Posts in Higher Purpose

Big ideas inform business and brand behaviors

How Emergent can help you win in the year ahead

December 3rd, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Activism, brand marketing, branded content, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “How Emergent can help you win in the year ahead”

2021 will not be kind to ineffective strategies

Emergent’s secret sauce is our unique ability to help clients understand and navigate barriers to their growth – mission critical in what will be a challenging year ahead. The 2021 strategic goal posts have already been moving. In sum, current conditions place an extraordinary premium on correctly dialing in your brand’s higher purpose and deeper meaning – essential to creating consumer trust that unlocks the path to purchase.

  • We can help you define brand higher purpose in your category. Translate this understanding into a strategic go-to-market game plan and map your brand’s relevant messaging. Then create the communication tools to help build an enthusiastic core of brand fans who voluntarily spread your message in their own communities and social circles.

Why this matters to you: consumers’ trust in companies and brands has been declining for years. People believe the voices and experiences of other people before they will accept a brand’s claims and assertions. Social proof is the required verification and validation of what you want people to believe about your brand and products.

Our services:

  • Brand sustainability analysis: defining your higher purpose and brand stand that informs every aspect of the go-to-market plan.
  • Connecting consumer insight to strategic planning: dialing in and optimizing your brand’s relevance to consumers’ lifestyles.
  • Messaging and brand storytelling that engages, enlightens and guides: making the consumer the hero of your brand communication.
  • Building social channel strategies and tools that engage consumers in word-of-mouth activity: the most powerful, credible communications tool on earth.

Free consultation and audit:

We’re offering an easy, zero cost way to assess fit. We start with an informal conversation about your needs and interests in the year ahead. With signatures on an NDA if you desire, we will conduct an audit of your current brand messaging and business priorities. We’ll provide our guidance and thinking at no charge. If what we offer creates value for you and further interest, then we can discuss a scope of work appropriate to your unique needs.

Use this link to open a conversation and let’s talk about how to transform your outcomes in 2021.

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.

Brand activism is on the rise

Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism

November 30th, 2020 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Differentiation, Emerging brands, engagement, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism”

Is your brand’s higher purpose dialed in?

“Food is now so much more than food: It’s this representation of the self. We’ve managed to use it as a signifier for so many virtues, whether that’s obvious ones like health or indulgence, but also ancestry and connection to kin and family, or the fact that you’re just a unique person out in the world.” – Benjamin Lorr, The Secret Life of Groceries, Grocery Business interview.

To successfully build and grow a base of enthusiastic brand fans these days consumer relevance is everything. In the absence of a high-quality consumer connection and a valued relationship, food, beverage and lifestyle brands can be cast out of the economic Garden of Eden, forced to wander in the wilderness of commodities interchangeably bought on price.

Now a new challenge is emerging to creating relevance that must be weighed carefully if brands are to retain the attention and support of a growing an influential new base of users. Here’s what’s coming fast and hard:

The Socialization of Brands

Six years ago we tracked a cultural shift indicating consumers were leaning heavily into deeper, meaning, values and mission in assessing the merits of their preferred brands on the path to purchase. This condition is rapidly evolving and is accelerated farther and faster as a result of Pandemic induced upheaval in mindset and evolving personal priorities.

COVID-19 presents an out-of-control social and economic environment. It is enhanced by the absence of effective readily available solutions and clear public policy guidance from previously respected sources of social organization, government and educational institutions. Into this societal vacuum comes a new form of behavior we call brand activism.

  • “COVID-19 has forced communities to grapple with how individual behavior impacts collective health and social wellness, and it has elevated the mandate that companies demonstrate how their products, practices and systems positively impact the community and support the greater good.” – Hartman Group, Value in the Time of COVID 19” whitepaper

Brands are now expected to be social actors.

“My Wallet is My Vote”

Imagine the checkout aisle at your supermarket or drug store transforming into a form of voting booth. The wallet and purchase performs the role of ballot-enhanced virtue signaling as consumers cast a vote on their brand candidate’s values through the purchases they make.

  • Purchases are largely symbolic gestures now, intended to telegraph what people want others to know about their priorities and identity. That said, the nature of this beast is evolving further with emergence of pressing issues that are forming on the horizon of our food system, how it operates and what it represents beyond abundance, indulgence and health.

The cultural shift taking place is a pervasive belief among people, Gen Z especially, that they are unique and empowered to help create change. Rather than relying on the performance of others or institutions, people look at their own relationships, networks and voices as opportunities to activate their advocacy on a larger canvas.

Alignment reaches a new level

Awhile back people discovered alignment between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. The impact of this revelation was seismic. Enter the fresh food revolution, the move to perimeter shopping at grocery, the emergence of preference for locally-sourced foods, and the decline of heavily processed packaged products.

Healthy food was no longer defined as addition by subtraction (or food science at work) to remove fat, sugar, salt and calories in order to achieve a better-for-you claim. In its place came higher quality real fresh food solutions that impacted the course of emerging food brands from large cap CPG line extensions to entrepreneurial, new food brands with an ethos and higher quality, small batch formulation.

Now another revolution is in the works as alignment evolves yet again.

The relationship of food to climate change threat

The alignment emerging now is awareness of a relationship between our current food system and the over-production of greenhouse gases that sit at the foundation of the climate change crisis. The increased pace of super storms, wildfires, droughts followed by floods, topsoil erosion, and the threats to shorelines advanced by higher water levels, serves as evidence the earth has its problems.

Now comes the realization that meat and industrial agricultural practices are the largest contributor to greenhouse gas creation on earth. The revelation: food production enabled by increased consumption by an ever-growing global population could endanger the planet. The food system specifically meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture, is producing greenhouse gas at a level exceeding the contribution of all forms of global transportation combined. Current GHG levels outstrip any prevailing public policy or naturally occurring solution that would lower it sufficiently to address rising earth temperatures and their impact.

  • As this knowledge becomes more widespread it will usher in a new era of calculation on favorable brand attributes, specifically carbon footprint. Advantage will go to brands that provide evidence of their sourcing and production processes that work to mitigate contributions to greenhouse gas creation.

Many plant-based brands have already stepped into this arena by invoking climate change in their stories. Some brands have already begun including carbon footprint claims on their product packaging or menus (Panera, Chipotle and Flora plant butter).

Fast on the move is another generation of new product concepts that employ the latest techniques in fermentation and microbe use designed to step away from the agricultural production chain entirely and thus advancing a new cadre of claims and benefits associated with climate change.

Brand activism and brand voice

We have long lauded those incredibly advanced brand ethos players like Yeti who have injected new-found lifestyle associations and deeper meaning into their brand personas. These companies take consumer lifestyle very seriously and operate as mirrors of people who, in Yeti’s case, are devoted to outdoor adventure – or at least aspire to do so.

Now a new battlefield emerges for brands that take the socialization of food and food production to a new level. These informed brands work to answer both the coming tide of planet-level food scarcity and the impact of our global agricultural system on greenhouse gas creation.

Thus we envision a new phalanx of emerging brands that weigh in on such important topics, working to associate themselves with the activist mindset of consumers wishing to vote their preferences via the food purchases they make.

Supporting regenerative agriculture practices will be one area we expect to rise in importance in the year ahead. The potential exists now to help support a new view of farming practices that can help turn farmland into the world’s largest carbon sink. These kinds of stories and the behavioral moves by brands to embrace this new thinking will mark a new era and opportunity in brand communication.

  • As consumers increasingly view purchases as a flag of their beliefs, it is vital that brand communication strategy advances to lead this conversation and facilitate the dialogue in social channels.

It’s coming faster due to the cultural shift now underway that aligns food production with climate change, making activism a part of the purchase decision. Failure to recognize this coming shift could put brand relevance at risk and hand competitive advantage to those who are already moving to answer this form of brand activism.

  • If further guidance on this evolving path is of interest to optimize your brand’s higher purpose-related messaging and story creation, we can help you determine the right path and create the right story.

Use this link to start a fresh conversation around questions you have about this emerging change-in-motion.

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.

People want to buy their food from other people

Pandemic launches disruption of modern supermarket model?

October 14th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, shopper behavior, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Pandemic launches disruption of modern supermarket model?”

Symphony of logistics becomes an orchestra of societal values

For the last 30 years or more, supermarkets have operated as a highly-choreographed dance of sourcing, merchandizing and value pricing all stage-managed with intricate daily replenishing management of same. It is, in many respects, a remarkable achievement that provides the lowest cost-to-quality food on earth in an assortment depth that is the envy of the rest of the planet. The grocery store has stood as an assurance of food quality and availability, yet now arrives precariously at a moment of transformation that is far beyond the mechanics of coming in-store robots, the challenges of e-commerce friction and assorted home delivery platforms.

Strategic shift underway

Food retail may also be the most visible in-your-face demonstration of traditional brand marketing strategies borne of the post-World War II consumer packaged goods explosion; focused on a more impersonal and product feature-and-benefit form of consumer communication.

A sea change started to emerge in recent years based on an evolving consumer mindset driven about what matters most to them on the path to purchase. Witness the emergence of health and wellness as a primary driver of consumer preference, the attention now paid to transparency and supply chain integrity and a growing concern over food safety practices. All of these emerging trends have eclipsed the traditional purchase motivators of taste, price and convenience.

The Great Pandemic of 2020 pushes the envelope of change faster and farther as consumers not only connect the dots between the quality of the food they eat and their quality of life, but now see retailers and brands as active participants in their social and societal concerns and growing activism.

Two fundamental impacts of COVID 19 on behaviors and attitudes

  1. The pandemic has served to reveal the inescapable, searing questions of economic inequality, exclusion, racial prejudice and its unfairness while lighting a fire to address and solve these inequities. How this plays out will require sensitivity to the issues and strategic planning to address it openly and visibly in policy, procedure and behavior.
  2. On another front, at one time consumers aspired to improvement in their lifestyle through status signaling in conspicuous consumption of brands that elicited those feelings of aspirational identity. However, today this has fallen away, shed by a pandemic that has entirely recalibrated what matters to people. Today a brand reputation is enhanced by its social, cultural and environmental values.

Brands and retailers must add responsiveness to a requirement for higher purpose, generosity in behavior and social improvement to their actions. Do you think this transformative insight has fully translated into how brands and retailers package their story and represent themselves in the marketplace? I would say no. Or not yet, while a few are in the starting blocks and getting ready to claim their competitive advantage.

Recasting the supermarket business model

Here we find ourselves in a moment of mechanization. Robots. Digital ordering platforms. Supply chain optimization. Experiments with drones. Electronic grocery carts. Wringing more efficiency in an effort to get product A into hands B more quickly, efficiently and at lower cost.

Nothing wrong with any of this, except it may inadvertently mask the cultural trend changes that argue for a different priority around how supermarkets organize their business for success and relevance to the consumer they need to keep. Technology has its place, but there is a more human need arising that should be considered strategically, as customer-centric planning becomes a top priority.

Let’s go to the ground on this together, where the food culture ‘rubber’ meets the consumer relevance road:

For over a year we’ve been reporting on the shift to home-based meal consumption and cooking. A fair question then: what does the massive pivot to home cooking mean to supermarkets? We’re not talking about the obvious of selling more products, more often for more occasions.

The intimacy people have with food and its preparation is increasing. There’s another form of ‘closeness’ that is percolating underneath as a potential component of retail strategic uniqueness and differentiation – the two components of sustainable business growth.

People buying food from people

You may recall there was an era prior to the maturing of efficient retail when people knew the sellers and makers.

A relevant story: awhile back I had the honor and privilege of meeting Glen Kohn and his business partner at a networking event staged by Chicago’s impressive food brand incubator, The Hatchery. Later during a deeper get acquainted meeting, Glen spoke in detail about his company Prevail Jerky, an emerging super-premium brand of clean, high quality jerky snacks offering an array of culinary forward flavors.

He told the story of how his wife had food allergy challenges. He wanted to make a jerky his wife and family could enjoy. You see Glen was a smoked meat mastermind who had a personal passion for barbecue, smoking proteins and making his own bespoke jerky. He set out to perfect this high protein snack with a recipe that stripped away the legacy bad-for-you allergenic ingredients and use of nitrates, excessive sodium, artificial flavoring and sugars that dogged this dried packaged meat category since inception.

More magical in my opinion is a preparation technique, and he won’t say exactly how he does it, that improves the eating experience by making the meat less tough and chewy. Ultimately what we have here is another improved, higher quality, better-for-you product in a legacy category, with a personal story behind it. In effect, the food quality is guaranteed through Glen’s personal journey.

Even before the Pandemic sent us behind closed doors and placed an even higher premium on human contact, personal relationships were making a comeback. People want to know who the makers of their food are, where they come from, what they are about and how that translates into the product they’ve created.

  • Increasingly, we see the aisles at food retail stocked with new brands built by a person, not an R&D lab or innovation department. What was once a hall of impersonal, faceless brands, is turning into a showcase of businesses that acquire their social value through consumers’ desire to support an actual, real-life maker.

Makers bring with them values, beliefs, mission and unique standards of quality that provided deeper meaning past the better recipe. Here’s the strategic twist: while local sourcing has been popularized recently, this nuance stretches the idea further to what we’re calling Local-ism.

People now look at purchases as a statement of what they believe is important rather than flags of social status and prosperity. They are voting their beliefs and values with their wallet. The checkout lane is a voting booth. They are electing product winners with a voice, face and story. The intimacy with food goes deeper. The sense of community building gains a whole new perspective. The store is an aggregation opportunity for these stories-as-brands and a place where they can be brought to life.

  • Now retailers have an opportunity to move past the old-school model of being a seller of boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity on hyper-thin margins. Food retail can disrupt itself by becoming a form of neighborhood cooking club that respects the environment and the farm while supporting people who craft new food solutions that come to market with a soul. Doesn’t sound like a distribution center for factory food, does it?

What was once impersonal, transactional and formulaic, takes on some of the pastiche of the corner market where the buyer knows the seller, meets the maker and real trusted relationships take root. This is not in conflict with technology and robotics but is rather an important reflection of consumer insight to better guide retail strategy and banner differentiation.

How to think about this: efficiency only goes so far. Becoming a more human-focused business that embraces the emotional investment people have in food, its provenance and related quality is a path to relevance that beats yesterday’s reliance on store location and lower pricing to create competitive advantage. Amazon may have a tougher time with this kind of thinking.

Recommendations on humanizing food retail

  • Optimize your aisles and product assortment to feature local and emerging brands with a maker story.
  • Use your content creation platform to provide a voice for their stories – and a real, relevant reason for your customers to feel connected to the products they buy at your store.
  • Serve this up in a context that works in people’s lives around meal and snack solutions. That’s the foundation for relevance for the food-savvy consumer.
  • Marry and merge your indulgent food strategies with better-for-you as the relationship between these two draws ever closer.
  • Look past the coupon to start creating other experiences both digital and in-store that showcase your love for food adventure and culinary creativity. Love of food is something you can immediately demonstrate to your shoppers.

When you become highly differentiated, unique and relevant to people, your need to rely on heavy advertising spend to generate traffic declines. When you become remarkable in your shoppers’ eyes, people talk about their experience. Word of mouth is still the most effective form of marketing outreach at your disposal. It is an outcome of remarkable-ness.

Changing perspective may be hard to do because retail traditions and embedded thinking are more about logistics and efficiencies than experiences and food adventures. When the name of the game for decades has been how can we deliver food most cost-effectively – somewhere, we’ve lost sight of the real people who are buying the food – and meeting their needs beyond assortment and price.

When you can see merit in bringing to life the voices and stories of food makers and create ways for buyers to meet them, it lifts your banner above competing mostly on price and product range. That’s a race to the bottom no one wins and plays right into the hands of the endless digital shelf.

A supermarket chain CEO once said to me, “if you walk our office halls on any given day you may find it hard to determine if we’re in the food or hardware business. So much of what we do is too far removed from emotional connections to food and what people use it for.”

You just need to fall in love with food and its ability to transform people’s lives.

If this conversation gets you thinking and you would like to explore it further with like-minded people, use this link to start a conversation without any expectation of a business relationship save we made new friends.

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.

Pandemic influences consumer behavior

Pandemic and cultural shift combine for rapid change smackdown

October 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, COVID-19, Emotional relevance, engagement, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Pandemic 0 comments on “Pandemic and cultural shift combine for rapid change smackdown”

We unpack handwriting on the (relevant marketing) wall

If you’re like me, you’re probably exclaiming, “so now what?” Another day and another revelation of upheaval in an era of unpredictable, unsettling events that cause you to sleep with one eye open.

In an exceptional moment of corporate disclosure, Amazon announced that nearly 20,000 of their employees tested positive for Coronavirus just hours before the President and First Lady were diagnosed with the virus. No doubt the pandemic has reached into the lives of virtually everyone with unprecedented and transformational impacts that continue to reshape the way people think, shop and live.

Within the last few days major furloughs and layoffs have been announced simultaneously by a string of companies including Disney, Allstate, major airlines and others as business shortfalls consume cash reserves leading to headcount reductions.

  • Emergent has followed these developments closely. We are examining these events to translate them for useful guidance on what food, beverage and lifestyle brands should consider in business planning and how these issues impact marketing strategy.

Here we will unpack the most significant conditions. Focusing on what informs the immediate future for companies grappling with uncertainty via new revelations surrounding the economy, the disease, climate challenges and cultural disruption – all of which are inter-related.

The end of stimulus and the start of fiscal free-fall

In June media attention shifted to the looming end of Federal stimulus programs. Millions of people who were fortunate enough to qualify for meager state unemployment benefits, saw a life-preserving $600 a week added to their stipend payments. This action temporarily closed the financial gap for families who otherwise would be facing a cliff of cash shortages. That cliff has now arrived, impacting their ability to pay the bills, especially housing and food.

It is unclear if new stimulus support will return anytime soon due to the impasse between Congress and the Senate over the size and components of a national economic support package. Even with House passage of a $2.2 trillion measure, it’s unlikely it will go any further before the election, as both sides draw hard lines in the budget sand.

Thus, the income disparity between wealthier and middle-class families is widening and becoming more obvious (visible to all). Those less impacted by the recession continue to accumulate cash due to slowdowns in spending for commuting, business or vacation travel and discretionary activity in restaurant dining, sports and entertainment. Those directly affected by the economy slowdown experience layoffs, salary or hour reductions and wholesale permanent disintermediation of their jobs, while trying to manage life with quickly dwindling cash reserves.

Middle class spending is an engine that drives the U.S. economy so what’s happening here over time has domino impacts everywhere. It is in everyone’s best interests if stimulus support is turned on, and concerted efforts made to restore jobs or create new ones.

The number one impact of all of the above: stress and anxiety

Whether it’s class polarization, economic and employment uncertainty, concerns over social justice and all-too-apparent climate eruptions, plus a surging virus – all combine with the absence of control over one’s life and surroundings to manifest in a form of anxiousness. It is showing up everywhere in what people eat.

Legacy packaged food brand resurgence is evidence of filling a need for:

  • Comfort
  • Familiarity
  • Satisfying stress eating behaviors by reaching for higher fat and carb foods that somehow make people feel better. Apparently, a bag of chips is self-medicating. However, 27% of American adults are also reporting 5 or more pounds of weight gain since March – a troubling development especially as a good portion of the country experiences declining seasonal temperatures and more inactive time spent indoors.

As a sort of ‘flip side’ of this culinary coin, stress eating behaviors leading to high fat and carb foods, has its own polar opposite: the growing search for low sugar foods in an effort to exert more control over health and wellness at a time when investments in immune system integrity are a top priority for many people.

On the retail side, we’re witnessing a related swell in transactions and channel migration to hard discount. Not a surprise under these conditions. Again, we see the presence of an alter ego for stores in higher income zip codes. These retailers may see increasing opportunities for trial and volume growth of premium indulgent food and beverages. It’s just ‘nuts’ if you get my meaning.

Work-From-Home (WFM) not going anywhere

As we pour through reports on the status of WFM, we conclude this phenomenon isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Now breakfast and lunch are prepared and consumed at home, adding to the need for guidance, kitchen counter coaching and convenient solutions. In many places the kids remain home for school as well, adding to the pressures in meal preparation. Can you help with emotional support, menu guidance and prep ideas?

Meal kits took a beating pre-COVID due mainly to cost and complexity. Now kits are returning as a viable way to vary menus and fulfill consumer interest in sophisticated (global) flavors and restless palate syndrome borne of at-home cooking boredom. Grocery retailers have an opportunity here to showcase kits in varying degrees of ‘do-it-for-you’ to meet the interests of the scratch cookers and those who are simply exhausted with all the constant chopping and slicing.

The Wheatley kitchen is a veritable round robin of cutting boards, knives, saute’ pans, bowls and leftover containers as two teenage daughters exert control over their food preferences, while the parents handle another portion of the chores. It’s an unending cycle of cooking and cleaning. I’ve not seen teenagers with such accomplished knife skills and baking expertise except on Chopped Kids.  

  • Snacking is now a 24/7 activity. The room for brands to play here is nearly infinite. The refueling is almost non-stop, some of it functional and some indulgent.

The opportunities for brands and retailers to become a partner with people in the kitchen has never been higher, yet so few are stepping-up to the plate. Perplexing.

E-commerce crazy

Time is all we have. How we spend it is all that matters. Why will e-commerce become such a dominant channel? Because it is built to give back time. The pandemic closes the door on casual browsing and spending extra quality time in brick and mortar retail. Shopping trips are fewer and purposeful, aimed at minimizing viral exposure.

Meantime the seamless digital shopping platforms people encounter are getting better and better. We’re now at a $70 billion run rate in e-commerce transactions. Experts in the field believe once you pass 50% of typical transactions in food or lifestyle, the tipping point may very well have been reached. Not there yet, but the leaps in digital purchasing this year are significant.

At this stage, as good online experiences and comfort level take over, people begin to appreciate the time they’ve been given back by avoiding the hassle of driving to and running the cart through stores.

That doesn’t mean retail disappears, far from it! It does mean that shopping experience and environment must be on a whole other level to romance and engage people in a sought-after and magnetic reason to be inside your doors. Disney does magic well, so should you.

Shopping for what?

According to IRI data through mid-August, the top five categories in retail sales volume are:

  1. Health care products
  2. Frozen meat/poultry/seafood
  3. Personal cleansing
  4. Other refrigerated
  5. Baking

Within the top 25 categories in sales growth, frozen and refrigerated holds 14 of them. Evidence that consumers care about preserving shelf life and guarding against food waste and scarcity, while the baking binge is no fluke. It is an effort to bring control back during an era when there is a predominant feeling of none.

Strategic direction: identify passionate cohorts, apply hyper relevance

If you can step back and see your marketing and communications strategies remains widely targeted at virtually every human on earth, now is the time to prune. The need for mattering has never been greater. Achieving that enviable position isn’t easy and requires significant focus and discipline.

Step One –

Identify the most committed and passionate consumers of your product or shopper groups in your stores. What do they care about, how do they live, what are the pain points they need to solve? Your goal is to become a refined and optimal solution to their problem. To get there you need to lean hard on the strategic thinkers and those with insight to consumer behaviors on your team. This is true customer-centric planning.

Step Two –

The goal of your marketing is hyper relevance to these consumers, to the point where they see a mirror of themselves in how the brand communicates and behaves. Your values and theirs become one. You step fully into higher purpose and deeper meaning with this cohort (there may be cohorts). Whatever end of the economic spectrum, you lean in to where they live and how they feel. You’re looking for common ground and ways to be of help. Your value proposition isn’t just the product or store. It’s how you tangibly work to improve their lives.

Step Three –

Your communications and content creation should be packed with advice, guidance and counsel. You walk away from the temptation to self-promote and instead focus on them and their stories. You enable social proof mechanisms and encourage people to share experiences because you know it’s credible proof of what you want them to believe. Your storytelling expands to address the higher purpose you’ve adopted and how you are helping improve the world around us. You now know it matters to consumers who expect this of you.

We understand that people are now literally consuming their identity. What they buy is a flag and mirror of their values, beliefs and what they hold to be important. Symbolism can be everywhere in every place that consumers encounter your brand and business. Are you deploying the markers and images they will recognize of lifestyle relevance?

The horizon: climate change

Looking ahead, what’s coming is a move to connect food and beverage choices with carbon footprint and impacts on climate change through contributing to the growth of greenhouse gases. There is genuine fear among people that food production is irrevocably linked to creating damage to the climate, leading to super storms, droughts and wildfires.

This issue is going to climb in visibility and importance. Brands have an opportunity to get in front of this concern and be part of the dialogue. The roots of this will inevitably go back to supply chain decisions and how foods are farmed or raised. To that end regenerative agriculture is going to rise as a priority and people will be looking for these practices to show up in an industrialized agribusiness that isn’t operating with these principles in mind.

The great promise of this type of farming is reversal of eroding soil conditions and processes that could help farmland become the world’s largest carbon sink. This is a horizon issue now but is rapidly building momentum.

Worth paying attention to.

As you consider the path forward, if expert guidance would be beneficial in your planning use this link to open a conversation. We would be delighted to help. Emergent’s mission is to marry marketing expertise with our belief in the rising importance and value of healthy lifestyle to the future success of relevant food and beverage brands and retailers.

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.

Transformational idea inform company behavior

Come for the strategy, stay for the compelling brand story

September 30th, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Come for the strategy, stay for the compelling brand story”

The secret to vastly more effective brand engagement

What is the definition of a big idea?

One that you can immediately detect how it will impact the behavior of a company and brand.

Big, transformational ideas rarely fall from the sky. They aren’t granted by some omnipresent deity of marketing best practices. They don’t appear in a lucky draw of the cards or manifest cosmically in tandem with a solar eclipse.

Big, bold business building ideas happen when strategy and insight coalesce around a path that disrupts category conventions and intentionally breaks the rules of standard go-to-market thinking. It is an outgrowth of due diligence into the conditions impacting how brands present themselves, what consumers want and where gaps exist for leaps of improvement.

Big ideas are not formulation enhancements, more expensive ad campaigns, clever positioning statements, new packaging graphics or extra promotional periods.

  • The questions that get asked when the goal is transformation are more foundational, such as:
  • What business are we really in or should we be in?
  • What cultural shifts are:
    • influencing the way consumers see themselves
    • behave in the marketplace
    • and change what they care about?
  • What higher purpose should we acquire that imbues our company and brand with deeper meaning and potentially leads us to participate actively in transforming the consumer’s wellbeing?
  • How can we fundamentally improve people’s lives and create change that helps them be happier and healthier?
  • What can we do differently in our business, operations and go-to-market plans that more closely aligns our brand with a cohort of consumers who are invested in lifestyle passions we can enable, support or influence?
  • How can we help change the world for the better?

The reliable pathway to transformative business ideas

We have experienced this repeatedly: when investments are made and time is spent studying the passions, interests and concerns of consumers we wish to serve, insight often leads us to the ‘aha’ moment of discovery. These breakthrough insights offer great leaps of opportunity to rethink what the company and brand are on earth to accomplish and how to dramatically build relevance with people.

In these important moments big things can happen, especially when leadership teams are on the hunt for bigger ideas rather than just extending the status quo for another year.

  • Imagine the food retail brand that falls in love with actual food and decides it has more to offer if it becomes a partner on the consumer’s culinary and health and wellness journey, rather than being a conveniently located food product aggregator.
  • Imagine the well-known cheese brand that decides it no longer wants to play in a commodity category with commodity-like business behaviors. Not content to be all things to all people, instead the brand disrupts its category and devotes itself to becoming a partner in the kitchen with people who care about cooking and food adventures.
  • Imagine the emerging food technology company pioneering the alternative meat business that decides it exists to change our future, impact greenhouse gas proliferation and create affordable products to feed a hungry world.
  • Imagine the pet food company that decides earning consumer trust is a top priority and creates an industry-first, all-in platform for openness and visibility to its entire supply chain and product creation process.

Leaps and perceived risk

What if I told you the world around us has changed so intrinsically that the more risky option is maintaining the conventions of routine category behaviors and focus on the features and benefits of product lines – rather than deciding to break with the past and disrupt the marketplace’s existing perceptions of what the business is about?

  • What if making great products were now table stakes and the pathway to real competitive advantage had swung to mining higher purpose and deeper meaning? (It has).

Indeed, that is precisely what has happened as technologies and quality formulation and improved ingredient sourcing has leveled the playing field everywhere on premium product experience. The winners in today’s marketplace are those who have gone all in on extraordinary relevance and connection to people; the brand that sees their role in the user’s life on a higher level of collaboration and partnership beyond transactional thinking that conveys we exist to sell you a product.

Risk aversion can be a killer of great ideas, a smothering blanket that snuffs out the light of reconceptualizing and redefining what the box is rather than invoking a well-worn trope to think outside it.

Ironically, the inclination to avoid risk now creates more of it.

The primacy of sound strategy

Strategic thinking has shifted away from myopic preoccupation with competitive analysis and reaching for an incremental improvement over the brands residing next door on the shelf. Specsmanship and a marginally better offering are difficult to maintain and defend over time. Moreover, the consumer doesn’t care about this like you hope they will.

The rules of sound strategy lean into uniqueness, radical differentiation and devotion to lifestyle relevance. To zig when everyone else zags. To violate the rules and conventions of standard market behaviors with purposeful intent.

  • Inspiring people requires that brands become inspirational. The ability to achieve this state isn’t an outcome of more protein per serving. People are attracted now to becoming part of something greater than themselves. They want to embrace a mission that adds meaning, value and purpose to their lives.

This aligns with a cultural shift where purchases are now a billboard of what people want others to believe is important to them. If a purchase is largely symbolic, then what’s the symbolism embedded in your brand persona and what flags of cultural relevance are flying above your business and its meaning?

This kind of strategic thinking offers the promise of transformational and sustainable growth because the brand is working overtime to weave itself into the very fabric of consumers’ lives rather than being satisfied with the subjective ‘tastes better’ or aiming for less calories and sodium.

Creating this strategic game plan in fact is the precursor to assuring the brand communications that follows will be engaging.

How to build the compelling brand story

We live in a content-driven world now. Brands are publishers as much as they are product creators. What happens to communications when the brand voice extends to embrace a mission beyond the product itself? Communication gains greater relevance and value to its intended recipient because it is no longer a sales conversation. It’s more meaningful.

Every day we are bombarded with paid media telegraphing cheap insurance, faster mobile service and drug therapies that promise some form of relief but with side effects that might make you sick. These interruptions are not wanted nor embraced nor longed for with bated breath. They are tolerated, maybe. More often they are triggers for disconnection and avoidance.

Doesn’t it make more sense to have a conversation with people about something they care about?

If consumers see themselves as the hero of their own life story and the brand continually competes with them for the hero role in its messaging, what do you think will happen?

It’s a recipe for assuring brand communication is ineffective. If the voice of the brand has more going for it than reciting product attributes, think about the opportunity to create authentic relationships with people when there’s more relevant subjects to discuss.

Yes, discuss! Real conversations are two-way experiences. When the bullhorn is retired and the brand is imbued with deeper meaning that has relevance to consumer lifestyle interests, the conversation gets more interesting. Why? Because there is inherent value in it for the consumer and utility to how they live.

When you decide to be a partner with them rather than a product pusher, the door swings wide open for connection. Isn’t that what you really want? The game isn’t about tonnage of media spend to confront audiences with a self-serving message. Instead it’s about how we contribute to making the user’s life better, healthier, happier and more fulfilling. Those are the messages they are predisposed to find of interest and worthy of their time and attention.

None of this can happen effectively if the foundation isn’t informed by a higher purpose and a break with convention to look at the business differently at that fundamental level of why it exists.

If you start there, the opportunity for big ideas that influence company behavior are on the table. When that happens the future trajectory the business and brand take can alter for the better and greater good.

  • Isn’t that something you want to be part of? To inspire people’s lives can be invigorating for all involved.

If it’s time to consider bigger, bolder ideas that transform the conversation with consumers, we would love to talk with you about it. Here’s a link to start an informal 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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