Posts in Growth

Brand storytelling must be emotionally relevant

Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot

January 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot”

Turning forgettable messaging into UNforgettable engagement…

The vast majority of brand communication fails to engage its intended audience. It’s like continuously pumping messaging fuel into a mental gas tank with a hole in the bottom. Why? Because it is inadvertently constructed to be quickly forgettable.

  • Numerous behavioral research studies confirm within an hour people forget more than half of the information they’ve read, seen or heard. That percentage rapidly accelerates as more time goes by. Pfft, gone.

The message creator hasn’t fully grasped the critical elements of compelling, memorable storytelling that respect with what we know about how people operate. Instead, they lean on fact-based, logical feature/benefit oriented pieces of communication that won’t intersect with the emotional drivers that secure engagement and trust.

Consider this: stories are 22 times more memorable than facts. But what constitutes great storytelling? The best of the best storytellers recognize they are interacting with humans and work to understand specifically what drives cognition and outcome. For one you have to move beyond the product “plot” to plant a beating heart in the brand story with consumer as hero.

You’re speaking to a human

The magic occurs when great communication engages the neurotransmitters that drive people towards and not away from what is being conveyed. The two most important physical elements of messaging brain chemistry are Dopamine and Oxytocin.

Dopamine is a ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that is produced when a person is expecting some kind of meaningful reward or pleasurable experience. Dopamine helps us strive, focus ourselves and find things interesting. It has a direct impact on learning, motivation, mood and attention. The key here is creating anticipation of a sought-after reward.

Oxytocin is a hormone that operates as a neurotransmitter. It is created when people hear and experience how much you appreciate and care about them. Unsolicited acts of kindness can be instrumental in building this response. Oxytocin is the precursor to enhancing empathy and trust. You already know how fundamentally important trust is to any kind of real brand-to-consumer relationship.

  • Do you still believe that fact-based arguments are the way to go? The information will begin to disappear from your customer’s head within an hour.

The most powerful example of this I’ve ever experienced was during our work for home safety products brand First Alert, and the introduction of the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm. It is a living illustration of the link between emotion, empathy and impact on behavior.

The carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning story is laced with facts about sources of this unseen gas in the home, how leaks occur, what happens in the human body when it is ingested, and what the impacts look like. Yet our message testing revealed that none of that held a candle to the power of a personal story about a Maine family who lost their eldest daughter in a CO poisoning incident.

The heart-wrenching narrative about what happened to this family made the case for protection from an invisible threat in a far more personally-compelling way than any fact or figure ever could. Relate-able emotion is a powerful and influential communications tool.

The path to better communication outcomes

What is your consumer looking for? People resonate to a desire for love, connection, acceptance, safety and happiness. The goal here is weaving together a story that encounters this insight in various ways.

Your cheese business is not selling cheese. You are using compelling visuals and copy to convey mouth-watering desire. You’re actually selling incredible taste experiences delivered in a shared social environment people crave. Your narrative wraps in beliefs and values that embed your brand with deeper meaning. This transcends the forgettable ‘buy my cheese’ message because you know people want to be a part of something greater than themselves.

  • Tone here is important. The more human you are in storytelling, the better. Vulnerability and honesty come in to play when you’re reaching for resonance and relevance. Give your audience experiences they can relate to, empathize with and recognize in their own lives.

Want to hear the voice of honest and human?

“Smart phones exist already and they’re stupid. But mine is smarter than your computer at home.” Steve Jobs, launch of the iPhone. Does Jobs employ facts, technology examples or recitation of features? No. He nails the proposition by creating a relate-able context of what was an astonishing revelation in its era. Beautiful.

Story structure

Here’s the question that must be answered in brand storytelling: how does your product change a person’s life? You are working to unearth the true “why” behind a consumer’s reason and desire to purchase.

Stories should address three fundamental elements:

  1. Set up – the problem your product solves. Think long and hard on a higher level about what this is.
  2. Conflict – create some tension around how you go about solving the problem. Is there a villain you can identify?
  3. Payoff – the happy outcome of what success is and what it feels like to prevail.
Remy and food passion
Passion, heart and soul create the basis for message engagement

The Pixar movie “Ratatouille” isn’t about a rat as chef

Yes, the central character Remy the rat can read cookbooks and has ongoing conversations with a famous French chef who is a figment of his imagination. The magic of this story is his love affair with food and flavor combinations. It is his passion for incredible taste experiences that drives him and the arc of the story.

He makes you want to cook, to pick up a knife and chop, to invent and create because of the romance he liberally dollops into his sauté pan. Pixar studios is famous for embedding heart and soul in its movies. What inevitably happens? You get invested, you care, you become engaged and feel empathetic for the characters involved.

  • This understanding of great storytelling is no less important and meaningful in business communications. Your brand deserves this kind of thinking and expression under what could become the unforgettable stories you tell.

If this approach resonates with you, Emergent employs a proprietary brand story telling process to tease out these great narratives and bring them to life. Use this link to find out more.

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 planning for 2021

Top five marketing resources to power your 2021 growth plans

November 18th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, Digital marketing, engagement, Growth, Integrated Communications, Marketing Strategy, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Top five marketing resources to power your 2021 growth plans”

What you will require for success in the new year

Unprecedented complexity in marketing channels, platforms and media priorities can subtract from the confidence and clarity you need about where to make the best strategic investments. The potential for engagement misfires (wrong message, wrong channel) is at an all-time high and it seems as though every other day a new media platform rises to claim its narrow territory in an ever more fractured communications landscape.

  • You need a clear path and navigation chart to inform your decisions on where to invest precious marketing assets next year – when every dollar needs to perform like 10 and there’s not a lot of room to recover from mistakes.

We aim to provide specific guidance here.

Fortunately, the marketing game plan priorities are making themselves known. Today we have the benefit of hindsight to examine what tools performed to greatest effect in this uncommon year, and we also have a grip on where to place the marketing plan bets headed into 2021.

Here’s the most dramatic piece of evolutionary perspective unfolding for next year: what’s old is renewed again. I am personally ecstatic to see this change arrive. Read on.

I came up at Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), the first 11 years of my career bathed in the ample light of how David Ogilvy and his immensely talented colleagues saw the marketing universe. While David was a renowned and talented ad copywriter, he was first a business builder, problem solver with a remarkable grasp on the levers of how to grow a client company. He was indeed a holistic thinker.

David was forever espousing a point of view that we aren’t on the planet just to make advertising or PR. We’re here first to:

  • understand the challenges of business categories,
  • help incubate innovative product solutions,
  • understand the delicate emotional characteristics of brands,
  • navigate the cultural issues that impact company behavior,
  • and, inform and educate that most mysterious creature known as the consumer (“who is not a moron but rather your husband or wife,” says Ogilvy).

Said another way, a more myopic view would have us believing it’s all about the ad or PR creative product. Thus your proverbial marketing hammer comes back repeatedly to the same tactical nail. If that were true, our value as counselors, guides and business experts would deteriorate overnight and the agency business would be diluted to churning out cinematic representations of feature and benefit stories. Or the lesser digital display ad?!

Instead, we are tasked with being strategic guides who make our client’s business and category a deep and comprehensive ongoing study involving the mechanics of:

  • product creation and
  • market influences and
  • economic conditions and
  • cultural shifts and
  • competitive challenges and
  • the endless study of consumer and organizational behavior.

In short we are devoted to strategic investigations and assessments ahead of any conversation about a creative idea, in part for the very reason that all of that analysis nourishes enlightenment and leads to more relevant and powerful marketing ideas. The kind that make communications all the more effective at turning the screw of share and volume growth.

  • What’s the definition of a big idea? One that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact and change company behavior and the dynamics of the marketplace in which it competes. That’s a compelling adventure to join and why I appreciated what I learned while at O&M. Big ideas tend to bubble up in the midst of strategic business conversations.

However, with the growth of digital everything, over time the marketing guidance task largely contracted into a tactical role of managing the digital platform du jour and erstwhile electronic flag waving. In recent years the consultive forms of agency and client relationship have diluted in favor of operating a digital marketing automation dashboard. Execution driven assignments more so than operating within an authentic marketing partnership.

Well, all of that is about to change in 2021.

We’re entering an era where the importance of strategy and branding has re-emerged as the decisive lynchpin in priority and design of nearly every go-to-market plan. Why? The toolbox game has fallen in on itself under the sheer weight of so many options competing for eyeballs at a time when consumers are tiring of the relentless barrage. People are tuning out entirely the self-serving, self-reverential bullhorn of marketing message social channels. They reflexively reject that interruption right out of the gate.

The Pandemic has also lowered the tolerance boom on brand self-promotion – while rewarding efforts by enlightened brands that closely align themselves with higher purpose values and drive deeper meaning into their brand story and behavior.

What worked and what’s coming next year

A recent national survey of agencies conducted by SharpSpring revealed universally the most effective outreach tool deployed in 2020 was paid social. Not a surprise given the importance people place on social conversation, the levels of engagement there (which also correlates with the consumer’s prevailing interest in dialogue) and hearing the experiences of others to inform their purchase decisions.

Looking ahead at next year, this same study drilled down to what is likely to be in demand by clients in the year ahead, which also bears remarkable similarity to what clients are prepared to outsource to their agencies.

The re-emergence of strategy and branding as a top priority activates to assure marketing investment decisions will, indeed, deliver on their engagement objectives. This helps to measurably influence purchase decisions at a time when the consumer’s view of what matters is rapidly evolving.

Taste, price and convenience used to drive food and beverage purchases. Now those triggers are overtaken by a host of new more issue-like considerations such as health and wellness, transparency, purpose and values, supply chain integrity, sustainability and food safety.

  • Add to this an emerging concern about climate change and the impact of our current food production system on greenhouse gas (GHG) levels – meat production is by far the largest single contributor followed by agriculture. The food system creates more GHG than all of the global transportation systems (cars, trains, airplanes, etc.) combined.

We are seeing a rise in consumer demand for change addressing their concern to know what the carbon footprint is of the foods we consume. More on this topic to come from us.

Meantime, the verdict is in on resources to receive the most attention and likely investment in 2021 while brands continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic on preferences, shopping and purchase behavior.

The top five marketing needs for 2021

  • Marketing strategy: this begins with insight into consumer behavior and cultural shifts taking place that impact what people care about, and what they expect of the brands that matter to them. Active participation on issues like climate change will be one of them.
  • Branding: the role of higher purpose and deeper meaning are now critical to your business and brand voice. This is not a “nice to have” but a core strategic platform to secure relevance and engagement at a time when people expect brands to participate in making our world a better place.
  • Social media management: social media is a top priority and has remained so for some time now. How brands engage here, support community growth and encourage user generated content, will play a critical role in trust creation. Trust is a top objective and this channel is part of the solution. It’s remarkable that at one time the idea of actually talking directly to a brand’s consumer was virtually unheard of. When it finally arrived many brands looked upon it skeptically as a scary and potentially treacherous and uncontrollable development. My, how times have changed.
  • PR and reputation management: trust is the currency of any brand relationship. It is a requirement. Now harder to earn and maintain, the scrutiny and filters being applied by consumers seeks to determine whether a brand’s activism is messaging masquerading as champion of a cause – or is it real where the brand behavior matches the rhetoric. A recent IBM study on purpose reports that when consumers think a brand has a strong and authentic purpose, they are 4.1 times more likely to trust the company.
  • Digital advertising and re-targeting: a strong and verifiable correlation exists between awareness and velocity performance at retail. The more present and top of mind your brand is, the more likely this recognition will convert to a sale, assuming other considerations on purpose, values and trust are properly aligned. People live online. That bit of behavior enhanced by shelter in place and work or school from home conditions is why digital channels are having a heyday.

Brand activism on the rise      

An important strategic focus in 2021 will be where your brand sits on the fence of increased calls for activism on societal issues. Generation Z, the most woke generation of all, is decidedly focused on this and will be voicing their sentiments in the purchases they make. Their wallet is their vote and symbolic flag to those around them about what they consider to be important.

  • A recent study from Zeno Group found that for brands of comparable quality and pricing, 91% of consumers will switch if one of those brands supports an important cause. That might as well be 100%.

Here’s another way to look at it:

The more activist a brand is, the more earned media attention it’s likely to secure. This leads to greater visibility and brand awareness in trusted media channels – which in turn will help drive recognition leading to higher sales outcomes. All of this is happening in a media model that is derived at lower cost (compared to traditional media) thus helping wring more benefit out of tight budget resources.

The key is how real the brand’s activism is vs. an attempt to “message” around it without the anchoring back-up of verifiable brand behavior. Fake activism is discoverable and can (will) backfire.

If a conversation on 2021 planning priorities would be helpful to your decision making, we would welcome the conversation. Use this link and let’s start 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.

Substance overtakes stunts

Substance Over Stunt: The new era of marketing

October 7th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Growth, Higher Purpose, Insight, Integrated Communications, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Substance Over Stunt: The new era of marketing”

Help not hype defines the path to engagement victory

In 2008 Johnsonville Sausage famously conducted the classic publicity stunt of outsized proportions, building a giant grill on north Michigan Avenue in Chicago, with plans to drop an equally giant brat (from a crane) on the grill to celebrate the official start of BBQ season. I saw it, my office was two blocks away. Does this qualify as different? Yes. Was it super-sized in hopes of adding drama? Yes. Was the intention to create the requisite “Buzz” in the media? Yes.

Did it fulfill its objective? I think not. Media were critical rather than faithful reporters of the intended message. The stunt was a less effective vehicle for the very reason people were increasingly interested in substance over spectacle. The event was in some ways a marker of the end of the stunt as a path to PR glory, and perhaps a harbinger of change as consumer and media interest in the more blatant forms of brand self-promotion was shifting. Aside from a few mishaps on delivery drop of said brat to grill, it was inevitably a shameless publicity maneuver.

A moment of honest reflection: during the golden era of stunt strategy, we leveraged a summertime event called Molson Chiller Beach Party in Miami for client Molson Beer. We put 10 tons of snow on Miami Beach in July, positioning a TV satellite truck on the sand to capture images of what appeared to be a snow descending on Miami Beach. Video scenes of men and women making snowmen and snow angels on the beach were edited in real time for a package we titled Freak Snowstorm in Miami. Satellited to TV stations around the country, the video story aired in more than 100 markets that day.

The real goal, though, wasn’t just simple brand awareness. We were creating a compelling, powerful story for beer distributors to demonstrate that the Molson brand was relevant and resonant in a market far from their core volume territory in nine cities close to the Canadian border. Our video drama added to the sales team presentation securing a larger Molson share and investment in their import beer programs. That was then. Now, the path to consumer engagement has changed.

Substance overtakes hoopla

The world of effective marketing has advanced. People have changed, which demands that marketing best practices advance with them. At one time, how brands typically engaged with consumers was focused on interruption, hyperbole, entertainment, assertions and at times, crazy stunts in a belief that any publicity was good publicity. Buzz was seen as a component of hype, driven often by some form of outrageous display.

Marketing that works effectively is more successful now when it coalesces on authentic help for the consumer over media hype. People lead busy and complex lives. What they need is guidance, help, advice, coaching, training, ideas, support and empowerment. Your brand’s relevance to them is connected to how you become a useful and valued partner on their life journey.

If this sounds like a more mature form of relationship, I think you would be right. We have evolved and improved in that respect – more thoughtful and interested in overcoming our problems and challenges than being influenced by headlines falling from ‘the largest, biggest, tallest______________.”

Utility = valuable-ness

Real engagement is a form of acknowledged partnership. People grant you their precious and valuable attention in return for something that makes them better. This quid pro quo is an exchange founded in reciprocity and constructed on help or community-building that satisfies our inner need to tell the world around us what we stand for, what we care how about, what our values and beliefs say about us.

A brand that has trimmed its audience definition and scope to a narrower segment of true, committed fans has a shot at mattering. This approach works because in most product categories that escape the debilitating rust of commodity sold on price, a majority of the sales and profit is delivered by a smaller cohort of engaged enthusiasts. Some examples:

  • Kitchen commanders
  • Pet lifestyle buffs
  • Outdoor adventure seekers
  • Health and wellness advocates
  • Exercise aficionados
  • Fashionistas

You get the idea. Call them geeks or fans or ambassadors, the unifying characteristic is their innate interest in and devotion to these lifestyle associations. Your goal is to get close, real close to who they are and what they care about. Your ability to walk in their shoes and operate in service of their interests is the grist for content marketing that works.

Your brand voice is optimized when you separate the help from hype, the social proof from brand assertion, earnest helpful guidance from brand self-promotion. Only then, can your brand be perceived as and appreciated for contributing in real ways to the consumer’s journey. Think about it:  what is media hype but a disposable form of awareness with no shelf life. It’s there and then gone. What has been achieved? A moment of ‘I saw you’?

  • Your desire for buzz or recognition or mention is better served by enabling and contributing to the things your best users care about.

Perhaps the most famous stunt of all time was the Stratos Jump by Red Bull when Felix Baumgartner launched himself from a helium balloon 124,000 feet above earth, televised to more than 8 million viewers many of whom might remember the stunt – but not the advertiser or product. Was the reported $65 million cost worth it? If you’re selling a product that tastes like melted gummy bears to an adventure-seeking consumer, maybe.

For the rest of us, meeting the heart and mind of your customer in authentic ways that contributes measurably to their quality of life is another form of ‘adventure’ – but decidedly more relevant and valued than simple awareness.

If you find yourself asking questions about how to build buzz, we can help you answer that objective with insight and ideas that connect at a human level. Use this link and let’s start a helpful and hype-free 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.

Brands serve as expert advisors on the consumer's journey

Brands are not products, they are stories well told

September 8th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Brands are not products, they are stories well told”

Here is how to tell them powerfully, persuasively

Brands and businesses are increasingly challenged by shifts and changes in consumer behavior that make it harder than ever to win in the marketplace based on perceived technical advantage, ingredient strengths or special formulation “sauce” as a reason to believe.

Moreover, brand content creation is being held captive by outmoded strategies built on feature and benefit selling that no longer holds sway with consumers who are in a position to ignore it. The path to authentic engagement is now found through hyper relevance to consumer interests, concerns and passions.

What remains most challenging about this authentic engagement insight is the conventional, outmoded marketing paradigm stands as a barrier to securing the needed relevance. The root trouble begins with how brand audiences are defined, in many instances painted with a broad brush that declares everyone is a prospect between a certain age range and household income level. This kind of thinking, which leads to “all things to all people” communications strategies, is a recipe for ignorable and wasted marketing spending.

We have seen this time and time again: when the consumer cohort the brand wishes to serve is narrowed considerably to the audience most likely to become enthusiastic fans and followers based on lifestyle considerations and priorities, the door is opened to almost magical opportunities for connection at an emotional level. Precisely where the brand needs to be by the way, for the very reason human beings are emotional and not rationally-driven creatures.

Success begins with a tighter, more focused and thus stronger go-to-market strategy

When we first were engaged by Sargento Foods, the brand behaved in the marketplace as a commodity cheese player in a commoditized category. Dairy aisle cheese share leader was the store brand and the primary national brand participants, Kraft and Sargento, were in constant motion to manage block cheese price costs to the gap between national brand and private label retail pricing. This was a recipe over time for static share conditions and fluctuating margin performance. For the consumer cheese was cheese was cheese unless provided with another relevant reason to prefer one brand over another.

The cycle could only be broken by first redefining the target audience. Rather than all things to all people, insight and segmentation research uncovered a cohort of the dairy aisle cheese-buying consumer who was all about cooking, using quality ingredients, inspired by chefs, consumers of food TV programming, bought cookbooks, loved being in the kitchen and cared about the food adventure they put on the dinner table.

What if Sargento worked to serve their interests and needs, focusing on the story that had to be created around culinary inspiration, love of food, taste, quality and cooking? This led to premiumization of the entire business, along with new products called Artisan Blends that combined their classic varieties with high quality cheese created by artisan producers, a new premium pricing strategy at retail and importantly, an entirely new story to tell.

It was a bold move. It was decisive. It was focused. It fed a platform of more compelling brand storytelling because it was first and foremost about this consumer segment’s love of food, passion in the kitchen and romance around taste and flavor. This is different than publishing a recipe for lasagna or the next round of ‘buy one get one.’

The outcome was compelling and transformational for the company. Today Sargento is a leader in their category and the move to snack products through the Balanced Breaks line has been a phenomenal success.

Proof that even a larger CPG brand can find a new reason to be and add deeper meaning by starting with a new picture of whom they wish to serve. Then, relentlessly driving on that insight to be hyper relevant to a consumer who is actually paying attention.

Do you know what the deeply engaged consumer values?

The road to engagement is paved with insight and understanding into the hearts, minds and lives of those you wish to serve.

Imagine the treasure trove of understanding the Clif Bar company amassed as they became an early mover in higher purpose brand building, aligning their business with outdoor adventure experiences and cycling. They understood this human because they lived and breathed the same air, participated in the same adventures, and remained steadfast in mirroring the ethos and beliefs of people who were driven to live this way, on a mountain trail on a mountain bike.

Whole Foods was an early player in the organic movement, and then successfully made a pivot to embrace culinary inspiration and the transition to higher quality, fresh food experiences. In doing so they invested heavily in content creation around creativity and inspiration in the kitchen, catering to the lifestyle aspirations of home cooks who found creativity at the stove to be a purposeful and fulfilling avocation.

  • They were a mirror of what people who care about food and love to cook are concerned about. Quality of ingredients is a big deal, and so the videos they created took customers to the farm to meet the grower of fresh strawberries. It was powerful for the very reason it helped these shoppers feel good and wise and confident and connected to the earth and what they purchased earlier that day.

Ironically, when Whole Foods began to dilute this investment and commitment to relevant culinary storytelling, the company balance sheet slid at the very time other banners were closing the gap on store experience, and opened vulnerability to acquisition. We all know what happened there.

Where’s the magic?

Here is your goal, and it’s a big one: content and storytelling that wins hearts and minds is always a story that is worth talking about. This is the incredible creative challenge best answered by master storytellers who know the construction of tales that draw people in, and the role of emotion, conflict, drama and resolution so vital to bringing people close.

This approach is more uncommon than you think. Yes, there’s a ton of brand created content published each and every day, and the vast majority of it is forgettable. Why does it miss the mark so frequently? The disconnect begins with the story. The path to real engagement isn’t paved with rational, logical, fact-based downloads on your product formulation superiority. It just isn’t emotionally moving and violates the number one rule of successful storytelling.

  • The consumer is always the hero of the story, not your product. The brand’s role is Yoda to the consumer’s Luke Skywalker – the wise and seasoned guide who helps the hero overcome their insecurities and lack of understanding, on their journey to mastery, bravery and success.

Rich material is found in what your users care about. This approach is unexpected and refreshing. It can become emotionally moving. It is, dare we say, how to be hyper relevant. You may be reading this and saying yeah but my business exists to sell our products or get people in the front door of our stores. To be sure, but how you get there has changed.

The greatest moment of transition to a new era of marketing success begins with embracing the counterintuitive understanding that your best move is to reflect user lifestyle needs and aspirations, feed their adventures, enable their passions and in doing so align your brand with who they want to become. This enlightened understanding of the authentic brand relationship leads to transformation in the consumer to brand relationship.

The remarkable story is built from WHY

People do not buy products, instead they buy the meaning that sits underneath. Today consumer purchases are largely symbolic gestures to signal to others what people value and what they think is important. This is the story they will tell others (their why). This matters to you because the holy grail of marketing is word of mouth and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is now amplified by social media channels that enable the sharing of consumer experiences.

The recipe for more compelling story telling is understanding:

  • Insight to how consumers see themselves
  • Knowing what they value
  • Their desire for deeper meaning and greater purpose in their lives
  • How they can acquire a feeling of belonging
  • Their goal to achieve a sense of distinction

We are doing business in the age of distinction

Category to category we continue to find in varying degrees a similar challenge: sameness.

Perhaps the best example of this is pet food, a business riding a wave of premiumization that has closely followed the rise of four-legged family members to furry “children” status. Of course, the one instrument to express the love and appreciation of the new-found value is in the quality of the food provided. Pet stores are chock full of emerging brands and some new larger players like Blue Buffalo who have successfully leveraged this ‘float all premium boats’ condition.

Having said that, the business is rife with similar, unremarkable messaging devoted to formulation superiority claims, the protein percentage wars, and assertions of improved nutrition. Walking the aisles in a pet food store is a living museum to sameness in presentation. So much so it is possible to lift language from one brand, apply it to the package of another and it still remains essentially true.

People are buying the story first and product second.

Imagine the pet brand that understands the importance of the relationship and bond between pet parent and pet, celebrating a pet-centric lifestyle – a phenomenon that is gaining momentum during the turmoil and emotional uncertainty of the pandemic. The ability of dogs and cats to favorably impact the health and wellness of their owners is a true thing. And a marketing opportunity waiting to happen!

Why is putting the wants and needs of consumers ahead of brand promotion so difficult to embrace?

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is coming to a realization that the herculean effort to build a fantastic product is now table stakes. Awesome product performance is a requirement and not necessarily the marketing secret sauce it may have been before. The secret sauce is now found in the hyper relevant, emotionally-satisfying story that reflects the aspirations of the consumer hero and their search for a better, happier life.

Tangible benefits for paying a premium price may be there, but the truth is the price and margin multiple are enabled by the story more than the ingredient or technology.

Here it is:

Great marketing builds a perceptual advantage for the very reason it completely respects how the customer feels when buying the premium solution.

If you need help thinking through how your brand and business goes to market in the era of consumer control, use this link and let’s start 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.

behavioral science helps us understand how people make purchase decisions

Let’s Unpack the New Alchemy of Brand Growth

July 22nd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Marketing Strategy, Navigation 0 comments on “Let’s Unpack the New Alchemy of Brand Growth”

Sustainable sales tied to behavioral science

Early 20th-century Philadelphia department store magnate John Wanamaker was famously quoted, “Half the money I spend in advertising is wasted; trouble is, I don’t know which half.” His expressed exasperation has stood the test of time and remains relevant today. Are you confident your marketing investments are firing on all cylinders? Are you sure the levels of engagement you expect are being achieved, especially in an era of extreme uncertainty when consumer attitudes and behaviors are shifting?

What Wanamaker didn’t have access to in his day were the significant achievements in insight into consumer mindset, an outcome of modern behavioral science. Now, we have a litmus test and series of steps that can be applied to design marketing programs that help erase the sense of gambling that can accompany consumer outreach investments.

  • In this article we will map the journey to more effective marketing communication, a path that helps resolve Wanamaker’s dilemma.

The trouble begins at the front door of strategy when brands focus their messaging and tactics on themselves, their product features and benefits – and not on the aspirations, needs and wants of the consumer. Moreover, unless understanding of how people operate is factored in, the entire effort becomes more ‘luck of the draw’ than an informed, assured path to sustainable business growth.

The most important insight to consumer behavior that drives business results

Recent studies, including a report from Google on mastering consumer engagement, can be summarized in one over-arching conclusion that impacts how strategy is best formulated: Human beings consistently function on a predictable track to reduce or avoid taxing their brains. Researchers call this “releasing cognitive burden,” meaning people sidestep messaging that is perceived as complicated or too risky.

Marketing that is designed to help consumers with their DNA-driven efforts to make decisions easier and friction-free will lift the doubt – and help bring assured victory to outreach efforts. This is especially meaningful at a time when every single dollar spent on consumer outreach needs to perform like 10.

Understanding this path of least resistance, helps explain why emotion is more powerful than analytical storytelling to motivate outcomes and purchase behaviors. The remarkable processing that goes on underneath our cognitive radar is a form of editing that helps us preserve mental energy. The sub-conscious brain has greater influence over purchase decisions than we give it credit.

The recipe for engagement and improved outcomes

Three primary strategic components should be considered in planning, and three tools can be applied to ‘load the deck’ in your brand’s favor.

  1. Message simplicity and clarity

What is the consumer-relevant problem you solve and how do you solve it? Consumers prefer brands that help them, that provide utility and are useful. The caveat here is a tendency for brands to complicate this communication with lengthy explanations of technology and formulation advantages. On the one hand it might be presented as reasons to believe but in reality, this just stresses the consumer’s brain so they ignore it.

Moreover, this approach puts the brand in the role of story hero, which embeds an immediate disconnect for the consumer. People see themselves as the hero of their life journey and the brand’s role should be positioned as their guide and coach.  This consumer perspective needs to be respected alongside the requirement to keep communication simple and crystal clear.

2. Power of social proof

Trust is an essential element of creating a relationship with consumers and moving from consideration to purchase. How trust is created has changed as consumers grow increasingly skeptical of promises and claims made by businesses. In sum, people believe other people first.

Social channel conversations and reviews are a primary driver of trust. This is why consumers will research product reviews and examine social channels to measure the veracity of what brands claim about their product attributes and benefits. The confidence they acquire from the endorsement of others works to simplify decision-making.

3. Authority bias

Alongside the importance assigned to consumer voices in social channels are the words and opinions of respected experts and influencers. Note the word respected here is extremely important. We have ample evidence that certain classes of influencer have grown less effective when they perform more like paid endorsements rather than authentic, independent guidance.

Editorial media, physicians, chefs/food experts, health and wellness gurus and others of similar credential can be enlisted to help educate consumers on the guardrails of how to define excellence and reliability. These views and opinions work as a form of believable shorthand to help remove risk and create comfort in moving consumers along the funnel.

Tactical tools to deploy alongside the strategic components

Behavioral research also confirms that human beings resonate to a small collection of tools that can work to help close the sale.

  • Scarcity – we are hardwired for preference of anything that is in short supply and acquires greater perceived value because it is not abundant.
  • Speed – a newly minted desire borne of the Internet age is our requirement to have needs satisfied quickly. If you can move from transaction to front door fast, that advantage helps close the deal.
  • FREE – this is still a magic word. Engrained in our cultural heritage is respect for the concept of free. If you can include a bonus with purchase or some other value can be attached to the transaction at no cost – such that the word FREE is in the offering, it’s a compelling incentive.

The new age we are in and role of beliefs, values and mission

Another important strategic consideration is the emergence of shared values and mission as a component of preference. Research also confirms that consumers want their purchases to be a symbolic “flag” of their beliefs and what they think is important.

Higher purpose matters. Your ability to weave deeper meaning and a belief system into your brand promise and presentation is vital to sustainable growth. This is an evolutionary change that has been underway in earnest for more than five years. The pandemic has pushed the momentum under this cultural shift even further.

Prestige, wealth and other more materialistic attributes have fallen away while people now believe that brands have a role to play in making the world a better place. At a more personal level, they want to know how brands are acting in their best interests and helping them in tangible ways to achieve their life goals.

The rise of the “B” Corp is evidence of how this can play out when companies design their business to operate in service of others around issues of importance such as hunger, poverty and the environment.

Having a great product is table stakes now. Imbuing your brand and business with a higher purpose is a defining characteristic and quality consumers want. It is another piece of evidence that the company has a moral center, high standards, a value system, and thus can be trusted.

  • All of these strategies and characteristics at a very human level operate as trust creators to ease the buying decision and dilute risk. This matters because human beings don’t want to burn mental calories with heavy analysis of information in order to get to a reliable decision to buy.

Your ability to remove risk and create trust is job one to build business. If you would benefit from guidance on how to bring these tools together for optimal impact and effect, please use this link to start a conversation about how we can help you do that.

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.

Avoid consumer disconnects

How to meet your consumer face-to-face, heart-to-heart

July 14th, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Insight, Navigation, Social community, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “How to meet your consumer face-to-face, heart-to-heart”

Defining the new path to brand relevance and attraction

You can’t afford marketing that fails to connect. Too often brands inadvertently embed their communication with disconnects because the story is constructed upside down. It’s rowing against the current of behavioral science that informs us about what draws people in, or conversely, repels them.

Every food, beverage and lifestyle marketer, every day, needs their outreach activity to engage and endear consumers to their respective brand. We know the ultimate goal for any business is to get and keep a customer, so strategic communication is job one. With consumers in full control to accept or bypass brand messaging intended for their eyes and ears, engagement remains elusive and, thus, is more precious to your business than gold.

What is the secret to message resonance?

  • What are the rules governing how relationships and ultimately brand advocacy are created? We will answer these key business-building questions soon in this story. First, we need to examine the failure to engage because too many brands are missing the mark and don’t realize it.

Head-over-heart fact-based storytelling is a fast track to “strike three, you’re out!”

Human beings have a remarkable ability to embrace the experiences and stories of their contemporaries. People care about other people, more so than ‘caring’ about a specific product feature. Yet brands and businesses are too often pre-occupied with telling their story of better technology and related formula benefits, believing this is the information that will attract an audience and build sales.

To understand this, we should explore what the brand’s role is in users’ lives. Every day of every week of every year in the consumer’s life, people operate as the heroes of their own life story. Unfortunately, the vast majority of brand communication places the product at the center of the story arc, competing with consumers for the coveted hero role. The consumer recognizes their rightful role in the story has been hijacked by the brand, and they move on trying to find a respectful guide who will help them on their path to a better and more fulfilling life.

  • Yes, the brand’s role is expert guide and coach. The brand relationship must be built on a foundation of reciprocity, activated by the brand’s ability to contribute to the users’ efforts to overcome obstacles and achieve goals on their journey.

Analytical arguments of “25% faster” or “15% more protein” do not, cannot, form the basis of engaging brand storytelling. To draw consumers close, emotion is required, and relevance, based on a holistic understanding of the customer’s aspirations, desires, concerns and needs, is necessary.

Emotion captures attention

Awhile back we represented the leading pet food brand in the raw food category. They made high quality kibble and wet foods but the raw segment of their product line was seen as the most nutritionally desirable. As we spent time getting closer to their best raw food users, we uncovered amazing stories of transformation and change for pets who had health issues and behavioral challenges. Once introduced to the nutritional density of a raw food diet, these pets’ lives were dramatically altered for the better.

We created video vignettes of these testimonials, featuring non-scripted interviews and a short documentary-style approach to tell their transformation stories. The tears literally flowed as pet parents described the difficulties their furry family members faced, and what happened when a dietary change helped reverse health problems and adjusted the trajectory of their pet’s life.

  • No amount of communication about quality food ingredients, proprietary recipes, or high protein levels would come within a country mile of creating a more compelling and powerful proposition for this brand.

Further evidence of this same phenomenon came to life in a different way years earlier when I led the Friskies pet food account while at Ogilvy & Mather in Los Angeles. We created a novel campaign aptly titled: the Search for the Friskiest Cat in America. Using a variety of integrated communications and package graphic tools, we moved the news to cat owners about the opportunity for their feline to win $10,000, a trip to Hollywood for a celebrity judged final event and a coveted place on the cover of the annual Friskies cat calendar.

The idea caught fire. Consumer entries showcased oil paintings of a frisky moment, videos, poems, even screen plays. The stories shared by people about the animals they loved were nothing short of amazing; emotion-packed, authentic, fun and entertaining. By the way, the brand went to the number one category share position for the first time in 20 years.

What did we learn? We tapped a vein of emotional relevance as thousands and thousands of people shared their stories of wacky cat behavior and why their pet deserved the “friskiest” accolade. We also learned how incredibly important these bonds and relationships were to people, as seen by the lengths people would go to demonstrate it.

The tragic human experience writ large

Perhaps the most powerful story we’ve ever encountered came from a mother who had lost her teenage daughter to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in their home. It served as powerful motivation to families to protect themselves and their loved ones from this invisible and dangerous household hazard. No amount of logical, fact-based communication about the CO threat and its presence in the home would come anywhere near the heart-breaking loss this family experienced. They felt a calling to share their story when they understood what a pervasive problem it is in homes and that 90% of American families weren’t aware of it.

The family championed our client’s product, the world’s first household CO detector, as the instrument to help other families avoid their fate. Human beings work very hard to prevent loss or risk of injury when they know what the threat looks like and what the outcomes can be at a human level. It was the mother’s personal story, grieving for the accidental loss of her daughter that made it real and credible. Her call to action: “If there had been a carbon monoxide alarm in our home, this could have been avoided. Don’t say it won’t happen to you.” People listened and thousands of lives were saved as a result.

The heroes of these stories are people and their experiences. Not recipes, or formulations or ingredient wizardry. In each instance the brand was a guide or coach to help the consumer along their path. This is what draws people closer.

Emotional resonance comes in different flavors

  • Home cooks who are spurred by creativity and food adventure experiences in the kitchen or backyard.
  • Amateur athletes and fitness buffs who search for inspiration and guidance on their quest for improvement and self-fulfillment.
  • People whose health and wellbeing are transformed by changes to their lifestyle and mental attitude through improved eating/drinking and exercise regimens.
  • Outdoor adventure enthusiasts who are drawn to the dramatic stories of shared lifestyle experiences from people their mountaintop passions.
  • The growing chorus of people whose higher purpose and mission is to improve the world around them, addressing racism, hunger, poverty, social injustice and climate change.
  • Every product category, viewed through the right strategic lens, can secure this sweet spot of emotional relevance.

It may seem counterintuitive to focus on the consumer’s journey and need more so than the product technology. However, it is a proportional measurement of how fully a brand becomes immersed in this deeper meaning and then operates as a partner to improve the consumer’s life, that impacts the ability to create and sustain an authentic relationship.

Your four-step plan to brand engagement and growth:

  1. Make the research and study of your consumer’s lifestyle, ambitions, worries, interests and experiences a top priority. To know them is to love them.
  2. Build a strategic platform around your company’s higher purpose and mission that bears relevance to what consumer’s care most about. Your brand’s goal is to improve their lives.
  3. Construct messaging, content and invite users to participate with their own stories that bring your purpose and mission to life. People want to be part of something that’s greater than themselves.
  4. Listen and improve. The more you know about them and their needs, the more powerful this dynamic relationship becomes.

Emergent has created a proprietary process called Brand Sustainability Analysis to help clients determine or refine their unique higher purpose and true north. If it’s time for a fresh perspective and help on defining your path to sustainable growth, click here to start 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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