Posts in Growth

It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING

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

The five essential guideposts to successful brand communication

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

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

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

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

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

Brands must become trusted sources and resources

The relationship brands build with consumers must evolve.

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

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

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

Five guideposts to effective brand communication

  1. Relevance

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

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

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

  1. Social influence

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

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

  1. Reciprocity

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

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

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

  1. Emotional intelligence

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

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

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

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

  1. Authenticity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mining Emotion Fuels Business Results

April 29th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Social media 0 comments on “Mining Emotion Fuels Business Results”

Emotional connections can drive consistent growth

Your consumer is not an analytical, fact-based decision-making machine. Ironically, however, most brand marketing and communication automatically presumes people lean into logic to rationally assess the prevailing evidence of superiority or product benefits companies provide.

The Pandemic has added an exclamation point to this intel as consumers increasingly want brands to be authentically rooted in shared values, beliefs and a higher purpose. Understanding how the DNA of successful brand/consumer relationships has changed is vital to gaining business traction. As you’ll see in the Harvard Business Review case study we review later,  evidence is piling up that mining emotional connectivity is simply a far better business-building decision leading to increased sales and market share over time.

We now have data that confirms brand relationships tethered to emotion are far more effective in delivering the engagement and business results you seek. Here’s the headline: all people are emotionally-driven creatures whose decisions are governed by how they feel about your brand.

Like a lightbulb to a lamp, brand growth is powered by its relevance with consumers who show the highest propensity to engage. Emotion and engagement are uniquely bonded in a vital marriage that will stand the test of time, weathering adversity and continuing to grow deeper, richer like fine wine in the cellar.

How important is this discovery about emotion-led marketing to your business?

Motista conducted a study of 100,000 consumers across 100 different brands and learned that emotionally-connected consumers are more valuable to the balance sheet than the ‘highly-satisfied’ customers you may covet. The former spends, on average, two-times more with retailers they prefer and have a 306% greater lifetime value to the business. Emotionally-invested consumers even recommend favored brands at a much higher rate than those who claim to be super satisfied – 30.2% vs. 7.6%.

Motista concluded emotional connectivity is the most valuable, predictable and enduring strategy you can deploy to build a business that routinely surpasses category growth rates.

Insight Informs Your Strategic Platform

  1. Emotional connectivity happens when your brand reflects back to the consumer values, desires and aspirations consistent with their own. If you want a deeper relationship with your users, then imbue your brand with deeper meaning.

 

  1. Knowing your customer on an intimate level is necessary to provide the understanding and ability to secure three important qualities of like, know and trust. This will require an ongoing investment in consumer insight research designed to unearth details of what they care about and who they are.

 

  1. All purchases today are largely symbolic gestures designed to flag to the rest of the world around us what people value and who they are. It isn’t possible to achieve this kind of relevance without knowing what your best users desire.

 

  1. Which leads to this key question: is the relevant lifestyle symbolism people look for embedded everywhere your customer is likely to encounter the brand online and off? Said more succinctly, is the entire customer journey infused with the insights that feed emotional communication?

Harvard Business Review case study offers proof

HBR published an intriguing report to fully test the hypothesis that emotional connectivity leads to out-sized financial results. You can read the report here. Their conclusion, when brands are able to successfully build emotional connections, the payoff is significant.

The journey begins with correctly assessing emotional motivators that are relevant to your brand. An example: “I am inspired by a desire to…”

  • Enjoy a sense of well-being.
  • Have confidence in the future.
  • Become the person I aspire to be.
  • Experience fulfillment and purpose.
  • Feel secure in the midst of uncertainty.
  • Experience a sense of freedom.

HBR reported on a fashion retailer who participated in the project. Appropriately, the company identified a “propensity to engage” segment they characterized as Fashion Flourishers. The segment represented 22% of the customer base but accounted for 37% of sales. This enthusiast customer group spent $468 a year on average vs. $235 for traditional shoppers, and 46% visited the stores at least once a month over 21% for everyone else.

Initial analysis showed this cohort was less price-sensitive and remained a loyal customer over a longer period of time. The goal was to initiate direct investments in forming emotional connections with this group.

To start, the company conducted discovery research around emotional motivators for the segment and found three distinct attributes:

  • Makes me feel more creative.
  • Makes me feel a sense of belonging.
  • Makes me feel a sense of freedom.

Marketing programs were created around the insight. For example, to leverage the sense of belonging motivator, the retailer invited customers to submit selfies wearing their favorite outfits which were then posted as slide shows on video walls inside the stores.

Further the company weighed into emotionally-relevant media and experiences such as social channels and enhanced store design to marry the shopping experience to the emotional traits. Similarly, an email campaign was created around messaging that nurtured the ‘makes me feel creative’ attribute.

Outcomes confirmed the hypothesis

As a result of investing in emotional connections, stores optimized to reflect the emotional interests of Fashion Flourishers averaged 3.5% annual sales growth vs 1.0 percent for other stores in the chain. Inventory turns improved by 25% and customer advocacy scores grew by 20% year over year.

Key to success

Emotional motivators will vary across brands and audience segments, which underscores why the insight research component is so important to achieving results.

Bottomline, brand communications focused on building emotional connection is the secret sauce to consistently strong business results. Emotional connectivity works because it is respectful of what we now know about how people operate and how they make decisions (not analytically).

Thus, it is important to marry the emotional-driven strategy to every touch point and contact opportunity consumers may have with the brand. COVID-19 and the cultural disruption it is creating will change the face of marketing. The emotional-led strategy is aligned with these shifts and can help improve the future business results for brands that are wise enough to pursue it.

We can help you develop the strategic plan and execute the appropriate research for building emotional connections with your consumers, as well as bringing it to life with creative communications tools. Let us know if you would like to discuss informally.

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.

How to Create Growth When the Future is Uncertain

April 21st, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, CMO, Content Marketing, Growth, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 1 comment on “How to Create Growth When the Future is Uncertain”

Keys to address now – preventing paralysis while accelerating engagement

Businesses and brands don’t like uncertainty. The pandemic has delivered a heaping pile of vagueness on what the future looks like. However, a modest number of companies will avoid the creeping advance of paralysis and will position themselves for industry-leading growth when the pandemic begins to subside. Here’s how to recognize the presence of business-defeating thinking and strategies, while making the right investments that will turn the current batch of potential business lemons into lemonade.

“Fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.

This is a challenging time for nearly every business in food, beverage and lifestyle categories. Competing theories exist on where business will go in the next six months, compounded by conflicting forecasts of what business results will look like and what the future holds generally.

In the face of uncertainty many organizations are sorely tempted to retreat, to pause, to pursue a defensive rather than offensive style strategy. The theory at work is to wait out the storm before attempting to map a more progressive future. That said, some studies suggest the defensive approach can infect the business in the wrong way, and inadvertently set a course for handing over leadership to other brands that determined they would not succumb to a holding pattern during these uncertain times.

What’s really happening here anyway?

Fear begins to replace optimism and some businesses subsequently stop working to create a better reality. Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, poignantly describes the condition: uncertainty breeds fear. “Fear is programmed by evolution to be hyper-vigilant and insanely over-protective,” she reports. Fear believes that any uncertain outcome is already foretold to end in failure and disappointment. Fear’s job is to induce in varying degrees, a form of panic whenever an organization is about to embark on a path that is less than certain.

Historical evidence points to the right path

Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 2010 published a comprehensive report following the Great Recession of 2008/09, to help diagnose what conditions contribute to growth and what strategies set an organization up for unsatisfactory outcomes. The study looked backward at previous recessions and found common ground on approaches that either contributed to losing momentum or acquiring it.

Some organizations look at uncertainty and focus on what could be described as a ‘loss minimizing’ or siege mentality that can put the business into survival mode. Prevention strategies are founded mostly on cost cutting. However, the data shows firms that cut costs faster and deeper than rivals don’t necessarily flourish.

In fact, the HBR report revealed those engaged in loss minimizing have the ‘lowest probability’ of pulling ahead of the competition as economic conditions turn around. The prevention mindset is founded primarily on safety, security, avoiding losses and minimizing risks. This defensive approach also tends to trigger a form of pessimism internally that spreads like wildfire as strict controls and rumors of impending cuts put people in the organization into survival-style behaviors.

  • HBR’s study of 4,700 companies found that 56% of prevention-oriented businesses cut their head count, while only 23% of progressive companies laid off staff and in far fewer numbers. This begs the question, what is a progressive company?

A progressive approach is essentially a balanced strategy that focuses cost controls primarily on identifying operational efficiencies (rather than head count), combined with continued investments in marketing and innovation. The report found that 37% of organizations taking this more aggressive approach were more likely to emerge as leaders later.

For executives working to build the optimal plan it’s important to recognize the barriers to progressive thinking. This can include a mélange of challenges if failure isn’t respected in the organization as the ultimate teaching and learning moment. Additionally, when personal self-worth can’t abide any form of failure, the uncertain conditions often leads to retreat.

Why is marketing investment so important?

Gordon Leavitt, the former Dean of Marketing at Harvard Business School wrote a book called The Marketing Imagination, a profound and enlightened view of marketing’s role in how an organization wins in the marketplace. In it he states, “the purpose of business is to get and keep a customer, therefore every department, every executive, every decision is in fact tied to marketing.” Leavitt believed that everyone is involved in marketing whether their job description says so or not. For the very reason that marketing is not a department, it is the organization’s collective behavior to get and keep the customer.

Granted much has changed since he wrote the book and “purpose” is now a much deeper construct than just commerce. However, his point remains essential in looking at why investments here matter even in the presence of uncertainty. Customer-focused thinking and behaviors prove over and over as a viable path to growth in the midst of adversity.

Ideas and inspiration are required to navigate uncertainty

Ultimately it is ideas that will power growth, especially in the face of doubt. What can get in the way of inspiration that informs great ideas? Most often it is drama, anxiety, distractions, insecurities and fear that can draw the horns inward. These characteristics, corporate or individual, are not receptive to inspiration.

In fact, ideas can be banished with a single word: NO.  In some instances, businesses are culturally organized to say no, no, no and no.

Instead businesses should focus on the essential principles that support creativity including:

Courage

Enchantment

Permission

Persistence

Trust

What are the characteristics needed to promote an atmosphere that invites inspiration, creativity and ideas? Executive leadership that is diligently focused on the customer and their journey, and is driven by attitudes founded on faith, belief, courage and devotion to respecting and caring for the health, wellbeing and welfare of the brand’s users.

It is the ultimate expression of putting their needs at the top of the priority ladder and working backwards from there to identify ways to bring that commitment to life. It is a form of fearlessness that manifests in rallying the organization’s focus to the customer rather than myopic devotion to self-preservation.

When fear is eliminated there is an opportunity to cooperate fully, joyfully and humbly with inspiration, entering into a contract of sorts with it that “we are required to fulfill,” says Gilbert.

Purposeful marketing

Translation of ideas and inspiration into world-class marketing solutions is best seen in the creation of deeper meaning and higher purpose in the brand voice.

According to Kantar Research, successful brand marketing focused on building higher purpose for the business, exhibits three principles:

  1. The organization has an established history supporting a purposeful positioning.
  2. The brand partners with credible third parties who are also passionate about that positioning.
  3. The company is committed to providing tangible solutions that help reassure and guide consumers to a better future.

It should be noted here that the ultimate expression of higher purpose is in the storytelling conducted by brands, their customers and stakeholders. Our brains rely on stories to make sense of the world around us. Yet storytelling has been largely missing from marketing for the last 30 years, as businesses have focused primarily on conveying product features and benefits.

A bright future ahead

Now is the time for an improved story based on a higher purpose delivered fearlessly, creatively by a brand devoted entirely to its customers’ welfare. Erasing self-doubt and self-protection behaviors, the brand can get on the path to future leadership, while successfully navigating the challenge of today’s uncertainty.

Brands that invest now will reap the benefits later in improved strength and growth in their respective categories.

Let us know your questions and challenges, we’re happy to help build your strategic plan, create messaging and content to tell your story.

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.

Alert: Buying Patterns in Full Shift

March 17th, 2020 Posted by change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Digital ordering, e-commerce, grocery e-commerce, Growth, Higher Purpose, Insight, Social media, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Alert: Buying Patterns in Full Shift”

Marketing now with meaning and empathy

According to Marketing Dive and research from DISQO, online search and purchase behavior has increased 59 percent in the last week, led by cleaning supplies and health aids, while massive sales bumps are occurring also around shelf-stable food and beverage products. The extraordinary conditions reveal signs of an emerging new phase, ‘Quarantine or Restricted Living’ preparation as consumers hunker down at home for the long haul.

On Monday, Amazon announced hiring of 100,000 new positions to help them keep up with the surge in online transactions and added pressures on their delivery infrastructure. Meanwhile restaurant companies are in full pivot mode, making new moves to answer the need for curated family meals available through pick-up and delivery.

  • One restaurant in Chicago, Prairie Grass Café, has opened a hotline service called From Our Kitchen to Yours, in an effort to help home cooks with guidance and advice on cooking and meal preparation. Meanwhile Weber Grill is creating Family Grill Packs, available through DoorDash delivery or takeout.

E-commerce transactions are likely to increase dramatically in the coming weeks, as people increasingly stay put, under guidance from the Center for Disease Control and state/local governments and departments of health. Emergent forecasts these behavioral moves will likely represent a lasting change that will usher in a new era of online food shopping and meal acquisition from a variety of sources. Removing friction from online search, menu-building, transactions and delivery will be vital as this story unfolds.

Marketing in the midst of uncertainty

It is important that brands approach marketing by leaning in with empathy and deeper meaning, working to be useful and helpful in this unprecedented environment. The question marketing teams should be asking: how can we help families cope with the stresses they are facing, the lifestyle upheaval of home-bound living, and the requirement of cooking and preparing virtually every meal?

This is the opportunity to be a partner and valued voice, helping consumers with these challenges rather than focusing on product feature/benefit selling. Before you is an opportunity to build lasting relationships that positions the brand with higher purpose, as a more human and approachable, trusted guide and resource.

Positive indicators

Businesses in food, beverage, pet, cleaning, health aids, and home-related categories are likely to prosper in the current situation, along with e-commerce platforms and delivery services.

We will get through this together. Brands will emerge on the other side as more enlightened, authentic and trustworthy businesses truly making a difference in customers’ lives.

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.

Marketing Strategy: Different Beats Best

March 11th, 2020 Posted by brand strategy, change, CMO, Growth, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Transformation 0 comments on “Marketing Strategy: Different Beats Best”

Category creation is the path to sustainable growth

Emergent has extolled the virtue of category creation as a path to sustainable growth for some time. In essence, we routinely look for ways to dial a client’s brand positioning to the right or left far enough that a new category of one is created.

For the most part we find that food, beverage and lifestyle brands, however, prefer to focus on being better than the competition, or even the best – which is better attired in a nice new suit.

Better is an alluring idea. Brands almost naturally feel drawn to say faster, cheaper, easier, more of this and less of that.

The problem with better is it casts the business in a comparison-anchored fight that never goes away. It gives strength to the competition by keeping them in the conversation and requires routine return visits to make sure the specs are always optimal. In fact, the specs become the defining narrative of the business, a more analytical style of communication that lacks emotional resonance.

A form of polite mudslinging goes on continually as the better or best mantra is applied and justified through ranking of achievements and advantages. Marketers may think that users care most about better, but that’s only because they haven’t given them something different to believe in. At least not yet. 

Are brands merely a list of features and benefits?

  • The primary difference between being brand led versus sales driven begins with recognizing that a strong brand always goes to market with a point of view. The best brands have an opinion that is expressed early and often, and a vision of what the future looks like. Strong brands offer a way forward for their users and help them understand what before and after looks like.

Your brand is ultimately a belief system. In today’s redefined world now founded on substance and authenticity rather than gloss and prestige, belief is the new benefit.

Another way to look at this is the power and importance of different. Superior will lose out to different every time. Emergent’s goal as expert guide is to help marketers define what different looks like and then map how to own it.

Balance sheet challenges aside, the Casper mattress category creation story isn’t really founded on offering a better mattress. They’ve been successful by marketing a point of view and beliefs around better sleep. Their principles and values led to creating a new category and channel for mattress sales that overcame the inability to trial (lay down on) a mattress before purchase.

Your strategic thinking time is best invested looking for powerful ways to be different rather than better or best. Here are four examples of how different can be brought to life.

  1. Create a new category everyone else is blind to

You can choose to play ball outside with competitors, watching their moves and looking for advantages in formulation or superiority in other areas of the category value proposition that people expect. Or you can create a new playing field that’s your very own.

Legacy beauty brands have forever looked at their role as something magical you apply to achieve their definition of beauty. It is created on the surface, on the outside of the user. New more purposeful emerging brands see it differently. They believe beauty comes from inside and operates with a wider lens around wellness. Beauty is achieved through respect for and balance of the mind, body and spirit. This is rich territory to carve a new voice, to change the value proposition and to be different.

Different is easier to remember and gets traction more quickly than better, which always requires some brain taxing analysis to do the math of superiority.

  1. Create a lifestyle brand

Lifestyle brands recognize the role they can play as enablers of consumer passions, and their ability to inspire users to a better quality of life. Lifestyle brands literally insert themselves into important life moments for consumers. These are life events and experiences that mirror the brand’s guiding beliefs and reason for being, which is nearly always attached to a deeper meaning than just the product itself.

Yeti is a super-premium cooler brand that is heavily invested in lifestyle positioning.  The brand is a study in active participation and storytelling around life moments that matter. Its methodology has been expressed on more than one occasion as celebrating “freedom of the human soul in nature.”

Sure, they could devote their marketing energy to technical descriptions and specmanship around the product design. Instead their focus is on the special moments of human relationship bonding on a river at dawn while fly fishing. Is this a prestige sale? $350 or more for a cooler is a leap in price point. No. It is a cult favorite among construction workers because the brand identifies so fully with a life worth living.

  1. Change focus and the conversation

Many brands ill-advisedly devote their marketing plans and tools to revealing themselves to the customer. When you talk continuously about your accolades and advantages, you are expressing who and what you are.

However, brand led businesses on the other hand show their difference by expressing who the customer is and can be. The nuance is showing them how your brand beliefs will change them and improve their lives.

When you talk about yourself, you position the brand as the hero of the story you’re telling. That is upside down and puts the brand in competition with the consumer for the hero role. Users should be the hero of all brand storytelling, with the brand positioned as expert guide, there to help them on the journey and solve problems.

Hotel companies are famous for talking about themselves, the facilities and amenities. The similarity between hotel web sites is striking, as if there were one design firm knocking them off along a cookie-cutter pattern of feature lists. The game to settle who is better or best is played against a backdrop of great-looking pools, spas and culinary offerings.

Then along comes Airbnb. This brand rose above the fray by being different in every way. Here Airbnb inspires a dramatically different picture of what travel is. While hotel companies try to beat the competition with amenities, spacious rooms and gardens, Airbnb turned the industry inside out by being different.

The magic lies in how you travel and what you experience when you’re there. It’s a decidedly human story that builds on the personal adventure you create rather than property specs.

  1. Change the reality

Different can come to life when a brand reframes the long-accepted reality and creates the ‘Oh my God we’ve been doing it wrong all this time’ moment.

Step One Foods in Minneapolis is an early player on this front, pioneering a new category entitled Food-as-Medicine. (Disclosure: Emergent has done some project work with this company). Step One was started by a Cardiologist, Dr. Elizbeth Klodas, who hails from a long line of family bakers.

Dr. Klodas empathetically aligned herself with patients suffering from high cholesterol and the prospect of future heart disease. Dr. Klodas wanted to find a way to improve and change her patients’ lives, not just medicate. Cholesterol lowering drugs, by the way, are the most prescribed medications in America. As is always the case, drug therapies come with side-effects which can be debilitating in their own right.

Dr. Klodas looked at the linkage between food, diet and disease and embarked on a journey to create a food-based solution. Remarkably, she found an effective recipe using real food ingredients in proper proportions to create a line of packaged foods including bars, smoothie mix, oatmeal cereal and other assorted products.

Step One became the first packaged foods company to participate in a double-blind clinical trial of the products, that effectively proved consuming the foods (no other changes to lifestyle required) met or exceeded the cholesterol lowering outcomes achieved by drug therapies, but without the side effects.

Step One has created an ‘OMG we’ve been doing it wrong moment,’ reframing what we know and understand about the role that food can play in addressing disease.

  1. Different is a reframing reality. It is a paradigm shift and as such it flies against the natural tendency to fall into better, best or both.
  2. Different and its cousin new category creation, are pathways to sustainable growth that end the connection to competitive comparison while achieving true separation and distinction.

The question marketers should be asking: can I help make people care about something different that what they prioritize now? The answer is yes, this can be done. Owning different will change the conversation with consumers and usher in an era of brand leadership.

Can we help you identify your path to brand-led strength?  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.

Curbing the Pandemic of Brand Narcissism

December 22nd, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Curbing the Pandemic of Brand Narcissism”

Most brand messaging misses the mark because it’s upside down.

Far too many brands and businesses are inadvertently ignoring the fundamentals of successful communication. Engagement is elusive and budgets are wasted because brand stories are either ignored or actively avoided. The misfire happens because the basic principles of how consumers respond to communication relevant to them isn’t embedded in how the brand goes to market.

Every great, powerful and engaging story needs a hero, a problem to solve, a guide, a struggle and a transformative outcome. But most of the time brands make themselves the hero of the story, focused on myopic selling of product features and benefits. Right there the disconnect occurs because consumers aren’t listening any longer to self-serving forms of brand outreach.

Brand narcissism is alive and well…

It’s a pandemic. Far too many businesses believe the marketing strategy needs to be about themselves. Conventional logic states the challenge is clearly, succinctly stating the product attributes in a persuasive (where creative weighs in) way. There was a time pre-Internet when brands controlled the flow of communication and this form of outreach was the norm.

In the digital era consumers have gained absolute control over the brand/user relationship and their ability to avoid “selling” is unassailable. All it takes is a few hours of commercial interruption on TV and you are witness to the pandemic of brand narcissism that reigns over the airwaves on a daily basis. The explosion of streaming platforms that are devoid of commercial side trips is testimony to the relief consumers want from the constant drip of 30-second selling.

The secret to going from upside down to right side up

But there’s hope, and light, and resolution ahead. Together we can end the tyranny of brand narcissism and gain the eyes, ears and devotion of consumers who embrace the brands they care about and actively “join” the brand as members of a growing, engaged community.

Who is the hero of the brand story? It’s not the brand, it’s the consumer. When the brand puts the consumer at the center of strategy creation and works backwards from there, the door is opened to a potential connection. It is the consumer’s needs, pain points, problems, concerns, wants, desires and aspirations that matter most. The story begins with them and in that moment of insight we find the most important opportunity for improved brand communication and outcomes: relevance – to the consumer and their life’s journey that we are working to improve.

What is the brand’s role in the story? Every winning, successful cinematic story follows a similar path – the brand is the guide, the expert, the wizard who helps the hero learn and understand the path to transformation. Luke Skywalker had Yoda. Frodo had Gandalf. The brand is an inspiring coach in a storytelling dynamic that begins with understanding and empathy for the consumer’s interests and struggle for improvement.

Food and beverage the living example

What is it consumers are looking for from what they eat and drink? You may think it’s 25 percent less sodium or plant-based ingredients. People have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. What they care about is their health and wellness; the connection that has to their energy, performances and longevity.

We are all human beings and in that irrefutable condition, who desire the experience of great taste and the warmth of social interaction around the dinner table with friends and families. For some, the love of food runs deep in the kitchen where creativity, experimentation and learning are unleashed, while delivering the product of that skill as an expression of love for others in the family who will enjoy the feast they’ve prepared.

Functionally some foods may also be tools to improve exercise regimens, sports activity, assist sleep, promote brain function or the like. But it isn’t the chemistry they care about. It’s the ambitions they have for personal change and improvement. Are we talking about their journey, conflicts and desires? Is the brand a guide and coach along the way?

This works when the brand realizes the path to greatness and transformative growth is fueled by actually, actively working to improve the lives of customers. This requires a less transactional view of the relationship.

The role of higher purpose

At a recent gathering of new and emerging brands at a conference in Chicago connecting potential investors with founders, a dozen companies made their pitch to an audience of potential check writers and influencers. I was surprised that only one out of the dozen presenters talked about a higher purpose for their brand and business.

It may be popular these days to say that the vast collection of new food brands now coming to a shelf near you all begin with a mission to support sustainable agriculture, lower the carbon foot print, hydrate those around the globe without access to potable water, but we find that many have not optimized or fully discovered the higher purpose they need to embrace.

Why does this matter? Because consumers want to align themselves with brands that share similar values. People are on the hunt for deeper meaning and care, deeply, about the role beyond commerce that brands play in making the world a better place. This cannot be bolted on to the marketing plan; it needs to come from a deeper space and with greater significance that informs every decision the business makes.

The impact on brand storytelling and traction is dramatic. People want to be a part of something greater than themselves. When the brand has a real mission, there’s a reason to join the community of followers that transcends the high-quality recipe made with natural, organic ingredients.

This is harder than it looks

You can’t dial up higher purpose from central casting. You can’t simply alter the tone of your communication without understanding the consumer’s real wants and wishes. At Emergent, we employ a message mapping process designed to capture this insight and intentionally design the brand story around the connection between consumer as hero and brand as guide.

It can be hard to stop the train of brand narcissism because it feels somewhat natural to be inwardly focused. After all most businesses are organized around the herculean efforts to create a terrific product.

However, the benefits of moving to an enlightened model with the consumer at the center are significant and bring assurance that the investments made in outbound communication will indeed engage and be received.

After all, brands want confidence that the investments in marketing are optimal and perform as desired. That confidence will be realized when the outreach plan understands the vital role of reciprocity in the relationship with consumers who graciously grant their most precious asset: scarce time and attention.

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

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