Posts in Digital marketing

Digital commerce redirects the future of retail

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

Profile of refined strategy for brick and mortar

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

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

Home is where the heart, wallet and shopping reside

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

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

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

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

Trends ahead and the emergence of micro-trading areas –

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

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

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

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

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

For retail we see five implications for planning strategy:

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

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

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

Larger trend: ‘Extremeification’ of retail in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don't undercut investments in experienced marketing guidance

The Woeful Challenges of Marketing Inexperience

May 29th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emerging brands, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “The Woeful Challenges of Marketing Inexperience”

Building an emerging brand when you don’t know what you don’t know

If ever there were a time when new emerging food and beverage ideas have a chance at stardom, the golden age has arrived. Investment capital is flocking to the culturally relevant and unique, while new food ideas and innovations are popping up right and left. While the barriers to entry are lower than ever, the stakes and requirements for sound strategy are accelerating rapidly as more emerging brands compete for share of limited consumer attention and stomach. This, by the way, was the genesis idea underneath creating Emergent, the Healthy Living Agency.

Into the abyss entrepreneurs jump, entering the fray seeking to answer what looks to be a nearly insatiable appetite for new, higher quality, healthier and novel food and drink experiences. At the front door all appears promising in a world yearning for new and better.

Meatless meat, lab grown proteins, dairy milk without the cow, probiotic and prebiotic, keto kits, ancient grain snacks, pea protein-infused everything – and now in the developing pipeline – food-as-medicine. Whew. Yet many of these aspiring enterprises will encounter critical interruptions along the path; challenges to scaling the business that will relegate some to permanent small ball status and others to the heap of failed concepts.

Marketing plays a significant and important role in mitigating the challenges that exist in moving from very early adopters to scale-able mainstream audiences and wider distribution channels. More often than not, however, we encounter the misappropriation of marketing as essentially a social buzz-making proposition. Rather, it should be a disciplined strategic asset built on a foundation of sound consumer insight.

What’s lacking in the emerging brand zeitgeist is this: experienced marketing brains and early strategic, hands-on guidance – thus why Emergent is a partner in the Food Marketing Institute emerging brands “Mentor” program. There, we counsel that marketing is not just sending out a press release, filing content routinely in social channels or retaining an influencer with a foodie follower base. It is a strategic proposition that optimizes the entire go-to-market plan for growth, effectiveness, measurable outcomes and fewer mistakes.

The eight deadly sins of marketing myopia

Here in random order are eight mistakes that can impede growth and hold the emerging brand proposition back from a leading role in the evolving food and beverage industry:

  1. A form of business grade narcissism – business in love with itself to the exclusion of what’s relevant to the consumer’s passions and interests.
  2. Absence, then, of a continuous devotion to seeking consumer insight and putting the customer at the very center of business planning. One thing to say and another to do.
  3. An undernourished mission and higher purpose that should become the driver for everything the brand stands for and its ability to acquire deeper meaning and connection with consumers.
  4. Improper positioning most frequently manifested as no real discernable positioning. This should be created through careful exploration of how best to push uniqueness and differentiation.
  5. Scattered and less relevant messaging that is the outcome of not addressing the first four sins correctly, and the vanity of assuming consumers will resonate simply because it’s there (if you build it, they will come).
  6. And messaging’s twin sister, an absence of sound strategy in trade and consumer facing communication that mirrors their lifestyle aspirations and wants. This directly impacts any opportunity for engagement.
  7. A real show-stopper: a clunky packaging presentation that dilutes impact in any crowded retail setting at a time when consumers long to know more and care about the product creation backstory.
  8. Finally, failing to fully optimize the brand’s opportunity story in the context of real-world competitive advantage and own-able equity with existing and potential investors. Experienced brand and business storytellers know how to skillfully navigate this arena.

There’s simply no margin for error

No one gets a hall pass from doing the strategic heavy-lifting to refine the brand, its meaning, how it’s presented and what is conveyed. Experienced hands are needed for this work. It can be tempting for founders to think they know marketing even when their background, training and experience does not hail from this discipline.

After all, founders understand the product from the ground up, right? Yes – but, experienced marketing players grasp the consumer, the retail environment, and know the tools to refine how the entire concept is served up, and how best to make every communications dollar work like 10.

  • Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis, for example, constitutes the kind of foundational work that creates a strategic anchor for a new brand to maximize its higher purpose, differentiate the concept and imbue the story with greater consumer relevance and deeper meaning.

Yet in many cases, none of this is done as new brands hire a designer for package graphics – call it “marketing” and then call it a day. Evidence of the oh-so-powerful axiom: you don’t know what you don’t know. Some of the more fully funded emerging businesses have witnessed faster acceleration because they understood the long-term importance of engaging the right marketing minds at the start.

For others it seems less of a priority because, again, owners believe they can do it themselves. The honest answer here is no. In varying degrees of involvement from guide to outsourced execution, it is wiser and better to get the marketing experience in the door early for the very reason – you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The strength created today will, pay dividends for years to come and when you start out on the right foot good things tend to follow. Success is in the eyes of the beholder certainly. That said home runs will always be more satisfying than base hits.

Luck by the way has nothing to do with it. This is hard work that requires enough time in the saddle for those at the marketing helm who can quickly recognize, develop and separate the big ideas from anything less than that.

  • Owners create extraordinary products with a story to tell.
  • Investors invest capital to fuel the effort.
  • Marketers should shape the brand and go-to-market plan, and tell the story.

A word to founders: it’s hard to let go and it is also tempting to assume you can do anything if you put your mind to it. Engaging experienced, professional marketing talent is not a nice to have, it is essential to the future of the business because you won’t achieve jet engine results if you fuel the brand with regular, unleaded expertise.

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.

 

 

 

Mining for Growth: The Consumer’s Relationship with Food

March 2nd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Culinary lifestyle, Digital marketing, food experiences, Healthy Living, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “Mining for Growth: The Consumer’s Relationship with Food”

Marketing and the day’s main meal

Cultural shifts and changes impact how consumers treat eating occasions. This condition becomes even more important as people no longer build their schedules around mealtimes. The script has flipped and thus mealtimes are arranged to facilitate the daily schedule.

In this new world order that puts time and where it’s spent at a premium, distinct functional requirements have surfaced around the consumer’s objectives for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast now orbits the purposeful necessity of energy needs and is often governed by habit and routine. It’s also subject to elimination at times. Whereas lunch often falls victim to another evolving behavior – snacking. Like the start of the day, lunch serves as another fuel-stop to drive the personal engine, often while navigating a complex schedule and a fluid set of time priority constraints.

The dinner bell singularly chimes as a culinary and social oasis…

Dinner continues to hold steadfast as the clear winner in time devoted to food thinking, planning and engagement – offering a unique opportunity for brands to become enablers and participants in a personal and social culinary journey.

  • Dinner is a food-forward rite where the meal and menu serve as a means to elevate enjoyment, self-esteem, creativity, exploration and social engagement.

Breakfast, lunch and snacking reside in a practical, efficiency zone. The consumer’s brain-time investment is just different than dinner. In the evening, according to The Hartman Group’s Transformation of the American Meal report, the experience around food and preparation takes on a higher level of priority and added meaning.

What does the consumer aspire to do with dinner?

Hartman reports to fulfill their expectations for:

  1. Good food – nutritious and delicious
  2. Good cooking – skillful, personalized and often from scratch
  3. Good company – enjoyable moments and warm conversation

So, the logistics around dinner are on another level entirely for food sourcing, creativity, time spent and energy invested by home cooks and their helpers. Simply stated, dinner is less routine, not snack-ified and works to satisfy the yearning for shared food adventure.

As a marketer could you find more fertile territory for engagement than the one meal occasion where inspiration and help are clearly needed?

Dinnertime is a clear pathway to relevant engagement

Dinner is rich connection territory and we’re not just talking about flavor profiles. Dinnertime is an open field for resonance exploration and relationship building for both CPG food and foodservice.

When the day has been too mentally and maybe even physically taxing, outsourcing the evening meal is on the agenda. That said we know from secondary studies that people prefer home-cooked meals when they can do it and believe those meals are universally healthier – as home cooks are able to control ingredients, preparations and portions.

However, when scheduling overload collides with evening mealtime needs, restaurant and other “do it for me” solutions hold sway. Meal kits sit in an interesting position as low-risk enablers of culinary exploration, while also making it easier to deliver a high-quality meal with less effort mentally and at the stove.

Ordering food for delivery or visiting a restaurant shifts the balance of time investment from culinary work to social interaction – an important component of the evening mealtime experience.

The eco-system of needs and requirements for the evening meal is a place where brands can play a pivotal role. Key direction: help make dinner meal planning and execution more enjoyable.

Areas to leverage strategically:

  • Health and wellness – key to lifestyle preferences across the board. What’s the bulls-eye? Helping people bridge their interests between healthy ideals and indulgent desires. Now that higher quality food experiences have become the new healthy, the door is open to blending these two universal human needs.
  • Palate planning – for the most part dinner has increasingly become a just-in-time mini-shopping event as people, often coming from work, stop at the store to shop for menu ingredients. Right there is a moment of uncertainty that can become more purposeful with the right menu ideas and curated shopping lists.
  • Social connection – the social milieu around dinner is an interesting pastiche of enlivened senses, warmth, close attention and enjoyment that enables sharing and conversation. The dinner table is more than a piece of furniture. It’s a place where memorable moments and personal connection are served right alongside the main course.

If effective brand communication is dependent entirely on its relevance to consumer interests and passions, then imbuing your brand with greater meaning becomes paramount in making marketing investments work.

Knowing this, dinner is an important moment and opportunity where need and fulfillment are open territory for brand helpfulness. Also vital to note is the significance that food culture informed strategies play to secure consumer engagement in social channel and content marketing outreach programs.

  • Said another way, it is often the absence of cultural resonance and connectivity that dooms brand communication to the vast pile of ignored messages.

It’s our job here at Emergent to monitor these cultural and consumer-insight conditions so we’re able to respond strategically and creatively for the brands and businesses we represent. If your strategic plan isn’t feeding and exploring these important moments of real-life consumer connection…then you’re potentially skipping the marketing meal that offers the greatest opportunity for engagement and brand growth.

Is it dinnertime yet?

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.

 

WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?

February 23rd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, digital tools, food retail strategy, Food service, Social community, Social media, social media marketing 0 comments on “WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?”

Brands look to better manage their own destiny

As we’ve stated many times here at Emergent, the brand that gets closest to the customer wins. Yet a form of strategic separation now descending on the food marketing universe has made it more challenging for brands to manage how that consumer closeness is achieved. These same conditions help contribute to the collapse of traditional media marketing models (about scale and control) often deployed by legacy brands to build and maintain consumer relationships.

As a result, we believe what’s ahead for CPG food may well include a large helping of direct-to-consumer outreach efforts. E-commerce growth has already redefined the business landscape, giving consumers a comfort level with buying products from home.

Retail isn’t going away, online or off, but we think a measurable percentage of the business overall may indeed move to direct-to-consumer platforms.

Meantime escalating brand participation in the “walled garden” of rented audiences in major social channels, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, has also conveyed relationship control to these platform intermediaries. On any given day, the decisions made by these social media giants can be a good thing or bad as their policy changes impact what brands can and cannot do on their platforms.

  • Brands, now forced to reckon with the shift of business to e-commerce, are finding the complexity of cross channel marketing and online engagement has already worked to snuff out the last embers of mass media’s flame. Disappearing with mass media’s grip is the brand’s ability to efficiently leapfrog various forms of retail or other digital gatekeepers to capture consumer brand equity and preference.

Algorithm alarm bell – now what?

Food and beverage companies working to implement their brand-building strategies in social channels find themselves challenged once again, as the behemoth community aggregators like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube adjust algorithms and feed policies making it harder to organically scale audience attention and reach.

In January, the tide turned (the second time since 2016) as Facebook announced yet another round of changes that favor posts from friends and family while diminishing organic post distribution from brands and publishers. Larger, mega-influencers – who must use Pages rather than personal Facebook accounts – will face a similar audience squeeze.

More regulated content policies put greater pressure on brands in social channels to up their shareable post quality game. We believe though, these restrictive conditions will add more value to building direct consumer relationships. This means, thoughtfully reconsidering how best to connect with consumers and deploy tools that sit outside the control of social channel policy moves, through owned channels like Blogs and email (e-newsletter).

Consequently, we believe the model for food and beverage brand building may change in the next three to five years. Pepsico currently projects their annual e-commerce sales to be north of a $1 billion across direct, retailer-owned and pure play (Amazon) e-commerce channels.

Of note, many of the new and emerging brands now grabbing the marketing spotlight in food, got their start in the direct-to-consumer space, where they built a loyal fan following before venturing into retail channel distribution.

  • A classic example: in the personal care category, online brand Harry’s disrupted the legacy razor blade industry by answering consumer frustration over runaway price increases. They successfully constructed a direct-to-consumer subscription model that helped Harry’s deliver a more affordable, high-quality alternative. The new Harry’s brand story, alongside rival Dollar Shave Club, helped end Gillette’s dominance.

As consumer contentment with buying online continues to expand in adjacent businesses, Harry’s recently secured added equity investment to fund another bellwether expansion. This time into other personal care, household and baby products categories that may naturally fit into a subscription model.

Bottom line: selling directly allows the brand unfiltered and unfettered access to consumers. As such it enables a direct flow of conversation without the unexpected shifts that are occurring in third party social channels due to conflicting business interests and priorities.

Behavior changes occurring behind the curtain

We see the shift to e-commerce as an outcome of evolutionary progress – meaning anything that adds measurably to consumer convenience and satisfaction is going to get its day in the sun.

During the last decade consumers spent 12 percent less time shopping, according to Jared Koerten, senior food analyst with Euromonitor International. “Consumers are spending less time shopping (while) looking for efficiencies and ways to save time,” he said. The result is fewer conventional shopping trips while online ordering continues to accelerate.

E-commerce and the digital communications environment will continue to be a major focus of brand marketing strategies. Consumers see the value in reallocating their spare time from shopping trip to other passions and pursuits. Be that as it may, other changes are occurring in the digital universe that impact how closer consumer relationships are incubated.

Emergent’s guidance on optimizing social channel strategy:

  1. Social algorithm changes enhance the valuable role of smaller (nano) influencers and the content they create, while amplifying the need to ensure that influencer relationships are truly founded on aligned interests and subject matter relevance.
  2. Social channel policy changes that depress organic distribution and engagement will necessitate yet again, more pay-to-play activity to boost posts.
  3. There will be diversification of outreach strategies to include more investment in direct paths of communication through Blogs and email.
  4. Rise of User Generated Content as a key component of social media marketing strategy. This tactic helps sidestep the policy changes and hits the right notes on authenticity and value to brand community participants.
  5. In case you’re wondering what form of content ranks highest in shares on social channels: Infographics.

Social channel policy changes and the dynamics of e-commerce may favor a new look for brand marketing that leans in on going direct. With it comes great responsibility in how these interactions are managed – so it doesn’t appear to be just a transactional proposition.

Help over hype – always.

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.

 

 

 

Part 2: Orchestrating the new 360-degree brand building solution

November 16th, 2017 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Digital marketing, Integrated Communications, Marketing Strategy, Public Relations, Transformation 0 comments on “Part 2: Orchestrating the new 360-degree brand building solution”

How integrated communications planning operates

Marketing is no longer a department. Every aspect of how an organization collectively sees itself, thinks and behaves impacts their ability to get and retain customers. As consumers gained control in their relationship with brands, and cultural shifts placed more importance on brand integrity, transparency and beliefs, a new marketing model has evolved with it.

Now, a more holistic and comprehensive approach to business growth and development is required. In today’s consumer-driven climate, an organization’s higher purpose matters at least as much as the quality and benefits of the product itself. The entire ecosystem of business strategy to brand communication and experience must be optimized for relevance and resonance to consumer interests and needs.

Moreover, placing the consumer at the center of business strategy means that every aspect of how the company operates, creates products, sources its ingredients, behaves in the marketplace, and communicates, must be adjusted to align with how consumers’ lives can be improved through relevant brand touchpoints.

In this article we detail the eight elements of effective planning and communication in the age of consumer control. Together these ingredients form the recipe for brand-to-consumer engagement, conversation and mattering.

1. Business analysis linked to higher purpose guidance

We have entered a new era where company behaviors, as well as the DNA and creation of the product itself, is more directly impacting business growth outcomes. As a result, the client and agency team must collaborate to help guide business strategy, considering that all aspects of how a company operates will inform marketing results. Marketing and Communications simply cannot be isolated from the rest of the business plan – or brought in later to “ice the cake.”

The marketing ecosystem partners must be able to evaluate and bring context to operations, product creation and innovation, brand strategy, consumer insight and relevance. Equally important is providing strategic guidance on establishing the company’s mission and higher purpose. It is higher purpose – a real human-relevant mission that goes above and beyond the commercial intent of commerce – that becomes the blueprint to direct all aspects of business and go-to-market planning.

2. Importance of insight research and message testing

How can you possibly expect to support consumer aspirations if you haven’t peeled the onion to get as close to customer lifestyles as possible – and we’re not talking just about purchase behaviors. What’s going on in your core users’ lives? What do they want, care about, or dream of? How do you answer the call to deep understanding of what they value? How do you know what will resonate unless you pressure test the various ways to present a brand’s bona fides in relation to your customers’ specific needs?

3. Multi-channel outreach strategies

Mass media is gone. The ability to aggregate eyeballs went with it. Communication today is more narrowly focused on engagement in smaller communities where consumers participate, typically online or via experiential. So now, the portfolio of communications tactics must build from a seamless integration of medium and message in social, content, earned and paid, dialed into platforms and communities where potential fans and ambassadors reside.

It’s here where we find one of the strongest cases for higher purpose strategy. To the extent a brand is able to marry itself to a consumer passion point and become an enabler of it, the door opens to defining where the brand can participate and contribute in relevant ways. This is what Clif Bar® brand does as a focused supporter of outdoor adventure sports enthusiasts, or what Bosch home appliances does to inspire and enable culinary passions of home chefs.

4. The fundamental aspects of emotion and meaningfulness

Analytical, fact-based outreach is not respectful of the human condition. We are emotion-based beings and respond accordingly. There’s more intrinsic power in emotional forms of connection than will ever exist in messaging that’s a rational recap of data, facts and figures.

The human brain isn’t wired for this kind of disciplined analysis outside of the classroom. People care about their relationships, values, meaning, purpose and beliefs. Want to build a closer rapport with consumers? Then imbue your brand with greater meaning for your customer, beyond the product itself.

Video, by definition, is an emotionally-evocative medium. Stories of personal experience and transformation can be powerful in reaching people’s hearts – where the action really is.

It probably bears mentioning here that purchases are actually symbolic gestures – a demonstration telegraphing what purchasers want the world to believe about them and their values. So, aligning the brand with cultural cues for consumers to gravitate to is mission critical.

5. The importance of disruption and differentiation

“Similar” and “familiar” are two words that consumers typically use to define the competitive set in most product categories. The messaging around a product’s technical distinctions are often comparable from one brand to another; reflecting the sameness in formulas, recipes and ingredient decks. Packaging formats are often similar among competitors, as is messaging.

In many cases you can exchange brand names between competitors at the shelf and the stories are relatively interchangeable. Pet foods are a textbook example of sameness in how brands present themselves and their nutritional story.

Uniqueness often requires disruption (challenger brand thinking) of category norms and accepted traditions. Doing the unexpected and purposefully violating category conventions are vital to standing out. With so many voices vying for attention, different truly matters. Ownable distinctions remain the Holy Grail – especially in commodity businesses. Increasingly important are consumer- and culturally-relevant cues speaking to their desires for authenticity, company standards and real food ingredients.

  • We helped a client of ours, Schuman Cheese, create the first and only trust mark in their category, a seal that independently verifies product authenticity and integrity. (Research confirms that honesty and truth count towards brand preference).

6. The power of social proof

The voice of the satisfied user is the most powerful form of marketing. Building and investing in communities of brand/product fans is a precursor to facilitating their engagement, reviews and endorsements. Their voices are far more credible than anything a brand can construct on its own.

Helping consumers tell their stories and share their experiences is the most important path to cultivating word of mouth, a form of user-generated communication that breathes truth because it comes from the hearts and mind of people without profit motive.

Far too often, we find brands engaged in social channels with self-promotional content. Social is first about conversation and second about sharing. Content that is intrinsically valuable and useful to the brand fan community is vital to securing their attention. Creating the opportunities for fans to build and share their own content is integral to creating the proof of benefit brand stewards covet.

7. Relevance is the precursor to engagement

Understanding core consumer wants, wishes, dreams and concerns will direct the creative inspiration needed to build branded content that is worthy of consumer consumption. People care about their own lives and interests first. Brands that become a reflecting pool of the users’ interests and desires put themselves in a position to earn their attention, trust and even loyalty.

Far too many marketing campaigns are self-reverential, self-promotional efforts designed to present product features, benefits and technology achievements. While this information will always remain of note, it cannot be the first consideration in how stories are constructed.

Yeti® brand builds video stories of adventures and experiences with real people who fish and hunt. Is it focused on their cooling tech? No. It’s focused on the users and their stories. This less transactional, less selfish form of outreach is the path to creating lasting relationships.

Brands are built now on the basis of their ability to gain trust. And trust, at its core, is founded on providing lifestyle help rather than product hype. When looking for brand recommendations, people believe friends and family first as we fundamentally think they have our best interests at heart, and will be honest. Companies that respect this more empathetic form of relationship building will prevail in the marketplace – because they are able to earn and retain trust.

8. The most under-leveraged marketing asset of all: employees

Marketing is often so pre-occupied with product packaging, presentation and in-market support aimed at the end consumer, that another equally important stakeholder audience gets the back seat. Or in some cases, no seat.

Employees are one of the most import assets a brand can deploy in the marketplace. Their passion and enthusiasm underneath an organization’s mission and higher purpose can be an essential building block of belief.

How an organization views this audience – as a partner or a cost to be managed – will impact marketplace performance. If you equip employees with the brand’s tellable tale and provide opportunities for them to engage people beyond the office walls, you’re able to leverage a dedicated, enthusiastic and credible population of ambassadors.

Bring them into social channel platforms as content co-creators. Provide the tools, resources and training to tell stories that underscore the company’s commitment to higher standards, integrity, assurances of quality and the lengths the organization will go to hear and be responsive to users.

Integration forms the backbone for brand success!

Each of these steps and tools form the basis of integrated thinking – from aligning business strategy to higher purpose, to building consumer relevance in every aspect of brand communication – delivering a 360-degree, holistic answer to real integrated marketing.

This method respects the need to bring symmetry and synergy to all areas of company operations, behaviors and communication in service of the consumer. When this happens, trust breaks out because the consumer is, indeed, at the center of the company’s effort and the conversation.

Ironically, this approach will create improved business results, more so than the typical path of looking at consumers as “targets” for marketing to persuade.

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.

Brands: Mastering the Sea of White Rectangles

October 17th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, Healthy Living, shopper experience 0 comments on “Brands: Mastering the Sea of White Rectangles”

Harnessing the power of humanizing differentiation

When we first started working for Serta® mattress brand, our wonderful client arranged for us to tour the mattress factory. We saw firsthand the great care taken to arrange the inner combinations of coils and surrounding layers of material to create the right balance of comfort and support when sleeping. They were proud of the efforts made to study spine alignment, blood circulation and how pressure points impact the quality of sleep.

Naturally, they wanted to highlight that understanding, material expertise and tech in marketing communication.

For our part, we also invested heavily in studying the purchase experience and shopping environment: the sleep products store where mattresses met the people who will ultimately spend a third of their lives atop their selections.

We were struck by the commoditized conditions at retail; an environment we referred to as the “Sea of White Rectangles.” Brands and models all looked the same, were presented in similar fashion with similar claims regarding what existed below the fancier furniture-like case fabric. Equally, we learned that consumers loathed the experience of bed shopping, and in some cases described it in used-car dealer metaphors.

Together with our client, we fashioned a new roadmap based on what happens on the other side of improved sleep. The emotional benefits and real-world lift related to getting more out of a good night’s rest. The impact that improved sleep has on creativity, work productivity, personal relationships, mental attitude and general happiness. Yes, sleep quality and sleep deprivation hits you in ways you may not even realize.

We worked to cast this in real human terms – real people stories – and how better sleep also improved your day, your happiness and your life. It wasn’t the nighttime rest imagery so typical in the bedding business – it was the next day’s improved experience that truly mattered.

Rather than the coils or support-giving design or temperature-regulating materials, Serta’s brand differentiation was elevated through the tangible, human outcome when sleep quality is markedly improved.

Commoditization can command the business until disrupted

Sameness exists in so many product categories because we’ve come to a place where technologies and formulas are often very near parity. The real distance between one product and another in its category has been narrowed, slimmed down and parsed.

Pet foods are a great example of similar formulations, comparable language, packaging approaches, and claims around nutritional efficacy. The passion, love and relationship with pet parents and pets, and the desire to add value to the quality of their lives (mutually beneficial) is another matter entirely.

And others:

  • Car designs and features within their utility, performance or luxury classes.
  • Mobile phones and their screen tech, cameras and apps.
  • Foods and their labels, ingredients and nutrition.

In virtually every product category you find, the capabilities and technologies are within close proximity to one another. But still companies fall in love with the efforts they make to install quality at every level, to source ingredients with great care, to craft solutions that deliver on taste or user experience. Yes, all of this matters, however, when looking to mine true differentiation

Consideration must be given to humans, and their personal experiences with the product. It’s a vital part of the strategic discussion, often punted in favor of showcasing the latest tech wizardry. That’s great if you’re designing ads *for* the company’s engineers (but even they need a good night’s sleep). Each and every one of us is an emotional being who thinks with their heart first and mind second. As we’ve conveyed before: People are feeling creatures that think, not thinking creatures that feel.

Communication, brand, experience, shopping environment must be viewed through the lens of how people feel; and the changes that can occur in the quality of their lives when your brand gets the opportunity to be involved with them. It’s here where the entire brand proposition will be separated and elevated from everything else competing for share of mind, stomach or wallet.

Casper Casts a Different Story

Meanwhile back in the bedroom, sleep category disruptor Casper came along to reassess every aspect of bed marketing, including the retail sea of white rectangles retail paradigm, by-passing it entirely.

With an eye towards disrupting the current go-to-market model, Casper made changes in product design, e-commerce sales, extensive guarantees, and communication founded on lifestyle help over hype. Casper pushed community building and social conversation rather than the normal efforts to market “at” people.

Casper’s highly topical e-zine, VanWinkle, and investment in social channel engagement are examples of building relevance with their core customer base. They cultivated brand ambassadorship and harnessed incredibly powerful consumer reviews to influence purchase. Casper is humanizing the bed business, and in doing so, came out of left field to capture significant share.

At Emergent our approach to client businesses begins first with an effort to understand category conventions and behaviors. From there we work to enhance uniqueness and differentiation based on blending essential product truths with insight to consumer passions and interests.

Are you ready to take on the battle against sameness?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Archives

Categories