Posts in engagement

Building the Human Brand

Building a More Human Brand

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

Time to banish the old marketing playbook

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

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

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

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

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

Not ‘data points’, they’re human beings

What are the five things your customers want from you?

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

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

Utility over cleverness

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

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

Someone is better than everyone

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

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

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

Inspirational beats transactional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CEO Bulletin

Trends Impacting Where Your Business is Truly Headed

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

Early adopter behavior driving the marketplace

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

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

Here’s why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think differently

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

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

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

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

Purpose is a marketplace imperative

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

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

You need:

Purposeful brands

Purposeful labels

Purposeful shopping experience

Purposeful supply chain

Purposeful organization

Purposeful employee policies

Purposeful corporate soul

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

The chin you lead with

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

Higher Purpose is a differentiator!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relevancy drives business growth

Relevancy is Key to Your Brand’s Traction

September 30th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Experience, Emotional relevance, engagement, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Social proof, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Relevancy is Key to Your Brand’s Traction”

Strengthening your cultural connections is vital to sustainable growth

Why does brand relevance matter so greatly to your 2022 business results? Because it is within relevancy’s sphere of influence that consumers discover both their interest in your brand and a reason to buy. You may believe your product stands resolutely on its own merits – formulation and attributes and all. To a degree it certainly does, however your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Powerful external forces are at work driving consumer behaviors and preferences. More than ever, people are influenced by:

  • What is popular
  • What is socially agree-able
  • What is on trend culturally

Where does your brand sit in relationship to popular food culture? Current issues and values pressing on the food industry’s future? Brand relevancy is connected to and associated with current culture cues and the symbolism that surrounds it.

Here is our guide to relevance and connection

Brand relationships continue to look more and more like those of the human variety. You are no longer just selling a product. You are marketing deeper meaning, values and beliefs attached to strong cultural influences. Better connections here help more salient brands rise while others less present in these shifting conditions may experience a corresponding decline in their value proposition.

Is your brand engaging in the world around it?

We are witnessing a profound sea change in the path to purchase as consumers look to brands for trusted sustainability stories and tangible efforts to address heightened awareness of a relationship between food/beverage choices and climate impact. Health, wellness and sustainability are key associations for modern food, beverage and lifestyle culture trends.

Is your brand viewed as a positive influence?

What specific actions, policies, behaviors, standards and commitments is your brand making to be at the forefront of these key issues that now dominate the cultural conversation? Is your brand voice up to date, participating in this discourse with credibility and referencing tangible efforts to meet wellness and sustainability expectations?

Is your brand a contributor to users’ lives?

As stated earlier, brand relationships look a lot these days like interactions we have with the people we care about. Thus, why enlightened marketers understand their future is founded on reciprocity. Brands must make a real effort to help consumers overcome barriers, succeed and grow on their life journeys. How is your brand operating as a coach and guide to help users achieve their passions and desires?

Designing for enhanced relevance

Relevancy is achieved through a creative, appealing mix of attitude, behaviors (actions speak louder than words) and appearance. What’s required here is an innovative reappraisal of your brand identity, visuals, voice, actions and symbolism that should be in sync with the cultural dialogue going on right now.

Your brand is the fabric and tether to deeper meaning that provides consumers with an anchor of belief and emotional resonance. Here’s the mix of ingredients that help you dial in brand relevance.

  • How your brand interacts with popular culture – Your strategic game plan
  • Articulating what your brand stands for – Your values and beliefs
  • Why your brand exists – Defining your brand Higher Purpose
  • Engaging where your users spend their time – Your interactions with their micro-communities of influence

Here are three steps you can take right now to bring this thinking to your strategic plans.

  1. Consumer lifestyle insight

You’re interacting with humans not data points. What do you understand about their lifestyle aspirations, needs, wants and concerns? If sustainability is a cultural imperative now, do you know what areas of sustainability readiness they care about the most? Without a foundation of insight into their lives, it’s nearly impossible to find alignment and relevance with who they are, what they want and what they believe.

2. The customer experience journey

Based on a more granular understanding of your users’ aspirations, how should your brand promise and value proposition best be packaged and delivered to meet those needs? Are you monitoring social channels to assess how they’re interacting with you and engaging in your community? First party data is the best resource for reliable understanding of their behaviors.

3. Creative thinking around your future

Based on deep insights into your consumer base and their unmet needs, what new categories can your brand credibly operate in to help solve more problems and cultivate a deeper, more valuable relationship? What new touchpoints can you activate to engage consumers on their journey? Finally, what new tools can you deploy to deliver on the promises you’ve made?

  • Legacy brands can improve their relevance by refreshing and restaging their brand positioning and building connections to current cultural symbols and aligned business behaviors.
  • New and emerging brands can embed this thinking into their go-to-market strategies and the brand narrative they are building.

Once you understand how status and aspiration are defined by your user base, you can go to work finding connections and building trust. Perhaps the most important sea change in our culture is a move towards how consumption decisions impact the world and community around us. It is no longer just what’s good for me, the decision is now also about what’s good for society and for the future world people want to live in.

Emergent is a trend watching, culture defining organization of brand building experts and communications architects. We can help you dial in relevance and gain traction while leveraging the powerful forces of cultural change that influence what people want. The outcome is traction, engagement, relevance, value and business growth.

Use this link to request a complimentary “culture impact assessment” of your category.

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

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

The return of brand investment

After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back

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

Consumers are human beings, not data points

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

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

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

Rethinking the path to business growth

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

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

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

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

Time to think differently!

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Guidance for your brand strategy planning effort

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

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

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

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

  1. Aligned values

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

2. Experience satisfaction

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

3. Memorable messaging

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

4. Your brand’s share of culture

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

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

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

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

The power of emotional brand storytelling

(You Can) Unleash the Power of More Meaningful Marketing

July 19th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand trust, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Customer Journey Map, editorial relevance, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Social media, Social proof, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “(You Can) Unleash the Power of More Meaningful Marketing”

Crafting stories that inspire action, change, movement

“Tell the truth but make the truth fascinating. You know you can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.” — David Ogilvy

Want to benefit from the persuasive impact of more meaningful marketing, then imbue your outreach with deeper meaning. At Emergent’s home page, your first encounter is a statement that reads: Crafting emotional, meaningful, powerful brand stories…

This phrase captures a core essence of what we do. Yes, we focus our communications work in the tactical areas of earned (publicity), owned (content) and social media. However, the real power and exceptionalism we bring to the table is in building stories well-told, where a brand’s customer is always the hero and thus finds themselves in it and benefits from the guidance and useful help a client’s brand provides.

Here we chart the path to better, more effective brand storytelling.

In the end great stories are respectful of the language used to tell them.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Mark Twain

Anyone who reads the Emerging Trends Report knows we publish early and often here on a wide range of topics from sustainability to brand strategy and media best practices. What these stories really ladder up to, beyond their inherent message, is an audition of our storytelling chops. Said another way, through our articles we’re demonstrating the importance of words and their meaning.

For the most part our published works are about guidance and coaching, thought leadership on topics of value to CEOs and CMOs and heads of Communications and PR. This in fact is a leading-edge strategy for more effective marketing. When you lean in to help, inform and inspire your audience to improve, you are casting the brand in its proper role of offering help over hype.

This is different than self-promotion that speaks endlessly to brand features, technology and formulation facts. While these elements of brand benefit remain integral to the storyline, they shouldn’t lead it for the very reason to do so embeds the communication with an intractable disconnect.

Every single day your customer wakes up believing they are the hero of their own life’s journey. When the brand is preoccupied with itself, it competes with the consumer for the hero role, and so the outreach is ignored while the consumer moves on to find a brand that can help and support them in fulfilling their dreams and aspirations.

The power of relevance, words and context

Very early in my agency career I discovered that language and inspirational storytelling can have an immediate and profound effect, even in unlikely settings. I wrote a pitch to a business editor about a regional packaged foods client that found itself sandwiched between giant national brands with endless resources and store brands nipping underneath with lower priced versions of their products. I cast this as a power struggle for hearts and minds that could only be won with unique, strategically-elegant moves to separate and differentiate their brand from the adjacent competition. I invoked emotion by making it appear to be a very human conflict, a mini movie of sorts where the intrepid, nimble regional brand ultimately prevails.

The editor loved it. The outcome was a series of interviews that produced a front-page story with a gigantic illustration of a David-like figure toppling a gigantic national brand Goliath. The story wound up in retail account presentations as a key piece of evidence about why the brand deserved stronger placement, more facings and retailer support.

The pitch was unorthodox and unconventional to be sure, but then that’s where the magic came from. The right words can have profound impact on outcomes. All business, ultimately, is storytelling. Stories that are imbued with deeper meaning are far more likely to change hearts and minds than the clinical expressions of facts and figures.

Brands are famously in love with their technologies and mousetrap, believing that once the world is made aware of their formulation prowess, people will beat a path to their door in droves. But here is where we separate perception from reality. People are not analytical decision-making machines. They are in indeed feeling creatures who think and not the other way around. It is always going to be heart-over-head.

  • If you know that the humanization of your brand storytelling has got to be job one. It may sound counterintuitive, but when you ruthlessly let go of reflexive tendencies to self-promote and focus instead on how you can improve the lives and wellbeing of your key users, suddenly an entirely new world of powerful brand storytelling unfolds.

Tell a story and put your audience at the center. Give them a role to play. Solve their anxiety and help them believe in what you’re selling. It’s the nervous kid at basketball tryouts who gets injected with a splash of confidence the second his feet slip into a pair of Nike’s. This is the sheer power — and magic of a well-written advertisement.  Jonah Malin

In the brilliant, animated movie Ratatouille, Remy the culinary genius chef rat tries to inspire his more ordinary rat-ish sibling to embrace the love of flavor experiences by combining a bite of cheese (flavor bomb) with piece of fruit (flavor enhancer). Alas his less appreciative rodent brother couldn’t make the gustatory leap out of the garbage can. The love of flavor and taste experience lesson though is ultimately about the result of food enjoyment. Cheese romance isn’t in the cheese-making, it’s in the taste experience and social bond of sharing these moments with people we care about. Remy has it right!

Setting up a successful story

Two important moves can help ensure the path to better storytelling prevails.

First is hyper focus on building personas of the various marketplace consumer cohorts you wish to reach. Go deep on their behaviors, interests, concerns and passions. If our client permits insight research ahead of the persona work, all the better as we get underneath the pieces and parts of how users think and operate.

This work serves as inspiration on the story topics and narrative paths we pursue. If a story isn’t relevant to the lifestyle of its intended recipient, it will not be resonant either. How can you truly cast them as hero of the story if you don’t know them? When consumers see themselves in the story like holding up a mirror, you’ll have their attention – which is the whole point. The biggest hill to climb in modern marketing is securing the time and attention of those you want to engage.

If the story offers no intrinsic value or relevance to the audience, it’s unlikely to be seen or heard.

From personas we move to message mapping based on that study. It’s here where the client’s product bona fides are woven together with the emotionally-inspiring stories that bring the ‘deeper meaning’ requirement to life.

The message map also serves as a terrific interactive tool for internal discussion on how brand stories will be created and what will be conveyed.

There are two specific goals in better brand storytelling practices

  • Remove risk. Nearly 100% of the time consumers operate with one singular goal in mind: to avoid making a bad decision. If for any reason they think a product experience will be unsatisfactory, they will avoid it. Removing risk through verification and validation from respected, credible sources that affirms outcomes will be key to success.
  • Build trust. Here, the character of the storytelling and the voices deployed become essential to gaining attention and trial. Quite often we bring in third-party subject matter experts to help inject trust by validating the fundamentals of what we want consumers to believe. Social media plays a key role here as a tool for proof: people believe the stories told by their peers before they’ll believe what a company claims.

Language matters. Trust building words like endorsed, proven, tested, quality and results can be invoked to help cement confidence. That said, the most powerful and important narrative device at your disposal is emotion. If people feel something through your story it can have a profound impact on behavior and attitude.

Relate-able stories of personal transformation, struggle and achievement will have bearing on engagement and takeaway. This is where deeper meaning lives. People want to be part of something greater than themselves. Help make that a reality. Use your brand’s Higher Purpose to create the foundation of deeper meaning and belief. If there’s a clear and compelling mission, it will become a rallying point for people who “join” the brand as advocates not just users.

  • Relevant, emotional, human, credible stories are the grist of business growth and enviable brand equity. Now you’ve got something relevant to talk about!

If you think a little fresh thinking would be helpful to refine your brand story, use this link to start an informal conversation with us.

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.

Eat Just non-chicken chicken

Want Users To Listen, Give Them Something Worth Listening To

May 27th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Category Design, change, Climate Change, climate culture, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Navigation, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Sustainability, Transformation 0 comments on “Want Users To Listen, Give Them Something Worth Listening To”

Why Brand Education is More Effective than Selling

There’s an almost irresistible, gravitational pull in brand marketing to focus on self-promotion. It’s instinctive and alluring to talk singularly about why your product is better than others. Is your head nodding up and down? You may believe the persuasive story is your awesome tech, your incredible recipe, your authentic ingredients, your great taste, your contemporary look, your creative store design – all of the various arguments why your brand or banner is terrific and a superior choice.

  • These brand advantages and qualities are now fundamental currency in a marketing game whose rules have changed.
  • Yes, all of these things remain important, but should they be the leading tip of your marketing spear? Not anymore. Here’s why.

The dynamics powering consumer and brand relationships have transformed. Consumers gained control of brand engagement when the Internet and digital era handed it to them. Your users know everything, can compare anything, and quickly learn from the experiences of others good, bad or indifferent. They can turn your engagement tactics on or off with a click. When consumer relevance reigns supreme, it’s time for an enlightened approach.

Secondary research confirms most people run away from self-congratulatory messaging outreach that looks like traditional selling. For them, it isn’t trusted communication. Effective marketing recognizes that the journey brands take with their best customers is built on a foundation of reciprocity and value exchange.

Role of the modern brand is guide and purposeful voice

Instead, your brand should present itself as a guide, coach and advisor on the consumer’s life journey. Marketing becomes relevant and resonant to users when the value offered is of intrinsic benefit in helping them achieve their personal aspirations and goals. Your brand should be a partner not a seller. Key insight: the dynamic of how brand relationships are made has shifted to help over hype, so your voice and story should realign with it. How so?

Eat Just brand, the first cultivated chicken meat to win regulatory approval for sale in Singapore, recently struck a deal with a hotel-based restaurant called Madam Fan. They are launching the first home delivery menu of dishes using Eat Just’s non-chicken chicken.

Inside the food delivery container is a Google Cardboard viewer with a link to a short film. According to Eat Just CEO Josh Tetrick the video transports you to a Brazilian rainforest where you observe this rapidly disappearing climate-critical resource. You see this amazing natural carbon sink being replaced by industrial farms that raise animals for meat and the corn and soy crops to feed the animals. The goal of Eat Just’s video is to help users appreciate why cultivated meat matters to the planet’s health.

Turning the food delivery box into a portable brand experience is such a smart move.

Did the video do a typical romance of their product tech? No, it was instead an inspiring educational experience where the consumer learns about the connection between our food system and its related climate impact. This frames the Eat Just brand’s higher purpose, it informs in a way that’s consistent with changing consumer values and beliefs about food. It creates a unique teaching moment – and a powerful one at that.

This is how a community of believers and advocates is built. The video endears the Eat Just brand to its users. Of course, for all of this to work, the product eating experience still needs to be perfect. It should be an authentic analog to chicken flavor and texture – and taste should hit squarely on the crave-able and delicious notes.

  • That said, in a world of common feature-to-benefit selling tropes, Eat Just credibly, remarkably rises to a new level of value exchange, where eating that nugget of chicken meat acquires a deeper meaning than it would deserve outside this context.

What’s more, the approach educates and benefits the recipient in a compelling way – an “a-ha” moment of learning that rainforest is rapidly disappearing (at an alarming acre per second). Emotion is embedded in the subject matter of the video, so it plays to what we now understand about consumer behavior and the (major) role of emotion in shaping perceptions and actions.

Marketing that’s wanted by the recipient

Your goal is to create marketing that is welcomed by its intended audience, not avoided. When the food or beverage brand helps its core customer with creativity in the kitchen, or enables wellness and fitness experiences, or communicates a higher purpose like food scarcity, the brand gains permission for a conversation. Here the brand bonding is facilitated because we’ve moved beyond transactional selling to a more relevant and powerful dialogue.

You may still wonder: isn’t the path to sales growth paved with communicating product attributes early and often? Not at the expense of failing to educate users. This has everything to do with understanding the rules of reciprocity and trust that influence purchase behavior. Trust is earned when the consumer believes you understand them and their needs and operate unselfishly to work in their best interests. Trust is the active ingredient in an authentic give-and-take relationship between brands and users.

Food and the role of crave-ability and deliciousness

Worth noting, food is an emotion-packed category. People care deeply about the quality of what they put in their bodies. They want to know the ingredients used are high quality, healthy, real, safe and also better for the environment. They especially want to avoid making a bad decision, so how food is presented with an eye towards taste and eating satisfaction helps eliminate the perceived reflexive risk of “It’s healthy so it’s going to taste bad.”

One notable caveat here: any number of fast casual restaurant brands are aware of eat with your eyes magic and advertise food that looks sumptuous and crave-able – all beautifully presented with super strong appetite appeal. Except that the stark reality of what’s actually delivered on the plate is frequently so far removed from the ad imagery that it sets the stage for massive disenchantment and trust disruption.

  • Truth matters. Social channel chronicling of disappointment spells out what’s at stake with consistent over promise and under deliver.
  • If you convey it’s delicious, it better be delicious.

When education is your mission

Sweetgreen is a fast-food chain that understands the role of ethos and deeper meaning in their brand proposition and go-to-market behaviors. This belief system permeates every aspect of how the brand is presented and how the business operates to demonstrate its higher purpose values.

They recently announced a refresh of their brand as they amp up their climate impact bona fides while redefining what fast food is in context of why the company exists. Here’s how they presented the values that sit underneath their new brand identity:

  1. “Food: sweetgreen wants to show that fast food can be synonymous with real food. They invested in new food photography, menu designs and packaging in an effort to highlight their food ethos, which celebrates seasonality, local sourcing and transparency. 
  2. Sustainability: sweetgreen believes that climate change is the defining challenge of our generation. This new identity was designed to showcase sweetgreen’s sustainability initiatives and its ongoing journey to carbon neutrality.”

Education is the leading strategy at sweetgreen. They believe consumers benefit from knowing more about how their food is sourced, farmed and prepared with an eye towards healthier and higher-quality choices that remain friendly to the planet’s wellbeing.

Why help over hype is the way to go

We have entered a new era where brands with purpose and deeper meaning attached to how they operate have an extraordinary opportunity to create lasting, deeper connections with their core users. It’s no longer necessary to compete for attention through a constant drumbeat of hard selling product features.

If you’re committed to building the best possible product experience your capable of, the consumer will recognize and experience it. Why they keep coming back, and why they engage fully in your social channels has more to do with how you help them by enabling their passions and interests and aligning with shared values.

Education is a principle move to provide added value, and while doing so, enhance your relevance. It also respects the expert guide and coach role that brands should play in effective communication.

When you create marketing users want rather than avoid, the opportunity for conversation skyrockets. The relationship, therefore, is a journey not a transaction. Educating consumers is simply smart marketing and sets you up for successful engagement across all digital platforms. It automatically leans into your higher purpose, a point and position not lost on consumers who are looking for it.

If this sparks questions about refining your strategy and brand voice around education-forward outreach, we’d love to talk with you. Use this link to begin a conversation.

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

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

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