Posts in Higher Purpose

Pet parent bond drives pet food category growth

Pet Food Industry Resilience in Face of Pandemic and Change

July 8th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Higher Purpose, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition 0 comments on “Pet Food Industry Resilience in Face of Pandemic and Change”

Pets in catbird seat of household spending priority

By Robert Wheatley

While the earth-shaking intensity of COVID-19 and a global pandemic has upended lives, businesses and careers, it has elevated the importance of family pets as important companions in a rocky and uncertain life journey. Witness the stampede to shelters and pet rescue centers as people have swept up stray dogs and cats to join the family during stay-at-home orders.

Even now the pet industry is forecasted to grow by 4 to 7% this year despite lock downs and recessionary trends. Pet food is a strong, maybe recession-proof, business that is likely to retain its momentum for the very reason pets are meaningful players in the health and wellbeing, and possibly sanity, of their owners.

The marketing game plan for pet brands may shift towards the emotional dynamic of the human/animal bond more so than nutritional specsmanship, a fact-based common feature of brand communication during the last 10 years. Now more than ever, there is a concerted need for insight and understanding of how pet parent attitudes and needs are changing as a result of the pandemic.

History shows pet food to be a unique industry forever grounded in a growing, visceral enthusiasm for furry creatures who over time have moved from the barnyard to the backyard, to the living room and now are often found at night in the bedroom cozying up with their owners. The genesis story of this cultural evolution is fascinating and was set in motion by an unexpected world-class crisis event.

Who is making the pet food?

It was 2007 when the pet food world was turned on its head, disrupted and capsized with news of surging pet fatalities traced to tainted Melamine ingredients from China. Remarkably, it wasn’t the poisoned food or pet deaths that caused a complete industry shake-up. As the crisis unfolded, media working to trace the Melamine source determined that one company in Canada, Menu Foods, was manufacturing more than 100 different brands of pet food.

Instantly the tens of millions spent in brand advertising and equity building for some of the largest industry players was rendered inert. Brand reputations, constructed on years of claims about carefully formulated, created foods, were upended as the perceptions of food-making craftsmanship took the torpedo of outsourced – and apparently unsafe – production.

Almost immediately web sites sprang up around the “truth about pet food” as attention turned to deconstructing what exactly was inside the little brown nugget known as kibble. The largest and most popular foods were primarily grain-based products, a relatively inexpensive ingredient that flew against the marketing imagery of meat being the top nutritional anchor.

A new theme emerged as smaller boutique pet food brands making higher-quality pet foods suddenly got their day in the sun. Pet parents everywhere learned that dogs and cats are primarily carnivores, and their ancestral diets were closely linked to consumption of meat and fish proteins.

The definition of a high-quality pet food was restaged to a new recipe paradigm. The idea of ‘dogs-descended-from-wolves’ made intuitive sense to consumers as they resonated to the idea that pets aren’t grain (corn) eaters.

Dawn of the grain-free juggernaut

Sales of emerging premium brands like Wellness, Nature’s Variety, Merrick and Champion Petfoods’ Orijen brand shot up as pet parents began to upgrade the food they served to Fido. They started to pay closer attention to product labels, ingredient statements and sources. Orijen became the first brand to telegraph the percentage of meat protein in their formulation, under the story that more meat protein was indeed better and compatible with the nutritional needs and eating anatomy of dogs and cats.

The race was on to embrace grain-free as a category with marketing activity now devoted to focus on higher quality and so-called ‘human grade’ meat, poultry and fish ingredients inside the bag. Driving the grain-free momentum was a continued premiumization of the entire pet food industry. Pets were increasingly valued family members and food quality emerged as a symbol of investing in the health and wellness of four-legged, furry children – mirroring the healthy eating trend at the human dinner table.

As a business segment, grain-free pet foods emerged as the top volume growth producer at retail. Not lost on brands in every segment of the market, most companies joined the rush to create their versions of grain-free foods given the nomenclature had become a reference standard for healthier diet.

As evidence mounted that growth was to be had in the grain-free segment, Petco became the first big box retailer to fully re-set their stores, shifting prime in-store real estate to featuring the growing high quality brand players, while mass brands were pushed to the back of the shelving bus.

Investment followed to play in the quality end of the pool

The volume business ‘cheese’ was moving in pet food and naturally, investment followed as equity capital got involved among emerging brands such as the Catterton Partners acquisition of raw food category leader Nature’s Variety.

Large cap strategic players made their moves when grain-free superstar Blue Buffalo was snapped up by General Mills; JM Smucker bought Big Heart Brands gaining the Natural Balance business in the deal; and Nestlé landed Merrick Petcare to operate alongside their established Purina Petcare business. Testimony to the vast changes in consumer behavior and brand preference, Proctor & Gamble got out of the pet food business entirely, selling their limping Iams business to Mars Petcare, makers of Pedigree.

Super premium pet foods were once the exclusive province of independent pet retail. However, premiumization trends are now impacting the channel traditions as higher-quality brands show up in mass and grocery retail to meet the demand for better quality pet foods. There’s ample evidence that consumers are undeterred at higher average price points. General Mills made quick moves to use their clout in moving Blue Buffalo to supermarkets. While the Blue Buffalo business has suffered declines as independent retailers reacted negatively to the channel move, the grocery volume has more than offset the losses. Pet food has become a balance sheet darling for General Mills to tout during their quarterly reports to the Street.

Growth of pet food sales in e-commerce has been nothing short of phenomenal as people cut down on shopping trips and show interest in no-contact purchasing via online stores like Chewy and Amazon. Industry watchers anticipate there will be more consolidation as pet food continues to show its resilience in an otherwise shaky business and retail environment.

What lies ahead in pet

One key area of vulnerability in pet food is supply chain as the meat processing industry was felled by hyper-spreading of the virus in employee-packed plants. Stability in the sourcing of protein ingredients will be vital to industry health in the coming months.

On another front, in July 2018 the industry was upset by a report from the FDA that implicated grain- free foods as a potential contributor to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), a potentially fatal heart disease in dogs associated with low Taurine intake, an important amino acid. The FDA felt persuaded to list brands that were under review in their research, and the media firestorm around it created a wave of consumer and veterinary concerns about safety and which foods could be served with confidence.

The industry responded first by working collaboratively with the FDA on their investigation, while also creating new “wholesome or ancient grain” versions of their foods for pet parents who wanted the option. More recently, peer-reviewed research from third-party sources has been published that concludes the onset of DCM conditions is not diet related but mostly hereditary.

While many brands have experienced real setbacks in their grain-free business, it is expected the new information on DCM, as it works its way to consumers and retailers, will help restore confidence and close the chapter on safety concerns.

Marveling at the human/animal bond

With pets front and center, playing an important role in family life while people spend more time at home, it will be interesting to observe if pet brands make the emotional relationship a centerpiece of their marketing efforts. More insight research is needed to understand the nuances of this significant pet / pet parent relationship and how it has changed during the pandemic.

Alvarez & Marsal, along with partners Emergent Healthy Living brand marketing firm, Brand Experience Group  (BXG) insight research company, and Starcount social media listening agency, are approaching legacy and emerging pet brands with an insight proposal.

The pandemic research project combines quantitative and qualitative methodologies to discover the changes delivered by COVID 19 to pet parent attitudes, concerns and purchase behaviors. It is the intent of the research to reveal a new understanding of where the pet food business should navigate over the coming months and the next few years.

For more information on the project, contact Wes Arens at Alvarez & Marsal, warens@alvarezandmarsal.com or Mike Bambrick at BXG, mbambrick@brandexperience-group.com.

About the author: Robert Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Emergent helps CPG, retail and lifestyle brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and brand communication. For more details on Emergent’s pet care experience and credentials, click here to view or download an overview.

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.

Dr. Lisa Dyson transforms meat industry

Dyson’s Moonshot to Transform Meat Industry

June 30th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, change, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food experiences, Food Trend, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Transformation 0 comments on “Dyson’s Moonshot to Transform Meat Industry”

Air Protein creates first ultra-sustainable proteins

If the pandemic created one positive outcome for Americans, it has been the most potent force in history to elevate the importance of health and wellness to consumers. Already a rising cultural priority, COVID-19 serves as a compelling motivator for people to further invest in their physical health by elevating the quality of what they eat and drink.

Witness the skyrocketing popularity of meatless meat, advanced by first making a product that accurately replicates the taste and eating experience of animal meat but sourced from plants. Survey after survey in the food industry has verified the general growing interest in consuming more plant-based foods because people believe it’s a healthier option. As a result, the alternative meat business is forecasted to reach 40 to 50 percent of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry by 2029.

Now on the horizon comes a new company and food-making technology that promises to create the most sustainable meat alternative on earth. Meat that requires no agriculture, no animals and yet delivers a nutritionally superior, complete higher protein product than anything created from a chicken, pig, cow or plant.

A funny thing happened on the way to the moon

During the massive run-up in the 1960s in its bid to put a man on the moon, NASA continuously launched better, bigger spacecraft while another experiment was going on behind the scenes – one that was eventually shelved and forgotten. The premise was based on nourishing astronauts with food that could be created in space, and the tool for this genius idea was carbon transformation. Said more simply, converting carbon dioxide exhaled by the crew into food. Experiments were conducted but eventually pushed aside in favor of other lunar landing priorities.

Pleasanton, CA-based Air Protein, helmed by MIT physicist Dr. Lisa Dyson, is on a new mission to take the carbon transformation ball all the way down the field and put it in the culinary end-zone. “More and more people are starting to consider the harsh reality of our food system as a global contributor to greenhouse gases (GHG) and climate change,” explains Dr. Dyson. “Our agricultural system produces more GHG than all of the fuel-burning sources of transportation combined. When you mix that with the finite limitations of available land and water resources for farms, ranches and fisheries, you know it’s going to be nearly impossible at some point to feed a rapidly growing global population.”

Dyson’s moonshot is a fascinating recipe of uniquely combining carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen with renewable energy, water and nutrients, then adding common microbes in a fermentation process similar to making wine or cheese. The high protein flour outcome of this brewery-like approach is turned into authentic meat analogs by using pressure, temperature and natural flavors. Her sustainable “Air Protein Farm” operates more like a yogurt making facility than meat processor.

While a steak requires two years of dutiful cattle raising that consumes a significant amount of natural resources, Dyson’s ultra-sustainable meat comes to fruition in just four days.

Air Protein’s process helps avoid two current concerns of conventional meat infrastructure revealed during the coronavirus outbreak:

  1. Dangers of meat packing plants becoming hyper-spreader environments for the virus.
  2. The resulting scarcity and higher prices of various meats available to consumers at the grocery.

Alternatively, the Air Protein carbon footprint is negative. All of this becomes more plausible when you consider that carbon chains are the essential building blocks of all fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Scientists refer to carbon as “the backbone of life” because, along with water, it is the primary element that makes up all living things.

Sustainability emerges as part of the path to purchase

People everywhere are experiencing a transformation of their own in adding higher purpose, mission, beliefs and values to the shopping list of what they want from food brands they prefer and purchase. The International Food Information Council in a recent national pandemic-inspired survey of consumer behaviors found the impact of environmental sustainability is on the rise as a priority, with 39% of consumers saying it is now a factor in their buying decisions. More than 40% of respondents said it is important for food makers to have a commitment to sustainability, recognition that people are more aware now of limited natural resources and the effect of society and industry on climate change.

Sustainability practices and behaviors clearly matter to people. Dyson believes Air Protein’s emerging story will be a game-changer at the supermarket meat case where retailers are increasingly on the hunt for brands that fulfill the shoppers’ wishes for sustainable choice.

Climate change became the call to arms

The horrible devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina that claimed more than 1,800 lives and left $125 billion in property damage, much of it in New Orleans when the levees were overcome, served as a Road to Damascus experience for Dr. Dyson. While there she labored to help restore a city overcome by a natural disaster that many assigned to the accelerating menace of hostile weather patterns borne of climate change. Dyson vowed to make solving the rampant build-up of greenhouse gases (GHG) an avocation, leading to a partnership with MIT colleague Dr. John Reed and the eventual genesis of a new company named Kiverdi.

“My experience in New Orleans was life-changing. I decided to develop solutions that would combat climate change. During the years following, it became clear to me that our food system is a major culprit in this unfolding crisis. The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, how to feed everyone sustainably and affordably is the big question we intend to answer,” she said.

The supreme irony of Air Protein is its intention to make food from carbon dioxide. As if meat were to become a new kind of photosynthesis that turns protein creation on its head – not as a contributor to greenhouse gases but also an effective eraser of this global temperature-raising threat. Ultra-sustainable meat may become a center of plate, culinary chess piece to satisfy the appetite while refusing to exact an enormous toll on the environment. That no plants or animals are involved means there is an embedded promise of a high-quality protein source that is generously renewable, kinder to the environment, scaleable and thus plentiful.

The premiumization of palates

Food culture in America has undergone a makeover as the quality of cuisines, ingredients, cooking techniques, kitchen tools and culinary expectations have risen. From the days of Hamburger Helper and Cheese Whiz, people now find themselves eating Michelin star quality cooking at the corner gastro-pub.

The successful strategic gamesmanship of plant-based meat like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, was their insightful move not to make an improved Vegan burger for Vegans. Rather, to deliver an alternative that could satisfy the sensory, gustatory preferences of the most ardent meat lovers. In doing so, these companies reimagined veggie burgers as plant-based protein, opening a new chapter in food where taste trade-off to achieve better-for-you was not required.

This feat is not lost on Air Protein founder Dr. Dyson. With consumers moving rapidly to embrace alternative meat, she sees Air Protein’s probiotic production tech as the next generation category. She has chefs working alongside food science experts to ensure that deliciousness is right there with the heaping tablespoon of ‘feel good’ about not harming the environment with every forkful of her chicken made without the chicken. “We are tuned in to the requirement that our products must deliver on the taste, flavor and eating experience of animal meat, the plant-based hamburgers have shown that when you hit the eating experience squarely, the purchases will follow and repeat,” she said.

The next generation of meatless meat is coming

Who knew that exhaling combined with microbes could build a protein? It took NASA to start the ball rolling and Dr. Dyson and her team to hit the three-point basket at the buzzer. “Because our protein production process requires no farm, no agricultural input or animal, our ability to scale is not governed by supply chain conditions. The COVID-19 influenced meat shortages we’ve seen remind everyone that the food system as we know it can be compromised. We’re excited because our game-changing technology can create a reliable, sustainable supply of meat products that are better for you and infinitely better for the planet at the same time,” she said. Context provides dramatic proof: Dyson says it would take a farm the size of Texas to produce the same amount of meat Air Protein can deliver from a production facility as small as the footprint of Disneyland.

Air Protein is a category-defining company now in the midst of an equity capital raise and expects this round to provide the required assets to take the last lap to commercialization and retail launch. “What’s exciting here is our cost base to produce meat. We will be able to market our products at an affordable price, which in this economy will be important. Our goal one day will be to help economically feed the world from the platform we’re building now,” reports James D. White, Executive Chairman of Air Protein, and former CEO and President of Jamba (formerly Jamba Juice Company).

This dynamic duo believes Air Protein will eventually become the reference standard for ultra-sustainable meat.

Can’t wait to try her chicken at the corner grocery with a salad. One day you’ll probably find it on the moon.

Editorial note: Emergent extends our thanks and appreciation to Dr. Lisa Dyson and James White for participating in this important story.

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

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

Pandemic unleashes cultural changes

Context is Your Marketing Super Power

June 28th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Social community 0 comments on “Context is Your Marketing Super Power”

How are you deploying it?

The incredible disruption spawned by the global pandemic is creating an important opportunity to reframe the marketing conversation around your brand. During difficult times people are more receptive to brands making bolder moves. Uncertainty provides the latitude to experiment, in the context of answering cultural changes that are having a profound impact on how people view the world around them and what they care about in times of change.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Cultural shifts create influential moments when consumers are open to new ideas. Behavior change, which is hard to accomplish, becomes more attainable. What we know about people is the role that perceived risk has in their decisions. When a change is adopted by many, it can quickly become the default choice for the very reason human beings are a copying species. Popularity provides reassurance.

Permission operates in the same way. Witness what is happening now with work at home. Companies, especially in the tech sector, are making this a permanent adaptation and by virtue of doing so signaling a new acceptable default for how business will operate. If it were merely served up as an optional choice (as it has been for years!) the adoption curve falls immediately because of the perceived risks of not being in the office and any stigma that might accompany that perception. Companies that offer unlimited vacation see the same outcome as people don’t suddenly leave for extended periods for the same reasons – fear their career will be compromised and so the “choice” isn’t activated. Averting negative experiences is a highly motivating and universally common behavioral trait among consumers.

Human beings are hard-wired to avoid personal risk

The over-arching impact of COVID-19 on the value proposition of health and wellness moves the interest in healthy lifestyle from aspirational to practical to necessity. As we’ve said previously, Health is the New Wealth, essentially means there are life-maintaining, risk-mitigating reasons to shore up the immune system. This is having an impact on food and beverage brand growth in the coming year. The default for health and wellness has now changed – it’s visceral and existential. This also helps sponsor an emotionally charged marketing environment.

It’s important to note that humans are not governed by algorithms. We do not make decisions based on rational thus predictable assessments of facts. If we did, 1 + 1 = 2 could be applied to marketing activity with assured outcomes. Instead – we are feeling creatures who think and not thinking creatures who feel. Yet for some reason right alongside the birth of digital marketing platforms and the ability to amass data, we have become too preoccupied with marketing plumbing at the expense of paying closer attention to the (human behavior) water inside.

Psychological insights are simply more powerful and unilaterally effective than any form of technological or engineering advantage in products and service marketing. Said another way, a terrific well-designed product with subpar marketing behind it can fail – while a lesser product with better and more humanly relevant marketing strategies in support will win the race. How can this be? …Because now we can create high levels of satisfaction by knowing what truly ”floats the consumer’s boat,” more so than any advantage created by a less emotionally-compelling ingredient innovation or product feature.

Marketing is not a form of cosmetic surgery to apply a thin layer of magic fairy dust on the top of a product that succeeds on its own merits just because it is well crafted. Dyson vacuum was renowned as an engineering marvel, yet its suction power wasn’t really the big leap forward over other conventional models. Its sexy design created perceptions of new and modern (visual cue), while the ability to actually see dirt in a clear cup provided enormous levels of personal accomplishment and emotional satisfaction to people who could observe the outcome of their floor-cleaning efforts for the first time. The marketing behind Dyson was masterful in elevating the value of having one in the house as a symbol of being progressive and innovative while embracing the fashion of an edgy, differentiated design.

The most important move to make on the successful marketing path is….

Our job (and yours) is to identify the single most powerful motivation driving customer behavior in a client’s category. Armed with this understanding we place the consumer at the center of planning, working to apply our understanding of context, perceptions and emotions that are tied to their behaviors. We translate that insight into more effective communication.

Everyday people show their peculiarities, whims and irrational behaviors, wishes and fears. Armed with this knowledge we’re able to blaze new trails for brands that want to and can be more relevant to consumer needs. This happens because the brand’s deeper meaning and values now operate in sync with what people believe and care about.

In this unprecedented marketing environment, here are some questions to consider:

  • How can your brand contribute to the cultural conversation going on right now?
  • What are your users’ shifting attitudes about themselves?
  • What higher purpose can your brand fulfill that matches the beliefs consumers value the most?
  • With health and wellness now more important than ever to people, how does this play out in your strategic plan?

You have permission now to experiment outside the rational comfort zone, offering new reasons-to-believe that are tied to deeper meaning and values that transcend the product itself. A small example of the human emotional condition at work here: why is it that consumers perceive a car drives and performs better when it is clean? Not really rational is it!

We work to change the way people see your brand

Our role as creative communicators is to pay attention to the consumer who buys our clients’ product or service. Perception often leads reality and our job is to manage those perceptions, knowing that the reality is never far away in a digital world where anything that can be known, will be known.

The four horsemen of an effective strategic marketing plan are:

  • Context (in which it is consumed)
  • Environment (in which it is sold)
  • Cultural setting (that drives surrounding beliefs)
  • Who says it (the voice employed to build trust)

Harkening back to our earlier point about risk aversion and disaster avoidance, trust might be the most important consideration to directly address in the strategic plan. Trust drives purchase behavior. It can also disappear quickly if not managed with great care.

This explains why social media is such an important channel to deploy strategically. For the very reason the voices involved are consumers and not the company. People believe other people long before they’ll accept what a business claims about its product. Social proof serves as verification and validation of what you want people to understand and accept about your brand.

In a tough marketing environment, trusted brands will succeed and it doesn’t happen organically. Trust is acquired and earned over time. This is perhaps the most powerful argument for investing in brand building. Consumers trust those they know and believe. They also trust the wisdom of crowds and translate socially accepted choice as ‘vetted and approved’.

Now is the time to step beyond your comfort zone and consider bolder moves. If logic were the only defining path-to-purchase then every brand in a category would be on equal footing. However, that isn’t the case because logic doesn’t respect what we know about people and how they behave.

Your super power is the ability to embed context and relevance in brand communication. Emergent can help you navigate and design more engaging brand outreach and active social communities. Let us know if you’re interested in finding a fresh perspective.

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.

It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING

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

The five essential guideposts to successful brand communication

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

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

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

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

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

Brands must become trusted sources and resources

The relationship brands build with consumers must evolve.

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

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

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

Five guideposts to effective brand communication

  1. Relevance

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

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

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

  1. Social influence

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

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

  1. Reciprocity

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

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

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

  1. Emotional intelligence

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

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

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

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

  1. Authenticity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience

May 11th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand messaging, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Higher Purpose, Social community, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience”

A remarkable pandemic-authored condition

Don’t miss this chance to truly connect with your users.

The stay-at-home orders continue to shake-up every aspect of life including behaviors around social channel screen time. Your brand users and shoppers no longer go on-line. Instead they now live on-line. Kitchens, for their part, have become erstwhile home offices and educational centers to accommodate work and digitally-enabled classrooms for the kids.

  • How are you responding to this development?
  • How does his impact your social strategy?
  • What moves are you making to fill the need and address the opportunity for engagement?

We will answer these questions shortly, but first a little texture on what’s happening.

The blurring between work, education and leisure has spawned a behavior shift – social channels have moved from an occasional choice to a routine necessity as people seek  information – and guidance – and community – and social contact – and entertainment.

Has there ever been a time when your brand was presented with a near captive audience looking for useful content? The answer is unique to the pandemic, a historic first that is transforming life, health, commerce, time, attention and all the behaviors associated with it. This is precedent setting and now offers an unusual opportunity for brands and businesses to be of greater service and value, knowing that consumption of content is likely to be much higher and therefore more valuable than ever before.

  • A recent survey from Tin Man showed social channel use had risen 50% by the close of April 2020. Sixty percent of the population is on Facebook at least once (or more) a day and 27% are in Instagram. Daily screen time averages are up 50 to 75%.

Frequency and media choice = positive outcome

According to a social media report from Co-Schedule, brands that publish 16 or more social posts a month got almost 3.5 times more traffic and 4.5 times more leads than businesses that publish less often. Further, we observe video takes on added importance as a business generating medium with 64% of viewers more likely to buy a product online after viewing.

Your optimal social strategy

First and foremost, this is not the time to withdraw, go silent, retreat or otherwise disappear from the social-verse. Yes, messaging strategy has changed but the fundamental desire of people to connect and a need for interaction has never been greater.

The litmus test of sound strategy in social media revolves around this axiom: the brand should live in service of improving the health, wellbeing and happiness of its users. Social channels are not just transactional environments – and especially at this time, shouldn’t be managed as such.

This isn’t the time and place for a consumer hard-sell and we’ve now entered an era where overt brand self-promotion doesn’t produce results anyway. Consumers hold all the engagement cards and have shown themselves quick to tune out when the narrative isn’t relevant to them and their lifestyle aspirations.

We are now doing business in The Relationship Economy, founded on reciprocity and usefulness.

In the same Co-Schedule report, 21 ‘best in class’ examples of great content were profiled revealing one common element that shown brightly through all of them. In every case, the best content provided valuable information, guidance, utility and direction to the readers.

The examples noted were devoid of a strict self-serving narrative, nor grounded in product feature/benefit selling. To ensure the brand stays on the right social content path, follow this guardrail to keep the messaging on course: recognize that the consumer and their needs are always the hero of your storytelling and the role of the brand is to serve as expert guide and coach. Context is everything!

Yes, it is ok to talk about the product or deliver information about a retail promotion, but this should be no more than 30% of your content calendar. Know that the best material you will create is going to be a reflection of the lifestyle needs and aspirations of the people who comprise your fan base.

  • Glossier, a beauty product business built entirely on social channel engagement, is deservedly famous for creating content about their customers’ interests and needs first. They have become wildly successful as a result.

Social proof and community

Social channels are not one-way conversations. The most powerful asset you have is social proof – content created by your community that serves to verify and validate what you want people to believe about product benefits, shopping experiences or the lifestyle you advocate.

Testimonials are like gold. People will believe other people before they will ascribe credibility and truth to statements made by brands and businesses. It is important to encourage conversation, interaction, feedback and discourse from social community participants. You can do this by inviting it and asking questions.

  • An example: people adore their pets and will jump at opportunities to talk about their personal and anecdotal stories around lifestyle experiences, recovery from illnesses, behavior training tips and ideas, and opportunities to share photos and videos of their four-legged family members.

Pandemic specific social content guidance

Consumer culture has changed as a result of this unprecedented event. It has altered preferences and mindset. Here are some points to consider in social content creation.

  1. An empathetic and more human voice is essential in the content you publish.
  2. As a general subject platform, health and wellness is the top concern for people now and thus relevant to the material you develop.
  3. People feel out of control of the world around them. Provide guidance and ideas that help them regain a sense of control. Taking charge of personal health and wellness is how to do it.
  4. Loss of confidence is a thing. Anything you can do to reassure people about the future and give them confidence about improvements in the road ahead will be welcomed.
  5. Your brand should be guided by a higher purpose (a mission that transcends commerce and selling things), deeper meaning and shared values with your consumer. Know this matters and they are paying closer attention to your words and actions.

It’s extraordinary that an event like this could alternatively create an environment where people spend so much extra time online and in social communities. People yearn for contact and guidance, information that provides hope and helps them navigate the incredible changes they have experienced. You are no longer just selling products and stocking merchandise, instead you are in the deeper meaning business and have a much more important role to play in your customers’ lives.

It’s an important calling and comes with responsibilities. That said, it brings forward a unique opportunity to form relationships with your fans and followers that will last well beyond the current crisis. Now is the time to upgrade, enhance and invest in social channel outreach.

Use this link to let us know if you need help building the right social channel strategy, and content that will inform and endear your users.

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.

Emergent’s Pandemic Brand Marketing Checklist

May 4th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, change, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Navigation 0 comments on “Emergent’s Pandemic Brand Marketing Checklist”

World has changed, now what?

Marketing and communication will not be the same as lock down conditions begin to abate.  Consumer confidence is in need of triage and should be foremost on your radar as you make plans to re-energize the business.

  • Confidence in their own safety.
  • Confidence in your businesses’ on-premise and product safety protocols.
  • Confidence in how and where they shop for food, whether that be from grocery or restaurant delivery.
  • Confidence your brand has their best interests and welfare at heart.

This checklist is intended to help inform your thinking and strategy in light of the transformational lifestyle shift consumers have experienced.

You might agree that any marketing plan must be founded on respect for the consumer’s mindset and behaviors. Families have endured one of the most harrowing, precedent-setting and impactful changes in their world, ever.

What we know about the COVID-19 impact:

  • Health and safety are the top priority for people.
  • At home is safe, out of home is not safe.
  • Invisible threats exist that can impact your health or take your life.
  • These events have disrupted every aspect of living and society.
  • People cannot control these conditions and are forced to adapt based on self-diagnosis of their own needs and preferences.
  • What consumers value changes when life is literally upside-down.

The key changes:

  • At home: time and space have become more fluid, less regimented.
  • Blurring of home and work separation.
  • Desire for guidance on home-focused activities from exercise, to gardening to cleaning/decluttering to baking/culinary.
  • Digital experience now a necessity for art, music and escape.
  • Content consumption is nearly 24/7 as average weekly screen times skyrocket.

Top priority for people:

  • Physical, mental and emotional health.
  • Staying well.
  • Boredom, anxiety and uncertainty meet desire to be distracted/inspired/entertained, productive and composed.

What we know about people:

  • Human beings are feeling creatures who think – not thinking creatures who feel. Emotion governs behaviors, decisions and actions.
  • How brand relationships are cultivated and built must adjust to be respectful of where people find themselves, emotionally, now.

Marketing and communication priorities

Insight:

Every brand is unique; what do your core users care about, need, want, desire?

Diagnostic:

Is the brand correctly positioned for shifting lifestyle relevance and empathy?

Strategy:

Holistic solutions that answer, tangibly, how you can help improve your core users’ lives.

Media:

Digital first and emotionally relevant content is king.

Social:             

Now more than ever social community building is embedded in the desire for conversation and interaction. Witness Zoom is a verb and people long for regular contact and interaction. Social channels have acquired an entirely new and uplifted value proposition.

Tactics:

  • Overwhelming importance of shared purpose, meaning and values in messaging.
  • Emotional communication vital to engagement.
  • People believe other people before they believe companies – who is speaking?
  • Health is the new wealth – your brand is the guide, expert and coach.
  • Storytelling vs. story-yelling – days of shameless brand self-promotion are over.
  • Consumers feel out of control, how can you give it back to them?
  • Trust creation as core brand platform – earn belief through higher purpose.
  • Be careful, data can be a false god – algorithms don’t dream.

Secret sauce to success:

Put your consumer at the center of planning, decide relevance matters most and work backwards from there.

To help you navigate these unprecedented changes and chart a course to sustainable growth Emergent can provide deep CPG and retail marketing experience, insight to consumer behavior, health and wellness lifestyle expertise and transformational ideas. Use this link to let us know if you’re ready to explore new solutions.

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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