disparate cadre of specialists du jour – a digital ad firm, digital media vendor, a social media agency, a PR agency, an influencer agency, a brand collaboration firm, et al. What’s the net result of all these different tactical players and layers? A soup of varying voices and fragmented messaging that increasingly sounds like a confederation of a thing, and a thing, and a thing – opposed to a unified, consistent and differentiated brand.

Time to think differently!

The transition to brand investment is being helped along by Apple’s no tracking opt-out privacy move and Google’s coming shutdown of cookies that suspends individual tracking in favor of a cohort-based system (shared tastes).

These modifications to digital stalking of user behavior are ultimately a good thing for the health and growth of your business, and here’s why: it’s time to reinvest in your brand, the single most important ownable and differentiating asset you have in an otherwise vast sea of equivalency and similarity.

  • Marketers are learning the absence of real strategic investment in developing brand distinction and deeper experience is now holding them back from optimal growth results and competitive advantage.

Why?

Brands are uniqueness generators, deeper meaning vessels and trust-creating reservoirs of mission and values. You are operating in a consumer world increasingly drawn to aligned, kindred and symbol-inspired relationships – more so than transactional, follow-me-around-the-web ‘buy me now’ offers.

What dampened the primacy of brand building in the first place?

A digitally-enabled explosion of performance marketing tools pushed communications and content to a tactical model founded on conversions and revenue metrics. See you later, brand building. Hello targeting, tracking and clicks.

The great promise of infinite ROI on digital ad spending with Facebook and Google spawned a proliferation of specialist ad tech firms all looking for their piece of the eyeball pie – retargeting, digital media buying, affiliate programs –all while brand support took a raincheck.

Furthermore, the marketplace bar for entry of new brands became so incredibly low, it fomented a tsunami of digital ad content that is piling up in consumer feeds – all clamoring for a sliver of limited time and attention. Very noisy. Transactional. Less engaging and lacking lifestyle relevance.

Guidance for your brand strategy planning effort

As a general rule radical differentiation, higher purpose and emotional connection are the three legs on which to center your strategic plan.

  • Differentiation is essential to separation and standing out – consumers will notice you
  • Higher purpose imbues your brand with deeper meaning and values – how they trust you
  • Emotion is at the center of what drives consumers to act, make decisions – humans are feeling creatures who think

The goal of your planning is to optimize strategy for greatest impact. To enhance equity and the values your brand exudes. To create attraction, allure and stickiness. To win hearts because it’s always heart-over-head.

Here are four areas of focus that will help you win with a stronger brand:

  1. Aligned values

Insight research continues to reinforce that consumers’ care deeply about shared values and mission. They want to know what you believe in, what you stand for, that you have a soul which transcends commerce. They “wear” your brand as a symbol and flag to the world around them about what they value. What meaning are you giving them, and is it aligned with their beliefs

2. Experience satisfaction

Are they happy with the product-use experience, with the purchase journey, are you easy to do business with, do you put them first in ways that are both unselfish and also obvious to them? Do they learn from you? Is your brand a guide, coach and enabler of activities, experiences that matter to them? You are providing more than a product.

3. Memorable messaging

How do you stand out and engage people? The consumer is the hero of your brand story – it should be about their needs, wants and aspirations. Your brand’s role in the relationship is as guide and advisor to help them achieve their goals and ambitions. Neuroscience tells us that 98% of actions taken by consumers comes from an emotional response, not an analytical one. Is your communication informed by emotional messaging.

4. Your brand’s share of culture

What is the social conversation about your brand? What people are seeing and hearing about your brand in the micro-communities of influence that they belong to? It is critical to the ecosytem “buzz” they encounter. People respect the voices of their peers and credible experts. For the very reason that nearly 100% of the time the primary motivation in deciding what to buy is their fear of making a bad decision. You need to build a sphere of trust.

If these ideas and concepts resonate with you, now is a good time to bring some fresh thinking and perspective to investing in your brand. Use this link to tell us what concerns you have, what keeps you up at night. We can help you map the right path to brand growth, which is linked directly to your business outcomes.

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.

Planning for consumer behavior relevance

8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning

September 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Brand trust, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Influencers, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning”

How to amplify your 2022 marketing outcomes…

We’re in the thick of strategic planning season as food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers finalize their go-to-market strategies for the year ahead.

  • How do you ensure your plans will deliver the most benefit for every precious dollar invested?
  • What are the optimal elements in a marketing plan that will secure consumer and trade partner engagement?
  • What are the must-have components to deliver on your business objectives?

Here we examine the eight key elements of a marketing plan that removes risk and installs trust – a must-have on the road to business success no matter what stakeholder audience you are working to influence.

  1. Business objectives assessed alongside barriers to growth

Far too many marketing plans begin with declarations of business targets served up in a manner that implies it’s simply a matter of turning on the advertising faucet to deliver on the intended outcomes. A richer and more productive internal discussion will occur if the objectives are included alongside an honest, real-world assessment of the barriers that exist to delivering them.

Mind you, there are always barriers. No one goes to market in a vacuum free of systemic challenges and threats to success. It is in this act of realism and reflection that the executive team has a useful discussion on what must be overcome in order to win in the year ahead. This works to remove what we characterize as “hope-ium” from the plan discussion and gets everyone focused on contributing to ways of mitigating or navigating around the threats.

2. Competitive analysis with a unique purpose

Intentional or not, in many categories there is a fair amount of sameness that exists among brands matching competitor moves with comparable programs, product offerings and messages. If a brand is set up from the start for radical differentiation, then the chances of stepping into the similarity trap can be averted. Resemblance is an ongoing challenge in marketing. When communications is close enough that brands could literally interchange competitor names and the key message still works, you know a problem exists.

Instead, competitive analysis should be focused on looking for unmet needs and whitespace opportunities to zig when everyone else in the segment zags. Your goal is to be different. (No, really, really different.) And in doing so, stand out in a sea of category sameness.

3. Importance of consumer anthropology

Perhaps the most important element of all in marketing planning is the right kind of research to help inform strategy. This isn’t about data crunching around demographics of shopper populations. Relevance and resonance are everything to dialing in your communications plan for optimum impact. This simply can’t be done without the kind of insight research that truly peels the onion on your best users’ lifestyle concerns, passions, interests and desires. Users are humans not data points. You will get further by imbuing your brand with deeper meaning that reflects the values and beliefs of your heaviest users. To know them, literally, is to love them.

These cohorts are often the most important to your profit plan as they usually represent those who bring the highest volume and repeat purchase behaviors. The role of your brand is as coach, guide, educator and enabler on their lifestyle journey. You can’t do that without gaining insight into how they think, behave and what they care about. This is different than pushing analytical, fact-based messaging at them on formulation or technology specs. It’s always heart-over-head. All humans are emotional creatures who think and not the other way around.

4. The ‘culture shift’ imperative

Trends are far more important than ever before to influencing consumer preferences. Media influences the crowd and where the crowd of like-minded users goes will simply attract more and more ‘followers’ (this means the social conversation that’s going on matters to your strategic game plan). Right now, sustainability could not be more important as a culture change signal.

A large swath of the consuming public is enamored with sustainability behaviors, policies and standards created by brands to help mitigate their impact on carbon contributions and the environment. It is imperative that food brands with a heavy investment in meat ingredients take this into consideration. Just be careful not to invoke sustainability as a priority ahead of having the right science-based assessments of your carbon footprint. You want to avoid falling into the greenwashing trap. Sustainability is now associated with climate impacts.

5. Brand higher purpose discovery and refinement

Purpose-built branding is not a nice to have any longer. It is a vital construct that sits underneath your organization as a true north of why the company exists. Important to note, purpose is always built around a real human-relevant insight and not a corporate axiom like increasing shareholder returns. It has nothing to do with philanthropy and cause marketing. It has everything to do with a purpose that transcends the product offering and is married to how you improve your customers’ lives and the world around you.

More often than not, we find this key strategy that informs everything the company and brand stands for is under-nourished or treated as a cause-related project. The key questions to address:

  • Why are you in business (this isn’t just about business growth)?
  • How do you deliver on your why?
  • What business are you really in based on your why?

A Higher Purpose platform should be embedded in everything you do across the organization.

6. Evaluating spheres of influence

The internet has fractured the consumer world into micro-communities of shared interests and passions. It is in these communities where people filter, find and decide what to buy. There are influencers within these communities who are important to discovery and trial, to establishing the definitions of what is better and why.

The marketing plan should include an evaluation of these micro-communities and the leading voices within them. Here your brand should engage as a contributor to the conversation. Relationships should be built with the leading voices, not to co-opt them but gain their trust.

7. Assessment of outside third-party expert voices and contributors

Trust is harder than ever to achieve. 99.9999 percent of the time consumers are operating with one goal in mind – to avoid making a bad decision. Brands should engage the voices of outside experts and credible authorities to verify and validate what you want consumers to believe about your brand, business and Higher Purpose. These voices can add a layer of credibility to your content marketing plans and pull in a note of clout to key messages you wish to convey.

How these relationships are created and deployed is key. Be careful not to position these voices as brand promoters who come across like paid shills. They are there to validate, to deliver authentic “reports” on what you are doing. Trusted voices are essential to building belief, and trust is fundamental to your success.

8. A word about KPI’s

These days it’s standard fare to embed your evaluations with digital data given its availability across all of the social and content platforms where you deploy communications. Levels of perceived engagement are relatively easy to come by based on online behaviors. People, however, can also be fickle and unpredictable.

Creating a baseline of consumer insight research is invaluable not only to better understand what makes your users tick, but also to go back in later and assess changes in attitudes and behaviors over time.

These evaluations carry more horsepower because they dig into shifts in priorities, interests and activity on the path to purchase and whether or not your key messaging is getting traction.

All of this great work feeds creativity and informs strategy. It can lead your business to leaps in share. New users will enter the fold because your brand truly stands out for all the right reasons in a category where many players tend to blend together.

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.

Niche community marketing

The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here

August 31st, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Journey Map, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Insight, Social proof, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here”

Internet enables strategic shift to networks of influence

Forever and a day, brand and retail marketing centered on identifying key user targets, parsing user cohorts and unearthing insights to define their respective habits, preferences, passions, interests and behaviors. The goal – to refine brand relevance; make media decisions based on their demographics and psychographics; and craft creative messaging to reach these individuals.

But the world has changed (again) and now the path to consumer engagement must be calculated in the context of how and where people participate in communities that help them filter, read, decide and buy.

More than at any other time in modern marketing, products are more susceptible to trends than individual preferences. What do we now know? People are social creatures. The digital world we all live in enables and caters to their collective passions whether that be health and wellness, cooking creativity, love of wine and spirits, fashionable-ness or nurturing a pet-oriented lifestyle.

Communities form and prosper around shared interests.

The wisdom of a curated community

Neuroscience now helps us understand that behaviors are impacted by trends and popularity in user communities. People see community recognition and acceptance as validation that a product or a TV show must be good because ‘everybody’ is using or watching it. Call it fear of missing out or confidence in community consensus.

  • Old way of thinking: to scale your business go wide, cast a broad net and employ mass media as much as possible.
  • New way of thinking: look for networks of influence and go narrow to micro-communities that cater to niche tastes and shared values.

The Internet has operated as an endless digital enabler of nichemanship. Yet many brands remain wed to strategies focused on individuals and amassing eyeballs more so than immersion into the smaller communities where people participate and ‘belong.’

Questions you should be asking

In which communities do your users belong and participate?

Who are the sources of influence and prominent voices in that network?

What trends and interests are actively supported in the community?

How can you best enable users to contribute to the community?

It’s important to take note of shared tastes and values in these settings and to employ that insight in your messaging and outreach strategies.

What are your customers’ embedded interests? What issues, activities, hobbies do they care about and invest their time? If users have a specific interest area that lights their fire, chances are they belong to a community that focuses on it. People participate in influence networks that inform and feed their passions.

Look for the ‘religion’

Some might agree love of whiskey is a religion. There are beliefs and values associated with distilling traditions, still design, ingredients, casks and aging. There’s unique nomenclature and perceptions of what constitutes a good, better or best product. There are lifestyle associations, groups, communities, events and narrowcast media. There are also expert voices and sources of influence on what matters and new developments in product innovation.

For a brand there is more to be gained by studying the networks of influence than blind devotion to detailed persona descriptions of individual whiskey heavy users. Trends can drive leaps in market share, so it’s important to operate as a disciple in the community, embrace the religion of shared beliefs and identify the influence networks within them.

This concept of category religion can be applied in any number of high-engagement businesses where a fan base of ambassadors and evangelists reside.

The role of experts in outreach

Building credibility and trust are paramount these days. Deployment of subject matter experts, be they credentialed or citizen, matters greatly in verifying trends and authenticating community beliefs. When the brand sees its role as enabler, coach and guide to its users rather than product seller, deploying expert engagement in social channels can feed participation, conversation and sharing.

The foundation: your brand Higher Purpose

It is easier to anchor marketing in communities of shared values and beliefs when the brand ‘soul’ is well developed around a purpose that transcends commerce and self-promotion. If you want people to join your community as believers, then you have to give them something in which to believe.

Sadly more often than not, the brand’s ability to position itself in influence networks and community is diluted by operating in the ’three miles wide and a half inch deep‘ mode of transactional behavior. Purpose imbues your brand with a more meaningful voice and greater resonance because the community sees you are wearing your values like a well-tailored suit. 

Hard work ahead

Identifying and understanding networks of influence requires more study and asking different questions during insight research.  Conversation within these communities based on trends and values will help build brand relevance and value among those who care the most. Those are your best customers who over time will deliver greater volume and profit than the less loyal, less engaged users who come and go on deal.

If you think fresh thinking and guidance on influence strategies would benefit your marketing plans, use this link to start an informal conversation

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

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

Losing brand relevance when the consumer evolves

Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?

August 3rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Customer Experience, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, food experiences, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?”

What happens when the consumer moves on and the brand doesn’t.

The pace of change these days is unsettlingly quick. Pandemic-authored forms of disruption have come hard and fast, supplemented by equally measured swings in consumer behavior, priorities and preferences. The world around us is evolving. Needs are changing. Attitudes and interests are getting a makeover. The pace of marketplace shifts is accelerating.

  • We’ve entered an entirely new era of marketing challenges where consumers move more quickly than brands. This creates fractures in relevance and perceived value as businesses remain anchored to a legacy business model or said more simply, “how we’ve always done it.’

When the consumer’s wants and needs move to another location on the relevance chess board and the brand doesn’t move with them, what happens when the business suddenly finds itself at odds with its user base?

Changes now upon us –

  • Modern food culture has gained new levels of sophistication.
  • What food is and where it comes from is headed towards a bioengineered future.
  • Health and wellness needs are now dominant preference considerations.
  • Sustainability concerns have morphed to focus on climate impacts.
  • Shopping patterns and behaviors are now linked to extraordinary experiences.
  • Safety and security are simmering underneath a cauldron of uncertainty.
  • Brand trust deficits compound while also multiplying perceived risks on the path to purchase.

Challenges that result –

  • Your product portfolio hasn’t advanced to match the consumer’s evolving quality definition and expectation.
  • You’re not looking hard enough at innovation driven by climate outcomes and requiring advanced bioengineering.
  • Your products are not fully in sync with health and wellness lifestyle goals.
  • You are still narrowly focused on clean energy as the platform for sustainability solutions.
  • There’s nothing remarkable and entertaining about shopping your store.
  • You haven’t answered the bellwether safety and security issues swaying your users.
  • You haven’t placed trust creation at the core of your strategic marketing plan.

New brands are stepping into the gap

Where there’s a lingering need, others will step in to fulfill it. The world is ripe for entrepreneurs who wish to serve these evolving needs creating a business environment founded on new definitions of what scale is; value propositions that re-write the rule book on average cost of goods; and what people will pay for entirely new and higher standards of quality. Brand narratives are moving to focus on purpose and values while historic brand stories remain tethered to feature/benefit selling.

When people change, if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.

This summer I attended a backyard community barbecue where the entire menu was a trip into Korean culinary culture. It was mesmerizingly good, a welcome departure from hot dogs and burgers, and an eyeopener on flavor interplay between sweet (sauce) and sour (kimchi). The novel ingredients were off the charts delicious and created a learning moment.

The lesson: once people have experiences that alter their world order and concept of what’s important, tastes good or matters to their sense of values and beliefs, it’s nearly impossible to go back to the old behavioral patterns.

Food culture refinement is fueling change

You just know expectations on what great food is like are shifting when more sophisticated menus and unique global taste experiences start showing up at the corner neighborhood bar – gastropubs are getting Michelin stars!! We are awash in cooking competitions, chef authored packaged artisanal foods, fancy meal kits, and preoccupation with fresh local food ingredients that require preparation skills.

As people acquire knowledge and experience, perceptions shift. The lowly Brussel sprout, and veggies generally, enjoy a renaissance as cheffy preparations take this mini-cabbage (same species of plant – the brassica oleracea) sulphur bomb to new heights of flavor transformation with cured meat and high temp roasting to caramelize the leafy exterior. Cooking techniques magically alter a one-time musty vegetal eating experience with deeper umami flavors.  

The American palate is maturing alongside growing enthusiasm for more complex and layered food preparations and menus. Are food brands right there with them helping share the future of food, or mired in a legacy infrastructure of ultra-processed preparations that lean too heavily on fat, sugar and sodium to drive their appeal?

While popping open a bag of potato chips is still a common snack time ritual, people making their own chips from scratch isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. Food culture in America is rapidly evolving with raised expectations for tastes, flavor profiles and gustatory adventures.

When food experience is driven by ingredients

The basic legacy concept behind packaged food solutions is convenience, an effort to reduce or remove preparation from the equation. But what happens when millions of consumers get a taste of the very flavor layering techniques that make chefs the culinary superstars that they are? Lockdowns helped push people to their stoves. It’s hard to go back to standard boxed mac and cheese when you’ve enjoyed the outcome of informed cooking mixing a béchamel sauce with aged gouda and lardons to envelop an elbow noodle in indulgent magic.

It’s even harder to dismiss these developments when observing 12-year-old kids on FoodTV’s “Chopped Junior” show whip out a wine reduction sauce for pan roasted halibut in under five minutes? Suddenly an otherwise neutral, bland tasting fish rises to a new position in flavor town at the hands of a tween. Does this not signal a change in how we see food ideas, expectations on preparations, romance around the possibilities of better food experiences?

Ingredients take center stage in menus. Packaged products with reimagined ingredients not slavishly tied to what’s cheapest have this incredible competitive advantage of being able to tell their product creation story proudly. This is happening at a time when that’s exactly the kind of behind-the-curtain tale consumers want to know.

How to disrupt yourself

One sure-fire way to guide innovation, restaging, re-purposing and reimagining what your brand is on earth to accomplish – is putting the consumer at the center of your strategic planning and product development strategies.

  • This is harder to do than it sounds because businesses often reflexively sit in service of their legacy brick and mortar infrastructure, supply chain traditions and sensibilities around average retail pricing.

When the consumer is willing to pay more for demonstrable upgrades in quality, where is that coming from? It is the very knowledge they’ve acquired through elevated food experiences where they learn about the relationship between better ingredients and better taste – and often healthier food outcomes to boot. The added spend equals sufficient added value.

Every food and beverage brand should be led by food culture anthropologists, scanning for the sea changes at a time when shifts are occurring more rapidly. We’ve reached a point where the consumer will inevitably move on while the brand plays catch-up or suffers relevance declines.

  • When values change and the consumer wants unique, customized higher quality food experiences, you don’t want to find yourself at odds where you end up fighting them to stay put. Sure enough, a new brand will hit the radar to answer their call for quality innovation.

If you want to stay ahead of developing trends, be sure to register here for the Emerging Trends Report. If you’d like to discuss how your brand and business might evolve to stay ahead of food culture changes, use this link to say hello and invite an informal conversation!

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

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

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