Posts in Human behavior

Should a brand be more human?

January 28th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Should a brand be more human?”

Flipping the paradigm of how great marketing operates

Businesses want to win in the marketplace, to serve their mission effectively and to attract more consumers to a hopefully growing community of fans. More often than not, considering the exhausting and thorough efforts made to create outstanding products, most brands absolutely deserve to win.

But ‘deserve’ and ‘win’ (and degrees of same) don’t follow any linear rules of cause and effect.

One thing stands in the way of brand success. It is a condition we see repeated over and over again; a common problem that subtly works to wedge distance between consumers and a brand’s marketing efforts.

It is entirely unintentional but occurs nonetheless all-too frequently because of an inconspicuous trap. All of the efforts made to create great products draw marketers to conclude the focus of their communication outreach is, and should be, about themselves, the brand and its superior features.

The villain in this unfolding story of marketing misfires is a form of self-interest driven promotion. Basking in its own well-deserved reflection, the brand casts itself as the hero and the focus of its storytelling, unaware that in doing so they’ve already lost the consumer.

  • Every human being wakes up every day believing THEY are the hero in their own life story. Consumers are not drawn to brands that present themselves as the hero and in effect compete with them for that role. Instead consumers continue on their journey looking for a guide to help solve the challenges and problems they endure.

For years Emergent has toiled in the messaging fields, writing, deploying, researching, questioning and evaluating various approaches to building better brand communication and content. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. We understand the impacts of cultural shifts on how consumers will or won’t engage with brands.

CEOs and CMOs wrestle with confidence over the outcomes and effectiveness of marketing investments, looking for reassurance the brand is indeed engaging its audience fully. This occurs at a time when consumers have become masters of successfully avoiding anything that looks like overt marketing. We understand this frustration and share the concern that effectiveness is the bottom line.

Out of genuine respect for what we’ve been able to discern about people – how they think, function and make decisions – we have arrived at a formula that offers a consistent frame for messaging that will engage and involve consumers in the story clients should tell.

The more human brand wins

Consumers have become experts at recognizing content intended to convince and persuade even when it’s well disguised to look like independent and unbiased advice. What people want are honest relationships, built on a foundation of truth, trust and reciprocity. This can best be described as injecting favorable human qualities and voice into the marketing communication strategy. The goal to become meaningful to consumers you wish to serve.

  • What people genuinely need is help. Brands that operate as a guide and enabler of the lifestyle goals customers pursue, have an extraordinary opportunity to bypass consumer optout and gain their valuable ears.

If the brand can put the consumer ahead of its transactional goals and work intentionally to help improve their lives and the world around them, it changes the calculus. A new environment is created where consumers open themselves up to really consider the brand, engage in conversation and invest in a new relationship . …just like one would have when making a new friend in the real world.

Unpacking humanity

In human relationships, when we examine what drives great marriages, friendships and parenting, we find recurring themes of empathy, honesty, selflessness and a unique ability to be a terrific listener. So, we ask is the brand user relationship really best served when operating strictly on a seller-to-buyer basis?

Are customers only walking wallets? Is the goal only to sell and service while exacting the appropriate margin to reward investors? If this is the operating philosophy, does it cloud the marketing strategy with a reflexive tendency to favor self-promotion? Probably.

When brands acquire a view that consumers are individuals to be respected, valued and served what happens? We become obsessed with discovering the problems and challenges consumers encounter. We strive to find ways to make a difference and, in doing so, to become useful – brand as a resource not just a product source.

When the brand voice is human, conversational, less about selling and persuading and more about helping as an expert guide, we fulfill the single most important insight to improved brand engagement: the consumer is now the hero of our story and the brand is the guide.

The key operating elements of this approach are:

  • Insight to consumer lifestyle wants, needs and challenges
  • The near-term goal to determine the lifestyle ’why‘ of their repeat purchase
  • The consumer, not the brand, is always the hero of the story
  • The brand’s role is guide and expert along the path
  • Articulate the problem the consumer is trying to solve and show empathy for their concerns
  • The brand offers a plan and solution, while lighting the path to an improved life
  • A higher purpose is an integral part of this engagement approach

When we strike a human tone and simplify the message in the right context (with brand as guide) we open the door to consistent performance in marketing outreach. Yes, the words matter so it’s important to do the homework before building a messaging platform.

Importantly however, how the organization sees the customer relationship and how it casts its mission will weigh heavily on a successful outcome.

Higher purpose discovery

To that end, defining a higher purpose can be an incredibly powerful route to optimizing the entire marketing and business behavior proposition. For this reason, Emergent created a process called Brand Sustainability Analysis to frame how purpose discovery is undertaken, to make sure the purpose syncs with company DNA and culture.

We can help unlock the power of higher purpose to reset the customer relationship and influence the growth trajectory of your business.

Tell me more about higher purpose and building a brand with more humanity.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you confuse, you lose!

January 23rd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling 0 comments on “When you confuse, you lose!”

Brand messaging clarity drives effectiveness

What’s the one thing we know about humans that must be factored into the creation of effective brand messaging? People refuse to tax their brains. You lose the audience with complicated messaging which involves too many elements to digest or is too indirect.

One of the most iconic fast food ad campaigns of all time was Wendy’s, ”Where’s the Beef?” The series mocked rival chains on the size of their burgers while setting up Wendy’s as the more generous option. The message was simple, memorable and unmistakable. It was a classic move that helped advance the Wendy’s brand in a highly competitive quick service restaurant race for share of mind and stomach.

Importantly, the Wendy’s messaging was simple and direct. It didn’t strain the viewer’s brain to understand the point. Clarity was delivered in such a simple, entertaining and memorable way that the ‘Where’s the Beef?’ query went the 1980’s-version of viral and became synonymous in our lexicon for anything disappointing or lacking substance.

More often than not, brand communication suffers from complexity. Errantly, marketers believe the persuasive argument is made more convincing with point after point. So, in an effort to prove superiority, a veritable stream of benefits gets ladled into the messaging platform.

In truth, the added verbiage becomes noise for that very reason. The audience is now required to drill down and sift through multiple pieces of information. Instead of engaging, consumers shut down and run for the exit.

Simple, clear, focused

We encounter this condition all too frequently. In the era of emerging food brands with elevated ingredients and better for you recipes the laundry list of copy points is an assault on the consumer’s attention span. In many cases we find the packaging from these nascent players is a firestorm of claims, founder stories and certifications. In effect, the consumer is challenged to study all of this to determine the point that’s relevant to them. Truth is, consumers are making decisions at the shelf in a second or two and may miss the “third bullet” that might resonate with them.

Meanwhile, on the business side, retailers are closely watching velocity performance for new brands to see if repeat purchase is on the upswing. Ironically the path to managing velocity begins with insight into what heavy users (frequent re-purchasers) believe they’re getting from the product – the ’why‘ of their continued buying behavior.

  • This is a key message that should be the focus on packaging and any form of outbound communications or social strategy.

When we understand the ‘why,’ messaging can be simplified and focused, and thus an opening is provided to clean up the packaging and hone the marketing message.

Why does this matter so much to outcomes? Assuming the product already delivers on its eating experience promise, when the message is clear we achieve consumer engagement and memorability, the two decisive components of managing velocity performance.

This approach is respectful of what we know about the human predisposition to avoid taxing the brain. For example, if we determine that the best customers for a meat-based protein snack like a reformulated higher quality jerky are looking for a clean energy boost, then we know where to take the message.

What about clever?

Creative writers like to bring some artistry to the communication with the goal of being entertaining or as it’s often claimed, not boring. Again, if clever makes the message too indirect or vague, the audience will not engage. If clever and clarity can co-exist then it will work, but the acid test is always simple trumps complicated.

Words matter

I’ve been writing copy for a long time so I can tell you this is harder than it looks. A website can be pretty and visually stunning, but if the words used aren’t direct about the product promise and the ‘why,’ it won’t matter.

We agonize over word choices here at Emergent for this very reason. This is why insight research is such an important component in building the messaging platform. The more we know about the consumer’s ‘why’ –  the better the messaging will be.

Alignment is a potential pothole

Today’s skeptical consumer is less trusting and less likely to accept a brand’s assertions and promises at face value. This means that actions and behaviors by the company must align with the messaging promises being made. You have to walk like you talk. Deploying trusted voices of outside experts and real people to confirm what you convey is key to making this stick.

When the messaging is relevant and the point we wish to make is simple and clear, the consumer listens because they have found themselves in the story.

Where to go from here

Messaging should be examined through the consumer’s eyes rather than reflexively pulling from a self-promotion playbook.

We can help you optimize your messaging strategy for effectiveness and impact.

Here’s our three-step approach to messaging:

  1. Evaluate current messaging in the context of category competition
  2. Investigate the heavy user audience ’why‘ for purchase, and the critical problem you solve
  3. Apply this understanding to our messaging model that makes the consumer the hero of the story and the brand the guide

Rather than continue to experiment or wonder if the investments you’re making will secure customer engagement, let’s discuss your business priorities and messaging needs.

Said simply,Let’s talk!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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

 

 

 

 

Curbing the Pandemic of Brand Narcissism

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

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

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

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

Brand narcissism is alive and well…

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

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

The secret to going from upside down to right side up

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

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

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

Food and beverage the living example

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

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

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

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

The role of higher purpose

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

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

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

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

This is harder than it looks

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

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

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

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

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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

Marketers: Why do we insist on analytical messaging that doesn’t resonate?

September 25th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Human behavior 0 comments on “Marketers: Why do we insist on analytical messaging that doesn’t resonate?”

The sub-conscious rules consumers’ decisions and actions…

This article is about getting results from marketing investments at a time when it seems harder than ever to achieve the desired outcome. There’s a reason and a solution.

The end of time-honored approaches…

When my career started at Ogilvy & Mather-owned Cole & Weber in Seattle, I was enamored by our disciplined approach to immerse ourselves in the client’s business. Exhaustive reviews of competitive brand communications would follow, coupled with deep download discussions on the product’s unique features and benefits. We would dissect and parse this understanding to arrive at a summary of superior claims and advantage. Sound familiar?

And all of this was based on the assumption that if consumers were exposed enough times to the essential ingredients of our client’s product benefit story, in enough places, we would deliver on the almighty combination of awareness and preference.

So where are we now?

It’s fair to say every dollar invested in brand communication comes with an expectation of business-generating result: consumer engagement and action. It is vital to note that we now have a deeper understanding of psychology, consumer behavior and a better grasp of what motivates decisions. This must be factored into how brand communications strategies are assembled.

Even so, it remains common practice to focus singularly on outlining product attributes (all about me), looking to leverage an area of uniqueness that helps separate the brand from everything else it competes with. While this remains a worthy and important part of the strategic process, it should be a secondary consideration behind looking carefully at what we know about the human involved (all about them) and how they really behave in decision making – which is, most often, without consciously thinking.

Fundamentals of more powerful communication

Let’s start with this revelation: attitude change is not the goal. (gasp)

Perhaps most important is understanding that people are feeling creatures who think, not thinking creatures who feel. This is why actions and decisions mostly occur in the sub-conscious – and without the analytical rule of rational consideration of facts, features and benefits.

Instead, we now know that emotion is perhaps the most important and powerful persuasive force, along side the comfort we inherently cherish with top-of-mind familiarity (know it) and perceived popularity (endorsed by others) of a product or service.

So if most decisions and actions are created by the sub-conscious side of the brain, why do we continue to stay focused on analytical forms of messaging that assumes people make rational decisions? History perhaps – and maybe an incorrect assumption the consumer is a fact-driven decision-making machine.

What we now understand is the unrelenting dominance of emotion. Our actions are motivated by how we feel about a brand or business. Purchase decisions are informed by the emotions people have, positive or negative, when they are in the presence of a brand – your brand.

This understanding should have a profound impact on how we go to market –especially food – which is en emotional category to begin with. Better questions to address in planning:

  1. Do we have insight into the consumer’s passions and concerns around their lifestyle and how the brand sits in service of their needs?
  2. How can the brand be an enabler of their lifestyle desires?
  3. What is the emotional fabric and connectivity we can identify between the brand and the consumer’s self-interests?
  4. How can we best mine emotion since the purchase decision is going to be made by heart rather than head?

For food brands, culinary or healthy lifestyle inspiration is a great place to start because it immediately looks at food through the experience of adventure and eating enjoyment, and the dynamics of higher quality life.

  • An example: you can emphasize educational data on the healthy benefits of vegetable consumption, or you can move on the more indulgent flavor experiences of improved vegetable preparation (roasting for example). The indulgent flavor approach will win the battle every time on increasing consumption.

Why? Because we’re human beings first – ruled by our sub-conscious and inevitably tethered to the emotions that govern what we do. This is the path we must follow we get to effectiveness and outcomes that are transformational!

Worth noting that the work produced by Cole & Weber in its heyday, that won respect and awards in the creative community, and client affections, was largely about emotional forms of outreach. It continues to be heart over head…

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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

GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge

June 2nd, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Healthy Living, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge”

Wallet wields power and Z-ers are ‘voting’ with it

Alert: in two short years Gen Z will be 40 percent of all U.S. consumers. They arrive in economic primetime with a distinctive and unique point of view: economic power is a tool for social change and improvement.

Dissatisfied with politics and politicians whom they feel can’t be trusted to operate decisively for the greater good, Gen Z-ers see their purchases as influential and an expression of what they want the world around them to believe about their priorities and values.

For brands this means young people expect companies to use their influence and platforms for the greater good, to imbue their brands with greater meaning, and to create pathways for participation in something that’s meaningful.

Voting with their dollars

According to a recent study by DoSomething.org:

  • 76 percent of Gen Z-ers have purchased a brand specifically to support issues the brand stands for (this of course assumes the brand indeed stands for something beyond its product expertise, business results, and to the benefit of people and society).
  • 67 percent have stopped purchasing a brand or would do so, if the company does not operate in alignment with their beliefs and values.
  • 40 percent have used purchase power intentionally to boycott bad company behaviors and policies, or to influence improvements and change.

A more values-driven generation, Z-ers believe what you buy and where you shop or eat is a cultural, and at times political, statement. So it’s no surprise the study discovered 49 percent believe it is vital for a company to have social change initiatives in their mission and planning.

Consumerism and the channel for change

Z-ers see mainstream politics as often out of touch with social and environmental issues they deem important, such as gun control and climate change; and politicians as operating in a cycle of self-interest at the expense of others’ well-being as with DACA, healthcare, justice reform, and some aspects of the current political environment on immigration.

Importantly, this can be attributed to control. Z-ers may feel public policy operates beyond their sphere of influence, but economic power tied to social change issues, is seen as entirely within their realm of accessibility to participate in something that matters.

What’s important to note here is the focus on social change and improvement; a generation of consumers who place priority on helping the world around them, and who expect brands to participate in a meaningful way in this arena with them as a prerequisite to earning and maintaining their business.

Higher Purpose?

What is your brand and company mission beyond the balance-sheet interests? And by the way, this is not just a call for philanthropy. Check writing in service of a cause is not unimportant, but this goes beyond donations to how the company’s core purpose is configured.

For food businesses this can be about addressing issues like sustainable agriculture, improving the quality and health of food generally for people, fair wages for farm workers and fair trade practices, or taking care of those less fortunate through proactive and tangible acts and programs.

  • Of course, given we live in the era of anything that can be known will be known, it is not possible to do this with window-dressing assertions and marketing that’s disconnected from real behaviors. Z-ers can quickly assess if the brand has a soul or not, or how to sort authentic motivation from business as usual.

For this very reason, Emergent has embedded Higher Purpose assessment and evaluation as a core part of our capability – to help clients determine or refine their path to social good and mission that extends beyond product and promotion.

Z-ers see this as integral to the purchases they make. What you stand for and how you behave as a brand are under the cultural microscope. Now more than ever, pocketbook politics is a thing to be factored into plans and programs. It manifests from a core belief system sitting in service of society, people, their growth and welfare, planet earth, the environment and government policy.

If anything at Emergent we see this as refreshing and an evolutionary improvement that helps advance the role business can play beyond rewarding investors. It’s okay now to espouse beliefs, to enact efforts for social change and to put this out front as a measure of what the company believes and values.

The operable point here is the overwhelming desire people have, in all age cohorts, to be a part of something greater than themselves. This principle simply gains more importance among Z-ers who operate with intention in their purchases and active alignment with brands they care about and see as consistent with their values. In saying this, all purchases become a form of symbolic signal.

What flag are you waving?

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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

couple cooking in kitchen

The New Kitchen Recipe: Marketing Insights and Ingredients for Healthy Living Inspiration

April 20th, 2017 Posted by Food Trend, Healthy Living, Human behavior, retail brand relevance, Uncategorized 0 comments on “The New Kitchen Recipe: Marketing Insights and Ingredients for Healthy Living Inspiration”

Kitchens have fully transformed and left behind any vestiges of being the labor-focused food prep station of yore (orange cone work zone). Instead, the room has morphed to become the most dynamic and influential household space. It’s the heart of the house – where social interaction and connection, entertainment and media consumption, healthy lifestyle expression, and food adventure all coalesce.

Life unfolds here on so many levels.

A renaissance created by cultural change

When exactly did the kitchen move from cooking conclave to heartbeat of healthy living? The origins can be traced to a cultural shift sparked by the Internet age in the late 90’s and the dawn of ‘anything that can be known will be known’ – ushering in the era of consumer control. The digital revolution allows people to indulge in unprecedented access to information about fresh food, industrial food, ingredients, sources, preparations, cooking techniques, and the impact of our food choices on both ourselves and the environment.

Fanning this spark to disruptive blaze is the unstoppable premiumization of food experience in America; a massive light bulb moment that what you eat directly impacts the quality of your life. In sum, the consumer’s desire for higher quality food and beverage experiences goes along with their higher quality lives.

Let’s face it – food is just super popular. Think Food Network, celeb chefs, food bloggers, food trucks, meal kits, cooking schools, the move to fresh and local over packaged and processed, culinary vacations, gastropubs, even school food – virtually everywhere food quality has gone up. Except on your average airline.

Further examining root causes

There is an equally intense desire to invest more time in an environment we can control while the world outside roils with uncertainty. This condition has helped catalyze a resurgence in cooking skills and culinary exploration; helping fuel the deepening bond between satiating our more sophisticated sensory interests and desire for more social attachment.

2017 Peapod Infographic

Source: Peapod – From the Pod (2016)

In fact, it is the intersection of media, food experience and the social aspects of food consumption that has transformed the kitchen area to lifestyle retreat.

Stepping back – when healthy was a narrower idea

At one point in time, healthy was ascribed to calculations of addition by subtraction. A food focused trip to ingredient eradication in service of less – sodium, sugar, fat, and calories. Healthy is no longer just a food-centric science experiment. Instead, it is a way of living that mirrors the consumer’s interest in a more fulfilling life.

Know more, be more and do more. Live better, brighter and longer. Yes, we’ve connected the dots between what we consume and do and the outcomes on health and happiness. We’ve rediscovered the true path to improved and more interesting food experiences through experimentation in the kitchen.

For this reason, we increasingly prefer to have home prepared meals over dining out – for its creative inspiration, control over experience, and ability to manage ingredients to our specs. The kitchen is now an environment that bridges media and entertainment interests with family and social interaction.

An expression of healthy living

We’ve come to appreciate a more holistic integration of mind, body, and spirit. We recognize how our choices and decisions impact the direction we take, experiences we have.

The kitchen is the hub and epicenter for much of what we do each day. Here celeb Chef Rick Bayless describes the higher purpose of food in our lives:

“I want you to cook more. It’s good for you. You know exactly what you’re nourishing yourself with… It allows you to feel the natural rhythms of life in a way that microwaved frozen dinners never can. And cooking often draws people to the table, encouraging dialogue and providing a moment to appreciate the good (and truly tasty) things in life.”

Just magic!

The implications to marketers working in and around this area in the home are deep and diverse. How can brands become enablers of creativity, personal expression, learning achievement, social discourse, family life and relationship growth?

Healthy living is more than a commitment to exercise. It’s a desire to follow a path to improved happiness and satisfaction. Brands that position themselves as facilitators of healthy lifestyle and provide resources, information, and easy-to-use tools will endear themselves to this ever-growing, engaged and active consumer base.

This is rich territory for social and experiential content and brand community building – enlarging the brand voice to rise above feature and benefit selling, to become a true partner in consumers’ lives. Oddly enough, letting go of traditional sales thinking can achieve authentic engagement and real traction.

What’s more, we unlock a treasure trove of relevance to consumer’s lives and what they care about. If brands can become a genuine healthy lifestyle coach, then we can also earn permission for a relationship built on trust and reciprocity.

The creative wheels should spin on elevating kitchen strategy – designing a viable footprint in this area of the home that fuels emotional lifestyle aspirations over tech specs. Just exciting.

Everything can be summed up in this thought:
We sit in service of the whole human being, not just the stomach.

What do you think?

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

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