Posts in Digital marketing

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.

Emergent’s Pandemic Brand Marketing Checklist

May 4th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, change, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Navigation 0 comments on “Emergent’s Pandemic Brand Marketing Checklist”

World has changed, now what?

Marketing and communication will not be the same as lock down conditions begin to abate.  Consumer confidence is in need of triage and should be foremost on your radar as you make plans to re-energize the business.

  • Confidence in their own safety.
  • Confidence in your businesses’ on-premise and product safety protocols.
  • Confidence in how and where they shop for food, whether that be from grocery or restaurant delivery.
  • Confidence your brand has their best interests and welfare at heart.

This checklist is intended to help inform your thinking and strategy in light of the transformational lifestyle shift consumers have experienced.

You might agree that any marketing plan must be founded on respect for the consumer’s mindset and behaviors. Families have endured one of the most harrowing, precedent-setting and impactful changes in their world, ever.

What we know about the COVID-19 impact:

  • Health and safety are the top priority for people.
  • At home is safe, out of home is not safe.
  • Invisible threats exist that can impact your health or take your life.
  • These events have disrupted every aspect of living and society.
  • People cannot control these conditions and are forced to adapt based on self-diagnosis of their own needs and preferences.
  • What consumers value changes when life is literally upside-down.

The key changes:

  • At home: time and space have become more fluid, less regimented.
  • Blurring of home and work separation.
  • Desire for guidance on home-focused activities from exercise, to gardening to cleaning/decluttering to baking/culinary.
  • Digital experience now a necessity for art, music and escape.
  • Content consumption is nearly 24/7 as average weekly screen times skyrocket.

Top priority for people:

  • Physical, mental and emotional health.
  • Staying well.
  • Boredom, anxiety and uncertainty meet desire to be distracted/inspired/entertained, productive and composed.

What we know about people:

  • Human beings are feeling creatures who think – not thinking creatures who feel. Emotion governs behaviors, decisions and actions.
  • How brand relationships are cultivated and built must adjust to be respectful of where people find themselves, emotionally, now.

Marketing and communication priorities

Insight:

Every brand is unique; what do your core users care about, need, want, desire?

Diagnostic:

Is the brand correctly positioned for shifting lifestyle relevance and empathy?

Strategy:

Holistic solutions that answer, tangibly, how you can help improve your core users’ lives.

Media:

Digital first and emotionally relevant content is king.

Social:             

Now more than ever social community building is embedded in the desire for conversation and interaction. Witness Zoom is a verb and people long for regular contact and interaction. Social channels have acquired an entirely new and uplifted value proposition.

Tactics:

  • Overwhelming importance of shared purpose, meaning and values in messaging.
  • Emotional communication vital to engagement.
  • People believe other people before they believe companies – who is speaking?
  • Health is the new wealth – your brand is the guide, expert and coach.
  • Storytelling vs. story-yelling – days of shameless brand self-promotion are over.
  • Consumers feel out of control, how can you give it back to them?
  • Trust creation as core brand platform – earn belief through higher purpose.
  • Be careful, data can be a false god – algorithms don’t dream.

Secret sauce to success:

Put your consumer at the center of planning, decide relevance matters most and work backwards from there.

To help you navigate these unprecedented changes and chart a course to sustainable growth Emergent can provide deep CPG and retail marketing experience, insight to consumer behavior, health and wellness lifestyle expertise and transformational ideas. Use this link to let us know if you’re ready to explore new solutions.

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.

Consumers carre deeply about their health and wellness

Consumer Health is the New Wealth

April 15th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, Restaurant trends, Transformation 0 comments on “Consumer Health is the New Wealth”

Cultural shift impacts marketing strategy

Your marketing planning and strategic game plan will need to change to maintain relevance as the global pandemic creates a seismic cultural shift in how people behave and how successful relationships are formed between brands, retailers and consumers.

Here’s what you need to know about the basis of these transformative differences and their impact on your strategic communication plans.

The pandemic has served as the world’s greatest and most impactful, harrowing lesson on vulnerability. Regardless of age, income, career or social status, COVID-19 has reached into every corner of society to show that a highly contagious, invisible disease can move quickly and freely to impact every aspect of social and family life, career, health and wellbeing.

  • According to a recent survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, more than one-third of Americans say the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.

Economic disruption, societal upheaval and social isolation have generated lasting deviations in how people behave – working to permanently alter life priorities and preferences. What people cared about in December of 2019 is radically different today and isn’t likely to subside in the future.

What was once important is less so now

The accumulation of assets and material wealth as evidence, goals or symbols of life success and fulfillment have fallen away, replaced by health and wellbeing as the new marker of desired “wealth” and personal success.

Anxiety, stress and loss of control have also created an open opportunity for brands and businesses to be a source of credible guidance on more mindful living, and reasserting lifestyle control with investments in personal health and wellness. It cannot be understated: the foundation of brand building is moving away from a transactional approach sewn into the fabric of marketing thinking for the last 50 years. It is resettling now on the requirement to create deeper meaning and a more personally-relevant, useful brand value proposition.

Simply said, you’re going to have to genuinely care deeply, organizationally, about the health and wellbeing of your customers and consider how the brand can contribute to improving their lives. This may sound like a water is wet statement, but in truth, it is an entirely different way of looking at the brand-to-purchaser relationship.

Moving from features, benefits and price cuts to empathy and care

Repeatedly stating ‘we’re in this with you’ isn’t sufficient. Brand and business behaviors must match the cultural shift to managing health and wellness – and operate in sync with how consumers are living and how their needs have morphed.

Higher purpose marketing is first about valuing the customer relationship in a different way. We can define it as putting the brand and business ‘in league’ with the consumer on their life journey, looking for ways to be of tangible value as they seek answers to some significant questions about how they should live and what the future holds.

This more empathetic view of how to communicate should be based in ongoing, continual investments in consumer insight research, designed to assess their attitudes and concerns in a downside of the curve and eventually post-pandemic world. When the brand is able to accurately mirror consumers’ views and desires, the opportunity for relevance is secured, and permission for a conversation is earned. ‘Talking at’ people about features and benefits is a sure pathway to disconnect because it casts the brand as hero of the storytelling rather than the consumer – who must be the hero in all brand outreach.

Data underscores the shifts in behavior

According to a recent national survey by Bernstein, nearly 60% of consumers report a surge in scratch cooking at home.

  • 35% say they care deeply about their wellbeing.
  • 30% say they plan to eat more healthfully.
  • 38% are looking for real food ingredients and packaged products with simple labels.

In fact, the study reported that health and wellness is on the rise as a key consideration when people shop for food. Consumers say they will increase consumption of vegetables, fruits and other fresh foods, while they reduce purchases of highly processed products and foods that are high in fat, sugar, carbs and salt. The current spike in sales of processed packaged foods is likely to be short-lived. Consumers post-pandemic will worry less about emergency stock-ups and instead turn their attention to managing their own health and wellbeing.

In a related study by AMC Global and reported in Food Navigator, 52% are increasing their use of online grocery shopping platforms, and 25% say they expect to continue using online channels after the restrictions are lifted.

  • 38% plan to more fully support local businesses and product sources.
  • 32% expect to continue cooking more meals at home.
  • 35% intend post-pandemic to spend more time with their families.

Post-pandemic planning insights

For food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers, health and wellbeing should be a centerpiece in your messaging strategy and given consideration as a focus of content creation strategies. It is the most important and viable way for consumers to regain control of their lives, and to address what is now one of the most significant concerns they have: protecting themselves and their families from immune system vulnerabilities, while enhancing their comfort and wellbeing.

A more holistic view of health and wellness should factor in stress and anxiety as a key component in healthy living strategies by offering guidance and information on ways to cope. Meditation and exercise can be an important way for consumers to administer self-care and address the uncertainty they continue to face in their lives.

The dynamic in how brand relationships are created will increasingly be based on reciprocity and operating in a manner that demonstrates the consumer’s welfare is a top priority, thus why transparency and trust creation will need to be addressed in communication and operations strategy.

The forced changes in routine home food preparation arising from the stay-at-home order, is likely to be permanent as consumers experience the benefits of exercising greater control over ingredients, portions and preparations. Brands should be working hard to operate as guide, coach and inspiration for aspiring home chefs who want to hone their skills and feed their creativity. Equally so for home-based exercise and fitness activities.

The pivot by foodservice operators to offer meal kits, groceries and culinary advice, is also likely to be a lasting business model change for the restaurant industry. Which brings us to the growing importance of the home as a centerpiece for social interaction, safety and security and now a place of work. This will favor digital-first thinking and enhance the value of media consumed online and at home.

E-commerce channel is going to get more and more use as the systems improve and the friction in ordering and accurate, timely delivery is removed. Brick and mortar retail will have to strategically shift to facilitate a more seamless experience in omni-channel shopping behaviors. The importance of web site and email marketing should rise as consumers increasingly look for helpful, valuable engagement rather than access to what is at most self-promotional or least an online brochure.

The efforts you make to invest in building social channel communities will get more productive as the brand voice moves further from self-promotion and more fully into offering useful lifestyle guidance and direction. This will facilitate a more interactive environment and encourage consumers to share their own stories, interests and concerns. Social proof is a vital part of creating belief and credibility with your best users and attracting new fans to the brand. If you want to attract to new fans to the brand, you need to start by being a fan of theirs!

Finally, people believe other people more than they do corporate voices. To the extent you are engaging outside third-party voices in brand communication, you have the opportunity to humanize the brand and create more authentic messaging. In fact, building a more human-like brand is a critical component to acquiring trust. Great care should be exercised in how paid influencers are deployed as the consumer increasingly sees these voices as compromised and less trusted.

Emergent is an expert resource to help you develop post-pandemic plans and strategies.

  • Do you need support in consumer insight research to help inform your planning?
  • Would guidance be helpful on building optimal messaging strategies and content creation programs?
  • Would it be of benefit to have a creative resource help think through the evolutionary changes that will be required in how you go to market?

Let us know if you would like to talk informally about what comes next.

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.

Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement

October 10th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Digital marketing, Emergent Column, Healthy Living, storytelling 0 comments on “Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement”

Our ‘elevator speech’ requires unconventional response

At the recent GroceryShop convention “Friends of the Future” networking event we helped produce in Las Vegas, I was asked repeatedly, “what is Emergent?” – The event was an exciting veritable meet-and-greet mosh pit of first-time introductions. At one point a colleague of ours from the Food Marketing Institute turned to me during an overture to a Pepsico executive and said, “Bob, give him the elevator speech about Emergent.”

In these moments when time and everyone’s headspace is at a premium, we tend to default to the simple explanation, frequently bound up in the tactics of what we do. So reflexively I reached for the convenient list of tools in the toolbox: brand strategy and positioning guidance, earned and social media, etc.

I left these conversations thinking, “that really doesn’t convey the essence of our secret sauce.”

A reflection on who we are and why that should matter to you

When we look back over time at the special moments when clients have allowed us to rise to our very best, we find a legacy of bigger ideas and strategic concepts that represent game changes of various kinds in various categories.

Understanding that transformational change is at the core of what we do, this immediately shifts the focus from tactics and tools to strategic platforms that inform the solution. Candidly, communications tactics without a strategic, differentiating concept forming the foundation underneath are just messaging vessels.

So here it is: Emergent is in the CPG brand and food retail transformation business, delivering strategic platforms that can impact the behavior of the organization and its business to bring incremental, sustainable growth. Yes, we can actualize strategic ideas all the way to the ground and execute at the tactical level, but it’s the diagnostic upfront and our ability to not only see the big picture but distill the barriers to added growth that represents our defining moments with clients.

The real secret sauce is Lori Miller, my partner, and me in our strategic diagnostic analysis that helps build a roadmap for change. More often than not, we find organizations mired in the conventions and routines in their category and how they go to market. Thinking differently means looking for the marketing “zig” when everyone else is “zagging.” This is baked into how we tend to see things. Uniqueness and differentiation are never overrated.

Clients desperately want their marketing investments to hit engagement squarely on the head, no pun intended. Engagement these days, however, demands a customer-first approach to literally everything a company does.

Rule number one – we know the consumer is in charge and control of the brand relationship, requiring businesses to be less self-absorbed and more creative and agile in how they look at the opportunity to earn permission for a relationship.

Yes, relationship.

Consumers are on the hunt for deeper meaning in the products that matter to them and want brands they choose to engage with and buy, to be a mirror of their values and passions.

So, as a strategic brand communications platform, the standard, “let’s focus on the product features and benefits” messaging as the marketing chin you lead with is a non-starter. Self-reverential communication is exactly that.

Thus at Emergent, we are indeed Architects of Engagement. We work to ameliorate the tendency to dance the dance of self-serving promotion when the real opportunity starts with enabling, coaching, and guiding your consumers on their journey to greater fulfillment. This is where the messaging focus and relationships move beyond transactional interruptions and pleas. The goal is authentic alignment and conversation with consumers and the opportunity then for legitimate interaction and belief.

A specific point of view that recurs in our work

One of Emergent’s key insights is reflected in our agency’s ‘Validation Marketing’ planning model. We believe that consumers increasingly are challenged to trust the assertions and claims made by brands. In our digital always-on world, we all are confronted daily with a variety of public revelations in the media of misdeeds, scandals, errors of omission, half-truths and hyperbole.

Brand trust has taken a hit, and year on year, we see evidence of declines. Earning trust is fundamental to successful marketing outcomes and so we develop transformational strategic platforms, tools and tactics that help burnish trust, including:

  • A first-in-its-industry Transparency Council for a premium pet food brand in a category where consumer demand to know more about what’s in the food and how it’s made is valued and differentiating; and
  • Creating the first “True Cheese” trust mark in the cheese industry in a segment marred by product fraud and mislabeling to elevate our client’s brand and integrity above the bad acters.

We strategically deploy social media as a pipeline to social proof in the observations of delighted user stories.

We engage outside experts and credible voices to help validate what a brand states are the essential truths about their product.

We employ earned media to bring the imprimatur of editorial, reportorial assessments in consumer and trade news channels.

We create videos, that in unscripted moments, capture the essence of consumer experience and ‘see for yourselves’ tours behind the product creation curtain.

In the end, it’s our empathy for consumers as people and insight into their desires and concerns that is embedded in Emergent’s thinking. This is foundational as a primary skill in our client engagements; best seen in our devotion to putting the consumer at the center of planning each and every time. Out of that study comes relevant messaging we can successfully deploy.

Health and wellness – redefined – no longer a tertiary consideration

One visit to our web site and there in headline form is this recurring statement about Healthy Living. For a long time, “healthy” was defined as a food science proposition in varying attempts to create addition (healthier) by subtraction – less calories, fat, sugar or sodium.

Now, health and wellness are fundamental to what consumers want and is redefined as emphasis on high quality, real food experiences – less processed and with a provenance story to tell – that delivers greater transparency to the supply chain and entire product creation process.

  • We know how to bring this to life and secure relevance to these principles at a time when consumers absolutely demand it.

We’re on a mission, too

As keepers of this essential truth and the flame of consumer relevance as the non-negotiable precursor to engagement and purchase, we see our mission to bring this understanding to organizations seeking to write a new chapter – whether that’s an emerging brand or an established legacy business.

This is what gets us up in the morning and characterizes our ambitions and goals for what Emergent brings to the marketing challenge for our clients.

Should this strike a chord with you, we should talk.

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

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

 

 

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